Joy 301: How to Lose Joy, Part 1
This is the third post regarding our study of joy in the Bible. First, we saw that joy is a real feeling of pleasure and satisfaction in our minds. Next, we observed that the Bible promises joy to Christians who trust in Jesus, meditate on the truths of Scripture, sing praise to God, partner with others who serve Christ, listen to God’s word, care for children, suffer for Christ, mourn over sin, work hard, work with other Christians, pray, and trust God through their trials.
Christians need to be aware that they can lose joy as easily as they can find it. In the coming weeks, I want to share three ways Christians forfeit joy. The first way we lose joy is by not dealing with sin properly.
Bearing a Grudge
A few weeks ago, I watched an interchange between Senators Amy Klobuchar (D) and Ted Cruz (R) debating a voting rights bill. Rather than discussing the merits of the bill, both senators used the opportunity to attack the reputation of the Republican or Democrat party regarding voting rights. Those two would have had a better chance of reaching agreement if they had plugged in a Nintendo and played Mario Kart. It was painful to watch their futile mud-slinging.
Holding on to past grievances does nothing to bring about reconciliation. It only stirs up more conflict.
This principle holds true in our relationship with God and others. Proverbs 10:12 emphasizes this when it says, "Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all things.” The human heart can't house love and a grudge. It's one or the other. Unwillingness to seek or show forgiveness is a recipe for hatred.
The power of forgiveness was never on display in a more potent way than in the trial of the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway. Ridgway was convicted for gruesomely raping and killing 48 women and sentenced to life in prison. At his sentencing, the relatives of the women Ridgway had killed addressed him personally. Many of them gave full expression to their anger:
“Shame on you, Gary Ridgway. May God have mercy on your pathetic soul. I’m content to know that your hell is constant and never-ending through eternity.”
“He’s an animal. I wish for him to have a long, suffering, cruel death.”
“He’s going to go to hell and that’s where he belongs.”
From his seat, Ridgway stoically stared back at each of these relatives, apparently unmoved.
But that changed when Robert Rule, the father one of Ridgway’s victims, spoke to him:
“Mr. Ridgway, there are people here who hate you, I’m not one of them. I forgive you for what you’ve done. You’ve made it difficult to live up to what I believe, and it is what God says to do, and it is to forgive. And he doesn’t say to forgive just certain people, He says to forgive all. So you are forgiven, sir.”
At this point in the video, the viewer sees Ridgway’s demeanor immediately break down. His lip quivers and he wipes away a tear. One wonders if this took him totally by surprise. While we can never know the depths of another person’s heart, we all understand the feeling of relief that comes when the person you hurt forgives you.
Psalm 32 is a perfect expression of that feeling.
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!
How blessed is the man whose iniquity Yahweh will not take into account,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit!
The first two words are crucial to our understanding of forgiveness, “How blessed”. The person who genuinely seeks out God’s forgiveness not only receives it, but receives blessing from God. The word “blessed” here is not referring to material blessing; rather, the word means happiness. This happiness results from knowing God has forgiven one’s sin.
All too often, the vindictiveness of the human heart would rather bear a grudge than show forgiveness. Those who choose to bear a grudge are often trying to rob someone of the emotional relief forgiveness brings. Jesus strenuously warns us against that. In the sermon on the mount, he said, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt 6:15). God withholds forgiveness from the person who withholds forgiveness from others.
Holding on to Sin
On the other side of the coin, the pride of the human heart often prefers to carry the burden of sin rather than lay it at the foot of the cross. The Bible warns us about that, too. Psalm 66:18 teaches that tolerating sin creates a relational distance between God and ourselves: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” The psalmist understands that God won’t hear the prayers of someone who cherishes sin in their heart. This distance from God will always keep us from the joy we can have by intimate relationship to him.
The Bible indicates that holding on to our sin also takes a physical toll on our bodies. In Psalm 32:3, David writes, "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long." Though he knew his sin, he refused to confess it, causing his body to lose its normal vitality.
If you want to lose joy, ignore your own sin and withhold forgiveness from those who sin against you. If you want to protect your joy, seek and grant forgiveness wholeheartedly and unreservedly.
In the next two Weekly Words I do, Lord willing, I'll share two other ways to guard our joy. But for now, remember to treasure and guard the precious joys God offers us in Christ. Always be ready to show and grant forgiveness when sin crops its ugly head.