My kids make fun of me for something I (apparently) say often. “If this is the worst thing that happens today, I’m in great shape.” They’re right. I do say it when “things” happen unexpectedly or don’t go my way. I don’t let these moments rob me of joy.
Part of the reason I can say and believe that statement is because I live with the belief that trouble will, in fact, come. While I might not be expecting something specific, I’m not overly surprised when life doesn’t work perfectly. It might sound grim, but scripture warns us that in this world, we will have trouble (John 16:33). However, the good news comes immediately following. Jesus declares: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I love when Bibles include Jesus’ words in red, so I can pay special attention to them. I want to pay extra-close, careful attention to His thoughts, advice and wisdom. So, when I see that He doesn’t just speak these particular words, but He exclaims them – I really perk up and take notice!
Jesus tells us trouble will come, and He immediately exclaims, “But take heart!” A quick check of Webster’s New World Dictionary defines this phrase: to have courage or confidence. Think about that. He gives a warning and follows it immediately with a shout-out to get our attention. He doesn’t want us to wallow in sadness, fear or despair. Instead, He tells us to practically do the opposite, and He offers the reason why and how this is possible: He has overcome the world.
Even though He was speaking to his disciples about his impending death on the cross and resurrection three days later, His assurances then are applicable for us today. He told them, “your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20) and the same is true for us who claim faith in Him. This world is not the end. Our troubles are not final, and evil will not reign. Yes, we can truly take heart, and joy will ultimately prevail.
So, if you’re like me, that sounds GREAT! But, truthfully, it also sounds so… far off in the distance. Yes, ultimately good wins the battle, but what about when you’re in the midst of the grind? How can we continue to persevere and not get discouraged?
One practical thing we can control is how we think.
For me, it’s an intentional decision not to allow mistakes and mishaps to trump my joy. It’s a choice to maintain perspective and to broaden my vision to see the amount of good in my life outside of things that have gone wrong.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Philippians 4:8 NLT
The apostle Paul’s encouragement is to “fix your thoughts,” and he continues with the results of this discipline in verse 9, “And the God of peace will be with you.”
I read a book a few years ago that’s based on this scripture. It’s called 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life. The idea behind this fun and joyful read is that you can use the book to create a healthy habit of paying closer attention to your thought life. You can train yourself to notice the good, and in doing so, you will change your thoughts, perspectives and level of joy as your brain (and faith) teach you to savor the sweetness of life. There is always something good to notice or celebrate!
We know that our thoughts and mind matter to God enough that He included several statements in scripture about it.
We are transformed by the renewing of our mind. (Romans 12:20)
We can take hold of our thoughts and make them obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
We should set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2)
There are so many more verses that could be included as we consider our mind’s role in worry, praise, wisdom, and most importantly, belief. That’s actually the most important mind work for us to do: believe in the one He has sent (John 6:29). It all starts and ends with that.
Friends, hear me when I say that I understand what it’s like to go through major hard times in life, and I most certainly have experienced my fair share of bad days and moments as well. But, joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:1-5) with God. We can take heart for the long-term and take captive our thoughts during the day-to-day, because our God is one of hope, who fills us with joy and peace as we trust in Him.
Lord, God, help me to trust you with my life. I want to fully experience your joy and peace, but I need your help to let go. Help me to surrender and fully believe in your goodness, so that I may truly take heart. My thoughts can deceive me, Lord. Help me to see the evidence of your truth, loveliness and excellence all around me and give me the fortitude to fix my thoughts there. I welcome Your joy into my life, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.