Saturday, May 21, 2011

City of Joy

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

-- Isaiah 12:3

Millions are unemployed, our indebted nation is entangled in three wars and gasoline costs about $4.00 a gallon. If you believe the news media, there’s not a lot to feel joyous about these days. But the truth is that billions around the world would do just about anything to trade places with us. That’s because even the poorest of the poor in the United States are considered rich (at least statistically) when compared with the rest of the humanity.

If that thought doesn’t brighten your day, maybe the City of Joy will put things into perspective. In his book of the same name, author Dominique Lapierre writes about Anand Nagar (“The City of Joy”), which is a slum in the center of Calcutta, India. Its residents are of different castes and religions, but they tirelessly help one another in the midst of grinding poverty and injustice. As one book critic described it, Lapierre met people there who possessed nothing yet seemed to have everything. The City of Joy was a place where the innocent actually thrived on poverty because of their freedom from care and zest for life. In fact, Lapierre found more heroism, joy and happiness in the Indian slums than in many cities of the affluent West. It was these unlikely residents who turned a place of darkness into a City of Joy.

It’s likely that the Apostle Paul could relate:

“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,” Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians. “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.”

That hardly sounds like a fun-filled existence. Yet Paul wrote that he was joyful.

If Paul’s sentiments seem incomprehensible, maybe our modern society has redefined the concept of joy. Rather than a reaction to something external—like a new car or piece of jewelry—joy is an internal source of gladness and thanksgiving that helps us see the true picture though the most difficult of circumstances. As Christ-followers, our relationship with Jesus grants us literal access to our Creator—a loving Father who hears our prayers and looks for ways to bless us. So no matter how bad things get in our lives, we already know that our ultimate story will end on a very positive note. 

(Now that’s something to feel joyous about!)

With so much negativity in the world today, what’s the secret for achieving a joy-filled, Christ-centered life? The Bible tells us to blend thanksgiving for our blessings and authentic, regular prayer with discernment—the ongoing intentional functions of living, thinking and acting positively. Christ-followers must habitually look for the good and dwell on the positive.

When we have lives that are filled with joy, even the most unpleasant of circumstances can’t bring us down. Paul spent years in prison chained to his guards while under the constant threat of death. But he always prayed thankfully. And instead of feeling sorry for himself, he used his circumstances to change the lives of fellow prisoners and jailers alike—all while writing much of what we today know as the New Testament.

Yes, times are tough these days. But Paul’s advice to today’s weary Christ-followers is all the more simple and profound:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

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