I’m not an optimist. Skepticism, cynicism, pessimism–all those lovely isms (that don’t start with opt) would often better describe me.
Seeing the good in life doesn’t come naturally to me, and I don’t have a naturally happy personality.
We all have different personalities. Some of us are optimists, some of us are pessimists, and we all have our unique strengths and shortcomings, right?
All the terms and labels of personality types can be pretty accurate in describing who we are, so much so that lots of people–myself-included–become tempted to embrace our nature as our identity. Even the negative aspects of our personality are just part of “who we are”.
But should our attitude towards life really be defined by natural inclination or personal preference?
While it might seem insignificant, God has expectations for us when it comes to how we view and appreciate the lives he has given us. And as Christians, our outlook and our attitude should involve joy.
We are Called to Joy.
Of course, we like to throw pity parties and think of all the ways life has wronged us. Of course we like to live like Eeyore and grump and frump at the gray skies instead of appreciating the rain. It is our nature, because we’re naturally ungrateful sinners.
But how is that compatible with a faith that tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I will say rejoice?” (Philippians 4:4)
How is that possible if we are “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2)?
How can we claim to have hope in Christ and yet live as if there is no hope?
Whether we like it or not, we are called to a life of joy. Not just in Philippians but throughout the whole Bible we are repeatedly reminded, encouraged, and commanded to rejoice. Just as Israel was commanded to rejoice in the Lord, even in the middle of the ruins of Jerusalem, so we also should seek joy even in the most broken of circumstances.
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! Zephaniah 3:14
Over two hundred times, Scripture mentions a form of the word “joy”. Never once does it endorse a pessimistic take on life, but rather it gives us the perspective of hope.
Christ is our Joy.
We can rise in the morning–even the Monday morning–with gratefulness in our hearts because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Our joy is found in him. It comes from knowing him, basking in his Word, and meditating on his goodness. He is the source of all joy.
When we find ourselves sulking over the stress of the day, may we rejoice that he is our rock and our fortress, our strength in the chaos of life and our refuge of peace. When we become blinded by the darkness of this world, may we look for the inherent beauty with which he has created all things. When we can’t find a single thing to be happy about, my we cling to an eternal reality of hope.
Christ has stepped into our world and he has given us a reason to rejoice.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:5-8
Personality or Attitude?
God gave many warnings to his people. All the good that we have comes from him. It is only natural that when we choose to reject him and separate ourselves from him, denying his goodness and ignoring his blessing, we will cease to benefit from him.
Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. Deuteronomy 28:47-48
We don’t get the blessings of a fruitful relationship with God if we choose apathy and ingratitude, taking for granted the wonders that should draw us to worship him. We cannot live as followers of Christ and accept habits that do not magnify him. Pessimism, or any other unjoyful outlook on life, is not an acceptable way of life.
Sure, they may be natural. Sure, we may desire to live that way. But Christ calls us to deny ourselves, and our selfish desires, and follow him.
Thankfully, he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever… for he remembers our frame; he knows that we are dust.” (Psalm 103)
God extends amazing grace to ungrateful people.
Now it’s our turn to respond in praise.
How radical would it be if we actually opened our eyes realizing this is the day the Lord has made, and furthermore, he has planned it out for his glory and our good before the beginning of time? What if we actually rejoiced and were glad in it?
What if we soaked in God’s Word before the first glance at social media in the morning? What if we memorized Scripture so that we could fight temptation and despair with the glorious hope of Christ? What if we put away our secular media influences for a while and sang to gospel-rich songs and hymns that turn our hearts and minds to God?
No matter what habits you must tear down or establish in your life to get there, resolve today to choose a life of joy. Ask for the Spirit to work in you and soften your heart. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters in Christ, look to the example of the saints who ran before us, and persevere.
Always remember the hope that we have. Rejoice.