Cultivating a Heart of Joy when Turmoil UnfoldsBy Marby Iglesias
July 2, 2020
I walked our barren vegetable garden with a heaviness and almost a bit of the despair. Just the year before, this patch of land had been quite a sight and bore more produce than we had anticipated. But a difficult pregnancy had sabotaged all gardening plans I had for this year. There it lay, ridden with weeds, not a trace of what it had just been.
As I carried my newborn through our pitiful garden and made mental resolutions for the new season, I recalled my own desperate need to cultivate something far more intrinsic and far more profitable: a joyful heart. This too had been made barren in the turmoil of a difficult year and it too needed to be cultivated.
The year 2020 will go down as the most tumultuous of our generation’s time. From disease to social and economic strife, the days seemed infinite and the amount of information to process overwhelmed my senses and mind. The lack of fellowship due to canceled services and the rendering of spiritual disciplines that had taken hard work to establish made these months even harder. In these “uncertain times,” as we have often labeled this season, the Word of God instructs us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
Joy as a destination
The book of Philippians is often called the book of joy! There are fifteen explicit references to some form of either the noun “joy” (chara in Greek) or the verb “rejoice” (chairo) in this short letter.
Many times I approach joy as something you either have or you don’t during a difficult situation. But cultivating a joyful heart I have learned is most similar to a destination. We move towards joy from our current emotion. I will therefore feel the grief, the fear, the anger, or the despair. But in response, I will cultivate a heart of joy by acknowledging that the gospel of Jesus Christ gives me the hope and assurance to move from these initial emotions towards an unwavering joy. Here are three steps I take in an effort to cultivate a heart of joy.
#1 Assess: What emotions or trials are currently plaguing my heart?
The first step towards cultivating a joyful heart is to assess the current emotions and spiritual conditions that are currently in your garden. What is the pH of the soil you are working with? Are you in a spiritually fruitful season or has apathy plagued your heart? We must assess what pests endanger our fruit and what weeds have been growing silently in plain sight. Is anger the emotion you are currently battling or has fear gripped you and held you hostage with scenarios of a distraught future? Assessing our current place is the first step toward cultivating a joyful heart.
Paul didn’t minimize the threats he faced, nor did he ignore the hardships he endured. In the book of Philippians, he acknowledges these challenges:
- Imprisonment (1:13)
- False accusations (1:17)
- Loneliness (4:15)
- Suffering and conflict (1:29-30)
- Death seemed preferable (1: 23-24)
- Faced hunger and need (4:12)
Our brokenness, our need, our strife and even our sin are no impediment to see God’s grace poured out into our hearts. Actually, in our times of turmoil we are called to “draw near” with confidence to the throne of grace. As we assess our current situation, we are humbled by our need of a Savior and our inability to produce fruit on our own.
#2 Address: Identify sins to confess and biblical truths to embrace.
As we plow the ground of our hearts, we will surely find weeds and pests that have no place in a joyful heart and need to be addressed. The weeds are those things that need to be removed right away, sins that we have allowed to linger and take root in our lives. We don’t treat weeds; we remove them. And similarly, as the Holy Spirit sheds light on our sin, the correct response is repentance. Has a lack of forgiveness characterized a particular relationship as of late? Repent. Have you been sought pleasure in dishonorable ways? Repent. Have you allowed your anger to hurt others? Repent. Joy cannot grow in a ground laden with unrepentant sin. As we become aware of our sin, we are called to not quench the Holy Spirit but respond to his guidance in obedience and faith.
The second menace to a fruitful garden is pests. Pests are those outside thoughts and ideas that we have allowed to sabotage our fruit. What lies have you been entertaining or allowing to infiltrate your thinking? These past few months, social media and angry self-righteous posts from friends have inundated my mind and slowly influenced my emotions. I was no longer allowing the Word of God to shape my thoughts about current events but instead had allowed a particular political party or popular trends to mark my worldview. The apostle Paul instructs the church in Philippi to shape their thinking this way:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Phil 4:8-9
When we address sin and fill our minds with God’s truth, only then will our ground be ready to bear fruit.
#3 Abide: Seek the means of grace.
After assessing our current spiritual state and addressing sins and unbiblical thoughts within us, the next step is to abide in the bountiful means of grace. Only the Holy Spirit can produce the fruit of joy in us; we can’t generate joy through physical means but we can lean into the mediums God has provided to refresh us, encourage us, and strengthen us. Paul was no stranger to these means of grace and encourages the church in Philippi to seek them out also.
- Prayer (1:9-11)
- The Word (2:16)
- Remember the Gospel (2:5-10)
- Fellowship with other believers (3:17)
Our hearts will ultimately find lasting, eternal joy when we are with our Savior. But as we wait, let us pursue to cultivate hearts that are worthy of his calling. Even as we wait for the fruit of joy to grow in our lives, we can trust all of our gardening and toil will not go to waste. He is creating a beautiful masterpiece in the midst of our brokenness.