Joy Keeping: Living above Your Circumstances

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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How do we maintain a state of joy? In this article for our theme Live Happy, neuropsychologist Dr. Michelle Bengtson explores the difference between joy and happiness and discusses some practical ways to keep our focus on the one true source of joy.

Do you remember the old Sunday school song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay”?

I’ve sung that song for decades without thinking about the significance of the words.

As a neuropsychologist in the mental health field for over twenty years, I’ve seen thousands of patients suffer with depression and anxiety. Despite the cause of one’s depression or anxiety, a common consequence is a lack of God’s joy in our lives.

Happiness or Joy?

Our society is consumed with the next trend, chasing all that glitters in hopes it will lead to happiness. But a life rooted in joy is what gives deep meaning and purpose to our days. Happiness is wonderful but joy is sustaining.

Happiness, we know, comes and goes and is highly dependent on external circumstances. Joy, however, endures, even if it is diminished by circumstances or we don’t recognize that it’s there. What exactly is joy? I experience joy like a fullness in my heart, an inner contentment despite outer circumstances.

The Bible warns we have an enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. This includes our joy. But he can only do that when we give him permission.

Where Is My Focus?

Jesus came that we could have joy.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)

How do we maintain a state of joy? One solution is this:



Y-Your circumstance

We maintain our joy despite bleak or dire circumstances only by keeping our focus on Jesus and not on ourselves or our situation. Focusing on the trials or adversity surrounding us serves to highlight our limited knowledge, wisdom, and resources. Keeping steadfastly focused on Jesus highlights the solver of all our problems and allows us to keep our joy because in him we already have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).

Practically speaking, how do we keep our focus on Jesus instead of our circumstances? I have found that in my most difficult circumstances, writing down encouraging scripture on notecards or Post-it notes and posting them around my house, car, and office help me keep the right perspective. Each time I see one of these notes, I am reminded of the trials Jesus faced and the joy that I can maintain because he has already won the battle for me. It keeps my focus on him rather than on my situation.

Sometimes we need tangible, concrete reminders to keep our focus on the very real truth of an unseen God. For me, that is Scripture, but there are many other ways to remind ourselves of God’s love. Some wear jewelry—a special cross or charm. Some carry a stone in their pocket. I even have a friend who has Scripture tattooed on her wrist. Deuteronomy 11:18-19 tells us, “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise" (NRSV). When we keep God’s word close in our hearts, we are reminded that there is much more to life than the circumstances we see with our eyes.

Living above Your Circumstances

Even as I write this, I grieve over the loss of a dear friend, my biggest cheerleader and my most fervent prayer warrior, who suddenly and unexpectedly went home to be with Jesus this past weekend. My heart is saddened that I’ll never hear her infectious laugh or encouraging words spoken or prayed over me again. Yet I refuse to give up my joy to the tempting whispers of the enemy.

Yes, I lost a dear friend, and I miss her greatly, but she was only ever an instrument of expression of God’s love and encouragement to me. He is not limited by her death—he will still accomplish His purposes perfectly and promises to meet all my needs. If I focus on myself and what I’ve lost, then I give the enemy permission to take my joy. Yet, if I remember that I will see this precious friend at heaven’s gates and focus on the God we both serve, believing He meets all my needs, joy can continue to spring up from down in my heart, just as the song says.