There are three ways to look at the future: with hope, with fear, or with apathy. What’s your default position, and how did you get here? In the early Church, people looked toward the future expecting persecution and martyrdom. Yet strangely enough, they told each other to be excited about it! Does that sound weird to you? They felt positive about persecution and martyrdom that lay ahead for some of them, and they saw past it to a spiritual life with God. In fact, they celebrated the spiritual life they were living with God, not only in the future, but right in the middle of their suffering. On the way to fight animals in the arena or to be burned alive, they sang songs and celebrated that they had the privilege of dying for their faith.
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance (James 1:2-3)
I compare myself to their joyful faithfulness, and I see myself falling way short! I complain (internally) about having to go to a meeting out of town, or about having to do the dishes. I focus on the thing right ahead of me, and turn it into a reason to be unhappy. I do this with things that are entirely unimportant, that will be forgotten in a few minutes. I’m not tied up in a stone cell, waiting to be thrown to lions!
At this point I have to insert a very important disclaimer: many of us face depression, either occasionally or permanently, and this is not something you can be talked out of! The terrible thing about depression is that it physically and chemically cuts off joy before it can get started. There is no persuasion that can mend it, and the last thing I want is for people who suffer depression to feel that I blame you for the debilitating disease.
For everyone else, however, you need to know that joy comes from inside, and not from outside. Inner joy is the difference between hopefulness and despair. Joy comes from a relationship with God, and from seeing beyond the present difficulty to the deeper, longer-lasting joy. It’s a terrible thing that we Christians keep forgetting that simple fact. Instead, we look for any other path to joy, rather than the path of changing our hearts and minds with God’s help. We look for happiness in shopping, drinking, achievement, friends, and work. But if we don’t have happiness before we begin, we won’t find happiness in any of those things. As Peter made clear, great joy is the thing we gain with faith, and even is the salvation off ur souls while we are in this life:
Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)