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Choose joy.

Find joy in the journey.

No doubt you’re familiar with these kinds of platitudes. Maybe someone has said something like it to you, or you’ve said it to someone else. (I’ve probably flung out a line like this in a sermon at some point).

It’s not that these sayings are wrong or untrue. In a culture that is addicted to the pursuit of happiness, anything to remind us that joy is more than an emotional “hit” and not dependent on circumstances is a welcome message.

The problem with these sayings, at least for me, is that I don’t know how to do it. How do you choose joy when joy is in short supply, even absent? How do you find joy when you’ve pulled out the sofa cushions and dug around frantically like a madman in search of loose change but there ain’t none to be found? Do you just keep digging? Or is there some secret “joy switch” you’ve got to find and flip on?

The apostle Paul is helpful here when he exhorts us to “rejoice in the Lord” (see Philippians), which is more about action than emotion. John Calvin too wisely speaks of joy as something much more “solid” and “full” than mere happiness, a gift that comes only through union with Christ, a gift that refuses to be “swallowed up by grief but rises above natural sorrow.” My favorite, I think, is Karl Barth who quipped, “Joy is a defiant never-the-less.”

This past year I had a personal epiphany about joy, and it’s made a profound difference in my life. What if the key to authentic joy is less about choosing joy and more about learning to be thankful? What if the key is gratitude? “In everything give thanks,” writes Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV).

With God’s help, I can do that. Even when I don’t feel joy, I can give thanks. I can look for gifts of grace all around. And here’s the thing: More often than not practicing gratitude, over time, produces joy.

So I’ve taken up the practice of gratitude as one of my primary spiritual disciplines. Waking up to the gift of grace everywhere and saying “Thank you.”

So let me say it to you (and I genuinely mean it). Thank you to all of you who have been such faithful readers and supporters of the Reformed Journal and “The Twelve” blog this past year. Truly it’s a gift to be in the company of such talented writers who contribute, and I’m really proud of the quality of work that we’re putting out there. It’s also been exciting to see RJ grow and expand this past year with a proliferation of essays, book reviews, poetry, and podcasts with high profile guests.

And now a request: Will you consider giving a financial gift to support the good work of Reformed Journal and “The Twelve”? We can’t do this without financial support from people like you. We have a small budget — all of us are volunteers. But it does take resources to produce the kind of content we’re committed to, and every gift makes a difference. One of the best ways to support us is through regular monthly giving. Click below to get started today.

Thank you again. We are grateful for you. Let me leave you with these words by David Steindl-Rast, which I’ve tucked deep in my own heart:

Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.

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Brian Keepers

Brian Keepers is the lead pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa.

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