In January 2011 I attended a Fully Alive men’s weekend with Marc Owings, Pastor of Elevate Him Ministries in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of The Original Sanctuary and All In. The men on the retreat were given the opportunity for one-on-one time with God, in a spirit and environment of quietness, protection, and expectation. During that time God spoke to me in the form of a letter penned by my own hand, directed by the Spirit. “Set your heart right,” God wrote to me, “set your eyes on Me, and KNOW, KNOW, in your heart of hearts that you are going down the right path, that you are fulfilling My plans, and the plans are to give you joy, fun, and to prosper you in ways you can’t even imagine. You’ll know when it’s time to transition; trust that I am right now creating these paths and opportunities to you. You’ll know. And write to your (and My) heart’s content! Enjoy and be filled with joy! This is the path.” The scales fell off my eyes as I realized I’d been on the right road, the Road to Damascus, all along. I cried a lot that weekend.
Fast-forward six months. While on a business trip to Buffalo, New York, to engage with one of my suppliers, the Lord whispered to me in the hotel room: “I want you to write a book about joy,” He said. “I want you to become a joy expert.” Me? Write a book about joy? In my past life my writing focused more on short horror stories, a “Twilight Zone” type novel, and poetry rather than Christian non-fiction. Who was I to talk about joy, let alone write a book about it? What did I know?
Turns out, I didn’t have to know anything, I just had to be obedient to God’s request. As Caroline Barnett says in her book, Willing to Walk on Water, “You need to follow God’s voice. And if He gives you a desire to do something, He will find a way to make it happen.” (page 161)
But a week after that trip to Buffalo, Satan attacked my mind with a full-on frontal assault: “You’ll never finish the book,” he tormented. “Who are you to write about joy?” I stood in the shower, water splashing over me, praying to God and rebuking the devil.
“Lord,” I pleaded. “How am I going to write this thing?”
“All you have to do is be creative and organize it,” He replied. Ha! That’s all?! And at that moment I made a commitment to not only write the book, but to disengage the project from the spirit of mammon: Since this is God’s book, I decided that, as the first fruit of many more to come, all profits from its sale will go to New River Fellowship, my home church in Hudson Oaks, Texas. This book is my Jericho!
As Scott Crenshaw, Senior Pastor of New River, said “There is something when the winds of persecution blow on the flames of God in your heart.” Satan’s rancid breath tried to blow out my joy completely. But instead, he inadvertently helped fan the flames into an inferno of hope. Through researching and writing this book, I’ve discovered how God means for us to live, not in slavery to expectations but in the freedom of who He created us to be. God opened my eyes and heart to what it means to lead a joy-filled life alive with the Spirit, despite circumstances and past choices.
As I started writing The Epiphany of Joy, I was far from being a joy expert, and I concurred with my friend Stephen Erwin when he told me, “Joy is a decision–it doesn’t come naturally to me.” It doesn’t come naturally to me either, although by the smile on my face, my persistence, and my sense of humor you’d never guess that. That’s the funny thing about joy: it shows even when it’s not felt.
This joy thing continues to be a journey for me, a journey from despair and depression and hopelessness to trust and hope and praise. I know this will be a lifelong adventure, a continuous education, and a reminder that joy is a gift planted in me by the Spirit of God; I need to remember to unwrap that gift and receive it daily in my heart. Like the tattoo on my arm declaring my sonship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, it’s there, I just gotta show it!
So . . . what is joy? I mean, what is it really? Is it equivalent to happiness? Why is it so elusive in today’s world? Why do so many people rely on Things and Feelings and Money and People for joy, and never really experience it at all? Joy is in my daughter’s squeal of delight as she runs across the back yard and launches herself into her inflatable swimming pool. It’s climbing up to cloud base in a sailplane on nothing but the breath of heated air. It’s continuing to go to work every day because I can be confident the Lord has put me in these jobs to train me for a mission way bigger than myself. It’s shouldering my cross and pressing through the depression, knowing Jesus’ power is made perfect in my weakness. It’s the birth of a baby, the first moment of contact between her and me, despite the fear.
Despite. This is a key word. Joy is despite. Joy is in the trials. Joy is in the calmness. Joy is in the seeing what others can’t see, doing what others think is strange, maybe even foolish, living a life focused on obedience to God rather than centering around myself. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” Paul said in Romans 12:2, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This command is prefaced in Romans 12:1 with the offer of our bodies–ourselves–to God, wholly and completely, without reservation. Joy is a renewing, an attitude provided by grace by the Spirit who moves in us, by a God who loves us more than we’ll ever know or could even fathom. As Bob Hamp, Freedom Pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas told me: “Joy is a way of looking at the world; it may not be okay now, but it will be.” So step out in faith with me and let’s learn about this thing called “joy” together. We don’t have to worry about taking the wrong path; it’s not the ending that counts, but the way we get there.
Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes