I work part time at Target.  If the Apostle Paul could be a tentmaker preacher, why can’t I be a Target preacher?  This experience has allowed me many opportunit Joy is at its greatest when it is shared.   Joy comes from relationship.  ies to bring humor to my day as I work with so many people. 


Maria, one of my joyful co-workers, is someone people enjoy being around.    She has a positive spirit and she enjoys laughing.   Even during my early training days at Target, I noticed people were attracted to her winsome personality.   She smiled, joked and greeted people as she worked.   This is not to mention the times you would hear her contagious laughter a few aisles over from where we were working.


Maria brings a lot of comedic relief to a stressful workplace.   You can’t help but laugh as she shares with you serious situations in her life.   Situations in which one normally would not find humor, her positive spin leaves you with a belly of laughter and a large smile on your face.  Whether she is talking about her husband, her recent gall bladder surgery or her kids, at some point you will laugh along with her. 


One afternoon she told me that her husband came in from the driveway and said it smelled like a dead animal outside.  She did not think much about it, but the next day as she approached her car after work she noticed someone walk by her car and wrinkle their nose.    After closer inspection she discovered her mistake - after an evening of grocery shopping earlier that week she had left a package of raw chicken in her trunk and the heat of summer had sent it through a serious metamorphosis.   As we laughed, I told her that it was a wonder that she was not pulled over by the police on suspicion of a body in the trunk.    I jokingly questioned, “Has anyone seen Aunt Edna?”   She went on to say how she hired professionals to clean the trunk of her car and later burned candles in it to remove the smell.  Then we joked that she not only had a dead body in the trunk but she had a memorial as well.   Another work day concluded with a laugh.


You would snort right along with me if you heard her speak of her newly acquired little puppy.   This canine chews everything.   One day she came through my line buying a pair of shoes because their new, cute little puppy shredded her last pair, and the living room couch as well, with his teeth.   As she swiped her Target credit card through the card reader she giggled at the thought of what man’s best friend was costing her.    Even in her aggravation you can tell she loves this little dog.   The next day she came through my line and with her head turned to the side and a tone of frustration she paused for a second and said, “You are going to have to hand key in the number of my card today.”  As I took the card I realized why.  Her sweet little puppy had just about demolished her card; it was bent in different directions and was pelted with puppy teeth marks.   As I entered the number we laughed out loud to the point of store guests turning in our direction to discover why we were laughing so hard.   The next day she came through and pulled her cell phone from her purse and sure enough her phone showed evidence that her puppy was letting his teeth do the walking.   Again we shared a moment of laughter.


Story after story, told by Maria, one concludes that she needs to be in front of a crowd of people on a stage somewhere with a whole cluster of spotlights pointed directly at her.


Maria also has the same make, and model car that I drive.   Even the color of the exterior and interior, down to the wheel wells, are the same.   I admit, when our automobiles are parked side by side in the parking lot the two cars look identical.  Yet, upon closer inspection my vehicle has some serious issues with clutter in the seats due in part to my young children and in part to the amount of time I spend in my vehicle. 


Every day when arriving for work, Maria parks in the same space: beside the security light post in the Target parking lot.  On Monday I got to work to discover Maria had not parked in her usual space.  It was available, so I pulled into the space, excited because it is the closest parking spot to the front door for the employees.    The next day Maria told me how she left work the day before and spent 10 minutes trying to get into her car only to discover that it was not her car at all---it was mine.  Through several chuckles she said, “I just could not figure out why my key was not working.”  I guess she discovered it was my car before an emergency call to Triple A.  


When I arrived at Target on Wednesday, again her usual space was available, so I deliberately parked my car in her space.   After putting the sun screen in my windshield I placed a large sign in the window that read: “MARIA, THIS IS NOT YOUR CAR!” 


She called me later that evening laughing so hard at the beginning of the conversation I could hardly understand her.  She told me that while she was walking to her car she was wondering who attached a sign on her car.  Closer inspection of the sign reminded her that she was again going to the wrong car.


What is your attitude as you go through life?  Are the corners of your mouth turned down or do they stretch to your ears forming a smile; a smile so big it looks like you have slept with a coat hanger in your mouth?   Are you joyful?    Do you laugh a lot?  If you asked your closest friends, would they say you are happy? Would they say you smile a lot?  Would they conclude you have an abundance of joy?


I am not talking about going from day to day with a painted on smile and wearing a mask so you pretend you have joy in your life.  I am talking about having a cheerful disposition, like Maria.  God wants to see you going through each day looking for the positive, finding a friend or a stranger to share a laugh with, and concluding each day with a smile.


Being happy doesn't require us to turn a blind eye to the troubles in our lives or things such as crime and natural disasters.  Neither does it mean we chant shallow platitudes such as "Don't worry, be happy."  If we desire to exhibit the attributes of God in our lives we have to begin to do some serious inward examination.   The child of God longs to imitate God in His joy, peace, patience, and goodness.   A happy heart takes root in the discipline of giving thanks.  I believe it’s the secret weapon of the joyous Christian.


Happy in the Lord


The Old Testament is loaded with proclamations that instruct God's people to remember His goodness.  1 Samuel 12:24 encourages, "Be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you."


The happiest people I know are thankful people.    One might ask, “How do you explain the person that has a joyful disposition, yet has no faith in God?   How can they be happy?”   They have learned to be thankful.   You can be grateful without offering one expression of thanks to the Creator.  You can be thankful for your friends, neighbors, or boss.  You can be thankful for your family, the doctor, or your community leaders.   So, even a nonbeliever can feel a sense of joy because of a thankful heart.  However life changing joy is felt only in a deep relationship with God.


Because I am a Christian, whenever I struggle to feel joyful, I choose to reflect on how God always meets my needs.  As I count those blessings I become a happier person because I am reminded how God is blessing me in my life.


It Is An Increasing Joy


I love Philippians 1:9-11, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”


Paul is praying that the Philippian church would continue to grow. They are sure of their destiny but they should also be progressing in the faith. 


We should experience joy as we see ourselves becoming more and more like Christ.  But this is unusual, isn’t it?  This is not the experience most Christians have.   For most of us we begin our Christian life walking on a cloud of joy and then over time it gradually dissipates.  By the time we have walked the Christian life for a couple of years we are often just "going through the motions".  Somehow over time our faith has become lifeless.  That's why Paul's prayer is so significant for us.


He prays that our love may abound more and more.  He is not just asking that we feel more strongly about each other, though that is certainly a part of the process, but he wants us to grow more and more in our love for the Father.  This is a love that is not just emotion . . . it is based in our knowledge and depth of insight.  As we learn more about the Lord, we love Him more completely.  And as we love the Lord more fully, we experience a deeper level of joy


We will be living our lives and bringing God glory.  We will see every opportunity as an opportunity to honor Him.  Christianity is meant to be practical.


We live joyfully because we really are on a "Great Adventure".  All those mishaps, disappointments and troubles of life are a part of the whole experience. 


People that go white water rafting amaze me.  When first in the water they enjoy maneuvering the boat in the current.   Then they face a couple of little rapids and really enjoy them.   As the journey continues, they begin to face rapids which are bigger and fiercer.   The fiercer bigger rapids are superior to the earlier little rapids.   If the boaters had left the water after experiencing only the little rapids, they would have missed the greatest part of the  adventure.


The Christian life is like that. We miss out if we stop progressing. The initial stages of the faith are enjoyable but they are nothing compared with what God will introduce us to as we continue to travel with Him.  We must stay the course.  


Surefire Strategies


If developing an "attitude of gratitude" is difficult for you, take heart! You'll be surprised how a little bit of discipline goes a long way toward giving you a joyful spirit. Try these steps to put you into action:


1.    Start a joy journal.


Keep a small notebook by your bed just for jotting  down a few good things God has done for you that day.  This doesn't take long.  At the beginning, or on a day when your heart's heavy, this may take some work.  But even on those days, try to come up with three items, minimum.  It may help to look back over the other days' entries to spark thoughts of God's faithfulness to you.  As your skill of being thankful develops, this exercise becomes a pleasure.


2.    Find something to be thankful for, no matter the circumstances.


In every situation, there is something to be thankful for, if only you look for it (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  My coworker Maria has an abundance of joy because she has learned not to be a complainer.  She doesn’t focus on grievances; she notices the good things.  She has the attitude of gratitude.


For the past several years I assigned myself the task of making a list of "100 things to be thankful for."  Typically I find the first 20-30 easy to come up with, and then get bogged down.   After a while, I suddenly find myself remembering little things and I always manage to come up with 100. Give it a try.


3.    Say "thank you" before "please."


When you pray, don't jump directly into your want and needs lists, no matter how pressing those may seem.  God loves to hear us offer our appreciation of Him.  Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 6:9-13 to begin their prayer by honoring God ("Hallowed be Your name").


4.    Search The Scripture.


 Remind yourself of the importance of rejoicing by searching the Bible for God's instructions in this area.   It will spur you on to consider what great things God has done for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us it is God's will that we be "joyful always" and "give thanks in all circumstances."


5.    Just ask.


When you struggle to obey God in the area of giving thanks, don't hesitate to ask Him to show you how.  He's longing to draw you close and to give you strength for the challenges of each day.   So ask for His help so you can be more grateful.


The work of God in us is like building a house.  At times you see great progress.  But at other times progress seems slow or non-existent.  But it is all part of the process.  The Christian life consists of both.  There are times when you will see rapid growth and dramatic change in your life. Thank God for those times.  But at other times you may feel that God has stopped working in your life.  But that will never happen . . . He may be doing some finish work on some areas of your character before He begins in another area of your life.  It could be that you are fighting Him in the process by your reckless living.  However, He has not stopped His work.


Joy is anchored in God's work and promises.  It’s an adventure that involves growth taking place in our lives.  As we grow in our faith, the old prejudices are overcome and hurts of the past give way to true forgiveness.  Our desires suddenly focus less on earth and more on Heaven.  Our behavior looks more like Jesus and we find it easier to trust Him in the tough times.  Christian joy deepens as the years go by.


What good is it to laugh when there is no one there for with to share it?  What good is a smile if someone is not there to be encouraged by it?  


Practice a thankful heart and it will blossom into a joyful life.   Be like my coworker Maria and develop a positive attitude that is contagious to those around you.  Learn to smile a lot and let people see your happy