Four Keys to Finding the Joy of Christ in Your Life, a Message from Fr. Christopher Makiej
I want to talk to you today about the answer, the solution, to worry and anxiety in your life.
There are so many people stressed, anxious, worried, pessimistic about life. But the Church provides us with the answer in the Bible – Saint Paul’s letter to the Phillipians 4: 4-9.
TRY TO BE JOYFUL The first answer-response to worry and anxiety is to rejoice – to seek to have some joy in your life, try to be a happier person: Verse 4-5 “Rejoice in the Lord, again I will say rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to all people. The Lord is at hand.”
Paul was in prison writing this letter. He was suffering. He had been beaten, tortured, suffered many hardships. Yet he is saying to us to try to have more joy in your life … even in the midst of difficulties, which we all struggle with.
So the message here is to try to see the bright side of things. Don’t be so stoic, pessimistic and serious all the time. We can choose to be happy. Studies say that people who smile and laugh more actually live longer. I’m not saying a superficial, fake happiness. And I’m not diminishing a circumstance or hardship you are going through right now. But what this passage is saying to us is to keep it all in perspective. Think about it — on a given day, why are we in such a bad mood? Why are we down and depressed? Do we keep it in perspective as compared to others?
As a Priest, I see people who really have suffering, sickness, tribulation and hardships that are very serious. Yet a lot of these people inspire me because they still find a way to smile once in a while. Then I see people with the most trivial of problems yet they are totally depressed!
And so the message is, try to keep our difficulties in perspective. A little joy and laughter can diminish a lot of worry and distress. After all, did not Jesus rise from the dead? Shouldn’t we be at least a little happy about that? And that’s what Paul said here in this verse: “Rejoice!” Have some joy. The Lord is at hand, the Lord is alive. Our real joy, our true happiness, brothers and sisters, is in the Lord! He’s Risen; He’s alive; and He’s invisibly present with us, now and always! And that’s something to smile about. He is the answer to our worry and distress – and He with us through the good times and bad times in life.
PRAYER. Secondly, another answer to our worries and anxiety from this passage is Prayer. Verses 6-7: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God; and the Peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Prayer soothes and heals our worries and anxieties and gives us peace. Many of the sophisticated elite in society will say that praying is just sign of weakness. “Can’t you handle your own problems? And there is no God anyway.” Well, that mentality is simply delusion and arrogance! You see, prayer is our way of connecting and relating to our God who created us. I truly encourage every home to have an Orthodox Christian Prayer Book (available in our church bookstore).
You see, when we pray more, we will begin to see God’s power at work in our life – in little problems and in major crises. I believe that the more we pray – the bigger we make God a part of our life – the smaller our problems seem. But when God is a small part of our lives – even the smallest problems in life seem big and overwhelming.
There are prayers in this book for all circumstances in life. Sure we can add to this and pray our own way, but it’s wise to have guidance and direction. Every day we can pray a little bit. Begin with little two-minute prayers – prayers for the morning, in the evening, during sickness, in a time of trouble, for comfort, married couples prayers. And the best prayer of all is simply to breathe in and out saying the Name of Jesus. Do this as much as possible.
Prayer soothes us with peace. These were the first words Jesus said to His disciples after He had risen from the dead: “Peace be with you” (“Irini Pasi”).
Dear friends, the more we pray and seek to connect with Jesus, and go to him in prayer with our worries and anxieties, the more real He becomes in our lives. Not just in our imagination, but in a very true and real way.
Some of us today are heavy laden with problems and worries, and I say to you today: Help is available! Some of you have had more than your share of hardships lately, and you may be in a very difficult situation right now, but, I submit to you, it’s subject to change – God will see you through!
When we trust God and go to Him in prayer, He is well able to turn around and transform our present circumstance. That’s what Jesus did with His own Cross. He turned around death and crucifixion on the Cross and transformed it to Resurrection and new life. And through prayer, He can do the same for us: He can turn around our depression, our loneliness, our anxieties and worries. Just go to Him a little bit, every day in prayer.
GOOD, POSITIVE THOUGHTS. And the third answer to worry and anxiety from this passage is to meditate on good things. Think about good and virtuous things. Verse 8: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Brothers and sisters, what we watch, read, and listen to influences us and affects our minds and our philosophy of life. The Bible teaches us to transform our minds and not to conform to the mindset of this world. (Romans 12:2)
And so, meditate and think about the good. I know it can be difficult to do. There’s so much negative, pessimistic news in the media and entertainment industry today. And it can cause anxiety, stress, frustration.
In a recent article in Business Week called “Get rid of the TV,” author Juliet Shore talked about her book, “Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture.” She says that what most surprised her about the results of her study was that the more kids (and adults) are exposed to consumer culture, the likelier they are to become depressed, suffer from anxiety, or experience low self-esteem.”
And what troubled her the most was the sophistication of the messages marketers are hurling at us. The savvy understanding they have of family dynamics and how they can exploit the pressures of families to get them to buy things (and watch things).
The bottom line is that Hollywood, the news media and corporate marketers are not looking out for the best interest in our families. We’ve got to be wise. Look for the good. Turn off the TV, computer, iphone more often. Try to find edifying books to read, especially the Bible, and decent things to watch and inspiring, positive things to think about.
BE AROUND BELIEVERS. And one final teaching this passage offers as an answer to worry and anxiety is to look for good Christian role models, and try to be one yourself. This means to seek to be around good friends who are fellow believers in Christ. Verse 8 says, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, these things do. And the God of Peace will be with you.”
In other words, look for and imitate people who are trying to live a godly life. I’m not saying abandon all our other friends, but it’s extremely important to be around other believers who are at least trying – no one’s perfect – to live a Christian life.
The Bible teaches that “bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33). There are many good people today who are influenced negatively because of co-workers, peers or friends who are not only atheistic, but very critical and cynical about faith and Christianity. And that’s why Saint Paul says that it’s so important for us to seek to have friends who believe in Christ, who can lift you up when worries and problems come your way, and who can inspire you to rejoice in the Lord, always.
Friends, let us all seek to do what Saint Paul says.
If we smile a little more and try to have more joy in our lives; if we try to pray little more; if we seek to meditate on good things; and if we try to get around godly friends, we will not only manage and conquer our worries and anxieties, but we will truly feel God’s presence in our lives, and we will truly be fulfilled, living the life God has called us to live. Amen