Hanging to the joy of the Lord is not easy. Satan wants to rob you of this incredible, God-given treasure, and he'll do everything in his power to steal it away, making your bitter experience much worse. Jesus said in John 10:10 "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they (including you) may have life and that they may have it more abundantly". Satan is all-out to steal your joy through your bitter experience. Whether his attack comes in the form of a surge of despair, or just an annoying, rock-in-the-shoe irritation, he's not going to let you keep your joy without a fight.
If joy was a guaranteed by-product of salvation, then every believer would be rejoicing all the time. But that's not the case. So where does that leave us? With the obvious (and Biblical) conclusion that a disposition of joy must be cultivated and clung to, in spite of every attempt of the enemy to snatch it away.
It will help a great deal if you realize that your joy is rooted in God. Establish once and for all that He is aware of and controls the details of your life, including the situation you are in now. Your joy is not dependent upon circumstances-it's dependent upon Him. And He never fails! Once that issue is settled, Satan will have a hard time disconcerting you by sending a trial your direction. This is needed in order to make your bitter experiences catalysts to your successes. Along with Paul and Silas who sang in the dungeon, and Daniel who stood eyeball-to-eyeball with the lions, you've learned that if God allows a trial, it's for your good as I said earlier. Tell the enemy so! Let him know that if he thinks he can steal your joy by trotting out trials, he can think again.
With that basis for your joy established, identify potential joy stealers. They are many, and they come in innumerable carefully-crafted disguises.
Busyness is one of them. Is your calendar routinely crammed? Your time so scheduled with appointments, activities, and assignments that an unexpected phone call throws your whole day out of tune? Be aware that Satan can use that. He'd love to get you frustrated and tense because you're just too busy. Be careful of overworking yourself. King Solomon, in Proverbs 23:4, said "Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease!" Don't think that by getting yourself too busy you will get your bitter experiences turned into catalysts for your successes.
Wrong priorities can rob you of joy. How reasonable it seems to wholeheartedly throw yourself into education, a career, or the pursuit of pleasure! But Jesus wants to be first in our lives, and we'll never really abide in His joy until that is the case. Without Jesus, you have no future. HE sees into your future. Let your priorities be as positive enough as GOD will accept them.
Worry is another joy stealer. Up-coming events, financial woes, a strained relationship, a frustrating job search... all of us can find things in life to worry about as we experience bitterness. But what do you gain from fretting? Paul encouraged the Philippians to cast all their cares upon Christ. And guess what. It still works!
Pursuit of material things is the trend of the day, and one that is so destructive of joy. Stores filled with the latest gimmicks and gadgets offer you just the thing to (temporarily) lift your spirit, satisfy your ego, and gratify your sense. But a focus on these will create a spirit of discontent. Watch out!
Besides watching out for joy stealers when you are experiencing bitterness, there are steps you can take to cultivate joy in your life.
1. Start by deciding to be joyful. James wrote to the Early Church "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into various trials..." He wasn't saying life was going to be peaceful and pain-free. Rather, he was challenging believers to be filled with joy because of the potential outcome of an appropriate response to difficulty.
2. Take time with God. The Psalmist learned it, and so can you: "You will show me the path of life, in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11). King James Version says "Thou wilt show me the path of life: in THY presence is fullness of joy; at THY right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
3. Invest yourself in others. Jesus gave Himself unstintingly to those around Him. If we are to live in Christ's joy, we must imitate Him by serving others.
4. Don't dwell on your past failures. You can be sure it isn't God who haunts your mind with the mistake of the past. He loves you, and He's committed to helping you succeed.
Look toward your eternity with Christ. The problems and frustrations of today will be past. Heartaches will be forgotten eternally. Tears will be wiped away. And then you'll have joy-real, deep-seated, all-encompassing joy. In fact, right now you just don't know half of it.