“Resist anything that leads to moodiness. Our prayer each day should be, ‘Let the joy of the Lord be my strength’.— St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Sometimes I find quotes like these annoying. They bother me where I don’t want to be bothered. I much prefer to feel I have a right to my moods and that there’s a good reason for my irritability. I presume people have aggravated me and caused this sulky attitude and it’s just the fallout they get for doing so. Surely it’s their fault not mine.
I am no Mother Teresa.
But other times, words like these come as a relief. Do you ever just feel a longing to get over yourself? To lay down your self-righteous duty of self defense? We are so easily offended these days. And in today’s world we are encouraged to fiercely defend our right to be offended. But, I hear the Spirit nudging me, “Let go of that irritation. Let it go.” Sometimes it’s exhausting to be bitter.
Mother Teresa isn’t bossing me around. She’s reminding me of the truth my heart needs to remember. A selfish and stuck soul has a hard time finding joy.
The Philippian church needed similar reminding. They had some moody women among them, too. Two gals named Euodia and Syntyche were quarreling, really going at it. So much so that the church’s unity was in jeopardy. So Paul, their spiritual father, sent them a love note. From prison. A love note from prison on how to be joyful and less moody. I wonder how deep their conviction ran?
The Message translation says it this way:
“My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God. I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.” Philippians 4: 1-2
Paul is on to something here. He continues…
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Philippians 4:4-5 NLT
Here’s what he’s saying, “Good work ladies! You’ve shared the gospel and furthered the Good News of Jesus. But hey, your quarrel has reached a fever pitch and you’re no longer thinking straight. You are an example to those who need to see Jesus in your lives and your moodiness is getting in the way. People need Jesus. He’s coming back. Is your right to sulk and quarrel more important than that? Where’s your joy?”
Ouch. Painful fatherly wisdom.
Greg Laurie once said as Christians we are peddlers of joy. If the world doesn’t see joy in our lives, why would they consider Christianity? Why?
Now we both know we can’t manufacture joy on our own. I’ve tried and failed. But God is gracious. He teaches us how to gain this joy. Read with me more of Paul’s wisdom:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 6-7 NLT
We don’t know what these ancient sisters were quarreling about, but it clearly caused them worry and angst. They needed some peace. At first glance, these verses feel like another list of hard things I will never be able to do to get this peace that feels so out of reach. But, that’s not it. Really this is an instruction on how to pray. Examine your worries to discover your next prayer request. When tempted to fret and worry, go ahead, you can’t stop it anyway. Saying, “don’t worry” to someone is like saying, “don’t think of giraffes.” (You just did, didn’t you?) But, before you dive into worry and let it run away with your heart, take a minute and pray. Start by thanking God for all He’s already done in your life. Don’t tell me you can’t think of anything. You can. Start small and build from there. Then thank Him for the resolution to your dilemma before you see it. Thank Him knowing the response will come. Believe He holds the answer to your prayer. I know this takes faith and trust. And I know it’s hard. But, so is carrying around a heavy, bitter, disappointed heart. Which would you rather try?
And then when you’re ready – and this is advanced stuff – thank Him for the problems. Yep, that’s right. Thank him for the worries that drive you right to your knees and right into His arms.
You know why your worries make you moody? Because you weren’t meant to carry them. Our backs weren’t built for these heavy loads. We are meant to release our worries to the One who governs time and space and can do something real about them. That’s what Mother Teresa meant when she quoted the old prophet:
Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength! Nehemiah 8:10
Look, this will take practice. It will be a conditioned response. My young teen daughter regularly forgets to put on lotion and deodorant. She is still training herself. Usually she’s found out if she forgets. Smelly pits and rough knees are good reminders. Me, I do both without even remembering. It’s conditioned in me, automatic. Taking your worries to God will take practice. It may take the unpleasant aroma of fear and worry. The roughness of angst and bitterness. But let that remind you for next time.
And if it just so happens your knees are rough because you’ve been kneeling on them in prayer…well you just go ahead then. Because what happens on our knees is a holy exchange – our worry for His peace. And then His strength becomes our joy.
Do you remember Corrie ten Boom? The concentration camp survivor? Her terrible experiences brought about a joy, peace, and strength few can claim. How on earth? Because of her steadfast determination to trust Jesus even while suffering unimaginable horror. Hear her wise words:
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength-carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
When we lose our joy we lose our strength. When we lose our peace we lose our hope. They are all inexorably linked: Peace and Hope, Joy and Strength. They are like sisters. Except they never fight.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Moodiness and worry. Are you ready to lay them down? Are you ready to take up joy and strength? Peace and hope? Me too. Let’s practice together.