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TODAY’S VERSE TO PONDER: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. – Romans 12:12 (NIV)

In his letter to Rome, the Apostle Paul explores what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means to humankind. Twelve chapters into the epistle, Paul dispenses a checklist of actions expected of a Christ follower. He paints a clear picture of what it means to offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice” to God.

Into one verse alone, Romans 12:12, Paul interweaves six huge concepts: joy, hope, patience, pain and struggle, faithfulness and prayer. All are essential ingredients to living our lives as sold-out followers of Jesus Christ.

Over the next week, I’ll explore each day what one of these concepts means to me personally as a believer. Let’s start with JOY.

The word “joy” appears 155 times in the New International Version of the Old Testament and another 63 times in the New Testament NIV. Clearly, joy is an essential concept in God’s Word.

At a key moment in biblical history, as Jesus was gathering with His disciples for their final meal together, He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11 NKJV) Jesus directed His followers to rest in the love that God demonstrated for them and to keep His commandments.

What was the source of the joy that Jesus called “My joy” that He imparted to the disciples? Noted theologian Oswald Chambers, in his landmark devotional My Utmost For His Highest, contends that “the joy of Jesus was His absolute self-surrender and self-sacrifice to His Father.” Jesus found joy in His mission to give His life on the cross to fulfill God’s promise to make a way to salvation for those of us who believe.

Jesus then told the disciples to love one another, to love others, and to go out into the world and “bear fruit” by sharing the good news of salvation. He said the world would hate Christ followers. He said that discipleship has a real price, and that living out faith in Jesus Christ could cost us relationships, earthly freedom, even our physical lives.

The reward for obedience to God’s call to love, serve and spread the story of the resurrected Christ will be “joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:22 NKJV).

How many times have you said to yourself, “I just want to be happy” without knowing the true definition of joy? Simple happiness pales in comparison to full and complete joy, and Jesus Christ demonstrated the pathway to unspeakable joy.

In our culture, we have been conditioned to believe that the source of happiness is getting exactly what we want exactly when we want it. Countless times, we have heard people say, “I would be happier if…” and then complete the sentence with some reference to money, property, beauty, health, life experiences, relationships or other earthly desires. That stuff might bring happiness for a brief season, but none of those will ever yield true, full and lasting joy.

Joy is available to us only when we take our personal cravings out of the equation and submit ourselves completely to the will of God. It is acceptable, of course, to ask certain blessings from God, but if He chooses not to grant those requests, we should thank Him nonetheless and accept that He knows what is best for our lives. Joy is absolutely accessible to us when we surrender our lives to God and live every day as a living sacrifice to Him.

Joy and humility walk hand-in-hand. We might go through every day believing that we alone know what would be best for our lives, but joy will remain elusive if all we see is what WE want out of life. When we humble ourselves before God and say, “Use me to YOUR will, God,” a whole universe of possibilities for joy open up before us.

If you’re searching fruitlessly for that one thing that will make you happy, or you’re generally happy but have the feeling that there must be something more to life than what you’re experiencing, give up.

Literally. Make the decision today to give up your life to Jesus Christ, surrender to the will of God, make that Christ-directed commitment to love and serve others, and the lasting reward will be joy.