Someone recently gifted me a red gerbera daisy plant, which I potted and proudly placed by my front door to bring people joy as they approached my home. However, I quickly noticed the flowers drooping. Assuming it was because of the Alabama heat, I began watering them more regularly and moved them to where they’d receive more shade. It didn’t help, so I turned to Google and discovered that I had overwatered them and needed to place them in full sunlight and deadhead the wilting flowers. Thankfully, I learned all this before killing the plant. But it was a close call!
Plants require ingredients such as adequate sunlight, water, soil nutrients, and deadheading in order to thrive. Humans also require essential ingredients and care to thrive spiritually. We often narrowly focus on how to study God’s Word and pray, which are definitely essential ingredients for spiritual growth. But we often miss other crucial practices. It’s like only focusing on sunlight and water when trying to grow a healthy gerbera daisy plant and missing all the other factors that affect the plant’s health and growth.
Hindrance to Joy #1: Not Seeing God Clearly
One vital ingredient often absent from spiritual formation conversations is joy. Throughout Scripture, we see commands to rejoice (Ps. 32:11; 70:4; Phil. 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16). We also know that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). But how do we cultivate joy?
After studying the Lord’s Prayer with a young woman at my church, she shared her lack of desire to pray. So I asked her to close her eyes and visualize what words or images come to mind when she thinks of God. She envisioned an exasperated man wagging his finger at her in condemnation and anger. It made sense why prayer would be hard if that’s who she imagined talking to. There’s no joy in that relationship.
Joy comes from knowing God and being known by him. But like this young woman, we won’t have joy if our knowledge of God is deficient or hyperfocused on some of his attributes to the exclusion of others. We need an accurate, well-rounded knowledge of God.
We can’t base our knowledge of God on our experiences or feelings because our understanding is limited and our feelings fluctuate. But Scripture is unchanging, and in addition to creation, it’s how God has chosen to reveal himself to us. He’s given us a way to know him through his Word.
Close your eyes and visualize who you’re speaking to when you pray. What comes to mind? Without giving Sunday School answers, what two to five adjectives describe how you think or feel about God? These two exercises uncover where we are, which provides us with crucial information on what next step to take. Like my gerbera daisy, in order to know how to flourish, we must first determine why we are wilting.
Hindrance to Joy #2: Not Seeing Yourself Clearly
The young woman’s mental image of God said something about how she viewed him. But it also provided insight into her understanding of how God saw her—that she was bad or wrong in some way, deserving of his judgment.
Answer this: what does God enjoy about you?
The first time someone asked me what God enjoys about me, I squirmed in my seat and felt slightly uncomfortable with the question. I know intellectually that God loves me, but I hadn’t considered what specifically God might enjoy about me. It took me a minute to formulate a response. I’ve seen some people truly struggle to come up with anything at all.
If you don’t think God enjoys you as you are or delights to be with you, it makes sense that you would lack motivation to obey him or to engage relationally with him. If there’s pressure to be a certain way or to reach a certain level of “goodness” in order to be approved, liked, or tolerated by God, we feel defeated before we even begin. Legalism, duty, and perfectionism create drudgery, not joy.
Zephaniah 3:17 states, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Even though God knew every evil deed and every unjust act that every person in Israel had committed and would commit in the future, he still says that he will rejoice over his people with gladness and exult over them with loud singing. These words have connotations of delight, enjoyment, celebration, and gladness. They’re not words that express duty or displeasure.
God delights in you as loving parents delight in their child. We may not always feel this is true, especially if we never felt love and support from our earthly parents. But we can remind ourselves of this truth from Scripture.
One Help: Gratitude for God’s Character
If joy is absent in your relationship with God, you’ll be the spiritual equivalent of my wilting gerbera daisy. Cultivating joy in your relationship with God entails reading the Bible and learning about him, but it also involves expressing gratitude for who he is. This year, I’ve incorporated a simple gratitude exercise into my daily Bible reading time. I begin by identifying two characteristics or names of God and then thank him for something he’s done in the last twenty-four hours. Sometimes I express thankfulness for the blooming flowers in my yard. Other times, I thank him for how he’s answered a prayer, worked in a situation, or provided in some way.
Gratitude helps me remember who God is, and it spotlights how he is at work in my life on a daily basis. This brings joy, and it reinforces that he delights in me as his child. It also compels me to talk to him and read the Bible so I can know him more. This week, take time to enrich the soil of your relationship with God by incorporating joy and gratitude practices into your daily or weekly rhythm. God delights in you and wants you to delight in him.
Meet the Author
Ashley Chesnut serves as the Associate Young Adult Minister at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, and she’s the author of It's Not Just You: Freeing Women to Talk about Sexual Sin and Fight It Well. She has a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a Certificate of Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. When she's not at the church or meeting with girls, you can probably find her at the farmer's market or trying some new local restaurant.