I’ll never forget standing outside our little church building in Chrisman, IL after I was baptized into Christ. I was nine-years old, and my friend asked me, “Do you feel any different?” I don’t know if he expected me to have a halo hanging over my head, but I actually did feel different. I had a joy in my heart and a lightness in my step.
Fast forward. Nine years later, the joy was gone. And then I rededicated my life to Jesus, and joy returned . . . for a while. Since then, over the past thirty-plus years, my life can be characterized as a cycle of joy and struggle.
Is this the lot of the Christian life—trapped in an endless cycle of the ups and downs and peaks and valleys of spiritual joy and struggle? All Christians experience moments of spiritual joy and sadness. None is exempt from seasonal and even daily highs and lows.
We try to be “good Christians,” thinking that if we just read the Bible more, stay away from the really “bad” sins, and attend church more frequently, the darkness will go away. But our formulaic remedies fail us, and we’re left with fewer answers.
Francois Fenelon once wrote, “To just read the Bible, attend church, and avoid “big” sins—is this passionate, wholehearted love for God?” (The Seeking Heart).
The good news is there is hope for those of us who long for more than checklist Christianity. Like most solutions to problems that ail us, the remedy is a process, not a magic pill. Here are some helpful stepping stones to guide us through our search for enduring joy.
First, find your traveling companions. You need two-three people with whom you can be completely transparent and vulnerable. Jesus had his companions, and you need yours.
Second, desire more of Jesus not more religion. Duty and obligation only take you so far in spiritual transformation. Jesus is the only one who ultimately transforms the human heart. When you seek him, you will have your eyes focused in his direction away from the things that pull you back into the valley below.
Third, engage in daily spiritual practices. Commit to the way of Jesus not through rules to follow but disciplines to shape your soul and mend your heart. Prayer, scripture memorization, contemplation, fasting—these should not be practices for the spiritually “elite,” but for all sojourners bored with what American Christianity offers.
Fourth, be honest with yourself. This soul journey will have ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). But this is why we come to Jesus, because He gives us the strength and grace to take our next step. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Why don’t you pause right now and pray that Jesus will give you the strength you need to take your next step with him?