Apply the Joy
By Bethany L. Kulterman
A number of years ago our ladies’ Bible study group chose to study the book of Philippians – the joy Book. I began my teaching preparation by looking for joy in my life. One day while standing at my kitchen sink piled high with dirty dishes, I noticed a bottle of liquid Joy, the dish detergent, sitting next to it. I thought to myself, imagine bottled JOY. I picked it up and started reading the label. My research prompted me to consider the contents of the joy contained within me.
I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the joy inside of me comes from knowing Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of my faith. Therefore, my joy is comprised of who and what He is, not who or what I am. In my head, I began to recite some of the ingredients of my joy—God’s love, His righteousness, His mercy and forgiveness—and my heart smiled.
Looking back at my sink full of dirty dishes and that single, little bottle of dish detergent, I decided to try it out. I grabbed my Joy—the liquid stuff—and squirted it all over the burnt on and the baked on stuff. I made sure to work up a good lather…lots of bubbles. As I attacked the grime, I began to accept that life is full of sinks piled high with “life’s dishes”: illness, hurtful words, and fair-weathered friends, to name a few. I reminded myself that when we take His joy into the hard places of life and apply it liberally, things change. Dirty dishes and dingy water turns into delightful mounds of foamy bubbles and sparkling clean dishes.
Paul tells us in Rom. 5:3-4, “We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know suffering produces perservance, perservance, character and character hope. Joy gives birth to HOPE! Therefore, we must not let circumstances dictate our happiness or joy.”
I had this modeled for me as a child. My dad saw his cup as always half-empty. He fretted over everything. His joy was tucked away for special occasions. My mother, on the other hand, saw her cup as always filled to the top and there were times it ran down the side, spilled into the saucer and splashed out onto the table. She was a natural-born Pollyanna who taught me how to look for the good in every situation, while my father wore fear as a heavy protective overcoat. My mother wore joy as a fragrant perfume.
As a child, I lived in Kansas, or “tornado territory.” Every spring, like most Midwestern kids, I spent a good deal of time in our dark and dreary basement as sirens blasted their terrifying screams. To a child, a tornado drill is a scary thing. But to my mom it was an opportunity to put down her work and create an “Adventure.” She would collect lots of books, a few old candles, a soft quilt, and march me and my sisters down a flight of rickety old stairs into our dark, musty basement. There we sat among boxes of canning jars and watched spiders weave their webs. We read books and sang songs. Mother told us Bible stories while her four little girls wiggled and giggled until Daddy hollered down the “all clear.” At that instant our basement adventure ended. We shot up the steps with smiles ready to check out the damage. We were always a bit disappointed not to find at least a tree limb down or a lawn chair overturned.
Looking back as an adult I realize my mother saw these times as teaching opportunities on how to handle the hard things in life. Yet, as a child I wondered if my mom was crazy because my dad was outside looking at the sky—watching and waiting for disaster to hit. He never joined us. He missed the adventure. Many of my friends grew up with incredible fears and horrible memories of waiting out tornado warnings, but when I heard sirens I thought “time for a basement adventure.”
That is what joy is about to me. It is taking any situation and giving it to God. Joy must not be allowed to sit on the sink. It must be spilled out, modeled, released, and shared.
Paul had that type of inner joy as he sat chained in a dark and dirty prison in Phillippi. Perhaps that is where Mom got her idea. His circumstance was not going to rob him of his joy in Jesus. Instead Paul and his companions sang loudly and made some interesting friends, puzzled guards who heard wonderful stories about a guy named Jesus.
And there was more to do. Though the living conditions were putrid and the lighting certainly poor, Paul wasn’t deterred from picking up his pen and jotting off notes of encouragement to his young Christian friends. He could have begun his letter with, “Dear Friends, I need your help. I want out. This place is the pits, literally. I am wasting my time and God’s. See what you can do. Your suffering friend, Prisoner Paul.”
Instead, Paul writes, “Grace and peace to you. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy, because of our partnership in the gospel.”
Later Paul says, “these chains, and all that has happened to me has served to advance the gospel.”
There were years when I too sat in a prison of fear and darkness. Having a congenital eye disease, blindness was always a possibility. I had three corneal transplants before the age of 40. One of my surgeries failed. There were days when blackness surrounded me and I felt locked up in my own house. There were days when I felt shelved by God. I too wanted to be out doing God’s work instead of sitting at home with the blinds drawn.
Yet, I knew the choice before me. I could either sit on the pity pot or apply the joy. Good thing I had all those basements adventures under my belt. So, like Paul, I grabbed my joy and accepted my situation. I ask God what He would have me to do.
God encouraged me to look past my circumstance. I began to call old friends and write notes of encouragement to those who were also “locked up by life.” For the first time in my life I had time to be quiet and truly pray to Almighty God. During those quiet times God taught me many wonderful things.
I learned that dirty dishes will sit in the sink and the bottle of joy will remain on the counter until you take matters into your own hands. You can’t apply the joy until you pick it up, turn it upside down, and squirt it out. You must put your faith into action. All that stuff you know in your head needs to process down into your heart and out through your hands. Dirty dishes without a strong cleaning compound and some good elbow grease remain dirty, though in time the big stuff may dissolve away. But when I’ve taken a hold of God’s joy and apply it generously and work with it, we say to others, and ourselves, God is big enough to get me though this—and help me rejoice.
The next time you’re at your kitchen sink full of dirty dishes, think of the messes you have pitched into it. Then think of the simple bottle that sits next to the mess, and apply the joy.