Monday, March 8, 2010

Sunday's Lesson on Steps to Having Joy in Your Life

How many of you are happy today? Shouldn’t we be happy? After all, we have the fulness of the gospel! And the gospel is good news! Not the kind of depressing news we see on tv every night, but GOOD news that lightens our hearts and brings joy to our lives!

I think we all want to have lives filled with joy. But first we need to understand what joy is. Is it just feelings of happiness or pleasure? It may include elements of these, but from what I’ve found it’s much more.
One of the greatest of all God’s revelations is Father Lehi’s teaching that “men are, that they might have joy.” Joy is more than happiness. Joy is the ultimate sensation of well-being. It comes from being complete and in harmony with our Creator and his eternal laws. (Dallin H. Oaks, “Joy and Mercy,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 73)

I’d like to know… what do you do in your life to experience joy? What makes you happiest?

What experiences have you had when you felt the kind of joy that Elder Oaks referred to?

How did those experiences differ from everyday moments of happiness?

It’s good that we have so many sources of happiness and joy in our life. Now I’d like to talk about the one source of ultimate joy. Dallin H. Oaks has given us some great counsel on this:

“Despite all we can do, we cannot have a fulness of joy in this world or through our own efforts. Only in Christ can our joy be full. This is why the angel proclaimed: “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
“For unto you is born this day … a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11.)
We are able to have a fulness of joy only when spirit and body are inseparably connected in the glorious resurrection to celestial glory. That joy, of course, comes only through the mercy of the Holy Messiah, whose resurrection broke the bands of death and whose atonement unlocks the reservoir of mercy by which we can be cleansed of our sins and come into the presence of God to receive the fulness of the Father.
We joyously proclaim that “there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.” (2 Ne. 2:8.) God’s mercy is the only source of the ultimate and eternal joy, which restores every loss, dries every tear, and erases every pain. Eternal joy transcends all suffering.

Now we know that ultimate joy can only be obtained through the mercy of God and our Savior’s atonement. But how exactly does that happen? And what do we actually DO to have joy in our everyday lives?

I think it’s a great blessing that we have God’s own words to help us understand this. Let’s turn to the scriptures to see what God has said about joy.

D&C 42:61 If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things- that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.

What does this scripture say brings joy?
What are the mysteries and peaceable things?
How do we receive revelations and knowledge?

John 15:10-11
10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

What did the Savior say is key to having a fulness of joy?

The Lord, speaking through King Benjamin, reminded us: “I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness” (Mosiah 2:41).

“In order to have joy, you need to understand that, as a child of your Heavenly Father, you inherited divine traits and spiritual needs—and just like a fish needs water, you need the gospel and the companionship of the Holy Ghost to be truly, deeply happy.

Because you are the offspring of God, it is incompatible with your eternal nature to do wrong and feel right. It cannot be done. It is part of your spiritual DNA, as it were, that peace, joy, and happiness will be yours only to the degree you live the gospel.” (James E. Faust, “Our Search for Happiness,” Ensign, Oct 2000, 2)

The gospel of Jesus Christ is, in fact, the only “great plan of happiness.” If you opt for any other way of life or try to live only the parts of the gospel that seem convenient, such a choice will cheat you of the full, resplendent joy and happiness for which you were designed by our loving Father in Heaven and His Son.
In general, the more faithfully we keep the commandments of God, the happier we will be. Obedience is the first step on our path to ultimate joy.

If we are living the commandments then the next step, repentance, should come naturally.

Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can receive forgiveness for our sins through sincere and complete repentance. Sinfulness brings suffering and pain, but the Lord's forgiveness brings relief, comfort, and joy. We can experience this miracle, whether we need to repent of serious sins or day-to-day weaknesses.
In this life and in the life to come, a fullness of joy comes about through the Resurrection and the remission of sins.

Isaiah 51:11 says: Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.

When we repent and are forgiven we become the redeemed of the Lord, and we are filled with joy.

Can you recall how you’ve felt when you’ve been forgiven? What did it feel like?

This brings us to our last step… having the Spirit of God with us.

The joy that follows the remission of sins comes from the Spirit of the Lord. It is a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise in Doctrine & Covenants 11:13: “…I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.” The Apostle Paul also taught in Galatians that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.” (Gal. 5:22.)

President Faust said: “I believe the Spirit of the Holy Ghost is the greatest guarantor of inward peace in our unstable world. It can be more mind-expanding and can make us have a better sense of well-being than any chemical or other earthly substance. It will calm nerves; it will breathe peace to our souls. This Comforter can be with us as we seek to improve. It can function as a source of revelation to warn us of impending danger and also help keep us from making mistakes. It can enhance our natural senses so that we can see more clearly, hear more keenly, and remember what we should remember. It is a way of maximizing our happiness.” (James E. Faust, “The Gift of the Holy Ghost—A Sure Compass,” Ensign, Apr 1996, 2)
Each of us is eligible to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost in our lives through repentance. As we have the Spirit’s constant companionship we are more likely to be filled with joy.

We’ve gone over the steps of having greater joy in our lives and the equation seems so easy: Obedience + Repentance + Holy Ghost = JOY!

So why are many of us unhappy so much of the time? Why do we struggle to feel joy in our lives? Why do you think God allows us to be miserable?

I love what Reed Smoot had to say about opposition to joy:
“Be not dismayed at the trials of life; they are sent for our good. God knows what keys in the human soul to touch in order to draw out its sweetest and most perfect harmonies. These may be the strains of sadness and sorrow as well as the loftier notes of joy and gladness.
Think not that uninterrupted joy is good. The sunshine lies upon the mountain top all day, and lingers there latest and longest at eventide. Yet the valley is green and fertile while the peak is barren and unfruitful. Life that is all sunshine without shade, all happiness without sorrow, all pleasure without pain, were not life at all, at least not human life. Take the life of the happiest. It is a tangled yarn. It is made up of joys and sorrows, and the joys are all the sweeter because of the sorrows.” (Reed Smoot, “Joy,” Ensign, Oct 1972, 16)

What affects could it have on us and on our families if we constantly focus on our problems and trials instead of on God’s mercy and love?

I love what Richard G. Scott said about focusing on our challenges:
“A pebble held close to the eye appears to be a gigantic obstacle. Cast on the ground, it is seen in perspective. Likewise, problems or trials in our lives need to be viewed in the perspective of scriptural doctrine. Otherwise they can easily overtake our vision, absorb our energy, and deprive us of the joy and beauty the Lord intends us to receive here on earth. Some people are like rocks thrown into a sea of problems. They are drowned by them. Be a cork. When submerged in a problem, fight to be free to bob up to serve again with happiness.” (Richard G. Scott, “Finding Joy in Life,” Ensign, May 1996, 24)

We all need to strive to be corks!

How can we overcome feelings of discouragement and unhappiness?

Do we have a responsibility to live the gospel joyfully?

How does living joyfully help us fulfill our roles as women and disciples of Christ?

How might others perceive our religion if we come across as depressed, discouraged, and overwhelmed?

You are here on earth for a divine purpose. It is not to be endlessly entertained or to be constantly in full pursuit of pleasure. You are here to be tried, to prove yourself so that you can receive the additional blessings God has for you. The tempering effect of patience is required. Some blessings will be delivered here in this life; others will come beyond the veil. The Lord is intent on your personal growth and development. That progress is accelerated when you willingly allow Him to lead you through every growth experience you encounter, whether initially it be to your individual liking or not.

When you trust in the Lord, when you are willing to let your heart and your mind be centered in His will, when you ask to be led by the Spirit to do His will, you are assured of the greatest happiness along the way and the most fulfilling attainment from this mortal experience. If you question everything you are asked to do, or dig in your heels at every unpleasant challenge, you make it harder for the Lord to bless you.

Your agency, the right to make choices, is not given so that you can get what you want. This divine gift is provided so that you will choose what your Father in Heaven wants for you. That way He can lead you to become all that He intends you to be. That path leads to glorious joy and happiness. (Richard G. Scott, “Finding Joy in Life,” Ensign, May 1996, 24)

Your faith in Jesus Christ gives life enduring meaning. Remember you are on a journey to exaltation. Sometimes you have experiences that yield more happiness than others, but it all has purpose with the Lord.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to focus on what joy is over the last few weeks. I thought that it was interesting that as I started to prepare this lesson I was overcome with some of the worst feelings of depression and discouragement that I’ve felt in years. It felt as though all the sadness, fears, and troubles of the world had come to settle on my shoulders. It was hard reading about and pondering joy in the midst of this. But as I struggled through and continued to study and pray about it, I was blessed with a great testimony of the need to experience each end of the emotional spectrum. I was able to grasp God’s hand and be pulled out of the dark hole I was in, and I could better appreciate the daily joys He brought into my life. I can’t say that I’m feeling happy all the time, or that those feelings don’t creep back at times, but I have a greater reassurance now of God’s desire for me to have joy in my life and the reality of His ability to give it to me. And I know that He has the same desire for each of you. God wants us to be happy. He wants us to feel that “ultimate sensation of well-being.” We are here that we might have JOY! This is my prayer for each of you.

Many of the quotes were from the following talks:
James E. Faust, “Our Search for Happiness,” Ensign, Oct 2000, 2
Marcus B. Nash, “The Great Plan of Happiness,” Liahona, Nov 2006, 49–50
Dallin H. Oaks, “Joy and Mercy,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 73
Richard G. Scott, “Finding Joy in Life,” Ensign, May 1996, 24
Reed Smoot, “Joy,” Ensign, Oct 1972, 16

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