How to Be Occupied with Joy in 2021
Updated: Jan 8
We have to learn how to receive and rejoice in the many gifts that have already been given to us through Christ.
I tend to get very melancholic around the New Year. I just seem to have a natural tendency towards it. This melancholy usually sets in as the Christmas break is winding down, and I begin to consider what the new year might have in store. I wonder: How can life be better this year?
This year my wife and I are having conversations about financial goals. We’ve talked about the need for saving more for retirement. We’ve also dreamed about the kind of house we would like to live in and have talked about how we could possibly make that happen someday. All that said, it may be of little surprise that my old friend melancholy has come around from time-to-time this year yet again.
I doubt that I’m alone in my melancholic experience around New Year. My guess is that this year is likely filled with even more hopes and dreams and goals than usual for many of us. To say that most Americans are hoping that 2021 will be a better year than 2020 is a vast understatement.
The Bible, however, repeatedly warns us against putting our hopes primarily on the uncertainties of the days ahead in this life. This comes through strongly with Jesus’ words during His most famous sermon: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…can any one of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-34)
The author of Ecclesiastes comes at it a slightly different way,
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions, and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)
This teaching seems so contrary to our cultural assumption that life will only be good if we make it good. For many of us, the days ahead always look better than the present. As Emerson once said, “we are always getting ready to live and never living.” Indeed, not everyone who has wealth and possessions actually has the power to enjoy them
The truth is we struggle to be occupied with joy because our focus is more on the possibilities ahead rather than on the blessing of the here and now. But the Bible emphatically teaches us that a truly joyful life is possible, if only we learn to embrace these present realities. In fact, it teaches us that the ability to enjoy the blessings of today is a gift from God. And what are these present blessings? For the teacher of Ecclesiastes, it’s the small things in life: eating and drinking and finding enjoyment in our work. These things, he says, will bring us contentment if we learn to accept our life and rejoice in it.
Yet, for Christians, the blessings of our present realities are enumerable because of Christ. It is because of Him that “we have been given every spiritual blessing.” It is because of Him that we have been given “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” And it is because of Him that we have been given victory over death itself.
For Christians, all of this means that a wonderful and meaningful future is surely guaranteed. Yet many of us are not “occupied with joy in our hearts” despite this truth. So, what are we to do?
The answer that Scripture gives us is this: we have to learn how to receive and rejoice in the many gifts that have already been given to us through Christ. We are to find our hope and our meaning in Him and Him alone, and not in what we accomplish, not in what we can attain, not in what we can make of ourselves. As the old hymn says, you must “Lay your deadly doing down—down at Jesus’ feet; stand in Him, in Him alone, gloriously complete.” When we do this, we are free to receive and rejoice in the gifts He has given us.
So, do you want to be occupied with joy in 2021? Then consider the immeasurable riches that you have safely secured in Christ! Pray to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to grant you the gift of contentment and the experience of these blessings in your life. And enjoy the small things. Whatever you are hoping for this year cannot compare to what you already have in Christ.
Adam Smith is a Ministry Resident with Ministry to State in Washington, D.C.