Our devotional for today comes to us from Chuck Dunning. Chuck is the Director of the Senior Year Experience in Student Development Services here at TCU. Anyone who knows Chuck will tell you that he’s a wonderful man with a heart of gold. His quiet and contemplative presence offers those around him a safe space to rest, breathe in peace, and move forward with compassion and kindness. A true advocate for those in need, Chuck’s intentional desire to help others is evident in everything he does.
An Advent Devotional, By Chuck Dunning
In this season, let us meditate on the joy experienced by those who knew Christ was coming, and who thus rejoiced even in a time of great suffering. In this meditation, I was led to this scripture: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NIV)
In this blessing, the Apostle Paul points toward hope as an important attribute of God and a gift that God can bestow upon us. Paul encourages us to trust in this, that by doing so we also receive greater joy and peace, which further magnify our hope. He clearly draws a strong connection between our feelings of trust, hope, joy, and peace and the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet these states are more than just separate feelings we passively experience, and are instead attitudes interwoven with each other. Paul prays that we are inspired with these attitudes so we might overflow with spiritual power.
Of all these qualities – trust, hope, joy and peace – it may be hardest to understand joy as an attitude, rather than simply the feeling of happiness. An attitude is not only about what we feel, but also about what we think and do with regard to the circumstances of life. Trust is relatively easy to understand as more than a feeling. We can all relate to trust as a state of mind, even a decision, to risk relying upon something or someone, despite feeling a lack of confidence. Similarly, peace is not only an emotion, but a way of thinking and acting that facilitates harmony. Likewise, most of us can recall times when we didn’t feel the pleasant anticipation of hope, yet maintained the attitude of hope for a particular possibility, desiring and remaining actively open and ready for it to actualize.
So what is the attitude of joy when we aren’t actually feeling happiness? Perhaps it is optimistically choosing to seek out, celebrate, encourage, and support the best in whatever, or whomever, we are experiencing, including ourselves. By doing so, even in the most unpleasant circumstances we may find something to be happy about, and thus be enabled to share that happiness with others by drawing their attention to it as well. Obviously, we don’t want to confuse this positive attitude of joy with foolish denial or avoidance of unpleasant realities. On the contrary, joy is part of what enables us to squarely face and cope with even the most difficult situations, and to recognize such times are often the advent of something better. The attitude of joy also helps us to help others do the same. Every time we do so, we can know it as the gift of spiritual power overflowing, which means we are not only receiving it but also pouring it out to others.
Prayer: God of hope, Holy Spirit, we resolve to practice the attitude of joy within our hearts and minds as well as in the world, and thereby humbly open ourselves to serve as overflowing vessels of your loving power. Amen.