When My Joys Don’t Line Up With God’s

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

“I feel bad that I’m not more serious,” frowned my friend Melissa*. Seeing my eyebrow raised questioningly, she continued, “You know, more serious about God.”

Now, Melissa is an active and outgoing Christian with strong friendships in her Bible study group and at church. She works in early childcare and finds babies adorable. In fact, Melissa loves cute things and fun events. “What do you mean?” I teased. “It’s not like your Facebook feed is all kitten videos, Korean hairstyles and photogenic edibles—oh, wait!”

She shot me a pained look, then continued, “Yeah, those are the things that make me smile. I don’t have the same enthusiasm for, like, Christian things. I try to pray and read the Bible, but I’m not the kind of person who posts Bible verses or articles about Jesus. I just feel guilty that I still find my hobbies, like searching for cute collectibles, a lot more fun. Is it wrong?”


A dangerous assumption

The simple answer to Melissa’s question is: no, it’s not wrong. But behind the question is an assumption that should be challenged. The idea that our interests and activities can be categorized into “Christian things” and “everything else” is false and creates a dangerous dichotomy, as if God has dominion only over our church services, ministries, Bible reading or prayer time. For if God is not also Lord of our leisure, entertainment, work, relationships, play, and even of our “me” time, then we cannot be said to belong to Him wholly.

Many of us live a double life in this sense; we set aside time for “Christian things,” and then feel as if we have earned some right to indulge in “everything else.” Having enjoyed ourselves with gusto, we then feel a guilty need to tip the scales once more in favor of “Christian things,” if only to earn ourselves some more indulgence time, and so on. I find myself sometimes slipping into this mindset too.

But guilt is a terrible motivator, and will over time erode our relationship with God, wrongly painting Him as a killjoy, a grim taskmaster. The idea that we could ever “earn” the right to do as we please is also potentially disastrous, a road that can lead us away from God altogether and after our own selfish pursuits. Isn’t there a better way to aspire to a full, balanced life?


Nothing is too small

We tend to think of the secular as divorced from the spiritual, but in reality the two are integrated—we each have only the one life, and it is to be lived for God. If we regard churchgoing and other overtly religious activities as more spiritual than, say, eating or sleeping, we restrict God’s lordship over our lives. Knowing Him should transform all aspects of our lives, so that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

I used to wrestle with that idea: how could tea-drinking, for instance, be in the name of Jesus? Reading verse 17 in context helps us out. Paul’s argument stems from the fact that God has rescued us, and we get to live in a whole new way because of Jesus (Colossians 3:1-3). Our appropriate response to this, as Paul emphasizes three times, is gratitude to God (vv. 15, 16, 17). To do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 17) is to live with a constant awareness of our relationship with God.

Furthermore, to bear our Lord’s name reflects His lordship over us. As a result, all our activities rightfully belong to Jesus, and we merely manage our time and resources, thankful for the opportunities, thankful to be His. I will return later to this idea of resource management, or stewardship, but the implication here is that, being grateful to God for the “little things” we enjoy reflects our relationship with our Lord.

What does it look like when our “little things” are filled with an awareness of the Giver? Well, when I write, I am awed by the intricate workings of God’s world, and I ask Him constantly for the right words, at the right time, that my words might encourage my readers.

When my husband runs, he is genuinely immersed in his outdoors environment, loving the physical exertion and the mental clarity that a good run gives him, thankful to God for the weather and his health, and refreshed for his relationships and ministries. For the person who is mindful of God, even mundane, routine, necessary, or trivial tasks can be spiritual.


How then to choose?

But we should be careful about filling our calendar only with things that excite us, because these things in themselves cannot give us lasting joy. Instant gratification often keeps us going back to our little indulgences time and again—another hit, another dopamine surge, another high. But if all our life’s pursuits are as random and fleeting as our Instagram Stories, perhaps we are aiming too low and missing the mark?

As writer-theologian C. S. Lewis puts it in his sermon “The Weight of Glory”:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

How, then, do we choose the things that bring us closer to God, if we find them “dull” compared to the things we really feel like doing?

When I was four or so, I once complained that visiting my grandfather was boring. My dad told me that I could decide not to be bored! He then urged me to ask my Kong Kong about his life. I didn’t immediately understand or appreciate my father’s meaning. But the more often I visited, the better I got to know my grandfather, and eventually I began to love hearing about life in “the old days.” I also grew up, and the older me enjoyed his company just because I was outgrowing some of my toys and pastimes, and was ready to do more things with him, such as take long nature rambles, water the plants in his huge garden, or feed his many pets.

May I suggest that part of our Christian journey is to grow up in faith. This sometimes involves discipline to do things we don’t necessarily enjoy at first. But a far better, more long-term strategy is to cultivate a God-directed taste for pleasure. Many pursuits worth undertaking—for the joy of relating to and being close to God—may not initially “spark joy” in us because we generally cave in to instant rewards, and we so often fail to train ourselves to anticipate heaven instead. But as Colossians 3:1-2 puts it, being raised with Christ has changed our priorities, so that we should seek and set our eyes on the “things that are above” (ESV).

We can decide not to be bored; we can ask God to help us love and enjoy being with Him. If oneness with Him becomes our joy, as it is our Lord Jesus’, then our hobbies and entertainments will never entirely replace talking to and listening to God through His Word—which corrects false assumptions, drifting mindsets, and variable standards. The better we know God, the greater our enjoyment of the things that bring us closer to Him, which in turn helps us know Him even better, which gives us even more joy in serving Him, and so on!  


A matter of stewardship

We can’t live by instant gratification; we need a long view to end well. In Hebrews 12:1-3, the Christian life is described not as a sprint, but as a long-distance race requiring perseverance. We are asked to look to Jesus, who has gone ahead of us and who will see us through to the finish line.

We observe that Jesus’ joy in His relationship with God—the prospect of Their togetherness at last—fueled His earthly life and suffering. Because His heart always rejoiced in a oneness with God, His life’s energy was marshaled toward that purpose. Moreover, He has achieved it for us too; His death and victory on the cross have reconciled believers to God!

I love how pastor and writer-theologian Eugene Peterson paraphrases verse 2 in The Message:

Study how [Jesus ran]. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

When I wonder how much time to devote to my various hobbies, then, maybe the question I should be asking instead is this: does joy in my future union with God—“that exhilarating finish in and with God”—light and direct my present journey?

It’s a matter of stewardship, that is, managing our time and resources for an infinite joy that will be ours some day. That’s not to say we won’t or can’t enjoy the present and its many pleasures, but hopefully our lives don’t consist only of random, short-lived entertainments and avoidance of hardship! The idea of stewardship helps us recognize that we are always accountable to God for our choices because our lives have a long-term, God-directed purpose.

Melissa, don’t feel bad about enjoying your life. Instead, won’t you join me in taking inventory of the things that make us happy, thanking God and asking Him to help us use them for Him?


*Name has been changed for privacy.

15 Ways to Cultivate Joy in Your Life

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA 

A friend told me recently of a trip he and his wife took to Hawaii several years back. After dropping his wife off at the terminal for the flight home, he was the only person on the rental car shuttle. He recalled the shuttle driver’s words: “I think I need to go on vacation.” My friend laughed when he told me this. Where do you go on vacation when you live in Hawaii?

Having friends who used to live on one of the Hawaiian islands, I know that wherever you live, life is never all blissful. In fact, one side of my house looks over a little cabin serving as a VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) year-round. And God seems to use it to tap me on the shoulder: Just a reminder. You live in a place where a lot of people go on vacation. 

It’s good for me to remember this during points of my life when I’m feeling weary: As I wait to hear back from publishers on my book proposal. As I wait to see if a teenager’s course will correct. As I stumble through days, hoping God will reveal why I am in this country and not in that one, but knowing He doesn’t have to. I think of my friend’s advice from his days caring for his wife as she slipped from his fingers with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): Thankfulness is an off-ramp from suffering.

There is a Harvard study which shows that happiness is closely linked to gratitude. Yet as a mother, a wife, a woman—it’s all too easy for me to lose my gratitude. I often run circles chasing what I want, chasing what isn’t to be, and never finding gratitude. When I am in a slump, I overlook the fact that I live in my own kind of Haiwaii. If the eye is the lamp of the body, it’s possible mine has a dimmer switch.

My mind’s lens zooms past God’s rich generosity—which are scattered like love notes everywhere—and zooms in upon the one letter I wanted which has yet to arrive. Along the way, somewhere I bypassed my gratitude and joy for what I have. Sometimes I even conclude, He loves me not. 

But who knows? Maybe someday I’ll look back and think, That was actually Hawaii, right there. I was living in it. Or at least, a whole lotta parts of Hawaii.

So much of my joy, I know, is training my eyes to see.

Some days I have to really train my eyes to see God’s blessing. On those days, I come back to this list of 15 easy ideas towards happiness, via gratitude. This is my lifeline on days when I’m down. Maybe you’d find them helpful too. Just pick a few—and then go big.


  1. Set a goal of how many people you’d like to thank today. Meet it.
  2. Before you get out of bed, thank God for 10 things. Mean it.
  3. Write a family member a quick card or text, letting them know you’re grateful for them. Get specific.
  4. Sing a song of gratitude as you wander around the house or do your chores. (I mean it.) It’s usually lyrics appropriate to my situation that set me off, such as When you don’t move the mountains/ I’m needing you to move. . . I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you.
  5. Send one thank-you note to someone who is underappreciated this week. Repeat for three more weeks.
  6. Keep a gratitude journal nearby as you work. Jot down one thing every hour.
  7. When someone praises you, return the praise back to God, without whom we can do nothing (John 15:5). Make sure you also thank any other people who pitched in.
  8. Thank God and the cook before you eat.
  9. Find at least one person in your community, your child’s school, or your workplace that is underappreciated, and thank them in person sincerely for their work. Sharing our gratitude openly with each other is like a gift exchange!
  10. When you hit a slump in your emotions or freak out about something, take a quick thankfulness inventory.
  11. Cover a cupboard door, a window, a fridge door, etc. with sticky notes of things you’re thankful for.
  12. Take at least one action point from your thankfulness: I am so thankful to have great kids; I’m going to go snuggle with them. I love where I live; I’m going to open the windows. I am so thankful for good health; I’m going to go on a run. 
  13. Work toward becoming the most grateful version of yourself—not out of an “I’m the best!” attitude but out of humility, understanding that anything we have, we received from God (1 Corinthians 4:7).
  14. Play a quick “thankfulness game” with your family or your friends at the dinner table or in the car: What are you thankful for right now? What’s great about your life?
  15. When someone asks how you’re doing,answer truthfully. Then mention at least one thing you’re genuinely thankful for.


This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

3 Ways To Live A Joy-Filled Life

Written By Anna Chee, Singapore

For three years, I joined netball as an extra-curricular activity in school. Looking back, that season in life was overshadowed by a deep sense of joylessness. I had joined netball with a childish hope that I would somehow “glow up” to become like one of those typical netball players—pretty with a tall and willowy frame, but also strong, agile, and fast.

However, each training session only served to aggravate my insecurities. I became resentful about my non-netball-player-like frame and my sub-par performance on court when I compared myself to my fellow teammates. This worsened when I sought validation from my coach, as she often ignored the weaker players altogether.

Every training session left me on a downspiral: I was fatigued, disappointed, and joyless. Frustrated, I eventually decided to turn to God, asking Him how I could find joy and strength to be a light for Him in this situation. Here are three keys I learned that helped me in my journey towards a joy-filled life:


1. Don’t compare yourself with others

Comparison is the thief of our joy. It is normal to compare ourselves with others, but it becomes unhealthy when we go about it obsessively, and put ourselves down for not measuring up to them.

For some of us, we might be guilty of comparing in the areas of our financial status, popularity, academic results, or talents. In my case, comparing my figure and athletic skills with others caused me to lose the joy I used to have in playing netball.

These days, it has become even easier to feel discontented with our own lives when images of influencers’ perfect lives pop up all over our social media platforms, but I have since learned to be content with my lot, because everything I have is from God, and He knows what’s best for me.

If you’re struggling in this area, don’t be afraid to weed out the profiles on social media that drive your discontentment—and click that unfollow button! It also helps to remind ourselves that each person is uniquely formed by God. We do not need to be as skilled, talented, or popular than someone else to be loved or valued—we are already loved and valued by God. Let Christ—and not the standards of the world—define our value.

It can be difficult to fight the battle of comparison alone, and I’ve found it helpful to surround myself with friends I can share my struggles with, and who will commit to pray with me about my struggles and keep me accountable in this area.


2. Firmly place your trust in God

One sure way to kill our joy is to complain about the difficulties we are facing or allow ourselves to worry too much about the future. When I was too focused on my shortcomings, it was more difficult to motivate myself to go for training sessions.

But I was convicted about my attitude when I read a passage from Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotional: “Take up the arms of faith against a sea of trouble, and [this] shall end your distresses. There is One who cares for you. His eye is fixed on you, … and his hand omnipotent shall bring you the needed help.”

This passage prompted me to ask myself: If God has promised me that He will help me through my troubles, am I mocking Him when I wear a brow of worry or moan to my friends all the time?

Spurgeon’s words also reminded that I can cast all my anxiety on Him because He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7), and I can rest secure in God’s arms because He will give me all the help I need to face the challenges before me. That is the knowledge that leads to true joy.

Having a firm trust in God’s will also meant coming to terms with the fact that He has placed me in the netball team for a purpose. Eventually, God helped me see that my other teammates were also feeling demoralized, and I could be a light in this situation by being a source of encouragement and spreading God’s joy during the training sessions.

Here’s a journal entry I wrote from one training session: “[The reminder to bloom where I am planted] really encouraged me to do my best and spread the fragrance of Christ’s love to the team—and it worked! It turned out to be a really joyful training [session] with everyone.”

Remembering how I endured through tough times and persevered filled me with joy. Through this experience, God taught me what it looks like to “bloom where you are planted”— it means not looking for an escape from every tough situation, but living for Christ wherever we are.


3. Cultivate a thankful heart

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says that it is God’s will for us to “give thanks in all circumstances”. It’s easy to type this, but incredibly difficult to live it out. This is why we need to continuously depend on Christ to help us keep our eyes on God and cultivate a thankful heart.

Despite the strenuous netball training sessions, I found that giving thanks for small things, like having friends on the same team or the cool weather helped me see God’s hand working for my good, and granted me joy!

It’s far easier to gravitate towards negativity, but when we count our blessings (literally), we can see how much God has blessed us with, and our hearts will naturally well up in thankfulness.


Although my time with the netball team was a tough one, I’ve learned that our experiences can make or break us, but if we give them to God, He will weave them into something beautiful.

Despite not “glowing up” physically as I had hoped to at first, God graciously let me “glow up” mentally and spiritually. As a result of persevering through those few years, I’ve found a stronger will to press on when going through difficulties and have grown deeper in my faith.

I also find it easier to empathize with the struggles that my friends are facing, and can now point them towards Christ—the true joy-giver. If you’re also struggling to find joy in your life, I pray that you will find these three principles helpful, and find the same joy that sustained me.

Marie Kondo Didn’t Make Me Want to Declutter

I have a confession: Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo left me with very little desire to declutter my home.

In fact, it got me wondering what sort of home would I be living in if it didn’t have at least some sort of clutter—like stacks of books piled on my coffee table, or a pile of fresh laundry in the corner, waiting to be folded—lying around.

To me, clutter in moderation, adds a bit of personality to one’s home, giving it a sense that it is lived in by real people, with interests and hobbies outside of work. But I’m not surprised that so many have taken so well to this new series.

Kondo is a Japanese cleaning consultant who helps clients clear clutter from their homes using the KonMari method. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, was first published in 2014, and is the inspiration behind the Netflix series.

Each episode focuses on Kondo helping a range of people—from time-strapped families with young toddlers to empty nesters—sort through their clutter so they are able to enjoy a simpler life.

As soon as I finished watching the first episode, “Tidying with Toddlers”, I did a quick survey of the clutter in my bedroom, and I doubt Kondo would be impressed with the state of my room.

For starters, I have three different bags at the foot of my chest of drawers: one bag contains my exercise gear (three beach towels, three swimsuits, and two pair of goggles), the other is a duffel bag for holidays, and then there’s my handbag (parking receipts and outdated medication).

I have not found homes for these bags, so I pile them on the floor.

My wardrobe is crammed with clothes I have accumulated over my years of working in retail, and at my last count, my bookcase has close to 100 books.

For me, there is something rather nice about these familiar clutter. I like being surrounded by my favorite books, and knowing where my clothes are.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not encouraging piles of unwashed dishes to be left in the kitchen sink, or weeks of dirty laundry festering in the wash basket. There is a difference between personal hygiene and simply decluttering your personal space of junk.

So, while Tidying Up With Marie Kondo has not left me feverishly cleaning my house, I do think that there are some principles from the KonMari method that we could apply to our everyday life:


1. Material things do not equate to happiness

The first episode, “Tidying Up With Toddlers”, centred around Kevin and Rachel Friend, and their two children, Jaxon and Ryan. The Friend family was struggling with the copious amount of stuff that has found its way into their wardrobes and garage, where they were simply stuffed into bags, tied away, and forgotten about.

Like the Friend family, my wardrobe is filled with clothes, accumulated through years of impulse buying or as a little “pick-me-up”. While I am getting better at controlling my impulse buys, the younger me often believed buying new things was the answer to fixing life’s problems.

But no matter how many new items I bought, the life issues that bothered me still remained once the excitement of owning something new wore off. And once wear and tear got to my beloved items, or they don’t perform the way I expected them to, I was left disappointed.

That’s why I find wisdom in what the Bible says about not measuring our lives by what we own (Luke 12:15), or storing our earthly treasure on earth, where it is vulnerable to moths, rust and thieves (Matthew 6:19). Instead of looking to things to make us happy, perhaps our lives should be measured by how generous we are with our time and money, how loving we are to others, or how willing we are to help those in need. These are the investments that matter and will last through eternity.


2. Be thankful for what we have

Before Kondo started work on cleaning the Friend family home, she invited the family to take a few minutes of silence to thank the house for the shelter and protection it had provided them.

Kevin had later said it was good to be able to reflect on how the home “has been a very good home for us”, and the quiet moment spent had him also wondering if the family had done the home justice.

This reminded me of how easy it is to take things for granted—and I thought of the little Honda Jazz that I bought secondhand, and how this faithful wee car has gone on numerous road trips with me and accompanied me to different parts of New Zealand for work.

Yet, I grumble when I have to fill its tank up, wash and polish it so it keeps its shine, and I sigh whenever I look at the amount of money I have to fork out for its annual maintenance. Instead of complaining, I should be reminding myself how fortunate I am to have a car to go places in, instead of having to rely on public transport—when many do not have access to the same luxury.

Giving thanks always (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is a principle the Bible also encourages us to cultivate, and I should be more proactive in adopting it. Realizing this has made me complain a lot less about “what a hassle it is” to keep my car neat and tidy, and to appreciate it more for what it can do.


3. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t feel like doing

In the same episode, Rachel Friend told Kondo she palms her laundry to a third-party as having to wash and fold her family’s clothes induces her into an anxiety attack. To Rachel’s credit, she did say it was something she wanted to overcome.

Rachel’s attitude got me thinking of how we cannot always avoid doing what we deem as unpleasant tasks. Because let’s face it, adulting is hard. Figuring out what to cook for dinner, paying the weekly gas bill and rent, rising up early for work that you may not always enjoy, finding energy to clean the house after an exhausting day at work—these are tasks some of us would rather avoid if we could. Or even hire someone else to do these exhausting chores for us, if possible.

Unfortunately, life often does not give us wriggle room to run away from our problems and responsibilities. And sometimes it is good for us to deal with life’s challenges as it builds character, such as perseverance, patience, and compassion—after which, we will be better able to relate with our friends who may be going through the same problem.

The good news is, we do not have to face our problems alone. Just like how Rachel reached out to Kondo to help overcome her laundry anxiety, God is there with us when we go through tough times. I don’t think God wants us to back out of hard situations. In fact, He wants to mold us into brave people who are able to see through challenging times (Romans 5:3-5).


4. Hold on to things that don’t spark joy

Even if you’ve never seen the Netflix series, you might have heard of what Kondo’s famous for: encouraging people to get rid of things that no longer spark joy. They are to hold the item in their hands and ask themselves, “Does this spark joy?”. If it no longer does, they’re to thank the item for its service before throwing it out or donating it.

However, while Kondo’s advice of letting go of items that no longer spark joy might apply well to objects, there are other areas of our lives we cannot just shake off because it doesn’t spark joy. But the good news is that with God, we can find joy even amidst life’s mind-boggling problems.

The Oxford Dictionary defines joy as a “feeling of great pleasure and happiness”, but the Bible describes “joy” a little differently. The Scripture tells us to “consider it all joy when we encounter various trials” (James 1:2-3)—which I’m sure do not ignite any feelings of pleasure.

I believe God’s idea of joy is less to do with a temporary feeling of happiness, and more anchored on the knowledge that He will see us through our trials, mind-boggling or otherwise. It is the anchor that keeps us steady through trials and focused on the work that God might yield in our lives as we submit ourselves to Him—that end goal of becoming more like Him is what gives us hope and joy.

At the end of our earthly troubles, the Bible promises that we will be rewarded with a “crown of life” (James 1:12) for faithfully staying our course. To me, that’s a goal that’s worth aiming and working towards.


Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo may have truly changed the lives of certain individuals, and I am certainly not disregarding it. However, while Kondo’s tips on decluttering our house of unwanted goods could lead to better living on the outside, it’s what’s inside of us that’s more important.

When I was going through a hard break-up a number of years back, I tossed out most of the items that were given to me by my ex-boyfriend, but the euphoria lasted for only a few seconds. Soon after, the feeling of emptiness and betrayal would creep back in and overwhelm me again. But I found my inner joy by going back to God’s Words and clinging onto His promise that all things will work for good for those who trust in Him (Romans 8:28).

So even as you’re picking up tips from the show or Kondo’s books on how to declutter your house, I’d encourage you to also go to the Bible and make space for God to declutter what’s on the inside—it’ll spark a joy inside of you that will last for all eternity.


Editor’s Note: Can’t get enough of Marie Kondo and decluttering? Here’s another article for you.