Learning to Celebrate Others With Unhindered Joy
By: JASMIN HOWELL
It was just a pair of earrings. Gold hoops with an artsy, colorful fringe … and they looked like they should be my earrings. While a stylish Instagrammer shared a photo of her latest find, I recognized a familiar and undesired feeling percolating in my heart…
Have you ever been there? Struck by the realization that someone you love just received something you’ve been longing for? It might be an experience, a trip, a relationship, a purchase, a gift, an accomplishment, or really anything else you can imagine. Any number of unwanted feelings bubble up in your heart. Envy. Frustration. Resentment. Sadness.
Oh boy, have I been there! And I’ve experienced these feelings in any number of situations. I am always mortified by my response. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just celebrate with them?
I’ve realized that I don’t just find it difficult to celebrate with others in my life — I have a deeper struggle, which is to accept and find joy in my own circumstances. Have you struggled with this too?
It has become apparent to me that when we aren’t satisfied with our God-given “portion” it’s much harder to enjoy watching God give a different portion — different gifts, blessings, opportunities, experiences — to His other children.
No fair, I want one too
In His unlimited wisdom God instructs us to rejoice with those who rejoice. (See Romans 12:15.)
If you watch children, it’s quite evident that rejoicing with others doesn’t come naturally, even from the youngest age. For example, if a father has two children and gives one a popsicle, does the other burst out joyfully, “Oh how wonderful! I’m SO delighted to watch you eat your popsicle!”? That’s almost laughable, because we all know the more common response would be crossed arms, a pouty face, and the very commonly heard, “No fair! I want one too!” As we grow up, we often learn to mask our true emotions, making our responses more socially acceptable, but leaving our hearts in much the same state as a pouty child’s.
Our unspoken responses to others can often be the same. “No fair! I want one too!” Though the exact thoughts we have may be different, the sentiment is the same. This type of response reveals an ugly truth about our hearts, which instructs our tongues.
Sometimes we want to withhold our rejoicing for others — especially in our relationships with other women — until we receive what we are longing for, or at least until we receive what we view as an equal blessing. We reason that our rejoicing for others will come naturally at that point. We think, when God answers my prayer, then I can rejoice that He’s answered her prayer. But that couldn’t be further from the truth that God desires to establish in our lives!
Rejoicing with others means we have to put ourselves — and our own desire to be celebrated — aside so that someone else’s joy, delight, and success can shine! The best way to be able to rejoice when others rejoice is to daily cultivate celebration in your own life through an attitude of praise! When we are content and grateful for what God has given to us, when we practice thankfulness for our given portion, then rejoicing for others won’t seem like a jarring idea!
More than just lip service
We are so used to living in a polite society that we have learned how to speak the right words, whether or not our hearts actually agree. We may open our mouths and voice our congratulations, and our tongues may utter what we know to be the “right things,” while our hearts tell a far different story. God addresses this concept of falsehood when He says, “These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Is. 29:13 NIV).
If our hearts lack true joy — even if our mouths form the appropriate words — then we are simply liars, and our act of rejoicing is just that … an act. Plain lip service doesn’t please the Lord. We may be able to mask our true feelings from others, but nothing is hidden from the Lord. (See Hebrews 4:13.)
Wouldn’t it be so much better if words of polite congratulations weren’t just forced from our lips, but were actually the overflowing utterance of a truly joyful and sincere heart?
But how can we have full, unhindered joy for the blessings of others? How can we truly, sincerely, and deeply walk out God’s call for His people to rejoice with those who rejoice?
Enjoying our portion
We must learn to receive, accept, and enjoy the portion God has given to us, and likewise rejoice in the portion He gives to others. The passage below from Psalm 16 has been one of my favorite passages for quite some time. It is often a timely encouragement and reminder for my own soul to find joy — and the source of true rejoicing — in the Giver of all possible delights, both earthly and eternal!
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices…(Ps. 16:5–9 NIV, emphasis added).
When David writes about his lot and the boundary lines of his life, there is an acknowledgment of divine appointment — that the Lord alone establishes the “portion” for each life that He creates! Rejoicing with others is very hard when we despise the portion we are given and long for what we don’t have. In fact, genuine rejoicing is impossible in that frame of mind. Consider these biblical stories:
Jacob wanted his brother’s birthright, and brought strife and deception into his family by getting what was never intended to be his. (See Genesis 25.)
Joseph’s brothers longed for more than their given portion until their bitterness towards Joseph blinded them into attempted murder. (See Genesis 37.)
Saul longed for the throne of Israel and pursued its power, even when God had chosen another to rule as king. (See 1 Samuel 16.)
Even David himself, discontented with his own portion, sought to gain the wife of another man. (See 2 Samuel 11.)
Time and time again there is only strife, injury, frustration, and bitterness that comes from trying to grasp for more than the portion God gives. That portion is part of His flawless plan for each life.
Those boundary lines are a reminder of His protection and love.
If we don’t find ourselves viewing the boundary lines established by the Lord in our lives as “pleasant places,” if we aren’t offering up praise to the Lord for His provision … then trust me … even if you get what you want, rejoicing will be the last thing on your mind! I know without a shadow of a doubt that even if someone walked through the door and handed me exactly what I wanted in this moment … it couldn’t possibly make me content. The root of my frustration has nothing to do with the “thing” I want, and everything to do with my ungrateful heart.
When I’m not in the habit of rejoicing in the portion God has given me, it is exceedingly difficult to rejoice for others! My eyes are downcast, my mind is focused on what isn’t, my lips are turning out complaints instead of praise! What I love about the passage from Psalm 16 is that not only does the Lord establish and secure our portion for us and give us much to rejoice in, He is also the Source of real rejoicing. A daily practice of praising Him for His gifts to us, and keeping our eyes on Him alone, leads to a glad heart and a sincerely rejoicing tongue! Amazing what a little change in focus can do! As it says in Proverbs, “…Feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’” (Prov. 30:8–9 NASB, emphasis added).
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Rejoicing is a supernatural, Spirit-born response — nothing in our flesh is capable of it! Rejoicing is a God-quality. It says in Isaiah, “…as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (62:5 NIV). And elsewhere, “…He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (Zeph. 3:17 ESV). God is the ultimate Rejoicer — it is part of His nature, and thankfully it is a quality He can gift to us!
Our trust in the Lord, and the measure of our contentment with His plans for us, is directly reflected in our response when we watch somebody else receive the blessings of the Lord. And there is nothing quite as lovely as a woman who finds her full joy in Christ, rests with contentment in her “portion,” and cultivates a rejoicing spirit.
Friend, I invite you to join me in asking Him to daily show us how to live a life that rejoices! I know with great certainty that He can build us into women who can celebrate others without reserve — and with unhindered joy!