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  • The Habits and Science of Joy (Discussion Notes)

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    Isaiah 61:3 tells us that we can have ‘the oil of gladness instead of mourning’ and ‘the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit’. Jesus saves those who truly mourn their separation from Him. After dealing with our filthiness and debt on the Cross, He now offers us His own perfect righteousness as a free gift. (Read verse 61:10 for the beautiful response of someone who has experienced this. Note that the word ‘exult’ in the second line means to ‘spin around under the influence of a violent emotion’!)

    The Habits and Science of Joy (Discussion Notes) - primary image

    So are all Christians constantly and supremely spinning around in joy then? No, because our experience of Jesus’ joy is dependent on us remaining close to Him and it’s also situational - circumstances can land us in seasons when joy rarely breaks the surface and may remain hidden completely). Jesus’ death and resurrection mean that I am now free to become like Him. It’s up to me (with the Spirit’s help) to make the most of that opportunity!

    Understandable & Memorable

    God knows that a message is only as powerful as it is memorable. That’s why He uses everyday things like vines and branches to communicate a life-changing truth:

    John 15:5-8
    ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

    Branches don’t have to work hard to produce fruit, all they need to do is stay connected to the vine. Jesus finishes off the lesson by adding, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (v11). Joy is a fruit and, as branches, all we need to do is ‘remain in Jesus’; what does this look like though in the bustle of life?

    Habits with God-appointed benefits

    I recently watched a TED talk by Shawn Achor who was describing five habits that if done every day for 21 days, could effectively ‘rewire’ the brain to make us more optimistic and happy. As I reflected on these five habits, that were all backed up by peer-reviewed studies, I began to think that maybe this is what Jesus meant when we said ‘Remain in me’. Could it also be that this kind of brain-training could also be the ‘renewing of your minds’ that Paul mentions in Romans 12? I’ve listed the 5 steps after the discussion questions below; trying to sum up the conclusions of the original scientific studies and then giving some suggested ways in which we can use these habits to focus on Jesus and grow closer to Him.

    ‘Who’ is more important than ‘how’

    The person of Christ is far more important than the suggested process in this article. How we worship should never eclipse who we worship. We are free to become like Jesus and He is full of joy (Hebrews 1:9), it turns out that God has even embedded physiological benefits into the process of getting to know Him!

    Some Questions:

    1) Do you hunger and thirst for a reconnection with God when you are distant from Him?
    2) Do you think of God as full of joy?
    3) Do you think that ‘the renewing of your minds’ can be boiled down to simple steps and habits?
    4) Discuss the 5 habits sheet in groups of 2 or 3. Decide whether you want to commit to the 21-day plan and how you can help each other.

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    Do each of these 5 things every day for 21 days.

    1) Three Gratitudes

    (Emmons & McCullough, 2003)
    Summary of findings: Writing down three things that you are grateful for each day will train you to scan the world not for the negative but for the positive first.
    Psalm 95:2
    Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

    Suggestion: Take time each day to thank God for three specific things, big or small. How much better to not only feel vaguely grateful but to have someone to express gratitude to!

    2) Journaling

    (Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006)
    Summary of findings: Journaling about one positive experience each day enables your brain to re-live it so that you get double the benefit.
    Luke 2:19: But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

    Suggestion: Commit to keeping a diary for 21 days, each day write about one positive experience from the last 24 hours.

    3) Exercise

    (Babyak et al. 2000)
    Exercise teaches your brain that behaviour, and what you do with your body, matters.
    1 Corinthians 6:20…You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

    Suggestion: Set yourself achievable goals for this one! In this 21-day period, the habit and the completion of the goal is more important that an impressive physical achievement! If all you can manage is 5 push-ups or a walk around the garden, then do that, and do it well.

    4) Meditation

    (Dweck, 2007)
    Taking time to focus on just one thing helps us to get over our cultural attention-deficit problem and enables us to focus on the present task.
    Joshua 1:8…This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night…then you will have good success.

    Suggestion: Think about one, specific phrase, picture or bible verse for one minute. Don’t aim to be profound! The aim isn’t to grow in understanding or learn something new, it’s just to train your brain to focus, and to enjoy your identity in Christ.

    5) Random Acts of Kindness

    (Lyubomirsky, 2005)
    Get into the habit of kindness by sending one positive email each day, praising or thanking someone in your social circle.
    Ephesians 4:32…Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

    Suggestion: For the Christian, acts of kindness aren’t random because they are done in response to the kindness that God has shown us. Still, don’t aim to change your neighbourhood each day! Set yourself achievable goals, like a thankful or encouraging text message.

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