Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the stress of studying? I remember the many late nights in the library studying with friends when we were preparing for the ‘A’ levels. Even though we tried our best to revise our notes and help test each other, there was still the fear of not doing well.
With anxiety building up as the exam dates drew nearer, I stayed up later, slept less, and became more short-tempered at home. I had become so focused and worried about exam results that joy was taken away from me. I was drained and exhausted.
In that moment, it felt like studying was all that mattered, even if it took a toll on me mentally, emotionally, and physically. But on hindsight, I wished I could have reminded myself that there is much more to life than studying and about the importance of cultivating joy, because “a joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17:22).
The book of Proverbs was put together long ago for God’s people to learn about God’s wisdom, and I find this saying to be so true and relevant today. A joyful heart really lifts me up and makes me feel better like an effective cure, but a crushed spirit can take its toll and drain me completely. The key here is the presence of joy, which makes me wonder, “Where does my joy come from? How do I cultivate a heart that can rejoice in all situations? What tends to take joy away, leaving me feeling crushed, broken, and dry?”
For me, being thankful is one way of cultivating a joyful heart.
When I thank God for His goodness, how He has lavished His love on me, and adopted me into His family through Christ, there is the joy of being loved by my Heavenly Father. When I have my favourite dishes, learn something new in school, or have a happy reunion with loved ones (post-Circuit Breaker), I can thank God for blessing me with these tangible gifts to enjoy in this season of life (Ecc 3:12–13).
When I thank my family members or friends for their kind words, surprise gifts, or acts of faithfulness, they know what they have done have not gone unnoticed, and joy can fill their hearts too. When I choose to give thanks, my heart becomes joyful because I realise I have been blessed with much.
Another way of cultivating a joyful heart is by turning worries into worship.
With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and social unrest around the world, the sheer amount of negative news can make me anxious about the uncertain future. Things can also get stressful for those preparing for major exams, or for those waiting to secure an internship or job during this economic downturn. But instead of letting these worries steal my joy, I can choose to worship.
Because God knows me by name, and all the days of my life have been ordained in His book before one of them comes to be (Ps 139:16), I can surrender my worries into God’s hands, trusting Him to take care of things. When I sing praises or meditate on Scripture, I’m reminded of our eternal hope in Christ that goes beyond this physical world. Through worship, my worries fade and there is fullness of joy.
I hope that no matter what challenges come in your studies or work, joy will not be taken away from you, but will always fill your heart and keep your spirit strong. Be thankful, turn your worries into worship, and may the joy of the Lord be your strength.