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Here we are a week into the new year. Is it really a happy one for you? For some there have been almost inconceivable blessings; for others, it has been one frustration after another. Others are just getting back into the work and school routine after the holidays. Either they are feeling a little let down, or they are thankful to get back to “normal” life. Whatever the circumstances of our lives are, they will almost certainly be affecting our perception of whether or not this is going to be a Happy New Year. And most of us have probably realized by now that we truly have very little control over those circumstances. Sure we can make plans and work hard to try to control our lives, but there will always be events that are beyond our ability to manage and which will influence our degree of happiness.

But what of Jesus’ promise that our joy would be full? (John 15:11) First we need to realize that joy and happiness are not the same thing. Happiness is an emotional reaction to circumstances. According to Kay Warren, author of Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

Second, we need to look more closely at the context of that promise. This verse comes very soon after the parable of the vine and the branches, in which Jesus teaches us to abide in Him. It comes directly after Jesus tells us that He loves us just as the Father loves Him, and instructs us to remain in His love. (John 15:9) Then He tells us that the way to remain in His love is to obey His commandments (John 15:10), and that His commandment is to love each other the same way that He loves us. (John 15:12). So many people who don’t know Jesus think that following His commands would make life tedious, and would take all the fun out of living. Jesus promises just the opposite. Abiding in Him, loving Him and each other, this is what will make our joy complete.

In last week’s post I talked about the greatest love that one person can have for another, and that we are commanded to have that kind of love. Love can be commanded because it is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, but an act of the will. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be easier with the warm, fuzzy feelings, but we are nevertheless commanded to love. How can we do it if we don’t feel it?

The answer is found in verses that precede last week’s passage, John 15:4-5. It is simple and complex all at the same time: abide. That is the word used in many translations. Many others, including the NET Bible (the version you see when you scroll over a reference in this blog) use the word remain. Remain is used 12 times within verses 4-16. (John 15:1-17) Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4) We cannot bear fruit unless we remain in Him. That does not mean that we are completely helpless. There are a lot of people in this world who do not acknowledge Jesus at all, but who still manage to function. Some are quite successful. But nothing we do will have lasting spiritual value, eternal value, if we do not abide in Him.

How do we abide, remain, in Jesus? John 15:7 gives us the clue: if His words remain in us. The best way for us to remain in Jesus is through scripture reading and prayer, prayer that includes taking time to listen and allowing the Lord to speak to our hearts. Any strong relationship requires time and attention, not just a quick hello (or call for help) now and then. It is by building this close connection that we will bear much fruit--accomplish deeds of eternal spiritual value--and bring honour to our Heavenly Father. (John 15:8)