Chapter OneLIFE AS IT WAS MEANT TO BE
Discovering the Secret to a Joy-Filled Life
If you only care enough for a result, you will almost certainly
attain it. Only you must then really wish these things, and wish
them exclusively, and not wish at the same time a hundred
other incompatible things just as strongly.
- William James
What is the secret to a joy-filled life? Does such a thing even
exist? Since the beginning of time, mankind has searched just
about everywhere in hopes of finding out this secret. Today,
most people are trying to find joy in something or someone
outside of themselves. But where exactly did God place this
secret to a joy-filled life? Is it possible that our heavenly
Father branded joy onto the very fiber of our being? I think
God gave all of us a shot at experiencing the proactive happiness
I call joy. After all, we are his most beloved creation.
As humans, we search for joy in all the wrong places.
And what we receive is just a sporadic sampling, a fraction
of the real deal, a clever counterfeit to genuine joy. We look
outside, not inside. The secret to a joy-filled life is so close,
so obvious, that inside is often the last place we look. We
search everywhere but within.
Living with joy is our birthright. It is God's intention for
all his children. In 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul writes,
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus"
(5:16-18, NIV). As children of God, we are rightful heirs to
the blessing of overflowing joy. God has declared us worthy.
As a result, we have a calling, a responsibility to express and
demonstrate joy by the way we live.
Being joy filled does not mean that your life is perfect.
Who could claim that? It doesn't even mean that your life is
great. What it does mean is that you emphatically trust God
and believe that he has great plans for your life, regardless
of what is happening right now. Joy is the infectious and
uncontainable fruit of divinely inspired growth. It's a deeply
entrenched, unshakable belief, the result of sustained right
thinking and dwelling on the nature and character of God.Joy is an outward sign of inward faith in the promises
of God. It is a way of acting, and it is evidence of spiritual
maturity. Joy is not a distant destination at which you
arrive; rather, it's a path you choose to travel each day.
Joy is the sum and substance of emotional health. It is
a state of mind that must be deliberately cultivated if you
are determined to live and love and influence others as God
intended. How do you cultivate joy? To begin with, you
make the decision never again to settle for anything less than
real joy. Independent of outer conditions, joy is the result of
practicing what I call the 4:8 Principle. We'll talk about that
more in the next chapter.
My two oldest boys have figured out that I am not
the most complex guy in the world. When we're playing
capture the flag with their friends, I often hide the flag out
in the open, almost in plain view. You guessed it-for a long
time it's the last place any of the kids look. When playing
hide-and-seek, I'll often hide in the same spot two or three
times in a row, consistently escaping detection (at least for a
little while). Our human nature, with an assist from modern
culture, promotes the idea that solutions must be deep and
complicated to be valuable. In most cases, nothing could
be further from the truth. Lasting solutions are surprisingly
simple. Joy is within us, but it must be released.
Keep Your Thoughts Fixed on God!
Mental discipline is the ability to keep your thoughts consistently
focused. When you use the 4:8 Principle as the filter
for your thinking, you focus on God and goodness to the
exclusion of all else. As a result, you will begin to develop
mental strength. With high levels of mental discipline, you'll
reach your goals faster, upgrade your potential for joy, and
become a lot more fun to be around. When you keep your
thoughts fixed on God, the things of God will naturally
permeate your life, and thus your goals will be in line with
his will and his kingdom. Virtually any meaningful goal is
within reach when you become mentally disciplined. Without
the positive focus demanded by the 4:8 Principle, even
relatively easy goals become a strain to reach.
With weak mental muscles, the existence of joy in your
life is random and unpredictable. Mental laziness slowly dissolves
your potential for joy-first privately, in your thoughts,
and then publicly, coming out in your actions and circumstances.
The concept of mental discipline may sound scary
or even intimidating, but a life without mental discipline
is far more daunting. It may be a challenge, but you'll find
that the 4:8 Principle is simple enough for even a child to
learn. Even better news is that there is no need to be perfect.
After all, perfection doesn't really exist apart from God. All
you have to do is concentrate on progress. So as you read
the upcoming pages, stop trying to be flawless, and instead,
focus on daily improvement.
By deliberately working to improve your mental game,
you will steadily upgrade every area of your life. Your family life
will be more peaceful. You will hit your financial goals faster.
With strong, toned mental muscles, you'll become more fit
spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and physically. And along
the way, you'll begin to enjoy life as it was meant to be-full
of the joy that comes from trusting in God's promises.
What Can You Do?
When my son Ty was eight years old, he broke his right arm
after his first football practice. He had been so excited after
his first day of real contact that even before we got into the
car to head home, he
insisted on showing me,
in slow motion, how he
had learned to tackle.
Unfortunately, he lost
his balance and fell backward
on his right arm,
creating a buckle fracture
just above his wrist. According to his doctor, Ty would have
to be in a cast for at least six weeks to give the bone time to
fully heal, and he would likely miss most of the games. This
was not a good start to the fall.
After the initial disappointment, Ty seemed to be handling
the setback fairly well. Then a couple of days later,
while riding home from church, he went into a negative
spiral, reciting everything he could not do with only one
good arm. He was very thorough, even though his mother,
Kristin, and I tried to interrupt him several times to break
the self-defeating mental momentum.
When we arrived back at our house, I asked Ty to join
me in my study for a few minutes. "Ty, don't you think there
are lots of things you can still do, even with your broken
right arm?" I asked.
"No, not the really good things," he replied skeptically.
"All right then," I said, "I'm going to give you a quick
exercise, like I do in The 1% Club, that will show you how
much you really can do."
Because he had no choice, Ty agreed to participate-unenthusiastically.
"Ty," I said, "write down twenty-one things you can still
do with just one arm, and we'll be done."
With a curious look, Ty responded, "Dad, I'm in a cast.
I can't write."
"Oh, that's right," I said with a laugh, wishing we could
start over. "Then you talk, Ty, and I'll write for you."
So Ty started talking, and I started writing. Slowly, with
some prodding, the first few answers came. He could read
books, ride his bike, watch TV, and play video games. Those
things triggered even more ideas. Ty continued, "I could hike
or run. I could play in my tree house. I could go to the movies,
eat popcorn, and have M&M's. I could still do science
experiments. I could do sit-ups, take a bath, and make my
bed." As we approached the goal of twenty-one ideas, I was
writing as fast as I could.
"Okay, that's twenty-one," I confirmed to Ty.
"Keep writing, Dad. I want to do some more," he said,
no longer annoyed with the exercise.
Finally, with thirty-five answers, Ty was ready to stop. I
handed him the list he had dictated and asked him to read
it aloud. As he read, I could see the excitement growing.
There really were a lot of things a kid could still do with a
"Can I go show Mom my list?" Ty asked.
"Sure," I said, "but let me ask you one more question
first. Ty, do you think we could have made just as long a
list of the things you can't do with a broken arm?" I asked,
hoping to create a coachable moment.
"Yes," he quickly answered, "but why in the world
would we want to do that?"
"Good point," I said as I enjoyed his smile. "Go show
Over the next few days, I have to admit that Ty and
I repeated an abbreviated version of that exercise several
times whenever his attitude took a dive. Within a minute or
two, though, Ty's mind-set quickly shifted back into positive
gear. As the tension faded, you could see the joy return. Ty
was learning how to win the battle of his mind and starting
to understand the secret to a joy-filled life.
Your Thoughts Are Showing
Almost everything that happens to you, good or bad, originates
with a single thought. Neuroscientists can now demonstrate
that every thought sends electrical and chemical
signals throughout your brain, ultimately affecting each
cell in your body. Thoughts can influence your sleep, your
digestion, your pulse,
the chemical makeup
of your blood, and all
other bodily functions.The secret conversations
you hold in
the privacy of your
own mind are shaping
little by little. With
every thought that races
through your mind, you
are continually reinventing
yourself and your
future. Research indicates
that the average
person thinks approximately
thoughts per day. This is either good or bad news because
every thought moves you either toward your God-given
potential or away from it. No thoughts are neutral.
Whatever you direct your mind to think about will ultimately
be revealed for everyone to see. Remind yourself
with a smile that "my thoughts are showing." See, you have
two options: By your manner of thinking, you can draw
out the best in yourself and others, or you can draw out the
worst. What you persistently think eventually but
inevitably crystallizes into the words you speak and
then the things you do.
Every thought you have shifts your life in a particular
direction, sometimes in a minor way and sometimes in a
major way. Every individual thought matters. Unfortunately,
approximately 90 percent of the thoughts you have today are
repeats from yesterday and the day before. This is the primary
reason why effecting permanent, positive life improvement
tends to be met with such stiff resistance in most people.
If your aim is to maximize your potential for joy, you
must first discipline yourself mentally. This is your responsibility,
something for which you must immediately take
ownership. Do your part now so that God can honor your
faith and empower you to live a life of excellence. Think
the thoughts you would think if you trusted God's promises
completely. Make the shift from random, reactive thinking to
deliberate, purpose-driven thinking. You have authority over
your thoughts, but God will not force you to exercise this
aspect of your free will any more than he will compel you to
exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, read the Bible, or wear
your seat belt. Right thinking is a choice you have to make
for yourself the rest of your life. If you are committed, you
can select your thoughts and thereby shape your life here on
earth into something spectacular. The alternative is to give
up this freedom and live a life of mediocrity dominated by
uncertainty and suspense. This may sound harsh at first, but
I know it is the truth-and I suspect you do as well.
In Romans 12:2, we are taught that transformation is
the result of a renewed mind. The apostle Paul writes, "Do
not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be
transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will
be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good,
pleasing and perfect will" (NIV). The idea is that you have
to retrain your thoughts and feelings if you want to experience
God's ideal for your life and get the most out of every
moment of every day. Unfortunately, most people struggle
to change or renew their circumstances (lose weight, fix their
marriage, make more money), when they should be asking
God to help them renew their minds. When our minds are
renewed, circumstances take care of themselves.
The secret to living an exceptional life tomorrow is purely
a matter of thinking strong, joyful thoughts today. It is the
net result of programming your mind with the kind of high-quality
ideas and boundless possibilities that will set you
free and allow you to soar and thrive as God intends. I can't
overemphasize the importance of developing mental discipline.
The battle you wage against your human nature is an
invisible one that will be won or lost in the mind. Minute by
minute, hour by hour, in the hidden workshop of your mind,
you are constructing thoughts of good or evil, depression or
joy, success or failure. You are writing your own life story
as a human being with each subtle and soundless thought
The Gift of the Present
Did you know that you cannot be joy filled without thinking
thoughts of joy? You cannot worry without thinking
worrisome thoughts. You cannot be afraid without thinking
thoughts of fear. Can you remember a time when you were
thinking of hope and happiness but felt depressed at the
same time? Can you imagine acting loving while thinking bitter
thoughts of anger and resentment? While thinking, you
have only the present moment. All you have is now. Think
of it as the gift of the present! A blissful memory is experienced
as present joy. A gloomy memory is experienced as
present pain. As a result, thinking, talking, and worrying
about what you don't want can never bring you
what you do want.
The importance of right thinking is emphasized throughout
the Old and New Testaments. In Proverbs, we are taught
that "as [a person] thinks in his heart, so is he" (23:7, NKJV)
and also that we must "keep [our] heart with all diligence, for
out of it spring the issues of life" (4:23, NKJV). Protecting our
minds from negative input will be the focus of part three.
In Job 3:25, we are warned that the things we intensely
fear have a tendency to become reality. And Jesus repeatedly
reminds us that what we receive will be the result of
what we believe. He underscores this point in the Sermon
on the Mount when he teaches that even to think lustful
thoughts is a sin, yet if "your eye is good, your whole body
is filled with light" (Matthew 6:22, NLT). In Matthew 15:18,
we're taught that people are defiled or made unclean by
what is in their hearts-in other words, by the way they think.
Jesus knew well that persistent thoughts eventually lead to
action. So did Paul, who encourages us to "take captive every
thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5,
NIV). Can you imagine a negative, cynical, self-defeating, or
"woe is me" thought being obedient to Jesus Christ?
Finally, in the great simplicity of truth, James sums it up
when he writes that one who doubts is "a double-minded
man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8, NKJV). Being duplicitous
or impure in your thinking is really the opposite of
being mentally disciplined. It's like praying for sunshine and
then grabbing your umbrella as you walk out the door. It
is forgiving your spouse for a grievance and then repeatedly
rehashing it in your mind. It is hoping for the best and
secretly fearing the worst. It is the inability to direct your
thoughts in a deliberate, preconceived direction. Though
God's grace doesn't demand mental discipline, living a life
of excellence must be preceded by it.
God designed your mind to be immensely powerful.
This mental resource is one of the most wonderful blessings
from our Creator. Even better, as part of your free will, he
gave you command over your mind. This does not mean
you must use this power, but it is available. This dominion
over your thought life can be used to maximize your God-given
potential, or it can be misused or even ignored. The
way you think can either multiply or shrink your
gifts and talents. How are you doing in this area? Up to
this point in your life, have you been a faithful steward of
your mental life?