The Greatest Joy Thief


Last updated 3/15/2014 at 1:49pm

Nothing can steal our joy like bitterness. For every day we are bitter, we lose 24 hours of joy. So let's forgive others as quickly as God forgave us. Joy returns as we set others free.

Do you remember the first time you thought to yourself, I just might be a sinner? I was four when this happened to me. I was standing by the bathtub and I had an irresistible urge to flush a fluffy washcloth down the toilet. I knew it was wrong, but a voice said, "Do it!" so I did. The pipes were not made for items of that size and I found this out when a very puzzled plumber showed up to retrieve the washcloth. He showed it to my equally puzzled father who frowned at me. I said, "It musta fallen in."

I later tried flushing firecrackers down those same pipes, but couldn't get them to stay lit long enough to do what they were created to do. Woah! I had problems! But be honest. What was the first act of sinfulness you remember committing?

What convinced me more than anything else that I was a sinner was sports. I accepted hockey into my life at an early age at a Hockey Night In Canada crusade meeting back when men played for the love of the game. Nothing beat winning at any cost. I carved guys up with my stick, used words they didn't teach us in Sunday School, and even spit on a Bible college guy who tripped me going in on a break away.

Sinner? You bet. Now I wasn't alone in this. If ever you doubt there's sin on earth, referee church hockey. I did.

One night I found myself breaking up a fight between two pastors. As I put them in the penalty box one of them said to me, "When I play hockey I leave Jesus behind." I said, "You aren't kidding."

The Bible teaches us that all have sinned and if ever you doubt this you should play golf. Hockey does not require you to put yourself in the penalty box or blow the whistle when you go offside. But that's what golf requires-absolute integrity. And nothing gives me the urge to cheat like the game of golf-with the possible exception of Dutch Blitz at Christmas time.

In Psalm 15, David asked, "Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right."

I've tried to live this way, thinking I can measure up. It's impossible. One thousand years before golf was invented Romans 3 was written. It says, "There is none righteous no not one... All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Talk about bad news! But sometimes you have to hear bad news before you can get to the good. And the good news is this, there is one who is righteous, who is good enough to take our sins, dump them in the deepest sea and put up a "No fishing" sign. His name is Jesus. When we admit our sin and trust Him, He removes the greatest joy thief of all: separation from God.

And it allows us to take three steps that bring back the joy:

1) Readjust our focus. When we take our eyes off ourselves and fix them on Jesus, he begins to transform our minds, our desires, our behavior patterns, even our frowns.

2) Set others free. When someone hurt me I remember thinking, he doesn't deserve to be forgiven. Then the thought hit me, do I? God has shown me such amazing grace, one of the great joys of life is to show it to others. For every day we are bitter we lose 24 hours of joy. So let's forgive others as quickly as God forgave us. Joy returns as we set others free.

3) Live with gratitude. You want to laugh again? Live with thanksgiving for God's redemption and forgiveness. And each time I see a washcloth or a firecracker I remember standing by the bathtub, and I celebrate my father's forgiveness and give thanks for the riches of God's grace.

Phil Callaway is the author of two dozen books. You can listen to his daily radio program at


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