What I Wish College Students Knew about Joy

God laughs…

I often wonder what Jesus’ laugh sounded like. Was it a deep, bellowing laugh that caused His whole body to shake? Did He often laugh so hard that He cried? I’m willing to bet that He had a contagious laugh – that once He got going, everyone within an earshot began laughing too. The second person of the Trinity, so utterly filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, must have had a contagious laugh and a unique charisma, to be sure.

Do you?

The Joy of Christ

If you’re a Christian (a little Christ), you’re called to live, act, and move as Christ in the world, today. As a Catholic, you have His very body and blood coursing through your veins; you are a walking tabernacle. Does the peace of Christ reign in your heart (Colossians 3:15)? Does the joy of Christ echo forth from your being not just on Sunday, but on the average Tuesday or the mundane Thursday? Do you wake up counting your problems or your blessings? Are you ruled by worldly stress or heavenly peace (Matthew 6:33-34)?

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you need to be an amateur stand-up comedian to be an effective evangelist to other college students, but do people encounter you and then seek to know where your joy comes from or why it’s so unshakeable (1 Peter 3:15)?

Too many modern Christians fail to stand up or to stand out. We are called to live differently, are we not? And not just in what we refuse to do, say, or wear, but on a far deeper level of how we live out our vocation to love with unwavering joy, peace and, dare I say, a sense of humor. All of the atheists, pagans, and anti-Catholics combined have not done as much damage to the gospel in our modern age as joyless Christians have done.

God laughs (Psalm 2:4). God gave us all the gift of laughter (Genesis 21:6). The Father wants us to laugh. The only way to do so, however, is by keeping the proper perspective – His divine perspective – at all times. As Venerable Fulton Sheen reminded us, “the only reason to take this life too seriously is if it’s your only one.” If you want to be effective evangelists to college students in this modern age, the joy of the Lord MUST be your source of daily strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

The Perspective of St. Paul

St. Paul gives us a great example of unwavering joy and proper perspective. Even while imprisoned he never abandoned his hope in the Lord’s fidelity. In fact, as we read in Acts 16:25-33, St. Paul even maintained his humor and sense of mission during the urgency of a divinely inspired jailbreak. Take a minute to read the episode if you haven’t before. Here is St. Paul, like you, busy trying to do the work of the Lord and share Christ’s truth with others. His progress had been impeded (there’s a gentle euphemism) by the prison cell and, more to the point, by his jailer. A closer examination of the text reveals several things, first of which is that even when in chains, Paul and Silas were praising God in hymns. Do you praise God when your best-laid plans are disrupted?

After the earthquake, too, St. Paul was less concerned for himself and more concerned about the jailer’s salvation. Obviously the jailer had been listening to Paul and Silas prior to the miracle. Do you think Paul had been complaining or whining? If Paul had let frustration rule his day, or if Paul had sat whining in his jail cell, do you think the jailer would have converted? Nothing empties the power of the gospel faster than a Christian who laments their daily walk. Don’t wear a cross around your neck if all you’re going to do is complain about the one on your back. Whining renders all evangelistic efforts fruitless. Christ calls us to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), yes, but not the Veruca Salt of it (cue the Oompa Loompa background music).

St. Paul was so concerned about the salvation of others that he realized something many of us forget, namely that our actions have a greater impact than our words ever will.

Many of your peers, as you well know, are even more imprisoned than St. Paul ever was. The bars of the jail cell are simply replaced by the bars and nightclubs off campus. The death sentence they face is far more spiritual than physical and, thus, far more deadly (Matthew 10:28). Countless souls are enslaved by sinful addictions and finite pleasures while the infinite looms on the horizon, unfathomable and seemingly unattainable. The spirit consistently gives way to the flesh, leaving the soul tattered and in ruins.

In the midst of this ongoing darkness, however, God offers freedom (Galatians 5:1, 13); the light of Christ breathes hope into our self-made dungeons of discontent…for “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Prayer is “Key”

The earthquake that freed St. Paul was heaven sent, but it was prayer that brought the earthquake. An angel freed St. Peter from his prison, too, but it was prayer that brought the angel (Acts 12:5-7). Prayer is the key ingredient to evangelistic “success” – for it is only through prayer that we keep this divine perspective, fan the flame of our joy, and laugh in the face of death.

So what do I wish all college students knew about presenting their faith to others? I wish all students focused more on the “good” in the good news. I wish students understood the importance of joy as a fundamental daily disposition and on laughter as the most effective tool to open a hardened heart. And I wish that other students would have modeled a vibrant, joyful, and authentically Catholic life when I was in college…it would have saved me a lot of years in my own personal prison.

The joy of knowing Christ unlocks every prison door, every shackle, and every fetter. Until you, daily, unearth that joy in your own life, daily, you’re just another inmate.

This post is a apart of the “What I Wish College Students Knew” series. We wanted to get popular Catholic authors and speakers to write about topics that were close to the minds and hearts of college students across the country. To read more posts in this series, click on the links below.

Mark Hart
Mark Hart
Mark Hart, affectionately known as the Bible Geek, is a best-selling author, Catholic radio personality and highly sought after speaker. He proudly serves as the Chief Innovation Officer of Life Teen International. Mark and his wife, Melanie, have four children and live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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