I had prepared to write this post last week, but I experienced an occurrence that completely robbed away my joy and seared my conscience to the extent I couldn’t write. I say this to communicate that I know that sometimes cultivating and walking in joy is like grasping at straws.
Psalm 5:11 records, “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.” This verse implies that those who know God as their refuge ought to rejoice and sing for joy. All those who trust in him and live joyfully before the Lord are to rejoice. However, this is not always the case. Life can throw lemons at us, and it may take time before we figure out that we can make lemonade.
What is biblical joy?
Nancy Wilson likens joy to living at the beach as opposed to visiting the beach. Visiting the beach gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling only while the stay lasts. On the other hand, living at the beach means that you experience the warm and fuzzy feeling all year round.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, meaning that it is given by the Holy Spirit when he indwells us (Galatians 5:22-23). Every believer, who has experienced the gospel’s saving power and received God’s Spirit, ought to have joy as a gift from God and the Holy Spirit’s fruit. The idea of a fruit is to show the evidence of the indwelling working of God’s Spirit in a person.
John Piper describes Christian joy as a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and the world. Joy is a satisfaction in the sovereignty of God that results in praise to Him. It is true contentment based on faith in a good God.
It is no wonder, then, that the Bible commands us to “consider it all joy when we encounter trials” (James 1:2) and to “rejoice in the Lord always and let our reasonableness be known to everyone.” (Philippians 4:4-5)
The source, object, and reason for our joy
The commands to rejoice at all times (Psalm 118:24, Philippians 4:4, and 1 Thess 5:16) may seem cumbersome, even unrealistic. The fallen world is no happy place to live in, and occasionally we experience sorrow, pain, and suffering. How, then, are we to rejoice and be joyful despite our situations?
As I mentioned earlier, the Holy Spirit gives joy. As long as we have the Holy Spirit (and indeed God has guaranteed his presence to every believer), joy is our assurance. It is, therefore, not dependent on us to experience joy using our human efforts. Instead, we are to depend on the Holy Spirit’s help, who is also our comforter. Romans 15:13 is Paul’s prayer for the Roman church, asking God to fill them with joy, proving that the holy triune God is the source of our joy.
The God-head is also the object and reason for our joy. Sorrow and pain can permeate our circumstances. Sin and its consequences may overwhelm us. The enemy of our souls may throw darts at us. For this reason, we need an object of joy that is constant, sovereign, and good. The triune God is for us and not against us. God is our refuge. We have been reconciled to him and have peace with him (Romans 5:1). Christ has paid for our sins and imputed on us his righteousness. He is our great advocate to the Father (1 John 2:1). The Holy Spirit intercedes for us because, at times, we are unable to pray correctly (Romans 8:26). These, among many other blessings from God, ought to be our focus. Instead of focusing on things that kill our joy, we ought to focus on God’s goodness and faithfulness.
Beware of killjoys
Saints before us have biblically observed that the sin that will most likely undo us is our sin, not that of others. This is true of killjoys. Most of the time, our killjoys are sinful attitudes that we harbor within our hearts. Sins like: anxiety, self-pity, ingratitude, complaining, a critical spirit, unconfessed sin, etc. are all killjoys that should not go unchecked.
Trials from outside can also drain out our joy to the last drop. When we become discouraged when facing difficulties, we only add to our trouble. Not only so, but lack of joy is infectious. It not only affects us but also affects those around us. Therefore, let us teach our hearts to rejoice even when we face trials because we are satisfied in God’s sovereignty, his promise of sufficient grace, and ultimate salvation from all our troubles.
Deuteronomy 28:47-48 states, “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.” God punished the Israelites for not serving him with joy and gladness. Lack of joy is a grave sin!
We need to continually choose joy over anger, bitterness, sorrow, and pain. Choosing joy means that we should stop whining, grumbling, complaining and yielding to the emotions that suck our joy. Instead, think about God’s goodness and grace. Read God’s promises written in his word. Listen to songs that point you to God’s Sovereign kindness. Listen to podcasts or sermons that talk about the faithfulness of God during trials. Serve others who are in need. Offer prayers of lament to God, describing your situation to him and your need for his help. Read through the book of Philippians that Paul wrote while in prison, which offers us guidelines for experiencing joy. Confess any unrepented sin. Share your burdens with the family of believers and ask for prayer.
We wait for Christ’s return for a while longer. We know that when he appears, we shall know perfect joy. Maranatha!