What comes to mind when you hear the word JOY?
Now that it’s January I feel like I’ve been inundated with the word joy and all the different things we’ve attached to it. December is overflowing with the use of the word joy; we sing Joy to the World, our mailboxes are filled with greeting cards with some combination of peace, love and joy, then we go into any nearby store and are greeted by signs, novelty items or décor tagged with joy.
By January I feel as though someone has grabbed ahold of my shoulders and is screaming “JOY!!!” at me, demanding that I acknowledge how overflowingly jubilant this whole month should be.
To be honest with you, I’m a bit numb to the word joy.
But when I open my Bible,
themes of joy are everywhere. Real joy. The kind that makes you smile the second you feel it. The kind that makes you overwhelmed with gratitude that you are here to feel the gift of joy. The Bible uses joy in a way that always points us back to the Lord, and that is where our joy is to be found.
“Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!” Psalm 97:12
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” Psalm 98:4
The Psalms use this theme of joy in the Lord interchangeably with the idea of praise. And interestingly, we are not alone in our experience of joy here on earth. Our natural world is said to “sing for joy together before the Lord,” as the rivers clap and the hills sing in Psalm 98:8.
What I love most about the mentions of joy found in the Psalms is that it is always an active joy, not a passive experience. The Psalms have us rejoicing and singing and dancing, it incorporates our hearts and our bodies in worship.
When I was considering writing about joy,
the first thing that came to mind was the friendly list of the fruits of the spirit. Joy sounds so delightful when rattled off with all those other great things we see in Galatians 5; love, peace, kindness etc. But what about feeling joy when our circumstances aren’t so joyful?
Paul, James and Peter each tell us that joy should be in our hearts even when things aren’t perfect. Particularly when it comes to experiencing trials and being persecuted, as all three authors prepare us as Christians to expect that trials and suffering at some point will happen.
At the beginning of his letter James tells us, “Count it all joy brethren, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2
Peter says we should not be surprised when fiery trials come to test us, “But rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” 1 Peter 4:12-14
Then in Paul’s letter to the Romans, we read that we both “rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Rom. 5:2-5
How many of us actually rejoice when we are suffering?
It’s not a natural reaction to rejoice when we are suffering. It’s not just difficult, it can feel impossible.
But when we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, it matures our joy into more than just a short state of happiness created by the circumstances surrounding us. We learn what real joy is. Now it is no longer just a feeling. It is the knowledge that to be truly joyful, we focus on Christ instead of ourselves, and we find that even more important that our joy is His joy.
“…And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
Christ endured the worst persecution and punishment imaginable for us. There was no joy to be found in his execution, but Jesus submitted to death because of what was at stake. As followers of Christ we should find infinite joy in knowing that no matter what trials we experience, they are temporary. He paid the price for our joy eternally and we didn’t do anything to earn that.
What makes the Lord joyful? We do. We make him joyful when we live as he created us to; by following, worshipping and praising Him. He is joyful when we rely on Him to provide everything we need and trust in His timing. Joy begins to become part of who we are, and only grows deeper as we pray each day, read His word and share His great works with those around us.
Read Caleb’s related post on God’s Purpose for Your Life