Wouldn’t we all like to experience deep and enduring joy? This question isn’t even hypothetical because joy is available to us! In fact, God wants us to have it. Psalm 32:11 (NLT) says; “So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!” Joy is possible, joy is real and rich and we’re going to talk about why it’s so amazing and why joy from God is the best thing you can have.
First, let’s establish that there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is an emotion and frankly, God never intended for people to be in that emotional state all the time. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there’s “a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to grieve and a time to dance.” The Bible speaks much more often of joy than of being happy. “Hap” means ‘chance’ and is also the root of several words such as happen, happening, haphazard (depending on mere chance), happenstance (chance circumstance) and happy. So, I think you’re getting the pattern here. Happiness is merely a glad feeling that depends on something good happening. Now, God wants you to experience happy times of course! , we all love good vibes, right? But what his ultimate desire is, is that we have unconditional joy! Jesus said His joy should “remain in you” and “your joy no one will take from you,” (John 15:11; John 16:22). So, we can think of joy as a strong foundation that supports a variety of healthy emotions, including happiness. The long –range evidence of joy is general gratitude, contentment, optimism and sense of freedom in Christ.
Pursuit of Happiness
The pursuit of happiness is of no doubt innately ingrained in us as human beings. Everybody wants to be ‘happy’ and everybody seeks happiness in different ways; through pleasures, possessions, education or relationships. But we see through the fine example of King Solomon story that no matter how secure and wonderful the earthly version of joy may seem, human joy does not and will not last long. I recommend reading the book of Ecclesiastes; there’s much wisdom and lessons to gain through King Solomon’s experiences.
Now, a Christian’s joy can be just as short-lived as anyone else’s if he seeks it for itself as the world does! I emphasise that biblical joy is a spirit; nurtured through our relationship with God. It’s a by-product, an additional blessing, not an end in itself. It flows into and grows within the person whose life and energies are not focused merely on being “joyful,” and the lives of those in this world who so obsessively chase after it proves this point! If they are still chasing it, then they must certainly not have it! God’s word even substantiates this. God knows that among us, relaxation and merriment tend to become our most important interest and in the end this can make our joy become a hilarity or even debauchery and in that, God’s produced joy is lost! Or rather, we can follow God’s prescription. God makes it clear in scripture that real joy lies in the quality of our relationship with Him; therefore, can we actually be so foolish to think that we can somehow produce it ourselves?
One thing is certain; dwelling on ourselves and our wants will NEVER produce true joy and I can testify to that! Rather than being obsessed with ourselves we must become obsessed with Christ and if we do, we will immerse ourselves in His word, and seek to know him more intimately – “and our joy will be made full” (John 15:1-11). It really is only through God’s spirit that we can experience true joy, it can’t be accomplished apart from God. The harder we try to be joyful through our own efforts, the more miserable we will become.
Biblical joy is inseparable from our relationship with God and springs from our knowledge and understanding of the purpose of life and the hope of living with God for eternity when there will be joy evermore. Joy is the sign that life has found its purpose and its reason for being. Those who were listening to Jesus’ discourse at the time were hoping that He would conquer Rome and set up a Jewish empire. They all wanted their circumstances changed so that they could be happy but Jesus did not fix their circumstances but still He said that they could have joy if and only they let the Kingdom of Christ rule in their hearts.
Joy is not a conjured-up type of smiling, and being nice no matter what; such a joy is fake, worldly and worthless. What Christ is really after is a happiness that stems from hope – a joy that lifts one’s spirit even during suffering and debilitating circumstances. Some may ask, “Is such joy really possible? Is it reasonably attainable?” The answer is an unequivocal “yes!” but it does demand the discipline of faith. There is nothing like knowing that our joy remains full even when we have been rendered empty of all that we had thought we needed to sustain our happiness. Sadly, it is true that most Christians fail to experience joy when times become difficult — generally they get so caught up in the issues of life that they forget to “rejoice in the Lord,” or they question how it is even possible when life gets so discouraging, depressing and frustrating. Just because God’s Spirit dwells within us does not mean that we will necessarily experience joy —we must make a choice to let Christ be our joy! When we falter in our faith, we try to manufacture our own joy, and that is simply not possible, because God is its source!
The heart that learns to “die with Christ” soon knows the blessed experience of “rising with Him,” and all the world’s persecutions and troubles cannot quieten the high note of holy joy that springs up in the soul that has become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual love of Christ will be like constant music within our hearts and enable us to rejoice even in our sorrows. Until this condition is reached, the Christian’s peace and joy will continue to be a mystery. As long as one’s flesh’s wants and desires occupy “prime property” in his soul, he will remain spiritually disquieted, restless, frustrated and discontented, because it is just such things which poison his joy and greatly reduce his power.
Why does God want us to demonstrate joy?
As we’ve seen, joy that is gained through selfish desires and activities only brings a superficial high or temporary enjoyment. Yet there is another joy that comes through the Holy Spirit and following God’s way of life that brings real contentment and truly optimistic feelings. God wants us to demonstrate the latter to prove to the world that He is the One who brings happiness. Satan’s landmines feel good for a short time but then blow our lives apart. As with all the fruit of the Spirit, Christians’ examples are the beacon showing that true joy is better than fake, flimsy, selfish joy.
Also, when we demonstrate joy, we are actively showing where our priorities are. Notice the parable of the treasure in a field: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). The joy over the coming Kingdom and what God has revealed makes everything else in life seem less important. Grouchy, ungrateful, negative and angry Christians don’t exactly demonstrate the truth about the Kingdom of God—something so wonderful that nothing else should take priority over it. It is something to rejoice about every day, all day: at work, at home, while driving, while playing—everywhere.
Why demonstrate joy? If we truly believe what God has told us in His Bible, then we have plenty to rejoice about. There will be times of mourning in this life (deaths of loved ones or life changes), but even in those times of sorrow and weeping, the underlying joy of God’s plan for humanity (including the resurrection of loved ones and the solving of this world’s problems) must reign in our hearts and actions. Easier said than done, right?
What practical steps can we take primarily to discover joy? First, we love, honour and hunger excitedly for God’s Word — without an intentional effort at initially getting into the word, you will limit the in-living presence of the Holy Spirit to increase your hunger for the Word. Feeding upon the Word is absolutely essential for experiencing growth and joy. Second, we continually walk in repentance — without a whole-hearted intentional effort at putting God’s Word into practice in our life, we are essentially denying its very purpose. Third, we try to separate ourselves from all worldly and ungodly influences and this will always be a hard one as long as we are on this earth I fully realise that — true joy is found in holiness, that is, in literally being “set apart” for the things of the Lord. When we set ourselves apart from the things of this world and consecrate ourselves to the Lord we find joy. There is no such thing as real joy apart from the Lord, therefore when we compromise in obedience, we cheat ourselves of real joy; so, when we embrace the things of this world, it costs us the joy of the Lord.
When one finds himself amid a “very frustrating circumstance,” and his flesh desperately wants to control his response… what would he do to experience joy? First, it is important that one has a storage of biblical knowledge upon which to draw from. With that said, let’s say a situation is causing you to be angry – what do you do? Well you can either give in and “feed your anger,” or you can stand up and “fight your anger.” Obviously, the easiest thing to do is feed it and justify it… because that’s what we “feel” like doing! And we are all masters in justifying the way we feel right? To fight your anger, however, requires “faith” — you have to believe what God says about the issue you’re struggling with, and you have to engage yourself in the battle to overcome it. In short, the essence of faith is “affirming the truth” — you have to affirm the truth about what God says regarding the matter, and affirm the truth about how you are to respond to the matter. Whatever the issue is that makes you angry — being treated wrongly, facing a negative circumstance, or being exasperated with life — your options are always the same: you can either stay angry, rant & rave, and cause some kind of damage, or you can go to God with your problem.
By the way, once you go to God with it, your ultimate goal is to willingly turn your situation over to God to do with as He chooses — and that’s not necessarily going to happen at the snap of a finger. The “process” that gets you to that point may take time and this may be one of those more difficult “Not my will, but Thy will be done” issues. Your initial response might be this: “Lord, this situation is beyond my ability to handle, and I don’t even know if I can even turn it over to You, because I am really angry!” It helps to start your discussion with God by being honest with Him; don’t try to play the self-righteous ‘woe is me’ card. Your frustrating situation demands that you are going to need to spend some time discussing the matter with God —for me personally, that means sitting in a still quiet space but it’s different for everyone but whatever helps you get in tune with God’s voice. Whatever your preference, you will need to “affirm what Scripture has to say” about the problem you’re facing.
A key ingredient in your discussion with God is that of “thanking Him that He understands your pain… that He really loves you… that He really wants to deliver you from your pain… and that He really wants to bring healing to your heart, and give you His joy & His peace” (Philippians 4:6-7). These truths are simply the truths of God’s Word that you need to affirm repeatedly — as you affirm them you will discover that you will really start to identify with those truths (e.g. Rom 10:17; 1 Cor 2:14; Heb 11:1), and slowly but surely, you will notice is that you are slowly transitioning from a state of anger to one of joy and peace in the Lord. By the way, such joy and peace do not ultimately depend on you “getting your way” (positive circumstances); the truth is, you may not end up getting your way. So, during you will need to come to that point where you are able to accept the issue, even though you know God may not choose to change it – you will come to a point where you are able to say, “I’m ok with that,” and that you are able trust God to keep you at peace regarding the matter. Notice, you have fully resolved in your heart that you are able to accept things as they are (negative circumstances) and that you are no longer exasperated with the situation.
Obviously, this transformation in your heart would not be possible if it was all just left up to you, but God IS at work in you to will and do His good pleasure that you might know His love, joy and peace; these are the three most prominent fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). Only God can produce these things in your heart. One further note: should the same issue arise again tomorrow? God wants to walk you through the process again! Some of the difficult issues we may face in life will require that we go through this process over & over again… because different pain will resurface in our life over & over again and each time we go through the process, God will pour out upon us an even greater measure of peace and joy. This is all a part of the “transformational process” of becoming conformed to the image of Christ.
For those of you who may be struggling in the Christian life, you need to know that there is only one way to experience peace and joy in your life, and that is by cultivating an intimacy with Jesus Christ and this happens principally by affirming truth repeatedly. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there are circumstances in our lives where our immediate reaction is not to be filled and overflowing with joy; there will be times of sadness and sorrow but it’s knowing that we are not to wallow in that state forever; it’s about coming back to the joy and peace that Christ has for us. Affirm those truths for Nehemiah 8:10 says “the joy of the Lord is your strength!”