I remember years ago when I was a new mom, juggling a full-time stressful job, feeling as though I was failing as a wife, friend, and mother, and crying to the girls in my Bible study (okay, I was whining…) about how I just did not feel like I had an ounce of joy. I was sitting in a spot where I simply (and deeply) just wanted to be happy and content with all that was going on in my life. After all, there was much for which to be thankful…
The Bible tells us through the Apostle Paul, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Friends, this is God’s will for us. To rejoice always. And not only that, joy is the second “fruit of the Spirit,” according to Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is…joy….” As a matter of fact, joy appears 88 times in the Old Testament in 22 books and 57 times in the New Testament in 18 books. Yes, God indeed has something to say about this.
And reading the scriptures will bring us joy. “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:4)
During this hard and somewhat dark time, I started to explore what it looked like to have joy. My eyes were quickly opened to the fact that I was completely mistaking happiness for joy, and the happiness I was lacking was a temporary feeling. Because this was God’s will for me, and I was lacking it, no wonder I was struggling.
Earlier this year, I heard Lysa TerKeurst speak a profound and meaningful truth that stuck with me so poignantly. She pointed out that the human heart was created in the perfection of the garden (of Eden), but we don’t live there anymore. Because we were created in perfection, we have awareness of this perfection and we perpetually chase it. But it’s a perfection that we will never find on this side of eternity. It’s His way of leading us home. I believe joy is a part of this equation. Paul does not merely suggest that we “rejoice always…” he commands us to do so. Why? Because it is God’s will. It’s what He wants from us and for us.
But unlike happiness, having joy requires effort on our part. It comes through obedience and contentment in the circumstances that are going on around us. Happiness comes to us with minimal effort on our part. You see when I am happy, things are going my way. When I am happy, something worldly has been gifted to me in order to give me that emotion. When I am happy, it is a response to something good going on around me.
Joy, on the other hand, is a state of being and it exists regardless of my circumstances. When I am joyful, I am content regardless of my circumstances. When I am joyful, I’m seeking Kingdom purpose instead of worldly purpose. When I am joyful, it is in response to my obedience to seek and follow God.
While joy is God’s will for us, He does not promise us happiness. You can search the Bible high and low and no where will you find God promising happiness. He does promise joy though. He promises us joy through the Holy Spirit. (May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13)
I loved what my dear friend Erin shared in her blog about joy – that experiencing joy is a choice. And choices always take obedience. It is absolutely counter-cultural to think that through obedience you can get joy, but friends it’s true.
Soaking in this truth gave me an urgency in reexamining how I raise my boys with this concept in mind. It is my heart’s desire that they develop into content and joyful young adults. I want them to see what that joy looks like and experience what joy can offer them that happiness cannot: Joy will offer them contentment in all circumstances that are beyond their control. In this world they will have trouble (John 16:33) but even through the troubles it is God’s will for them to have joy.
Just as it is important to understand from where joy comes, it is important to understand what steals joy. The enemy wants nothing more than to steal our joy – to put a wedge between us and contentment. I believe if we are keenly aware of what steals it, we can be better armed to fight against it (Ephesians 6:10-18).
One of our church pastors recently shared the idea that comparison is the thief of joy. Isn’t that the truth? Just when we’re seemingly content with something, we can compare ourselves to the thing that looks better, prettier, nicer, (insert your “er” word here), and suddenly we’re not content anymore. The joy is gone. It’s quite simple and alarming how quickly joy can be taken away.
Another thief of joy is busyness. We can get so caught up in our own busyness that we lack the space to enjoy or rejoice. So many opportunities for enjoyment are stolen because we are too busy to pause and look around us, or more importantly, too busy to connect to our Father through His word and/or quiet time.
A final huge thief of my joy is circumstances. When I focus on my circumstances and not what God wants and has for me, I’m simply lost.
In preparation for writing about the word joy, I leaned into some of those same women to whom I was whining all those years ago and asked what joy meant to them. What struck me was that while over time we have all experienced our struggles with seeking joy, we all know from where it comes.
I know from experience that it is possible to still have joy during a hardship, because you have a faith in God, and you have the peace of the Holy Spirit living within you. And that is the source of joy.
Joy is having a deep relationship with Jesus, understanding Him and knowing that He loves us through everything. The people I know who have the most joy in their lives are content, joyful, happy no matter the circumstances in their lives.
Choose joy, dear friends. After all, it’s His will for us.
Lord, I praise you that you want each one of your children to live with joy. I’m sorry for the times that I let circumstances, busyness, and comparison get in the way of the joy you want for me. I ask that you show me ways and open more doors for me to rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances. Thank you for loving me more than I can fathom. In your Son’s holy name, I pray. Amen.