Lately I’ve had several friends make prayer requests asking that joy would return to their lives. It seems many of God’s people are weary from the various stresses and pressures of life – financial uncertainty and loss, unemployment or underemployment, marital discord, wayward children and health problems. And there are many times outside circumstances are not to blame. Frequently I am the one responsible for blocking out the joy the Lord offers me. When I insist on getting my own way, hold on to a resentment I have against someone or overschedule/overcommit myself, I close myself off to joy. Though we know it’s a battle out there, we also believe that through it all, the Father would have us experience joy. After all, if the Christian life was a life of misery, who would want to follow Jesus?
How does the Lord view joy? What is the real meaning of joy? How do we find it and where do we get it? I found myself digging into my Bible for answers to these seemingly elusive questions. My Bible’s dictionary/concordance lists 62 Scriptures containing the words “joy”, “joyful” or “joyous”. Associated words like “rejoice” and “rejoicing” are found in 25 Scriptures, and the word “overjoyed” is mentioned four times in the Bible. God must be telling us “joy” is important to Him if the word and its relatives are found in 91 Scriptures. In fact, “joy” is mentioned in more Scriptures than “integrity” (21 times) and “humility” (14 times) put together!
People often confuse “joy” with “happiness”, but the distinction between the two terms is important if we are to understand what the Bible means by “joy”. The word “happy” is defined as “favored by hap, luck, or fortune; lucky; fortunate; successful; prosperous; satisfying [one’s] desire” (http://biblehub.com/topical/h/happy.htm). Happiness is temporary, fleeting and based on circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, “is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.” (http://www.theopedia.com/Joy#note-JG). Joy is internal and “transcends the rolling waves of circumstance” (NIV Life Application Study Bible, note on John 15:11). In other words, I can be unhappy with my present circumstances but still have joy.
It would be easy to spend weeks studying what the Bible has to say about joy, but a brief survey of this topic reveals some overarching truths. First and foremost, the key to joy is Christ and relationship with Him. In fact, the Bible mentions several times that a relationship with Christ will not only bring us joy, it will also make our joy “complete”. John the Baptist’s joy, for example, was made complete (or “fulfilled” in the King James Version) when Jesus the Messiah arrived:
The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. (New International Version John 3:29; emphasis mine)
Intertwining our lives with Jesus, maintaining a consistent relationship with Him and abiding in His love will keep us joyful. As Jesus Himself explains, there is nothing that will satisfy our deepest desires more than loving God and being loved by Him:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11; emphasis mine)
God’s people also experience joy when His power is displayed. In Leviticus 9, Moses commands his brother Aaron to offer sacrifices on behalf of himself and the Israelites according to the Lord’s specifications. After Aaron had done all that Moses commanded him, the Lord indicated His acceptance of the offering and His glory appeared to the Israelites. The people then “shouted for joy” (Hebrew “ranan”; http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7442.htm):
…Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown. (Leviticus 9:22-24; emphasis mine).
Note that Aaron’s obedience was a necessary precursor to God’s response. Obedience to God and trust in His power are essential prerequisites to joy. When the early church was persecuted and scattered, Jesus’ followers continued to trust Him and obey His command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). In one instance, a Greek-speaking Jew named Philip went to Samaria to preach about Jesus. Philip demonstrated Jesus’ power by driving out demons and healing the lame and the paralyzed in His name, and so “there was great joy in that city”. (Acts 8:8)
All Christians go through periods of time when our joy is gone because it’s been so long since we’ve seen the Lord perform a mighty work. I have definitely experienced wilderness periods when I feared my future held only endless drudgery! During these dry spells, we can recapture our joy by remembering what the Lord has done in the past both in our personal lives and for all of mankind. I can look back on how God gave me sobriety when I thought I would never be relieved of alcohol’s hold on me. I can recall with gratitude how He brought me an amazing godly man to walk through life with when I thought I would be alone forever. I can praise Him for the beautiful son He loaned to me when the fertility doctor said it would be nearly impossible for me to conceive. And joy is mine when I think of what Jesus did for me on the cross and that I will spend eternity with Him.
Scripture provides many examples of God’s people recollecting and celebrating His provision and numerous miracles. One example occurs in 1 Kings during Solomon’s day. After Solomon had built and dedicated his temple, he blessed the people, offered sacrifices before the Lord, and the people celebrated for 14 days. Celebrating what God has done is a form of worship and also gives us joy:
So Solomon observed the festival at that time, and all Israel with him—a vast assembly, people from Lebo Hamath to the Wadi of Egypt. They celebrated it before the Lord our God for seven days and seven days more, fourteen days in all. On the following day he sent the people away. They blessed the king and then went home, joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for his servant David and his people Israel. (1 Kings 8:65-66; emphasis mine)
Warriors, are you in need of joy today? Is there something monumental the Lord has done for you in the past that you can hold on to? Is there anything God has done in your life or in the life of another that you can celebrate? I pray that you may be full of joy and that your joy may be complete in Him!
This song by Lincoln Brewster reminds me of the joy we have in Christ.
Zondervan NIV Life Application Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print.