Last week, we spent some time looking at how love should characterize our lives as followers of Christ who have been shown the greatest display of love. This week, we are looking at joy.
Now joy, like love, is a topic that we need to be careful to define our terms on. If you Google the definition of joy, you will find that it is “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” Therefore, a lot of people will equate “joy” with “happy.” As we know from life experiences, we do not always feel happy. So how should a true Christian be characterized by this joy/happiness?
Well, the word for joy that is used in the Bible is called “chara.” This joy, unlike a happy feeling, is a lasting emotion based on one’s personal decision to trust that God will do what He said He will do. This joy is, in fact, a feeling, but it is a lasting feeling. It is the result of a choice: to trust God and His Word.
As we will see in all of these characteristics of a true Christian, these are not things that we can do on our own. Apart from the Spirit, we are unable to have real joy, to really love others, and the list goes on. We cannot make these things happen, nor can we make ourselves feel and experience real, lasting joy in the Lord. Today, we are going to look at just how does that happen.
John 15:11 - These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Jesus tells us here that the result of following His commandments and loving God is joy – joy to its fullness. Jesus is essentially telling His disciples here that if they follow Him and if they love Him, they will experience joy unlike anything they ever have before.
The point of Jesus’ message to His followers is not that He has a to-do list that is meant to drag them down and fill their lives with meaningless, boring tasks. His desire is for those who follow Him to experience true joy, joy that is lasting and comes from trusting God and doing what is right.
Psalm 16:11 says that in the presence of God there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. God is not interested in having us follow what He says to make our lives boring and miserable. God is interested in having us follow what He says because there is true happiness, joy, pleasure, and satisfaction that comes from the way of life that only He has.
If you have ever read a book or watched a show, you know that the best way to enjoy that is not by having a friend share spoilers with you or by skipping ahead to the end yourself. If you do not read the book or watch the show the way it was created to be watched, you will miss out on all that the author intends for you to experience. You will waste your time and will fail to discover the enjoyment that comes from doing something the way it was intended to be done. The same is true with following God.
Philippians 4:4 - Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
So, our joy can come from knowing and following God, and we also know that joy is a work of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). But joy is also something that we deliberately, intentionally choose to have. The Bible is full of similar statements to this one by Paul in Philippians to consciously choose joy in the Lord. Why would Paul say that if joy is an emotion that we cannot, on our own, make ourselves feel?
The reason for this is that while joy is an emotion that can be felt, it is also connected to a choice that can be made in the absence of a feeling of happiness. Our joy, as true followers of Jesus, is not wrapped up in our circumstances or our current emotions. Those can rise and fall. Our joy is anchored in our firm belief that God is who He says He is and that He is doing what He says He is doing.
So, if I believe that God is working, even if I can’t see it, I can trust that He is doing something. If I believe that God is good, I can hold on to that truth even if it doesn’t feel good right now.
Think of it like this: I ran cross country in college. My coach was a talented runner and knew what she was doing. One of the things that we had to do in practice was run a mile to this monster hill in the area. Once we got there, we would run as fast as we could to the top of the hill, then jog back down. And we would repeat that however many times our coach wanted us to do. Nothing about that was fun. It was painful, brutal, and my least favorite workout we did. In the moment, if I did not trust my coach that she was working on something that I could not see, I would have quit. And if I quit, I would have never experienced the joy and satisfaction of running in meets where I looked forward to hills because I knew I could catch people on them. I would have never known the success I had in running if I did not believe my coach was working on something that I could not see at the time.
So, I made a deliberate, conscious choice to follow what my coach said, because I had faith in her that it would lead to my joy, happiness, and my development as a runner. I did not always feel joy, but I chose joy in my choice to trust her, having faith that it would result in my joy at the end.
Luke 15:6-7 - 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
So, we know that joy comes from knowing and trusting God and that the Spirit is the one who helps us to live this out. But God doesn’t just demand our blind obedience without seeing any proof of His working to hold on to. Just as I would have seen an increase in my endurance and strength in the cross-country workouts I did, we can observe God working to support our faith in Him.
One of the biggest ways we can see God working is in the life change of those who put their faith in Him. Luke records for us about the joy that happens in heaven when even one person repents of their sins and surrenders their life to God. If you have ever had someone you know who was a completely different person before they got saved, then you know what I am talking about. Whether they were angry, anxious, addicted, or whatever it was, when they found Jesus and a relationship with Him, that all changed. It is truly incredible to see God working in these ways and can give us confidence, for those who trust Him, that our faith and source of joy is in the right place.
So, we see that joy is not a fleeting feeling, but is a lasting feeling that comes from trusting in God and doing what He says. There will be times where we do not feel like feeling joyful or choosing to trust that God is doing something good. Those times are normal and should be expected. But when those times come, more than ever we should run to the One that we trust and that we love, and we should look for evidence of His work in our lives and those around us. When we see God working, it gives us confidence to hold onto in times of doubt, and when we choose to trust Him, we can know that there is real joy waiting for us in Him.