Too many people, even those who follow Christ, spend their lives without a true sense of joy. Life seems to overflow with struggle and challenges, with negative events and interactions that overwhelm and depress. But friends, you can not only have a sense of joy, you can be filled with it to the point of overflowing.
People long to be happy, but true, soul-deep happiness comes from joy, not the other way around. Happiness is fleeting, based on the circumstances or people around us. What we who follow Christ need to do is let Him fill us with the awareness and the experience of rejoicing, or rejoicefulness. That is there whether you’re in happy circumstances or not. This is why the Bible tells us to rejoice in the Lord always and to count it all joy when people persecute you. Because it’s not about skipping with happiness, it’s about focusing on finding joy in God.
Think about Acts 5, where the Apostles are performing miraculous signs and people are getting healed. The Apostles are preaching that Jesus has been raised from the dead, that he’s the Messiah, and the religious establishment doesn’t like that. After all, they put Him to death. It doesn’t exactly look good if they admit they killed the King who everyone’s been waiting for for hundreds of years! What’s worse, people are flocking to listen to the Apostles, whom the leaders already warned not to preach in Jesus’s name! So what do the religious leaders do? They make the apostles appear before the Sanhedrin—the religious rulers. Of course, the Apostles say they’re not going to stop preaching, that they must obey God. The Sanhedrin are furious and threaten to stone the Apostles, but end up just warning them again, having them flogged, and letting them go.
Which is when it gets really exciting. Because in Acts 5:4, the Apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name of Jesus.
These guys got flogged. The whips used to flog someone were leather thongs with balls of iron or sharp pieces of sheep’s bone tied to them. The victim is stripped naked and beaten in the most painful way possible, to cause extensive damage not just to the skin, but to the muscles and tendons below. It was an horrific punishment.
And yet they rejoiced.
As Christians who have the Holy Spirit living in us, we can do something powerful with joy—we can experience joy and pain simultaneously. Or joy and sorrow. Or joy and any other type of suffering. Because joy isn’t an emotion, it’s a foundational part of who we are that stems from our knowledge of and trust in God. That’s why we can be joyful in all circumstances, because true joy is about trusting God, not our emotions or circumstances.
I (Karen) experienced that blend of suffering or sorrow and joy. Profound sorrow at losing my dad, at not having him with me and being able to talk with him, to hear his laughter. And yet…the morning after he died, I felt such a deep sense of his utter delight in being with God, and with my mom again. I was sad for me, but rejoicing for him and for what eternity holds for all of us.
But just because you’re not struggling through some sort of trial right now doesn’t mean your life is automatically filled with joy. Remember, this sense of joy isn’t based on circumstances, good or bad, it’s a foundational trust in God.
So what are the guaranteed steps to be filled with godly joy? You’ll find them in God’s word, in Colossians 1:9-12:
- Constant prayer. “So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you.” Live in an attitude of prayer.
- Seek to know God’s will in whatever you experience. “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of His will…” Seek to know and understand what God wants from you and for you.
- Ask God for spiritual wisdom and understanding. “…and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.” If you ask, He will answer.
- Ask that you will be strengthened “with all His glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.”
What happens when you follow these steps? Something amazing! Read on in Colossians:
- “Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord…” A life that honors and pleases God. All the time. Now that’s something to rejoice about!
- “…your lives will produce every kind of good fruit” What fruit is that? Read Galatians 5:22-23: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” How would your life, and the lives of those around you, be different if you produce this kind of fruit?
You may be wondering what the Bible means when it says joy is a “fruit of the spirit.” It means this joy is a supernatural thing. You develop this joy through the spirit—through asking God to help you, to breathe that fruit into you. When that happens, others can see it. Godly joy points to God and brings Him glory.
Christians aren’t meant to live lives beaten down and crushed. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not to experience hard times and suffering. We’ve been told those things will come. But we’re not meant to be crushed by them. We’re meant to live with rejoicefulness, focused on and rejoicing in God no matter what. Sometimes that rejoicing comes through clenched teeth or is seasoned with tears, but that’s okay. God knows this isn’t easy. But He’s promised us we don’t have to go through it alone.
1 Peter 1:6-8 tells us: “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love Him even though you have never seen Him. Though you do not see Him now, you trust Him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.”
As you think about these words, what does this glorious, inexpressible joy look like for you?
For Karen, living in a spirit of joyfulness means making the decision to be present in the moment. To be open to the blessings that God has in every moment, to acknowledge them, appreciate them, and thank God for them. It’s choosing in the difficult times to focus not on the difficulty or the struggle or whatever negative emotions are nibbling away at the edges of my spirit, but to look instead for the God-sent blessing contained in that struggle. And these blessings aren’t emotions, they’re acknowledging that God is present, that God is at work, and that this is a path God has set me on and I can trust Him in it.
For Erin, it’s entirely different. For me, it leads to a feeling. This deep joy. It’s a profound peace, and profound satisfaction, and profound…delight in my relationship with God, in who He is, in the spiritual water that flows through my veins. Some of you know that I struggle with chronic insomnia. Last night I slept from 10:45 to 1:45, and then I was up, too exhausted to pray, but too awake to sleep. By the time 7:00 am rolled around, and I had to get up for my day, I was more tired and in pain from fibro than when I went to bed. But even after a night like that, which happens far too often, I choose to get up every morning because there’s a deep peace there, a deep joy in knowing that my day will be spent with God, with doing this task He gave me. That fills me with a desire to keep going, to keep drinking from God’s living water.
Remember, though, that this foundational joy doesn’t just happen. It’s a process. You will grow in it as you learn to know God better and better. When we determine to know Him, we become a clearer reflection of Him in every aspect of our lives. Our relationships, our work, our self-esteem…everything we say and do…will come from a place of peace, grace, love, and justice. And we bring His love and goodness to a dark and hurting world. So let’s choose to, as that Colossians passage says, be “filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.” And what an amazing, joyful inheritance that is of peace and joy, of an eternity secured with Him.