As a little girl I used to belt out with my Sunday School class, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.” To my little girl self, joy simply meant happiness. I was happy. Life was pretty much blue skies and sunshine, as it should be for a child.
In more recent years, singing at the top of my lungs about overflowing joy has been more difficult. It takes more effort, even discipline, and sometimes joy feels too elusive. Even though I really am living my dream, some days it feels like struggles abound and joy is simply too difficult to muster up. In the wake of losing my Mom I battled depression as I moved through the grief process. There’ve been times, like most families, that we haven’t known if we can make ends meet financially. I’m an extrovert that is called to fulltime motherhood, and sometimes I simply ache with an overwhelming desire to converse and dialog with adults. Some days family life, sweet as it is, just feels hard. Conflict is no stranger to us. It seems like marriages are falling apart all around us, the evening news is scary and discouraging, and Christians are being persecuted in horrific torture around the globe. In my own circle of friends, there is divorce, infertility, loneliness, illness, and death.
Yes, really. If you’ve been following this series I just began, you’ll know that JOY is listed as a fruit of the Spirit…one of the nine characteristics that the Holy Spirit develops and grows within the Christian person. As we live in step with the Spirit, and seek to grow more like Jesus, these characteristics develop within us. But we must cooperate. We must want it. These nine characteristics are fruit that grow, yes, but they are also disciplines that we must practice. And we must fight for joy. To fight for joy is a reminder that my husband and I give to one another frequently. When the bills are stressful and the noise decibel in our rambunctious house is deafening and the news is infuriating, we remind each other: “Fight for joy, today, honey.” Seek joy, find joy, cling to joy.
In Scripture, joy is a promise of God for the believer, but also a command. God commands us over and over in Scripture to have joy, choose joy, consider it joy, sing with joy, proclaim with joy. And when we cooperate with the Holy Spirit and choose joy, Jesus promises that joy will come: “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:24) The night before Jesus dies, he even prays for believers, that we would have “the full measure of his joy” while we are in this world (John 17:13). Yet when we get caught up in the things of life, joy is so easily forgotten.
We must remember that we have an enemy who is hell-bent on stealing our joy from us. Jesus warns us of his thievery: “The thief has come to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that you might have live, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). Satan steals, kills, and destroys our joy. He hates us and doesn’t want us to have the Joy that Jesus brings. He doesn’t want the Joy of the Lord to overflow out of us. The Joy of the Lord is contagious, and our enemy certainly doesn’t want joy to permeate our neighborhoods and communities. So he steals it. He is also the father of lies, and he whispers lies to us all day long, “You’re exhausted and overwhelmed…You have nothing to be joyful about.” “Joy is nowhere to be found.” “It’s okay to just be angry and mad…you have a right to be…just sulk in your anger.”
We must fight back. We must turn our backs to the lies of Satan, and recognize the lies as his ploy to steal our joy. Joy is worth the fight. And when we seek it, Jesus assures us we will find it – in Him. That’s why he said he came to give us life to the full…life abundantly. Jesus has joy to give and wants us to have it. But so often, the reason we can’t find it is because we misunderstand it. We have joy altogether wrong in our culture.
First of all, joy is not happiness. Joy is fundamentally different than temporary happiness. Being happy is certainly good and desired, but it is also fleeting. Happiness is a feeling. Joy is a state of being. Happiness is usually circumstantial. Joy is beyond our circumstances. Joy is not contingent on circumstance but contingent only on Jesus’ empty grave…and that will never change. True joy is constant.
Joy is not of earth. Too often, our joy is tied up in our 401K, benefit packages, square footage, and our happy little perfect-looking façade of a family. If we have that all put together, then we have joy, right? But then our 401K comes crashing down with the stock market or our square footage is diminished in a down-size, our perception of joy crashes then too. If you never have, make it a life goal to attend a worship service with believers in a third world country, and you will see true joy. In the midst of utter poverty and brokenness, the joy of Jesus is more tangible than most of us here have ever before imagined. It’s humbling and inspiring and contagious and purely beautiful. Believers in Christ who have no treasures on earth are the ones who truly understand the joy of our treasure in Heaven.
Joy is not temporarily forgetting our problems. That’s the whole idea behind so-called “Retail Therapy.” Feeling down with struggles abounding? Just go drop a few more hundred bucks at the mall and you’ll feel so much happier, right? Ummm, no. Then my struggles will still be abounding and I’ll have credit card debt. Perfect. No, joy cannot be found in the things of earth, cannot be purchased, and is not a temporary fix.
Joy is not the absence of anxiety or depression. In fact, throughout the Psalms we see individuals struggling, yet finding joy in the presence of God: “When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94:18-19) In our house, we are living proof that depression and anxiety can be a real struggle, and that the joy of the Lord is big enough to permeate through it all. The joy of the Lord doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t also need anti-depressants. When I was struggling with grief and depression, I was able to fix my heart on the joy of the resurrection, and yet also, Lexapro was a sweet gift from God. It’s doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Ultimately, joy is knowing Jesus, and believing Him when he said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Joy is knowing full well that no matter what this earthly life brings, Jesus has paid the debt for your sin and conquered death. In that, there is joy unspeakable. When things on earth begin to fall apart and happiness fades away, joy in Christ’s victory sustains our souls.
So today, turn your face toward joy. Lift your face toward the beams of sunshine outside and feel the kiss of Heaven on your cheeks. Lift your hands to the one who has conquered this whole world and everything in it. And joy will well up.
Seek joy. Choose joy. Sing joy. Proclaim joy. Ask for joy.
Even when you don’t feel it, choose it.
It is worth fighting for.