By Pati Page
Unexpected thieves seek to steal a precious gift purchased for us. They hover just below the surface of a smile. They embed themselves in the secret places of our hearts and entwine themselves in our thoughts. Their assault on the soul is subtle but damaging. Left unchecked, they leave us weighed down and weary. Who are these unwanted guests and what are they after? They are enemies that seek to defeat our joy.
Do you struggle with joy? I do. And I would suspect we are not alone. Whether it is through life’s relentless challenges or the result of a single moment when loss bounds through the door uninvited, joy can slip away and recede into the background of our faith. But a joyless existence was not what our Lord had in mind for us.
After teaching his disciples many deep and profound truths hours before his crucifixion, Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Later that evening, in a prayer before his arrest, Jesus expressed his heart to the Father with these words, “But I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy” (John 17:13).
If this beautiful attribute was the Lord’s desire for us, then why does joy seem to hide its face? How can the Lord’s joy be made full within the struggling soul? The journey toward a sweet release of unshackled and restored joy may lead us down an unexpected path. In our investigation, we may find the true enemies of joy are not what we think.
It would be easy to look outside ourselves to discover and name the enemies of joy. Perhaps it is people who have failed us; their words were penetrating and their actions unthinkable, leaving us hurt and defensive. Or maybe it is the physical hardships and illnesses that have stolen the youthful years along with hopes and dreams. Some may even call time an enemy, quickly slipping by, leaving us standing in a wake of uncompleted lists and redirected goals. But if the enemies of our joy are bound up in the external circumstances of life, then we are depending upon a very fickle world to deliver what is only available in Christ.
I suggest that the true enemies of joy do not exist in the outward trials and sufferings of this life but in our responses to them. For example, it isn’t the harsh treatment of people that steals our joy, though hurtful that may be. Rather, it is the subtle and corrosive work of anger, bitterness, and the inability to forgive that invades our soul and robs us of experiencing the full measure of the Lord’s joy. The enemy is not the trial or disappointment, but failing to see God’s hand in or the power of his transforming work through the circumstance. How, then, can joy live alongside grief, devastation, and sorrow? Not until we abide in the truth of God’s Word and in his unchanging character can we begin to see how his joy is made full in us.
What are the enemies of joy that have waged war on the battlefield of your heart?
Joy Renewed & Restored
The journey toward a renewed and restored joy takes courage. It requires surrender of the soul and death to self. It is the bold relinquishing of seeking fulfillment in anything other than the Lord. True and genuine spiritual joy cannot become subject to the emotional swings that either send us soaring to happy heights or plunging into disappointing depths.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church about rejoicing in the Lord at all times and in every circumstance, he likely was writing while in prison in Rome. So what released Paul to rejoice in the Lord and call others to do so? Paul understood that true joy transcends the prison walls of this temporal life because joy is found in the sweet and intimate relationship we are offered in Christ Jesus. It begins with discovering who we truly are in comparison to a holy God and understanding that all we have become in Christ has come to us through his mercy and grace. Joy is cradled in the awe-inspiring humility of our salvation. What disturbs our joy is when we place the fulfillment of our hope in the world rather than in Christ alone. But when we turn to the one who walks us through our hardships and heartaches, joy can emerge through the cleansing tears of repentance, grief, sorrow, or disappointment.
Joy in the Lord and in all he has granted us in life is the stabilizing truth that sets us free from the emotional pendulum that swings to the fluctuating rhythm of this life. Dear friend, don’t allow the true enemies of joy such as resentment, disappointment, or unwillingness to forgive rob you of a joy-filled life. Bring these enemies to the foot of the cross and, like David, ask the Lord to restore to you the joy of your salvation (Psalm 51:12).
Cutting ourselves loose from ourselves, as odd as that may sound, allows us to not only experience the true spiritual joy Jesus desires for us, but we are released to take joy in the spiritual life and growth of others. Joy is a gift and fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is meant to be rooted within the soul while finding its natural production and expression as we relate to others. The apostle John declared there was “no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). Paul told the Colossians he rejoiced in their good discipline and the stability of their faith in Christ (Colossians 2:5).
When our joy is tethered to the truth and our focus in life becomes the eternal pursuits of the kingdom of God, then the fruit of joy blooms in the radiance of Christ’s work in and through others. The reward of Spirit-empowered joy is to have our heart beat in sync with the Lord’s. When we are aligned with his desires, his mission, and his purposes, Christ’s joy is made full in us. Let us find our example in Jesus, the author of our faith who “for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). What was the joy that was set before him? Our salvation! In like manner, we too can endure life’s battles when the spiritual life and growth of others is our joy.
Defeating the enemies of joy is not a battle we fight alone. The power to overcome is only found in the one who has defeated all our enemies. Life is hard, but with hearts fully devoted to Christ and the glory of his name, joy will become the triumphant song that rises above life’s battles.
Pati Page is a Bible study teacher and freelance writer in Bargersville, Indiana.