My soul shall be joyful in the Lord (Psalm 35:9, King James Version).
Have you ever met someone whose morning personality was so bubbly and joyful that you asked what he ordered at Starbucks? Then you wonder how Christians can possibly experience joy in the midst of trials, like unemployment, loss of health, or family disappointment. Contrary to common definitions, joy is more than “emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune.”
Joyful living is being at peace with circumstances, whether bright or dim. Joy comes from within, during good times and in spite of the darkest moments in life. Even in the midst of severe trial, God fills our hearts with songs like, “Whatever my lot you have taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.” Horatio Spafford penned those lyrics in 1873, after devastating losses. He had lost his only son to scarlet fever, his home had burned in the Chicago fire, and all of his remaining children had died in shipwreck during a trip to England.
Spafford’s experience is evidence that our heavenly Father equips believers with the Holy Spirit as a way to go beyond endurance. The third person in the Trinity is our comforter, our teacher, our guide. Thus, Christians can experience joy even in the midst of hardship. God the Father promised to make a way through our trials so that we can bear them (1 Corinthians 10:13). He promises so many other things for his children, including that he will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Knowing the promises of God and believing his Word are fundamental for a joyful life.
Joy in Jesus
As sinners living apart from Jesus’ substitutionary death, we were without hope of eternal life. By faith, accepting God’s Son, new life starts. Old things pass away and all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christians are changed by the power and love of God.
Living each day in communication with God through prayer and Bible reading, believers learn more and more about the perfect character of God and about the frailty of humans. Psalm 18:30 states, “As for God, his way is perfect.” On the other hand, Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (King James Version). God knows our hearts and remembers that we are made of dust (Psalm 103:14). Only the redeemed of the Lord, the “righteous,” are entitled to “joy.” Psalm 68:3 reads, “But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.” We look forward to eternity with God in Heaven; therefore, Christians have every reason to be joyful and live a life with a peaceful soul. Nonbelievers, on the other hand, have no such hope and no eternal reason to be joyful.
For Christians, the truth of Scripture shapes how we make sense of our lives. Worldview encompasses all we believe to govern our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Though God’s Word is clear on certain controversial topics, Christians can be swayed by outside sources or emotion to take an opposing view and justify it. The daily news is full of current practices that are contrary to Scripture. To examine whether homosexuality, same sex marriage, or abortion, for example, are true or false, we consult the Lord’s guidance.
Since the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, a pricked conscience is a good indicator of a lack of joy (see Acts 9:5). A person’s contrary worldview certainly isn’t cause for human judgement. God is the divine Judge. Submission to God’s truth is necessary to live a life of trust, of pure joy.
The Westminster Catechism states that man’s chief end [aim or purpose] is to glorify [praise and worship] God and enjoy him [experience his presence] forever. Many times, experiencing God’s presence comes while hiking a worn mountain path in nature, or simply listening to Christian music in the quiet of a living room. In 1931 Oswald J. Smith penned these words in a gospel song: “There is joy in serving Jesus, as I journey on my way.” The words ring true for those feeding the homeless, teaching special needs children, rescuing animals, or spreading the good news to a lost world.
Looking beyond temporal life and understanding our mortality gives us purpose in obeying the Lord. Heavenly rewards of crowns and kingdoms await those who trust and obey . . . those who glorify and enjoy God in this life (Revelation 20:4). “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (4:11). God loves to enjoy his creation. Likewise, he gives his children joy as we live out purposeful lives.
Pitfalls versus Contentment
The phrase fear not appears 74 times in the King James Version. Fear and trusting God are opposite states of mind. So are worry and trust. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” As believers, we want more than functionality; we desire the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10). Fear and worry are pitfalls to avoid. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
To embrace contentment is to live joyfully. Even so, King Solomon warned that the eye is never satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:8). Why does it seem that the people who have the least are the most content? Others, like Job, had plenty until God allowed Satan to take away everything except his life. His wife tempted him to curse God and die, but Job refused. A New Testament example is the apostle Paul, writing, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
Imagine, the average American’s credit card debt in 2017 was $15,654. Before plastic cards, families simply paid cash or ran up a little tab at the local retailer. Debt is one indicator of discontent, the absence of joy. The borrower is servant to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). It’s hard to experience joy when chanting: “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.”
Need a joyful heart? Because of a blood-stained red cross, we can apply God’s remedy. For sin, repent. For neglecting God, pray. For daily needs, ask. For joy, dwell in God. Like King David, we cry, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation” (Psalm 51:12).
Satisfaction does not come from temporal, earthly things. The apostle John wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4). Only the Lord and his presence fulfills our heart’s desire for joy. By faith Christians are eternally satisfied. We are encouraged by knowing how much God desires us to experience his joy. He will dance over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). Upon our departure from earth, may we hear, “Well done . . . enter into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
Effie-Alean Gross has roots in Iowa, living in Fountain Hills, Arizona since 1990. She worships at a mega church in Scottsdale, enjoys seven grandchildren, and works as a realtor since retiring from teaching.