When was the last time you experienced joy? Perhaps you’re thinking about the last time you spent quality time with friends, had a fabulous vacation with family or had the time to give undivided attention to a hobby you’re passionate about. Or maybe you felt joy the last time you did absolutely nothing but laze on the couch watching your favourite movie, TV or reading a book.
At New Year’s, we traditionally make resolutions to do things in the coming year that we hope will bring us more joy.
The nature of joy
The word “joy” connotes extreme gladness or delight. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”
But if we think about, real joy is even more than a temporary emotional state of feeling happy.
We know that joy is one of the things that should clearly manifest in the life and attitude of a believer: the person who has the spirit of God inside of them (Galatians chapter 5 verse 22 and Acts chapter 13 verse 52). Joy is a believer’s natural state or our default setting.
Yet many of us struggle. We grapple with the idea that our lives are to show the world what real joy looks like...the world including the people at work who annoy us, the difficult client or classmate, the family member who seems to have a personal vendetta against us, the friend who sometimes hurts us, the gossiping neighbour and the lady at that store who is rude and dismissive.
Our lives should reflect joy. That is the noun that should be associated with us. We should be full of joy. But in our daily lives there can be a disconnect between what we should be (joyous) and how we feel (discouraged).
Circumstances can rob us of our joy. These situations can range from job loss, work stress, health or financial problems, loss of loved ones, lack of resources or relationships or feelings of social isolation or that guy who cut us off in traffic this morning. Everyday, things pose a threat to our being a reflection of joy. To be honest, I don’t always feel happy. Sometimes, I feel really sad. Sometimes, this feeling lasts longer than it should.
But this is where spiritual truth must override feeling and circumstance. I look to the example of the apostles who were able, in the face of fierce persecution (including being jailed, flogged and expelled from cities), to have a permanent attitude of joy. We read in Acts chapter 5 verse 41 that after one episode of oppression by the religious elite:
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus]”
Wow! Rejoicing in suffering? To the world, this makes no sense. And not only that, the crazy part is that warnings of the high officials didn’t stop these disciples from continuing to do the very same preaching that got them into trouble in the first place! (Acts chapter 5 verse 42)
Why have joy in suffering?
James tells us in his letter chapter 1 verses 2-4:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
We can only count our sufferings as something to be joyful about when we get the revelation that all things in the life of a believer are working for our good (Romans chapter 8 verse 28). God is using events to shape our character and to strengthen our faith in Him (2 Corinthians chapter 8 verses 1-2 and Hebrews chapter 12 verse 11).
Joseph’s brothers dropped him into a pit and then sold him into slavery which led to a chain of events we would consider unfortunate: he was falsely accused of attempted rape and imprisoned. And yet Joseph was able to embrace his brothers when he was elevated to be the leader of Egypt under Pharaoh (Genesis chapter 50 verses 20 -21) Joseph’s character was shaped from the immature teenager who boasted to his brothers that they would one day bow to him into a humble man who, when he had the power to make them bow, showed only forgiveness and love. Circumstances shaped his character and didn’t rob Joseph of his faith and joy.
Jesus himself set an example of joyful endurance in suffering for us:
“Jesus...for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame...” (Hebrews chapter 12 verse 2)
Joy isn’t found in our external circumstances which the writer of Ecclesiastes describes earthly pleasures as vain and futile, “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes chapter 1 verse 14). The Bible also teaches us that our joy is only found in and embodied in the person of Jesus (Romans Chapter 15 verse 13).
Make Jesus your joy. This joy will never leave you.
Sharma Taylor is a corporate attorney with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Law from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. This year, she is committed to pursuing God even harder than before.
Sharma Taylor's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sharma-taylor.html
Sharma Taylor is a corporate attorney with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Law from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. She won the 2017 Basil Sellers International Young Writers prize in the Press Service International young writer program, the 2019 Tronson Award (International) and the 2021 Basil Sellers award for International Senior Writers. Every day, she loves experiencing the beautiful surprises that God has stored up for her and longs to keep cultivating a servant-heart.