What Does the Bible Say About Joy?
You too can sing hymns in jail at midnight if you know this secret.
…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…
There is such a need for joy in our culture. There’s this idea of a division between soul and spirit, typical of our culture, which cuts us off from God, who is the source of joy. He is also the source of life, the source of everything our hearts most need.
Ancient Greek philosophy brought us the idea that the soul existed in a pre-incarnate state. It sinned, as we would put it, and it was punished by being put in a body. The whole point of life, it was thought, was to live in such a way that when we die, our souls would go back where they came from. This isn’t a Christian idea at all. But it became a part of the thought that influenced the whole Western world. That’s why we have this idea that there’s the spiritual and the secular, Sunday and Monday.
We’ve segregated God into a part of our lives.
The Romans’ religion made sacrifices to the gods a bargain you made so they would bless your crops or keep you safe at war, whatever it is you wanted. Their gods were just a part of their lives rather than the Lord of life, the source of that which we most need.
Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in him.” We were just created that way. We put cut flowers into a vase, then add water. Cut off from the source, they’re going to die. That’s where we are as a culture. So when a pandemic comes along, or a terrible circumstance, we find we’ve been cut off at the roots. The basis of our joy is no longer there. Because we’ve separated ourselves from God, we’re missing the joy that can be found only when we’re connected to the Giver of joy.
Does the Bible say we’re going to be happy regardless of our circumstances?
We hear this a lot. We have this idea that if we’re just right with God, if we give enough money, if we go to enough church services, if we’re active enough in our religion, that we’ll always be healthy and happy. This is really the health and wealth gospel. This is certainly not what Jesus said.
In John 16:33, he told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.”
The word translated tribulation was used for the weight that crushed grain into flour. Jesus said, in this world “you will”—not “you might” or “you could.” The “you” included all of his followers. In a fallen world, we’re going to experience a fallen world. The world’s going to fall on us at times.
Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood and crying from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
The Bible does not promise happiness. Happiness is based on happenings: circumstances. They are too unpredictable, difficult and painful. Christianity is not a naïve faith. It’s not a “Praise the Lord anyway” idea that says that no matter where we are, we’re supposed to be happy in those circumstances. That certainly wasn’t Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s not the experience he offers or promises us. It’s not happiness that we’re after, but joy.
If we’re not promised happiness, why follow Jesus?
The joy of the Lord is a fruit of the Spirit. The Bible says the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22–23) Joy is a sense of well-being that transcends circumstance. It’s not based on your happenings; it transcends them. Even in difficulty, if you’re experiencing the sense of well-being that comes from the Holy Spirit at work in your life, you can know the difference in the two. That’s why the Bible can say, “Rejoice in the Lord always” — not rejoice in the world always, rejoice in the Lord always, because joy is a fruit of the Spirit. (Philippians 4:4)
We follow Jesus because He is Lord. We don’t make him Lord, He’s already King of kings and Lord of lords. But when we follow him, when we submit to him, when we surrender our lives to his lordship, when we ask the Holy Spirit to empower us and to fill us and to control us, he manifests joy in our lives and through our lives as our witness to the world.
The Apostle Paul and Silas were singing hymns in a Philippian jail at midnight, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:20-24) When we think of the joy of the Lord, the joy that we can have even in the most difficult circumstance, that’s an incredibly powerful witness to a world that is settling for happiness.
So the invitation here is: to follow Jesus as your Lord, submit to the power of the Holy Spirit, ask God to manifest his joy in and through your life. When he does that, seize the opportunity to demonstrate the difference Jesus makes in your life. The darker the room, the more obvious the light. The more difficult the circumstance, the more obvious your joy will be if you follow Jesus and surrender to Him, and ask for the joy of the Lord in and through your life.
Will you be a light?
In one of the churches that I pastored a number of years ago was a member who was dying — dying of breast cancer. I had not been there very long when I became acquainted with her. Death was extremely difficult and painful for her. I came by to see her quite often and was with her the day before she passed away. To the very end of her life, she never lost her joy, even in pain, even in grief, even in all that she was going through.
When she had no happiness about it, she had a joy that was transforming and attractive. You couldn’t walk into her hospital room and not sense the joy of the Lord and not want what she had. Her joy to the very end of her life was her powerful witness to a culture desperate for joy.
So wherever you find yourself today, whatever your jail cell is, you can sing hymns at midnight.
You can rejoice in the Lord always if you’ll ask the Holy Spirit to control you, to empower you, and you’ll ask the Spirit to give you, to manifest the fruit of joy in your life. He will do that. And other people will want the joy of Jesus they see in you.
That’s the promise of God.
Pray this week:
Jesus, please reunite me with the source of joy. Make me a powerful witness to others even when circumstances are difficult.
Would those who know you say your faith holds up under pressure? Why or why not? A caring volunteer is ready to listen or share your struggle. Will you let God make your test a testimony?