Have you ever looked at someone and wished you had just an ounce of their joy? Be it that friend who is sunshine in a can, the exuberance of your children, those people in the crowd who look like they don’t have a care in the world?
I thought for the longest time that my lack of exuberance stemmed from an easygoing personality. That I wasn’t particularly emotional, even as a teenager, and that meant that my emotions are neither particularly high or low, just hovering somewhere north or south of neutral.
And I thought that was ok. I thought joy was for the louder personalities, the cliff divers of emotional life who seemed to just…feel…more than I do. Or at least feel it more deeply. And sometimes I even questioned the depth of their joy. Were they really as happy as they pretended to be?
But the older I get, the more I realize that joy is not intended just for kids or the more freely emotional.
Joy is for everyone. Even me. Even the people who think that joy is a luxury or something that they haven’t felt in so long they don’t remember the taste of bubbling happiness inside them.
Joy is a byproduct. That’s where my prior thinking was wrong. I thought joy was something that had to be organically generated and spontaneous.
I didn’t realize that joy can be cultivated. Something to be pursued in our relationship with God and with others around us.
I can actually be proactive in my pursuit of joy.
Joy is a desire God has for us and something he desires us to both seek and intend, as well as receive freely from him.
And the wonderful thing is that as we seek God, joy comes alongside our search.
Joy is a byproduct of our deepening relationship with God.
“though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9
Growing up in a Christian home like I did, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know Jesus. At 5 years old, my sense of myself as a person who needed cleansing and redeeming was non-existant. My relationship with God and discovery of the layers of myself that need saving and cleansing has been a gradual process. But as I look back over my life I’m filled with such gratitude at the work he’s done for me and in me. It brings me joy that I’m not the person I was and that in the future, I won’t be the person I am now. And that is God’s doing, his grace-filled doing in my life.
Joy is also a byproduct of our relationships with others.
Paul continually speaks of his joy in the news he receives about the churches he’s ministered to and with. He calls the Thessalonians “our glory and joy”.
This weekend I had the privilege of being back at a church where my husband and I used to minister. At one point, I was overwhelmed with joy at the work God had allowed us to be a part of during our 7 years there. And it wasn’t about us, really. It wasn’t about spectacular programming or showmanship. It was about relationship.
Joy fills my heart when I see the work God is doing in the lives of those around me. It overflows knowing that he allows me to be part of ministering to other people. That I can be a person who seeks joy in a situation and that can be an encouragement to others.
And others have brought me joy through their ministry and relationship with me.
Because there are times when joy seems few and far between. When the depths of our grief or suffering cloud our way back towards joy. When our depression feels so dark and deep that any hope of light is long past diminished.
Where is the joy then?
The answer is basic but not easy.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its’ shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
Jesus’ humanity, his gritty, emotional, tested, perfected humanity, meant that he knows every emotion and experience we’re going through. He knew the test of the dark night of fear and lonliness, and he went through the cross and the weight of our sins as he died.
And now he knows the joy that comes on the other side of perseverance.
Joy gives us strength in the face of perseverance. The joy that comes from knowing that what we are going through can be pointed towards God and trained towards our maturity.
That joy can be the end result of the suffering we’re going through.
I have known people who have this fruitful joy that comes from a life lived in pursuit of God in every situation. This joy that, though it may dip in times of stretching, is the product of digging deeper into God during the good and bad times.
A joy that is fuelled by relationship with God and powered by the Holy Spirit.
I want that.
And I’m getting there. Slowly and intentionally, I’m getting closer to this joy-filled life God desires for all of us.
My prayer for all of us.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him. so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13