Then I thought, “Well, that’s cool, God. I’m generally even-tempered and content with life. I guess I can speak on joy.” He then corrected me again and explained to me that mere contentment with life is not the same as the spiritual fruit of joy.
So I went to Roget’s Thesaurus and looked up synonyms for the word, joy. I found happiness, bliss, pleasantry, and good mood. God didn’t have to spell it out for me the third time. None of those synonyms were consistent with what the joy of the Lord is.
Typically, we use the words happiness and joy interchangeably. But the Christian should be alert in doing this. Joy is a spiritual fruit, not an emotion. Therein lies a huge difference.
We can’t base our joy in the Lord on the same things that we base our happiness on. Happiness can sometimes come from external circumstances and these things are fleeting. In fact, the same things that can bring you happiness can also bring you grief. A spouse, a child, work, the church, health, a rainy day, free time, and medications can all bring great contentment and happiness. But those very same people, things, and ideas can also bring us much grief when encountered in a different context.
Note the following verse by King Solomon at the close of his life.
consider: God has made the one as well as the other.
Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future.”
(Ecclesiastes 7:14-15; NIV)
Solomon tells us that we are going to experience both the good and the bad of life. I submit that the joy of the Lord cannot be found in circumstances that bring about good or bad. In fact, the joy of the Lord cannot be found in circumstances at all.
I told the women at the meeting that we are nurturers by design and we do something very unhealthy. We take our happiness cue from the external. Men are no different. Their responses to the external may be rooted in something inherently different than a desire to be an effective nurturer, but they, too, tend to look outwardly for validation. We are all supposed to be able to take care of ourselves and everyone else, whether by nurturing, leading, loving, or defending. Too many times, if people, events, and things are not functioning properly, then we take it to mean that we have failed. Divorce, death, a parent with Alzheimer’s, rebellious children, poor health and all of the things that we many times have no control over affect our happiness tremendously. And worst of all, we have confused happiness with the joy of the Lord.
There are too many Christian who are basing their worth as sons and daughters of the Living God and their joy in the Lord on their human capacity to control the external and that is not only impossible, it is not biblical.
Habakkuk was a prophet who praised God for being in control even in the bad times. The following verse shows that joy in the Lord is not dependent on circumstances.
vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
(Habakkuk 3:18; NIV)
In fact, the joy of the Lord is an experience that rises far above the circumstances of life. The Apostle Paul made this point when he said this of Jesus.
faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…”
(Hebrews 12:2; NIV)
Jesus Christ’s endurance of the cross is something that we will never understand nor fully appreciate. It was monstrous and horrid. Yet Paul said that Jesus endured it for the joy set before him. Certainly, Jesus Christ did not endure the cross merely to be happy and make his followers happy. This joy that Paul speaks of Jesus having is a supernatural fruit – not a feeling of bliss. In fact, Jesus, himself, wants us to experience that same spiritual joy that he felt. He said so.
may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
(John 15:11; HCSB)
Jesus spoke these words on the very night that he almost died in the garden of Gethsemane. How could Jesus go from being joyful and wanting to share his joy to sweating drops of blood and almost anguishing himself literally to death in the same few hours? It’s because his joy in the Lord wasn’t dependent on his circumstances.
In the upper room where he brought comfort to the disciples and even in the grief of the garden where he could find no comfort for his own self, his mindset was on the Father’s will and the Father’s authority over him. His joy sprang from his relationship with God, not his circumstances.
It isn’t easy to comprehend. Perhaps you maybe be thinking that this all sounds to lofty, too spiritual, and not applicable to the flesh. Well, you’re right. Spiritual principles are often difficult to apply to our daily lives, which are still driven by the flesh no matter how hard we try to deny it. Sometimes it’s too hard when experiencing anger, bitterness, resentment, and sorrow to focus on anything else. Grief is consuming. But, then again, so is euphoria. The mountain top experience was meant to be just that – a singular experience. We weren’t designed to live there and set up housekeeping. But some people try to do that very thing based on faulty belief system about joy.
Would you like to recognize and produce the true spiritual fruit of joy in the Lord? First, let’s start with a new definition of joy.
unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains
on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain
in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The
one who remains in Me and I in him will produce
much fruit because you can do nothing without Me.”
(John 15:4-5; HCSB)
Branches do not gather fruit to themselves. Fruit grows miraculously from the branches. Branches only because the vine gives them the ability to. So how does this define joy? Joy is a fruit that is an outward and visible manifestation of your inner relationship with Jesus Christ. By supernaturally remaining in Jesus and he in you, joy begins with Jesus’ authority over you as that metaphorical vine. Joy comes from inside of you and manifests on the outside of you. Joy is not thrust upon you by uncontrollable circumstances because you are not supernaturally connected to your circumstances. We are supernaturally connected to Jesus Christ. Joy grows inside of you.
Just as you might squeeze some grapes and observe juice pouring out, when life squeezes us in the grip of circumstances, the fruit of the spirit, including joy, should be what springs forth from us. That doesn’t always happen with Christians. Many times when we are faced with unpleasantness, what comes forth from us is resentment, vindictiveness, covetousness, or profanity. Even when life smiles upon us and shows us favor we sometimes respond with vanity, selfishness, pride, laziness, and self-centeredness.
The good news is that there are very simple ways to start practicing the flow of joy from within you. The bible speaks about joy in literally hundreds of places. I believe that there are several tangible things to do to experience the joy of the Lord in your life.
(1.) Be thankful for your salvation.
and be not afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH
is my strength and my song; he also is
become my salvation. Therefore with joy
shall ye draw water out of the wells
(Isaiah 12:2-3; KJV)
(2.) Praise the Lord.
For praise from the upright is beautiful!”
(Psalm 33:1; NKJV)
(3.) Express gratitude.
rejoice and be glad in it.”
(Psalm 118:24; NKJV)
(4.) Strive for unity in the body.
Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life,
if being in a community of the Spirit means anything
to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then do me
a favor. Agree with each other, love each other, be
(Philippians 2:1-2; The Message)
The Apostle Paul wrote this while sitting in prison. He knew the vital importance of unity in the body of Christ. If you want to know where our churches and families need to start in increasing unity of the body, then go look in a mirror. The bible says that we are to be like-minded. Paul said unity made his joy complete. It will make ours complete, too.
(5.) Seek restoration and renewal.
compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts
like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD
Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving
and the sound of singing.”
(Isaiah 51:3; NIV)
Do you believe that God wants you to be restored and renewed? Renewal for the Christian is part of the normal cycle of spiritual life; in fact, it’s almost inevitable in our relationship with God.
(7.) Be a cheerful giver.
cheerfully brought their money until the chest was full.”
Recognize that nothing that you give to and through the Lord belongs to you in the first place – all of it belongs to him anyway: your paycheck, house, spouse, children, talents, free time, clothes, and anything else that you might claim as your own.
You see, it doesn’t matter if you are consumed by grief or puffed up with bliss. Don’t allow either emotion to cause you to place your circumstances between you and God. Always place God between you and your circumstances. That way, no matter what life hands you on a daily basis, good or bad, tragic or ecstatic, your joy of and in the Lord prevails above it all. Live out the joy that God’s Holy Spirit has harvested in you.