What is the key to experiencing joy in the Christian life?
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) but can often seem elusive for Christians. Before delving in to how we can experience joy in the Christian life, we must first recognize that joy is not based on circumstances. In fact, joy may not even prevent us from experiencing negative emotions. Rather, joy is a deep-seated sense of happiness in what God has done and what He is doing. The Greek word for "joy" is related to the Greek word for "grace." Truly, joy is a grace bestowed on us by God. So how can we accept and experience the gift of joy?
In many ways, perspective is key. When we look at what God has done for us, we naturally respond with thanksgiving and joy. When we look at difficult circumstances or the frustrations of life, we naturally respond with discontent. This is not to say that we do not acknowledge the difficulties of this life or the lack in our world. Rather, we do so while still recognizing that God is in control and that He loves us. The Psalms display this truth beautifully. David, for example, poured out his complaints to God. He did not deny the hardships of life, his depression, his hurt, or his disappointment. Yet by the end of each psalm, he generally seemed encouraged (for instance, Psalm 3; 6; 7; 13; 16; 18).
When we voice our concerns and allow ourselves to be reminded of the goodness of God, we release our burdens. Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). We can experience joy when we give our burdens to Jesus. He helps carry the heavy load. He also reminds us of Who He is. Knowing of His care for us and our ultimate victory in Him, we can experience joy even in our hardships.
Paul was no stranger to hardships (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). And yet he was also prolific on the topic of joy, particularly in his epistle to the Philippians. Paul writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4-7). We give our burdens to God through prayer and do so with thanksgiving.
But we don't stop there. Paul goes on to say, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8). After we have given our requests to God, we keep a proper perspective. We think on things that are pure, full of splendor, excellent, right, and praiseworthy. We do not dwell on our heartache but on the goodness of God and the beauty He infuses into our lives.
In addition to prayer and proper perspective, we glean joy from community. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken." We were created for community, as can be seen by God's creation of Eve to be a helper for Adam and in Paul's description of the church as a body of believers (Romans 12:3-13). Christians are instructed to encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). We can share both our hurtful and happy moments with friends (Romans 12:15).
Ultimately, these practical tips for experiencing joy are just a small part of living a joyful life. Jesus describes what it means to abide in Him in John 15:1-11, linking it with remembering His words, living in His love, depending on Him, and obeying His commands. He then says, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). We experience joy in our Christian lives by giving our lives completely over to Jesus, accepting His gift of grace. When we truly abide in Him, we will know the fullness of His joy.
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