Be Joyful

Do you consider yourself a joyful person? Can others see the evidence of joy in your life?  So often, we dismiss the call and command for joy in our lives by saying, “It’s not who I am or part of my personality.” It is fair to argue that we are finding ourselves in uncharted and unparalleled times of trial during this pandemic which may leave us pondering the place of joy in our lives. Perhaps we need to start with an understanding of what joy is.

Joy is defined as “to experience great pleasure or delight”1. In the Greek, the word joy is “chara,” which means cheerful, glad, joyfully rejoicing. Rejoicing describes the outward expression of our internal joy because joy is something found within us, not dependent on what happens around us. In fact, there is a big difference between joy and happiness. Happiness comes from the root word “hap,” which literally means chance, and is where the words happen, hapless, and haphazard are derived. Essentially, happiness is glad feelings, dependent on something good and pleasurable happening to us by chance. Happiness happens, but joy is a choice - a decision purposefully made, as well as an attitude and decision of the heart.

Joy comes from the Lord. It’s the evidence, presence, and  fruit of the Spirit living in us (Galatians 5:22). Joy is what the Lord brings about and develops in our lives as we surrender, trust, and follow him daily.  So joy is not optional, but commanded, because, if the Lord gives it to us, he can also demand it from us.  

1 Thessalonians 5:16 says, “Be joyful always” which means joy cannot just be found when things are going well or when we feel like it, but “always.” Another great example and command of joy can be seen in the book of Philippians. Paul is writing from jail, chained to a guard, awaiting sentencing that could cost him his life, but he encourages the church in Philippi (and us today as an extension of that church!). In chapter 3:1, Paul ends his letter by saying, “Finally, brothers, rejoice in the Lord!” And, as an exclamation with further exhortation, he declares:  "Rejoice in the Lord always, I’ll say it again rejoice“ (4:4) You would be hard-pressed to find a clearer command than this one, repeated twice in the same verse.

Joy permeates throughout all of Paul’s prison epistle. He references joy 17 times in the book’s 104 verses, which averages out to about once every six verses. And, as an application of joy, Paul adds, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Are we people who lose control easily or fly off the handle? Both joy and gentleness should accompany our response and character because, as Paul reminds us at the end of verse 5: “The Lord is near.”  He is near, both in the sense that he is a constant companion, presence, and our peace, but also in that his return is near. So, our hearts can resonate with Paul who tells us in Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Paul ended his call to joy by giving us some direction: “Do not be anxious (worried) about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (vs. 6).  Paul is pointing out that, if we can spend time and exert energy worrying, fretting, and “stressing out”, we can instead make the choice to bring it before God. When we do, an amazing promise follows:  “And the peace of God which transcends all our understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (vs. 7).  

Friends, we must come to the place where we not only choose joy, but we fight for it.  We may not feel like it, but we can consider it, look to the Lord for it, and declare it, as Habakkuk did:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the 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 3:17-18)


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