Where does joy come from?
Something that gets whole groups of Christians spinning in circles is the question of happiness. I have friends who get weird looks and comments from strangers in public because they’re just “too happy.” It often comes up in many churches that Christians should be the happiest people around because of Jesus. At the same time other Christians are finally starting to admit that they struggle with depression and anxiety in spite of living with a pasted on smile because they’ve always been told they should be happy. It often happens that both sides get angry with each other. Outside of the church, some believe that happy Christians really are just a facade, trying to sell their “perfect” lifestyle, while others even think that happiness can never be as real as other emotions, because real life is never that kind.
But what about joy? Joy and happiness are often synonymous, but Noah Webster also says that joy is excitement and pleasure that comes from a confidence in something, while happiness is more a pleasure by chance. In short, joy is often seen as being more long-lasting than happiness.
So if we often find happiness to be unattainable, how can we possibly get joy? Joy isn’t just for happy people, or for times when things seem to be going right. Joy isn’t just something you can force across your face, straight into your heart because you want it there. Joy is for the depressed, the mourning, the troubled, and the broken. If you have a concordance (or access to the internet), try reading the verses that have to do with joy. Many of them are promises. Here are just a few.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
~Galatians 5:22, 23
Joy is a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and confidence in God. If the Holy Spirit is in us, we will grow in joy, and in the rest of these.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of joy above Your fellows.
The closer we grow to the Lord, the more we will see things as He sees them. The more wickedness will break our hearts, and the more we will delight in the beauty and virtue He has created. Joy will become like a mark of royalty, showing everyone whose child you are!
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
We could never force it, but the presence of the Holy Spirit gives us such confidence in the love and power of God, that we can view every hardship and setback as a joy the more we abide in Him.
Perhaps you haven’t known this joy, or perhaps it all seems to be in the past. It’s easy to write about all of these things, but how do you actually get joy? Maybe you’ve tried doing everything everyone has told you, but the darkness always calls louder. Jesus knows. This is what the Lord said of the Israelites in a similar situation:
For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
That can hold no water.
He speaks harshly because it absolutely breaks His heart to see us hurting ourselves by leaving Him. “Living water” refers to water that flows naturally, down from the mountains or out of the ground like a spring. The Lord is that mountain spring to our hearts. Everything we need to be filled is always flowing from His presence. Every thirst we have is quenched, the needs of all of the desert animals are met, trees spring up, fruit comes forth; in the midst of exhaustion, we can cool off, and it’s hard to resist splashing that refreshing joy on every tired heart we meet!
A cistern is a kind of dry well that can be dug in dry climates. No water comes into it naturally, but buckets can be used to fill it so you might have water for later. In this case, the cistern has a leak in it. We can be so desperate for a drop of happiness. We take our buckets out and try to fill our dry well with friends, adventures, food, music, clothes, television, toys, relationships, and novels. But the water all leaks away, and we’re left again with nothing. Sometimes we go so far as to try to fill it with drugs, bullying, violence, sex, or self-harm. It may seem impossible to come to the fountain of joy from there, but Jesus is always listening. Maybe you did know His joy in the past, and you think He won’t come back for you again, but nothing could be further from the truth! The fountain has not run dry, and His mercies are new every morning!
When King David finally repented after living for months in sin, this is what he wrote:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
The first joys of salvation can be restored. You heart can be cleansed of every sin, and healed of every wound. In spite of every single pain and abuse you have faced, your mourning can be turned to dancing! It may not be something your heart knows how to want, but Jesus will come to you. Just be willing to ask, trust Him when He tells you what to do, and flee to Him when you feel the darkness pressing in. If you ask and believe, your confidence and joy in the Lord will be your strength!
But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.