The word 'joy' is often used as a slightly outdated term synonymous with 'happiness'. The Oxford Dictionary defines joy as 'a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.'
So often in my life I think of joy and happiness as the feelings that come when things are going well, when I'm happy and life is good. This proves difficult when I notice that promises of joy in the Bible (there are many!) so often come in the midst of circumstances that are messy and painful.
Right in the middle of battles or heartbreaks, in times of loss and despair, this little word 'joy' appears as a promise again and again. These types of circumstances don't immediately evoke feelings of 'great pleasure and happiness' in me... so how can we find joy when we're surrounded by a world that is in so much chaos and difficulty?
Joy to the world, the Lord has come.
Joy is found many times in the Christmas Story. On the surface, this always made a bit more sense to me - Christmas is a time where we are happy, so the word 'joy' seems appropriate. But if we look carefully - we see that joy has come to the world, because the Lord has come. We have joy because we have Jesus:
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. (Matthew 2:10)
See how the promise of a Saviour filled the Wise Men with joy. This wasn't a joy that would disappear as soon as the next trouble hit. They would remember this joy and devote their lives to following this Saviour. This is the joy we have!
Joy has come to us, because Jesus came.
He is our rock and our security - bringing us joy that will transcend all the messy, painful circumstances of our life. While we might not be 'happy' when our relationships break apart or our hearts are broken, we know a joy that goes beyond the troubles of this world.
In fact, in the Bible we can see that joy is promised in every season of our lives, even in those 'desert' times when we feel empty and lacking in any kind of joy:
“Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy”
“There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning”
In the most confusing of situations, we are able to choose joy. Notice that we don't have to search relentlessly for joy in our own lives (like so many people search endlessly for happiness) - but joy has come to us. We don't have to create joy for ourselves, and struggle to maintain it in every high and low of our life. We can choose joy daily, trusting in a Father that is consistently sovereign, loving and good.
"Joy is where the soul is supported under present troubles and fenced against future fear." Patti Hummel, Glorifying God
This paints a very different picture of 'joy'. Far from a slightly old-fashioned form of happiness, joy is actually a characteristic that comes from a right relationship with God. It isn't a fleeting feeling, but a fruit of the Spirit!
We notice people that are joyful in times of sorrow and recognise that this is someone who has learnt the ways of the Lord and spent time in the presence of the Father. Joy is a characteristic of spiritual maturity: we see Paul "always rejoicing" even in times of of affliction and persecution. In all his troubles, he is "overflowing with joy" .
This is the type of life I want to live: one characterised by joy no matter what circumstances I find myself in. These are the types of people that I respect and want to learn from - those that are filled with joy and find their security in something higher.
This is the type of girl I want to be, confident in my identity as a daughter of the King, no matter what life throws at me.
It's incredibly humbling and freeing to know that joy is never something I can create for myself, no matter how hard I try to be all-competent, successful, beautiful or popular. It doesn't come from the perfect relationship or the glamorous lifestyle. Joy comes from relationship with our Father, from knowing that we are defined by Christ. For it was Jesus who came to Earth, bringing everlasting joy for all the world.
So, that's what I'm fighting for - a life full of joy, underpinned by the promise of a Saviour, a life seasoned with thanksgiving and recognition of the promise I have in Christ.
I'm learning to keep choosing joy.
Written by Lucy
As it's Christmas, we're hitting you up with some fun tracks...enjoy!
Laura Hackett's Joy (personal favourite!)
Chris Tomlin's Joy To The World