You know the people who see the glass half empty instead of half full? Most of my pessimist friends call themselves realists, and perhaps that’s an acurate characterization. Let’s face it; the world’s a mess. Looking around or just turning on the news is enough to bring a tear to any eye. So, how can we have joy in the middle of a world that’s clearly the pits?
It’s an age-old question. When the children of Israel were carried away to Babylon, they asked, How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land? (Psalm 137:4) The Lord’s people have been asking that question ever since. How can a Christian have joy in the middle of sorrow? How can he rejoice always, as commanded in Philippians 4:4? Isn’t that being unrealistic? Even a little bit goofy? Can a person really have deep, abiding joy? I mean, live in joy?
Everyone has emotions. And, everyone passes through unspeakable sorrows. No one is immune from extreme situations that crop up all through his life. Since Adam, there have been pains, sicknesses … and weeds in the garden.
So, what about joy? How does a person get it?
Let’s do a short Bible study together, okay? First, we find references to joy. (There are a lot of them!) Then, we’ll group them together by themes. What are the motivations for joy? What’s the Bible saying? How do we get it and what is its source?
Throughout the Bible, joy is found in:
- victory over enemies
- the dedication of the Temple
- offerings, sacrifices, feast days
- God’s defense, strength, presence, leadership, glory, excellence, might
- God Himself
- righteousness, one’s forgiveness, salvation
- the city of Jerusalem
- wise discernment
- parenting a wise child
- when the magi saw the star of Bethlehem
- Jesus’ birth and resurrection
- Jesus’ teaching of the “Kingdom Parables”
- disciples’ power given them by the Lord
- Angels have joy over each sinner who repents
- the Word of God itself
- serving the Lord
- encouragement from other Christians
- looking forward to everlasting joy
What’s the source of joy? All through Scripture, it is God Himself. He is the Source. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23). When a person is in Christ, he has joy, because he has the Holy Spirit abiding in him. He doesn’t have to manufacture joy. He doesn’t have to make himself walk around with a silly grin on his face, like everything is just wonderful. He doesn’t have to fake it. He already has joy.
Joy begins with trusting Christ in salvation. The king shall joy in thy strength, O LORD; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! (Psalm 21:1) Do you know the Lord?
When you trust Christ, the Holy Spirit abides in you and gives you joy. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17). Even the angels in heaven rejoice when someone is saved. Jesus said, Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:10).
How does a person get saved? It’s only by placing one’s whole trust in Jesus’ payment for his sins on the cross. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:9, 13). Have you called out to Jesus to save you?
You might say, “I’m a Christian and a pessimist. I see the negative side of every situation and every person, too. I’m distrustful of happy people.”
I understand you. And, I fully believe the secret to joy is a matter of focus and trust—in God. In the Scriptures, joy is often accompanied by words like peace and faith and hope and love.
Even when his circumstances are horrible, a Christian can have deep joy. This doesn’t mean he is always laughing ha ha and never feels hurt. It means he knows that the Lord is there with him through the pain. It means he can rely on the biblical fact that God is always good and He cares. It means trust. I love this passage from Habakkuk. Things were going wrong—very wrong—yet the prophet shows his trust and joy in the Lord. Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
Another source of joy is the Bible. Jesus said, These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full (John 15:11). His Word, abiding in us, gives total joy. What a concept! Indeed, biblical thinking, as outlined in Philippians 4:8, shows us how to discipline ourselves into a more positive outlook.
Let’s look at a few more verses about joy. Let them speak to your heart.
- Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11).
- For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
- Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart (Psalm 32:11).
- Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit (Psalm 51:12).
And, one more passage. It’s a doxology, a blessing near the end of the Bible:
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling,
and to present you faultless before the presence
of his glory with exceeding joy,
To the only wise God our Saviour,
be glory and majesty, dominion and power,
both now and ever. Amen.