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)
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25)
Joy Is Not A Feeling
As a pastor, I encounter a lot of counseling moments that go something like this: “X, Y, and Z have happened to me. Because of these things, I am unhappy. I am frustrated. I am not experiencing any joy.” Now, to give full transparency, this happens to me far more often than I would like to admit. I am the one “not feeling joyful.” Maybe it is in the work that I do; maybe it is in the place I find the church (generally) or my own local church (specifically); maybe it is in marriage; maybe it is in parenting (as sacrilegious as this might sound). Whatever it is, whatever the circumstances, there are times I find myself, like others, unjoyful. Discontented.
The problem with feeling unjoyful is that joy is not really a feeling. I don’t mean to downplay the emotional reality of the human person or the value of emotion in the human experience. Even God is described in emotional terms in Scripture. Jesus experienced a host of real emotional states during the Incarnation. To feel is to be human. Yet, joy itself is not really a feeling. When we place joy in the category of emotion, something that can come on us unexpectedly and go just as quickly as it came, we are denying the true worth and value of biblical joy.
Joy Is A Gracious Gift
I love getting and giving gifts. Who doesn’t?! The delight of receiving something thoughtful from someone else, or being thoughtful in kind. Maybe it is because I am getting older, but my favorite gifts to receive are the ones that are also useful – they have some function in the real life. How many of us have gifts we have received that we are waiting to “re-gift?” A gift is meant to be enjoyed, to fulfill some purpose.
So, let’s start by identifying what joy truly is: it is a gracious gift from God. Listed among the singular “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5, joy is associated with those things God has supernaturally supplied for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God has given us the gift of joy. We were lost, dead in our sins. We had no hope of true life in this world. Now, if we have repented and believed, we are sons and daughters. We are co-heirs with Jesus. We are citizens of the kingdom , rather than enemy combatants. That fact alone should produce joy. But, rather than hoping that the feeling of joy might come to us, God has graciously given us the gift of joy in the gospel. We had no access to or grounds for true joy before the gospel. Now, we are granted the fullness of the joy of heaven!
Joy Is Also A Righteous Choice
Let’s keep the gift theme going. Suppose someone gave you an extravagant gift. Let’s pretend that someone built a car that could never break down and never run out of gas. Imagine that you received this car as a gift – free of charge and with no restrictions. Now, you have another car. It is older, burns through fuel like a raging forest fire…and you keep driving it. You get frustrated when it breaks down. You hate having to spend the money to fill it up. But you keep driving it. In your garage is the perfect, “never fail, never falter” car of your dreams, but you don’t ever use it. Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? Sadly, this is how many Christians are when it comes to joy.
I recently when through a couple of days where nothing “brought me joy.” I was in a real funk. I didn’t really like much of anything about anything. Like I mentioned earlier, most all of us have been there before. If I am honest with myself, it wasn’t that my circumstances were unbearably overwhelming or terrible. It wasn’t that I had been wronged so severely as to need to fret. What really happened, the core of the problem, is that I had not chosen joy. I have received a marvelous gift. Yet, I did not make the righteous choice to use the gift I received. Joy was that perfect car, locked away in my garage, as I moaned and complained about the clunker I was pushing along the side of the road. I shunned the gift of God. I was clinging to a life that really was not mine in Christ.
Be encouraged Christian. There will be many days in which you do not “feel joyful.” But you do not have to let the way you feel overpower the way things really are. God has given us the gracious gift of joy. He has also enabled us to make the righteous choice to live in joy, even when we don’t feel like it. That’s what Jesus did…
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1)