Joy is the second of the nine fruit of the Spirit.
I once knew a woman whose name was Joy. That name gets a lot of sympathy from me because my mother’s name was Joyce, which is pretty much the same thing. This particular woman, though, was named Joy and she told me her father named her that because he wanted her to remember the order of her priorities should always be Jesus — Others — Yourself. J O Y.
I loved that so much that I tried to imagine something with my name like that because it starts with J, too. The best I came up with ever was Jesus – Angels – Mechanics – Inuits – Exercise — J A M I E.
That doesn’t have the same ring, so maybe we’ll just focus on joy. There are a lot of challenges to joy in our modern age that feel unique to contemporary life. Overt politicization of everything, violence, discord in families, churches, and schools, pressure, long work-weeks, and a general feeling of insignificance. the Bible indicates these are really nothing new, though, because the Scriptures seem to address it so often, remind us to rejoice, teaching about when joy is available, and promising joy. The need for joy is not new, we just need to listen better to the ancient guidance of the Holy Bible.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 — ‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Jesus.’ Joy is connected to thanksgiving and prayer. These are all spiritual activities, because joy doesn’t come from wordly pursuits.
- Romans 12:12 — ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ Hope is future minded, which is what joy is focused on as well. My joy is not grounded in the temporary, but in the eternal.
- Habakkuk 3:17-18 — ‘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.’ This is a long quotation that I love dearly. Even if all the material blessings of the world evaporate, joy is possible because it comes from the Lord and not from wealth or prosperity.
- Romans 12:15 — ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.’ This passage reminds me of Ecclesiastes 3, as there is a time to mourn and a time to rejoice. Knowing the difference is wisdom. Sharing with those going through it is empathy and, thereby, Christ-likeness.
- John 15:11 — ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’ The word here ‘complete’ indicates whole, fulfilled, and total. It is not a partial joy or temporary bliss. it is perfected joy.
- Nehemiah 8:10 — ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ The people were weeping when they heard the word of the Lord because they realized their sin and inadequacies. But that is the wrong response. The right response is joy and celebration. Joy is inextricably connected to grace and that is the source of strength that keeps us going.
- Psalm 30:5 — ‘For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.’ Chastisement is real, but it is not lasting. The sun is always on the on its way up.
- James 1:2 — ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.’ The trial you are going through right now is actually something we should think of as a joy. It is hard, but important to reorient our thinking this way.
- Psalm 126:5-6 — ‘Those who so with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.’ Agricultural language of harvesting and reaping fascinate me. You reap what you sow, and this is true emotionally as well.
There are three specific truths emerging from this varied collection of scripture verses. First, Christian joy exists in the midst of suffering. Second, joy is rooted in the Lord and is a spiritual exercise. Third, joy, the New Testament, has the same root word as grace — they are closely connected.
In the listing of the fruit of the Spirit, there is no listing for hope. Joy is the root of hope, so it was best understood as the precondition for hope and should be thus linked.
At an experiential level, I have found several things can help when I have lost the feeling of joy. The first of course, is prayer and spiritual focus. Prayer, worship, Bible reading, and service all help me recover my sense of joy. It also helps to maybe listen to music. Music always sets the mood. Work does too — accomplishing something helps restore joy. Talking with people, changes in routine, and spontaneous celebrations all helps us rekindle feelings of joy when it is far from us.
There is much more I could write about this topic — particularly the false dichotomy of happiness and joy or on the problem of joy-killers. But for for now, let’s leave this here.