You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. -Psalm 16:11
Joy. Who isn’t looking for true, inner, and lasting joy? From an early age I have battled depression. I also find myself deeply frustrated many times when things don’t seem to be going as I hope, or happening as quickly as I might want. Joy is something that can seem elusive, but could it be because we mistake real internal joy with fleeting happiness? And more so, if that is true, how can we not only find, but remain filled with joy, regardless of circumstances?
I believe more than anything, the enemy seeks to rob us of the joy of the Lord and the joy that is only truly found in the Lord. I believe the enemy of our souls hates true joy more than anything else. I believe as Jesus said, the thief comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10) and it begins with our joy. But I also believe more than anything, God wants His people to be joyful and for us to know and be filled with His joy. I believe Jesus constantly seeks to restore our joy and fill us to overflowing, for it is his joy that is our strength and serves to protect our hearts in more ways than one.
Recently, I had my joy restored while on a mission trip to Uganda. It was not the place I expected it to happen, but the joy of the believers I was with was undeniably contagious! The surprising thing too is that as I travel around the world and especially serve the poorest of the poor, I have discovered they often have more joy than those of us who live in greater comfort and prosperity. They may be “poor” in regard to the world’s wealth, but I have found they possess true riches that are eternal. In fact, their “richness” has exposed my own “poverty!”
I wish I could take everyone from the Western world to some of these slums to be among these joy-filled believers. The reason is because it demonstrates that joy is not dependent on our circumstances and is not found in material possessions; it is rather found in the presence of God and is a gift from God.
So let me lay out five keys to not only obtaining real joy, but retaining joy (or having our joy restored). This is by no means exhaustive (for example I did not talk about serving others, which is a key to real joy. See Isaiah 58 for this key).
1). You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11).
Joy is found in the presence of God. Joy is found in encountering and gazing upon the multi-faceted beauty of God. Joy is found as we worship Him! Some people seem to think that God is a cosmic kill-joy, (and judging by the way we sometimes worship Him, that would seem to be the case) but the opposite is in fact true; there is no one more joyful than God! (Hebrews 1:8-9). I preached on this in Uganda to a group of pastors. You can listen to more on this here: Restoring the Song. The point is this however, get in His presence! Joy is found not in focusing on our circumstances, but the character of God. Joy is a fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in us as we abide in Him (John 15, Galatians 5:16-26).
2). We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make your joy complete. (1 John 1:3-4).
Joy is found in a genuine relationship with Jesus and others who know him. Sometimes, the reason we lack joy is because sin interferes with our fellowship with Jesus and one another. We speak of the Trinity of God; One God in three persons. While it’s a hard mystery for us to grasp with our human minds, it speaks of an unbroken fellowship and community in the God-head. In other words, God is relational at His core and created us to be in relationship with Him and one another. Where fellowship with Him and one another is hindered by sin, our joy is robbed. But through confession and repentance of sin our joy can be restored as we are reconciled to God and one another.
3). Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9).
Joy is robbed from us when we give into unbelief. However, when we are truly trusting in Him, we are filled with an “inexpressible and glorious joy.” Faith in Jesus is the avenue to joy in life. Faith in Jesus doesn’t mean life suddenly becomes easy; but it means we can possess a joy no matter our circumstances. Living by faith results in being filled with joy. Believing in Jesus opens our hearts to his joy being poured into us in a way we can’t explain but nevertheless is real!
4). “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.“ (Matthew 13:44).
Many of us lack joy because we lack proper perspective of what is of true value and worth. We try to hold on to what we think makes us happy (even though we are not) instead of discovering the joy of surrendering all to Jesus. Why do we have such a hard time “letting go” and surrendering all to Jesus? It’s simple really. We are afraid that by “letting go” we will lose out. We focus on what we are giving up, instead of all that we are gaining!
The reason this man was able to sell all he currently possessed, to obtain what he didn’t yet possess, was because he realized what he was releasing was not worth comparing to what he was receiving! He recognized what he was gaining was of greater value than what he was giving up. We fear giving up what we are familiar with even though the promise of what God offers is of infinitely greater value!
5). Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4).
Ok, let me be honest about this one. I hate this verse! And yet, it is a key to maintaining our joy. Sometimes the reality is, we don’t feel joyful, but God calls us to rejoice anyway. Joy therefore, is a choice. But notice what we are to rejoice in. We are called to rejoice in the Lord. The truth is circumstances are always changing and are not always ideal. However, the Lord never changes! He is the one unchanging constant.
Therefore, no matter our circumstances we can always rejoice in Him. And as we refocus on Him and rejoice in the reality of who He is, we will find our joy being restored. Even when we can’t find joy in anything else, we can find our joy in the Lord by rejoicing in His unfailing love, goodness, mercy, grace, kindness, faithfulness and unchanging character.
Sometimes you just have to choose to be joyful! 1 Thessalonians 5:16 in fact commands us, “rejoice always.” The prophet Habakkuk poetically and beautifully put it this way: “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. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. Joy is more than a fleeting feeling of happiness; it is a choice as we focus on the Lord. And that choice gives us strength to rise above any circumstance.
Therefore, if you have lost your joy, focus on the source of all joy and the great joy-giver! He delights to fill us with His joy. Jesus has come to restore our joy by bringing us into right relationship with Himself and one another. Joy has nothing really to do with our ever-changing circumstances but the unchanging character of God. Let Him fill you with His joy! It is His joy after all that is our strength.
Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. -Nehemiah 8:12