In the second installment of this series, Genessa spoke beautifully about how we can process painful experiences together and work towards joy. In this article, I want to dive a little deeper into biblical joy and how we can access it amidst global and personal experiences of suffering.
The Definition of Biblical Joy
It is easy to confuse feelings of happiness and joy. Happiness is an emotional state of pleasure and contentment that is usually dependent on our circumstances. In comparison, biblical joy can be defined as a choice to respond to external circumstances with inner contentment and satisfaction. We can make this choice with the knowledge that God will use these experiences to accomplish His work in and through our lives. Biblical joy isn’t contingent upon what we are going through in the moment or who we are. Biblical joy is dependent on who Jesus is and our hope in Him.
I have seen this kind of joy firsthand when traveling around the world. I have shared countless conversations with people amid various struggles but with an unbelievable joy radiating from them and a contagious smile as wide as their faces. After listening to their stories and hearing what they’ve been through, one might assume they would be bitter, calloused, or angry. However, by leaning on God, they have access to profound joy.
On a trip to Uganda, I vividly remember a very special moment. We were following our local partner Edward, who carries himself with such grace every day, even as he works tirelessly to end extreme poverty in his community. As I followed Edward, we eventually arrived at a local man’s house, a village elder.
We all sat in a circle with some neighbors, and for the next two hours, we ate jackfruit – so much jackfruit! We spent time together listening to stories around the circle. The stories held decades of friendship, tons of laughter, and full smiles. I learned that day that while I wished these new friends had access to better resources, they had access to what I did not: being fully present, living in deep community, and waking up each day to help one another. Though they lived in what some would consider material poverty, they did not live in relational poverty. That joy and that connection are what help them live meaningful and full lives each day.
They are proof that with God, we can overcome, and we can persevere. God does not promise that our lives will be easy. In fact, He tells us that we will experience suffering and days where we feel hopeless. However, when we feel sadness and frustration, we can always be encouraged and know that our ultimate joy and hope come from Him and each other. If we have that, we can all live a rich life!
The Fruit of the Spirit:
John 14 tells us that the “Spirit of truth,” or the Holy Spirit, was sent to live in us by God to be an advocate for us forever. Verse 16 of that chapter tells us, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” As Christians, the Holy Spirit living within us is our access point to joy in moments where suffering and pain overcome us. Joy comes as a result of this; or as fruit.
In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul refers to joy as one of the nine “fruits of the spirit,” which are the attributes a believer is empowered to exhibit with the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives. Joy is in good company of the other eight, which include “love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22 – 23).”
The power of the Holy Spirit emboldens us as believers to access and choose joy, even in our darkest moments.
Joy Amid Suffering Is Why We Choose To Follow God
Joy and suffering aren’t mutually exclusive; they are actually connected. Brené Brown said in a 2010 TED Talk, “you cannot numb pain without also numbing joy.” It is a harsh reality to face, but we cannot know joy unless we embrace and allow ourselves to feel pain. Countless scriptures in the Bible tell us this is true:
Psalm 30:5 “…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
James 1:2: My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.”
I want to be clear here that just because we are Christians does not mean that we always feel this way or experience this level of joy amid suffering. But here is another moment where it is essential to differentiate happiness and joy. God allows us to rise above our circumstances and present feelings and abide in His presence to experience joy.
Jesus as the Ultimate Example
Hebrews 12:2 “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Jesus is our ultimate example of joy despite enduring the suffering and shame of the cross. When faced with the cross, Jesus looked beyond that misery and looked to a future of hope, assurance, and joy sitting at the right hand of God. As Christians, we are called to imitate Jesus’ posture. God commands that we trust Him in the present, knowing that He holds our future.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
A Final Prayer
I hope that this information encourages you. What I’ve shared with you here may not be new information. However, I believe it is a great reminder during this incredibly challenging and testing season. I pray that this understanding of joy and the example we have in Jesus to overcome give you hope if you are struggling.
I will leave you with a prayer from Romans 15:13. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”