Second in a series on joy.
“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6
There is much information available online and in bookstores related to finding joy. Most of the information available is focused on changing circumstances or our attitude. These approaches may be effective in changing our mood and even making us happier. Yet joy is neither a mood nor is it the same as happiness.
I cannot conjure up joy in my life by doing anything at the cognitive, emotional, or physical level. Joy is not something we manipulate with our circumstances or our mood. Joy does not proceed from our disciplines or even from our dogs (although my dog brings me happiness with his tail-wagging, full-body presses). Joy is not found in fulfilling our bucket lists or our vacation dreams. It does not proceed from eliminating troubles or lowering our expectations. It is not the product of us finally getting everything we want in life and finally getting it all into balance.
If these were the path to joy, those who accomplish these tasks would be joyful. Yet few if any of them attain lasting joy in the accomplishments. Most are still searching for joy.
Joy only becomes a reality to us as we draw near to our God. “The fruit of the Spirit of God in us is love, joy, peace…” the Bible tells us in Galatians 5:22.
When the love of our God first came to us and we repented of our sins and our self-life and confessed Him as our Lord, a deep joy filled our hearts. What joy it is to be forgiven, set free in Christ, and born again into new life in Him. What joy to experience His Spirit living in us. Thus, Paul states in Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirt…”
There is a connection in the scriptures, particularly in Galatians 5, between our submission to the Holy Spirit of Christ in us and our experience of joy from the life of God in us. That submission to the Holy Spirit is often characterized as a life crucified to self (see Luke 9:23-24 and Galatians 2:20), a life of total focus upon our God to the exclusion of living for self any longer (see Romans 12:1-2 and Hebrews 12:1-2). This is seen in the words of Galatians 5:22-23, which are connected to those in 5:24-25 below.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-25.
How do we begin to experience the joy of the Holy Spirit in us, the joy inexpressible and full of glory? Following are two important way-points to joy.
Repent the first word of the Good News of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. Repentance is often viewed as something we do when we have sinned, yet it is a much bigger concept than that. Repentance is a way of thinking as we navigate living in the world. To repent means to turn away from something, to go in a different direction. As followers of Jesus living in a sin-bent world, we are called to a lifestyle of repentance from the thinking and the practices of the world that we encounter every day.
These worldly influences rob us of the joy that flows into us when we are under the control of the Holy Spirit. As we grow in spiritual wisdom, we will recognize these influences and turn away from them as soon as they present themselves. This repentance will lead us into obedience, and obedience to the Holy Spirit will yield joy.
While we turn away from worldly influences, we do not turn away from the people in the world whom we encounter each day. We meet the needs of those in need, and love those who are unloved. We reach to those unlike us and welcome them as we would our own family. As we saw in the last note on joy, “Small things, done in great love, bring joy and peace. To love, it is necessary to give. To give, it is necessary to be free from selfishness.” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta).
In John chapter 15 Jesus told us that we must abide in Him as He abides in us. Like repentance, abiding in Christ Jesus is a daily practice for us. It should be so much a part of our daily living that we find it to be a condition of our living every day. This abiding in Christ and He in us is the expression of our union with our God.
Walking in union with Christ by His Spirit within us leads us into the life of our God, a life of ongoing joy. Joy emanates from our God because He is its source. The more we are connected to Him daily, drawing our life from Him, being aware of our ongoing communion with Him, the more His joy becomes our joy.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13