In Search of Joy
I’ve always thought Christians were supposed to experience joy. I thought we were supposed to experience the abundant life. Instead, I felt depressed much of the time. How could I have joy when loved ones aren’t believers; when I keep failing at the “victorious” Christian life; when I fearfully see the temptations bombarding my children; when friends go through tragedies.
I started a Bible study on “joy” with a mature Christian friend, but I couldn’t define it. Joy includes peace, but it’s not exactly the same as peace. It’s not happiness, because happiness depends on circumstances. Contentment is a part of it, but there’s more. It doesn’t have anything to do with a bubbly personality.
What is joy?
God has used many means to teach me (and is still teaching me) how to choose to look up instead of dwelling on my feelings. One special lesson came from the story about the house on the sand and the house on the rock. I saw that in both cases, floods were going to happen. What makes the difference is how you prepare and what you build on.
I recognized that I had unrealistic expectations of the Christian life. I thought that my life should be one long smooth road, with a few bumps here and there. Could it be, rather, that life is mostly bumps, with a few smooth places here and there?
If I have false expectations, trials and temptations will take me by surprise. “Why me?... It’s not fair!” I’ll whine. I’ll tend to use coping mechanisms to escape the pain, which will in turn send me further down the spiral of defeat and guilt.
Jesus said to His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”1 If my thinking is realistic – expecting that life in this fallen world will bring sorrows and trials – and if I build my faith upon the rock of Jesus’ promises, I will in time see from a new perspective. If I’m prepared for the flood by the knowledge that I can’t expect complete bliss until Heaven, I can rely on Jesus’ promises and the Holy Spirit’s power to look up, instead of dwelling on my sorrow.
I’m still trying to figure out the definition of joy. I need a conglomeration of words to describe Biblical joy: a deep, settled knowing that God is in control; that these sufferings aren’t worthy to be compared to our glory in Heaven2; that the testing of my faith produces perseverance, which when finished, brings maturity3. Though my feelings aren’t always in line with what I know in my head, God has brought me to a place where I can, in time, cast my cares on Him and rest in His joy.
1John 16:33b (New International Version)
2Romans 8:18 (New International Version)
3James 1:2-4 (New International Version)
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