LIVING IN THE SPIRIT: JOY
How do we see the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
I feel like this is a common question among Christians. Some look for flashy signs and miracles, while others are content to listen to the gentle whispers of the Lord. Regardless, the Bible has a list—a “Holy Spirit measuring stick,” if you will—of attributes that the Bible says we can look for to see if we are living in the Spirit, in Spirit-led lives.
“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions…But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”
—Galatians 5:16-17, 22-23
So you see, as he does throughout his writings, Paul is emphasizing that there is a battle within ourselves: the flesh and the Spirit. And I love how he says: “there is no law against these things.” Even to the sinful world, everyone recognizes that the Fruits of the Spirit are things that we can strive for. But we all recognize that these are some of the hardest things to achieve.
For the next few posts, I’ll be going through and talking about each of the Fruits of the Spirit in turn, and how they can manifest in our lives.
I’ll go in order, so the second one is joy.
I think “joy” may be one of the most misunderstood Fruit of the Spirit. This is because we often conflate joy with happiness. Not only that—we act as if joy is some hyperactive, “woo-hoo, everything’s great!” emotion that we are supposed to feel 100%.
This...is very far from the truth.
In fact, you don’t have to become a clown or a cartoon character to exhibit joy.
God knows that we will not be joyous 100% of the time, naturally. Psalm 30:4-5 says that “joy comes in the morning” after a hard night filled with weeping. God knows and understands that there will be trials and temptations. He knows that there will be days filled with awful sadness. But that’s why He promises joy. That’s why He promises to give joy to those who believe in Him. And He wants to one day, in the completion of time, give us eternal joy.
But here’s something else that people often misunderstand: joy, like all the other Fruits, is a choice.
Philippians 4:4 demonstrates a command from Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” See, Paul is using firm language—he’s exhorting them to always rejoice. To choose joy. To purposefully set their minds on joy.
Just like we have to choose to love people, choose to be patient, kind, good, etc., we have to choose to be joyful. And like I said before: joy is more than being completely optimistic or “happy” to an absurd degree. It is grounded in realism. Joy is linked to contentment: contentment in Christ. Contentment that, yes, you may be sad. Yes, you may even get depressed sometimes. But contentment because you know that through it all, God is there for you. God will never leave you.
God’s love doesn’t change. The promise we have in Christ doesn’t fade. So all we must do is to remember to think upon things and rejoice in them. Even in hardships, even when we’re at the lowest points, we have the option to direct our thoughts Heavenward. It may not make us happy, but it will fill us with joy (and also peace, since the two often go hand-in-hand). It will fill us with joy that enables us to say, “Man, this might stink, God, but I know that You still love me. I know that I can rely on You to get me through this hard thing.”
See, we’re not slathering a fake smile onto our faces. We’re not saying “everything’s great!” when it really isn’t. We’re not hiding a mental breakdown behind the false image that a Christian will always be happy and perky all the time.
Because that is simply not true.
A Christian is able to rely on God throughout everything—and if God is our joy, then our joy never fades.
We don’t have to worry about whether or not He still loves us. We don’t have to worry that we aren’t good enough. We don’t have to fake. We don’t have to pretend. Like the Natalie Grant song says, we just have to be held sometimes. Our joy comes from knowing that, even when our circumstances or mental health are in the gutters, God is there with us. God is on His hands and knees to cradle us.
What better picture—what better hope do we have—than this?
That the Creator of the universe will be there to hold us. He has promised that, and He doesn’t lie.
And because of that, we can do so many things…
We can find joy in trials (James 1:2-4).
We can find joy in the small things in life (Psalm 118:24).
We can find hope in God no matter our circumstances (Romans 12:12—honestly, an excellent verse on joy).
We can find joy when people turn their lives over to Christ—no matter how bad the circumstances were to get them there (Luke 15:10).
We can weep and rejoice with others—we can be empathetic and kind to them and not self-centered (Romans 12:15).
We can rejoice because of our friends or family members (Philippians 1:3-5).
We can find joy because God finds joy in us (Zephaniah 3:17).
We can rejoice in literally any situation—so long as we make the choice to (1 Thessalonians 5:16)!
So, all in all—joy, just like the rest of the Fruits of the Spirit, is not something easily obtained. It is not something that we naturally have—just like we do not naturally show love to people. Both of these are so hard to do, because they go against our natural inclination. We don’t want to remember God can bring good out of bad situations. We don’t often think of Him holding us in the darkest of nights. Sometimes, we just want to curl up in a ball and curse Him for abandoning us. We want to be miserable in our hatred and our negative feelings.
That’s when we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us have joy. We need to ask Him to help us to hone it, to practice it and grow better at it. In a way, being joyful in every circumstance is a skill, but one that is so worth it.
In conclusion, if there’s anything I want you to take out from this, it’s that you don’t have to fake a smile or be chipper when bad things happen. If a family member dies, you don’t have to say “well, that’s that, and I’m still happy because I’m a Christian!” God would not call you to be fake. Jesus wept (John 11:35). Jesus didn’t sin, and yet, He got so worked up that He started to sweat blood (Luke 22:44). But what Jesus did do was get down on His knees and start to pray to a God, because He knew that God would hold Him and that we needed Him. And you know what Hebrews 12:2 says about Jesus as He sobbed in the Garden?
That he chased the joy set before Him.
Even in the darkest times, when He was undeniably at his unhappiest and most stressful point, the Bible itself says that Jesus chased joy as He went to the cross.
And the Holy Spirit can help us chase that same joy, too, if we only ask.