Are you going through difficult times? Do you want to find joy but don’t know how?
Today, we’re diving into exactly what joy is, how to find joy in all circumstances, and how that joy radiates into the lives of everyone around us.
Scripture tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV):
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Considering that the word “JOY” is referenced over 200 times in the Bible (the NIV translation), according to christianbiblereference.org, I think it is easy to see that joy is an important Christian concept.
This verse above is taken from one of Paul’s earliest letters to the church, in Thessalonica, in which he gives clear direction on how to simply live a Christian life while waiting for the return of the Messiah.
And we are all familiar with the story of Paul, right?
Born as Saul, a Greek-speaking Jew, he grew up during a similar time period as Jesus. He was a member of the Pharisees, a religious group of leaders whose beliefs stemmed from a combination of written laws in the Torah as well as traditions that focused on teachings of the prophets and Jewish people.
As a Pharisee, Paul focused much of his attention and life on persecuting Christians. Even going so far as calling for their deaths for their disobedience to God for believing that Jesus was in fact the long-awaited Messiah. But something happened to Paul as he was traveling to Damascus. Scripture tells us in Galatians 1:12-13 (NIV) of Paul’s miraculous conversion of faith:
I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.”
By Paul’s own admission, his conversion was not of his own accord. It was founded in revelation and grace from Jesus as to the wayward nature of his heart. He was headed down a dangerous path, but God has a way of turning us back around at the very time when we need it.
He does that to each one of us, doesn’t He?
After Jesus took hold of Paul’s heart, he began to fervently preach the Good News of Jesus as the Messiah, establishing numerous Christian churches along the way. Unfortunately, his message was met with much resistance and he was imprisoned, beaten, tortured and ultimately died for his Christian beliefs.
All the while, he lived a life full of joy.
But seriously, how do you live with joy when things in your life are difficult or, in Paul’s case, perhaps the worst we can imagine?
I think that is where the confusion on our part comes in. We muddy the waters between joy and happiness. It’s easy to do when we live in the flesh. So, let’s take a few moments to talk about the difference between the two before we jump into how to find joy in all circumstances.
JOY VS. HAPPINESS
Happiness is a feeling or emotion that occurs as a result of positive circumstances around us while joy is a constant state of contentment. John Piper explained joy well when he said it is “a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he (the Spirit) causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”
Can you see the difference?
It is so much deeper and so much richer. Now that we understand what joy is, let’s talk about how we can find joy in our lives.
RESTING IN HIS PRESENCE
True joy, EVERLASTING JOY, can only be found in God’s presence. We hear it time and time again in Scripture that when we seek God’s presence in our lives, He appears bringing joy! Below are just a couple of beautiful examples of this:
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.” 1 Chron 16:27 (NIV)
“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.” Ps 16:11 (NIV)
Resting in God’s presence is how joy soaks into our souls. Like a sponge soaks up water.
- We rest, when we take time to be still before God, acknowledging His Sovereignty and faithfulness over all people. Scripture reminds us of this in Psalm 46:10 (NIV):
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
- We rest, when we take time to pray. Taking quiet time to praise God for all He has done and continues to do in our lives. Prayer is such an important part of our relationship with God. Just like any relationship, it takes time to get to know Our Creator. By talking and listening, a bond is formed. We begin to hear God’s voice and see His active presence.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Jn 10:27 (NIV)
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jn 10:14-15 (NIV)
- And we rest, when we put ourselves deep in God’s Word. As Christians, we find all the wisdom and comfort we need to get through each day in the Bible. We read it, we study it, we talk about it with other believers, and we share our testimony with those who haven’t come to know Jesus yet.
You see, God’s Word is timeless, and it never changes. Scripture testifies to this in 1 Peter 1:24 (NIV):
All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
JOY IS NOT BASED ON OUR CIRCUMSTANCES
That joy that we get from resting in God’s presence is eternal and not based on our circumstances. It is seated deep in our souls, just like it was in Paul’s. After his transformation and conversion of faith, Paul underwent everything from harsh words to multiple beatings to imprisonment. While sitting in a jail cell, Scripture tells us that he found joy in the Lord.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25 (NIV)
Those two must have looked crazy to everyone around them. Paul had every reason to be afraid and to be hopeless, but he chose joy. He chose to rest in God’s presence and understand that he could choose joy despite his circumstances.
Was he happy?
But he chose joy and God’s eternal promises over his fear and hopelessness. He understood that God was bigger than anything he was facing, no matter what the outcome held.
Isn’t this where we struggle? I know I do at times.
When we learn to rest in God’s presence and His promises for our lives, we begin to see that deep-rooted sense of joy spill out of our hearts. Suddenly, situations that were once terrifying to us become ones we can approach willingly, knowing that God is bigger and He is on our side.
OUR JOY PREACHES OUR FAITH
As our joy starts to spill out, like a bubbling brook, it begins to overflow into everything we do. Difficult situations are covered in joy. Fear is overcome with joy. Perspective is changed by joy. And all that joy begins to flow out of us and into our relationships with others. Our spouses, our children, our friends, our co-workers.
They see something that testifies to our faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe they can’t put their finger on it, but they see it. Slowly, the joy that God seated deep inside of us radiates into everything we do and every person we talk to. Scripture testifies to the power of this in so many instances throughout the Bible.
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.” Rom 15:13 (NIV)
Paul penned his letters sitting in a jail cell, rejoicing. Singing God’s praises and glory. And as we see joy bubble up, it begins to radiate to those around him. Paul chose joy and praising God in his times of distress. He continued to preach the Gospel even as his life was threatened.
And in Acts 16:29-34 (NIV), we see how that joy of the Lord flowed into the prison guard. Scripture tells us that as Paul and Silas were praying joyfully, a violent earthquake hit the prison. All the prison doors were opened and at that moment the guard knew the sovereignty and power of God.
I would have loved to see that sight!
He (the guard) then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30
Paul responded with God’s love and truth.
Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Acts 16:31
And as the guard declared Jesus as his Savior, Scripture reminds us of the importance that joy played in his salvation.
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.” Acts 16:34
An unlikely prison guard and his whole family came to know Jesus by the joy that spilled over from Paul’s life.
Joy, unspeakable joy.
As followers of Jesus, this should be our driving force each day. Our Savior lives in each one of us and His grace and mercy abound! Chase after joy, friends. It is already seated in your heart!
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your gift of unspeakable joy. Help us to choose joy at every moment, understanding what a beautiful gift it is from your Spirit. Show us how to find that joy by resting in your presence, knowing that you are bigger than any difficulties that we face, and let our joy radiate to others so that they may be filled with that same life-changing joy that the prison guard experienced as He came to know Jesus for the first time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.