The Fruit of the Spirit Series (Part 2): The Fruit of the Spirit is Joy
Over the course of my life, I have frequently been criticized for being too serious, too ambitious, and lacking true joy. I would often point out that I felt joyful. I believed that my introversion disguised my true feelings. But onlookers weren’t buying it. They insisted that I lacked joy, while I insisted that I had it. There was probably a bit of truth in both of our perspectives. And I imagine that same things I experience are things that many other people deal with too. It’s the battle between the sun and the clouds of life. The sun is still there even when we can’t see it. Let’s delve into some thoughts about joy, what it is, what it looks like, and why the sun inside us often gets buried.
We often use words interchangeably and fail to distinguish true meaning. Joy and happiness are two words that frequently get mixed up. It’s easy to see why this would happen, when outwardly joy and happiness may look the same.
But, notice that Dictionary.com defines joy as “an emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or pleasurable.” This means that joy is a step above happiness, it is better than happiness. Does this mean you’ll have a bigger grin or longer smile? Not necessarily.
Both Brown (2012) and an article in 412Teens discuss the differences between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on what happens to or around us. We are happy when we hit all the green lights on our way to work, get a raise, and win an all-inclusive vacation. We are happy when the test results come back good, when we get an “A” in a tough class, and when our toddlers are finally potty-trained.
On the other hand, joy is deeper and longer lasting. It is not dependent on external things to go our way. Joy is not something that everyone experiences because it is based on deep convictions and beliefs. Many people live in the superficial and never reach this level of contentment within.
From a human perspective, joy can come from knowing you did your best or when something extraordinary occurs. Below I’ve included a list of things we often hear references as joys that people experience.
The Bible has over 300 instances of using the words joy or rejoice. And many Christmas hymns are built around this theme. One of my favorites is from James 1: 2-4
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.”
Looking at this verse, we can see that joy can exist in the midst of bad situations in our lives. This verse is speaking about the apostle Paul. Notice his focus is not going down the “poor me” path that is so common in our world today. Rather, Paul’s focus goes beyond what is happening and sees the greater good and the ultimate result.
Paul speaks of becoming perfect and complete. Probably most of us agree that we would love to attain those rewards. But, in order to get there, we may have to have our faith tested, and endure difficulties. That’s the point where many of us get off the success train. We are simply not willing to pay the price.
However, when Christians truly believe what they profess, that Christ died for them and that the gift of salvation is freely given for them to receive, the price is totally worth it. Would a mother not give her life for her child? Would not a secret service agent place himself in harm’s way to protect his president? Surely, a true Christian will experience inner joy knowing that his or her entrance into heaven has already been bought and paid for by Christ’s blood and God’s love.
Unfortunately, people don’t always look like they are filled with joy. Ever heard the phrase, “If you’re happy tell your face?” What we see outside doesn’t always perfectly match up with what’s inside a person. There are three primary reasons this happens.
Lack of Freedom to Express Oneself.
There are many times when an individual does not feel free to express how they are feeling inside. This may come from a person’s personality or things they experienced in life. Either way, they have learned to stay quiet and not share externally what is going on inside.
In other situations, those around a person place undue pressure on an individual and it is not safe to share one’s thoughts and feelings. For example, someone may judge you for feeling sad too long, or having difficulty overcoming difficulties in your life. It’s not easy to express only some emotions; so many times people just clam up and don’t express any emotions freely.
Distracted by the Woes of Life.
We get up each day with a clean slate to start our life anew. Sometimes that works out really well. We wake up to the sun shining, birds chirping, and the smell of fresh clean air. Other days, it doesn’t quite work out that well. We wake up to a dog with GI problems, a leaky pipe, sick kids, and roads covered with ice.
As hard as we might try, it’s not easy to overcome the woes of life. They can really beat us down and wipe the smiles off our faces. It’s even harder when it seems to go on for weeks or months with one negative thing after another. This is another common reason why joy is stolen and we look miserable to outsiders.
Cease & Desist Orders Initiated.
A cease and desist order is a court document telling a business to stop an illegal activity and not start it again. You may be wondering what this has to do with joy. Well, the reality is, misery likes company and not everyone wants to see other happy or joy filled. So, those people or spiritual forces make it their mission to put an end to joy that may exist.
With the odds against us at times, it brings to light the reality that we must fight for our joy if we want it to dominate our lives. Overflowing joy doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t come without a cost. The good new is that when we make it a goal and we desire it to be an expression of who we are; it is quite possible to live a joy-filled life!
Foster (2017) embraces the reality that joyful people don’t always feel like it or look like it. This author provides some excellent ideas for ways we can demonstrate more of what’s inside our hearts in our everyday lives. Examples include focusing on blessings and gratefulness, and setting up reminders of God’s love, provision, and promises. We also prompted to encourage others with positive messages of truth, inspiration, and humor.
- What would you consider your biggest joy stealer?
- Where does your hope come from in life?
- In what ways can you fight better and demonstrate emotion that is more positive in your everyday life?
Brown, S. L. (2012). Joy- VS- Happiness. Psychology Today.
Foster. E. (2017). Fruit of the Spirit: Joy. LifeHopeandTruth.com.
Is there a difference between joy and happiness? 412teens.org.
Joy (2016). Dictionary.com.
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