“Always be joyful”
Simple. So simple. And deeply beautiful. I want to always be joyful. You want to always be joyful.
So, are you?
Truth be told, I’m not. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have joy lately. In fact, joy was my theme for April. (I wish that meant it was an especially joyful month, but alas—no.)
You may or may not have heard how “joy” is different from “happiness.” Generally, these words are used synonymously but speaking from a Christian perspective, there’s a distinction. “Happiness” is the natural reaction of feeling good when our circumstances are good. Pet a puppy, feel happy. Ace a test, feel happy. Eat ice cream, feel happy. But “joy” is supernaturally endowed without regard to (or even in spite of) our circumstances. Joy is not made from puppies, gold stars, and rainbows. It’s from God.
Recently, I’ve had some happy moments (and some not-so-happy moments). But what about joy???
“True Christian joy is both a privilege and a duty… [Jesus] has done all to make it possible for us to live joyful lives. But we are not to sit around waiting for our circumstances to make us joyful. We are commanded to be joyful always… God intends that every one of His children exhibit the fruit of joy.”— Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness
“Rejoice always.” So, it’s a command, right? Is joy not only a feeling but also an action? Like love—we may or not feel love towards someone but we can choose to act in love toward them. Is joy like that too? How do we enact joy? (Even when we aren’t experiencing feelings of joy.)
As stated in the quote, Jesus really has done everything possible or us to live joyfully. It’s not about how things around us influence our mood for the better. Surely it’s true we have much to rejoice in in Christ. Yet meditating on these things does not always (for me) yield the fruit of joy.
If “be joyful” is a command, I’m still chewing on what it looks like to carry that out. If it’s a matter of obedience, God must provide the resources for us to make living in joy possible.
So what are we to do? Joy is not something that we can manufacture. There’s no faking your way through. As soon as you try to feign the fruit of joy—you fail. Faked joy is not joy, so there’s no point even trying.
I don’t have an answer for you here. So let’s go ahead and jump to part two for a second.
“Never stop praying.”
This one is a touch easier to grasp. Though somewhat hyperbolic, I know what it looks like to pray and to weave prayer throughout my day.
Alas (again), though Paul urges us to “never stop,” I find myself more often in the mode of “rarely start.” (This is turning from a reflection to a confession, but I’m sure I’m not alone in this either.) And that needs to change.
I want to be always joyful.
I want to pray “without ceasing.”
This appeals to me beyond words, but I’m not quite sure how to get there.
I feel far off now, but I’m determined to head in that direction. We have to start somewhere. Although I’m not quite sure what pursuing these looks like, you bet your gramma’s sourdough starter I’m going to try.
One crazy thought that I have, is that these two things—joy and prayer—may be closely linked. Maybe Paul listed these two things together for a reason. I think there’s something there.
So it’s time to put my knees to the floorboards and see if somewhere along the way the Spirit sparks the obedient, beautiful, divine joy I’m looking for. (He’s where the fruit comes from, right?)
Meditation on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17