Joy is a characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit, so as believers we are called to joy. But what does having joy look like? When times are tough and we feel sad, does that mean we’re not producing fruit? How can we have joy when we feel less than joyful?
The Worst of Times
There are countless stories in the Bible of people having hard times. Take, for example, my good friend Job. His story starts out living the good life on easy street. A large, loving family; a huge, successful ranch; vast wealth; a full staff of servants. Job was the greatest, richest man in the neighbourhood. He had it all. Job was a really great, upstanding follower of God, and God blessed him. God really liked Job. I can see why, Job was a super likeable guy.
Understandably, God was bragging on Job one day, and Satan happened to overhear. “Well, no duh he follows you! Look at this amazing life you gave him!” It is possible that Satan is making a valid point...but God has faith in Job. Laying down the ground rules (no hurting Job), God allows Satan to put Job through a trial. Satan does not take this lightly. In one day (what really seems like the space of about five minutes), Job loses everything. All of his herds, all of his servants, and all of his children. If that’s not a bad day, I don’t know what is.
But, proving Satan wrong, Job does not turn from God. He doesn’t understand why he’s been placed in these circumstances. But he has confidence in who God is, and his trust never wavers. He continues to praise God, even in the midst of his mourning (Job 1:20-22). Job’s life gets worse (Is that even possible? Yes, yes it is.), and he is not afraid to express his extreme sadness. Yet, somehow, Job also expresses feelings of joy and peace. How is that possible?
Joy in Sadness
Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God. – Job 1:20-22 NLT
Job was most definitely sad and grieving. He did not try to hide his sorrow and paste a smile on. He didn’t understand why this was happening. But in the midst of it all, he still believed and he still worshiped. Job’s immediate response was to turn to God and continue to recognize His authority – and that’s where the joy starts to come in.
Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. – 2 Corinthians 6:10 NLT
“Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.” This one sentence goes against our natural thoughts on joy. If our hearts are aching, we are by definition, not joyful. But that clearly does not need to be true. When tough things happen, we can certainly be unhappy. It is our natural response to feel sad and upset. But having joy, the fruit of the Spirit, isn’t at all about our feelings. Joy isn’t about our emotional reaction to our circumstances. Despite what we feel, we can still have joy because we have Jesus. Maybe, like Job, we lose all we have, but we have everything in Jesus.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4 NLT
Not only are we able to have joy in the midst of sadness, we can have joy BECAUSE of hard times. Here’s another verse that goes against our human brains! Consider troubles an opportunity for great joy? What?! Troubles suck, and we’re not supposed to be happy about bad things happening to us. What we can have joy about, is our growth that comes as a result of those hard times. We can have joy in the hard times knowing that because of them we will grow in our faith.
Joy in Obedience
Then I would still have this consolation—
my joy in unrelenting pain—
that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. – Job 6:10 NIV
What I like about Job is his absolutely vulnerable honesty. He just lays it all out. “Unrelenting pain” – now there’s a raw description of hard times. But his words and his thoughts are not focused on the pain. It’s so easy to get into a “woe is me” mentality. Job is not ignoring his pain, but he is trying not to wallow there. He turns to God’s word and finds comfort there. He finds joy when he relies on God. Staying strong in his faith and knowing that he has not turned his back on God brings him joy.
Joy in Hope
My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near. – Job 17:11-12 NIV
There’s that raw vulnerability again. But he says his desires give him hope, they keep him going. What desires? It could easily be his desire to have his family back. Or maybe his desire for it all to end. Just a desire for brighter days in the future. To have the pain and loneliness eased.
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! – Job 19:25-27 NIV
The desire that keeps him going isn’t any earthly comfort. It’s his desire to see God! I love that phrase he uses: “I know that my redeemer lives”. This is long before Jesus came and redeemed us on the cross, and rose again! God has been our redeemer since the very beginning, and He is alive!
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13 NLT
Just as Job found joy in the hope that he would soon see God, we can also find joy in hope. Hope keeps us going in hard times, as we look towards the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s important to place our hope in the proper things though – not in things that could come to an end or be taken away, but in the One who is the very source of hope, and the good things that He has promised.
Joy in the Lord
You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. – Psalm 16:11 NLT
Just as we can find joy in the hope that we will one day see God, we can find joy in God’s presence right now! When we walk in God’s ways and follow the path that He leads us on, He is sure to lead us to joy, as well. How wonderful that we are able to spend time in God’s presence, and that we know we will be with Him forever.
So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. – John 16:22 NIV
Jesus was fully aware that life was not always a walk in the park. Sometimes it just straight up sucks. But he is not leaving us in the sucky places, and he is not leaving us alone. He has promised to come back - what could be more joyful than that! The joy that Jesus brings is not a fleeting happy feeling that disappears when the next crummy moment rolls around. It is a joy that lasts forever.
The Importance of Joy
“... Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10 NIV
Having the joy that God gives fills us with strength to get through the tough times. If we can face our circumstances with joy rather than despair, they seem so much easier to overcome. If Job had been unable to find any joy during his time of unrelenting pain, his story would have been much shorter and had a much more tragic ending. In the end, Job’s life was restored to him, and he was even more blessed than before. We can’t always see such a happy ending in our own lives, but if the only happy ending we can find is that one day we get to be with Jesus, that’s still an everlasting amount of joy.
Joy is not feeling happy about our current circumstances. Joy is something we can have constantly because of our current relationship with God and the hope we have in the future – we know we will grow, we know we will be close to God, and we know Jesus is coming back! Joy comes from God and the confidence we have in Him. Confidence of His presence, of His word, of being with Him and growing closer to Him.
Share the sunshine! What brings you joy?