Well my friends, it is solidly December. There’s no mistaking it.
Christmas is coming.
‘Tis the season for joy, or so the carols say. But what do we do with ourselves when joy isn’t exactly our natural default emotion? Is joy an attainable quality for people who fall on the broodier side of the spectrum? Are we disqualified from joy in the midst of grief? And where does the gospel fit into these questions?
Well, I’m glad you’ve joined me. Today, we are going to wrestle with this concept together.
False Joy, Confronted
When we think of joy as more of a caricature than an actual quality we run into trouble. Bubbly and maybe even a bit irritating, a feeling reserved for the blissfully ignorant, joy might not be a quality we even desire.
Why would we want to whitewash the negative parts of life for the sake of feeling better?
We are fine the way we are, even proud of it. Except for the fact that we are miserable . . . and that cynicism has nothing to do with being a follower of Jesus.
Caricature joy doesn’t match the joy described in the Bible. And this attitude does nothing for our happiness (or of anyone around us.) There is something we are missing.
The Anatomy of Joy
How can we be joyful when the world is what it is? When everywhere we look we see brokenness? Does joy require us to deny reality?
No. Real joy is not about putting on a mask or living in denial. It doesn’t balk at sorrow, feel uncomfortable with suffering, or sugarcoat the gritty truth.
Its true nature is miraculous.
Joy shows up when it makes no earthly sense for it to be there, able to coexist with everything else in our lives. To understand why, we need to wrap our minds around its true anatomy.
Joy is not linked to ignorance. It is linked to surrender.
Some of us are wired to see what is missing, what needs to change, or what might go wrong. It’s not a mistake that we see this way. God has a purpose for it. But if we do not learn to surrender what we see, we will be crushed by its weight. We were not built to carry these burdens.
Only through surrender can we grasp the joy God gives to us. We can hand our sorrows to our Shepherd, along with our confusion, our exasperation, and our grief. They don’t disappear. They still exist. But in hands strong enough to carry them.
Joy is able to weave itself through our pain and heartache and loss. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross and counted its shame as nothing. The presence of hardship doesn’t disqualify us from this fruit of the Spirit. In fact, as with so many other areas, it is in our weakness that God shows himself strong.
Surrender is the heartbeat of joy.
The Posture of Joy
Psalm 33:1 reads:
Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.
Giving joyful praise to God suits the life of a believer.
Joy is a feeling, yes, but there is an aspect of joy that involves obedience. Like love, joy is an action. Just as we are called to love regardless of our feelings, we are also called to joy.
If our sins have been covered and we are righteous before God, we have a part to play. You and I have a unique story of God’s faithfulness poured out in our lives. And the world needs to hear it.
Friends, God is so good. He takes miserable, rebellious people and transforms them with his love. If you have followed Jesus for any amount of time, there are points in your story where God’s faithfulness was your saving grace.
As Psalm 145:4-6 says:
One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.
Remember what God has done. Meditate on God’s goodness. Talk about his faithfulness. This is the posture of joy.
In Philippians 4:4-9, Paul begins with a command to rejoice in the Lord always. If that sentence was alone, we wouldn’t know how this could even be possible. Take a look at what verses immediately follow his directive.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Did you notice what Paul said? Rejoice. The Lord is at hand. Turn your anxious worries into thankful prayer. Meditate on that which is praise-worthy. Practice this posture. The God of peace will be with you.
It starts with joy and it ends with peace.
Friends, as we continue into this season of joy, let us learn to walk regularly in that joy. Ask for it. Practice it. When you feel heaviness settling onto the shoulders of your soul, pause to look upward.
What is it that you need to surrender today? He holds it all anyway, you might as well.
Take a moment to remember all that God has done in your life. Recall his wondrous works and let your memories of his goodness well up into a deep and residing joy that no darkness can touch.