More Like Jesus: Joy (Part 2)
April 4, 2017
by Peter Amsterdam
More Like Jesus: Joy (Part 2)
While studying about Christian joy, I found it interesting to see that joy is intimately connected to faith, hope, and gratefulness. As I mentioned in the first article on this subject, for a believer, joy is connected to taking a long-range view of life that is based on faith in God, trust in what He has told us through Scripture, and knowing that our earthly life is only the beginning phase of our eternal relationship with the Lord.
Our joy is based in our faith in what Scripture has taught us: that God is our Creator; that though humanity is alienated from Him due to our sins, He has made a way for us to be reconciled with Him through the sacrificial death of Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins; that through this reconciliation, we enter a relationship with Him, His Spirit dwells within us, and our relationship will last for eternity.
Our faith in God and deep trust in His promises of salvation, reconciliation, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the ultimate fruit of salvation—eternity with God—help us have peace of mind and a confident outlook. Our beliefs generate hope, an expectation of good things to come, and cause us to live in joy.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.1
That you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.2
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.3
Gratitude is related to joy. When we’re grateful for what God has done for us; when we’re focused on His goodness, love, and care, and are content with His blessings, then we have reason for joy. Being thankful for God’s blessings helps us live in joy, as we have a positive attitude toward life.
Joy is a response to God in our lives—to His blessings, presence, promises; the relationship we have with Him; our being His children. It’s a response to who He is and His involvement in our lives, to His love.
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.4
Because joy is a response to who God is and the blessings we have in Him, and not to our circumstances, joy can flourish even during times of pain and suffering.
We rejoice in our sufferings.5
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.6
In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.7
As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.8
It’s not easy to rejoice in our sorrows. In fact, generally speaking, it’s not natural for us to be joyful and constantly rejoicing. Yet Scripture says Rejoice always.9 Many of us want to cultivate a joyful spirit, but it’s not something we can do through our own power. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and to cultivate it, we must raise our sails so that the breath of the Spirit will move us in the direction of joy.
One way to raise our sails is by reading, absorbing, and living the teachings of Scripture. Speaking to His disciples right before His crucifixion, Jesus said:
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.10
When the waves, winds, and storms of life assail us, we can find joy in knowing that All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose.11 We find comfort and faith to endure the difficulties we face and to be victorious as we look to the promises of God’s Word:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.12
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.13
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.14
Hearing the voice of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit in verses like these gives us hope in time of trial. That hope can inspire joy, knowing that God is always there, even in our afflictions.
I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”15
As we read the Bible, God’s Spirit uses Scripture to speak to our heart to comfort and guide us, thereby giving us faith and hope, which are stepping stones to joy. We do what we can by abiding in God’s Word, and the Spirit moves within us to give us joy.
We cultivate joy by putting our trust in God. Being trustworthy is part of who God is; it’s part of His character. All throughout Scripture, we’re exhorted to put our trust in Him. Trusting Him means putting our confidence in Him, knowing that He loves us and has our best interests at heart.
Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.16
You, O Lord, are my hope, my trust.17
Those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.18
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD.19
Trust leads to hope, and hope leads to joy.
We increase our joy when we develop thankfulness and gratitude for whatever situation we find ourselves in.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.20
Regardless of whether our circumstances are pleasant or unpleasant, we are to be thankful. This doesn’t mean that we need to be thankful for difficult circumstances, but rather that we give thanks in the midst of every circumstance, good or bad. Scripture teaches us to thank the Lord that He is working in our present circumstance for our good, knowing that He will not give us burdens which are too much for us to bear and His grace is sufficient to enable us to bear it. As we thank and praise Him, we experience the joy that is our heritage in Christ.21
As we’ve seen, Christian joy is connected to and is a result of our belief system. We believe in God as our Creator and Father. We believe in His Word, which tells us about Him; we use His Word as the basis for decisions. We have an ongoing two-way relationship with Him, which will continue for eternity. His Holy Spirit dwells within us, and joy is a fruit of that indwelling. As Christians, we believe these things, but the question that I’ve asked myself, and which you may want to ask yourself as well, is: Do these beliefs bring joy into my life? Author Michael Zigarelli wrote about what it means to have this joy, and after reading what he wrote, I prayed about whether I was living with the richness of joy that I could be.
From a biblical point of view, we can define joy as “having a daily spirit of rejoicing through all circumstances.” It’s more than inner contentment, more than gladness, more than overall satisfaction with life.22
On the basis of a survey of 5,000 Christians, Zigarelli concluded that consistent joy in a Christian’s life greatly benefited their character. He wrote:
In Christian circles, we often talk about joy as a virtue that drives Christlikeness.23
Richard Foster commented on the importance of joy in a Christian’s life:
Joy is the motor, the thing that keeps everything else going. … Joy produces energy. Joy makes us strong.24
Zigarelli found that those who reported that they were “often” or “always” joyful also exhibited more of other Christlike characteristics than those who were “rarely” or “only sometimes” joyful. He explained that the virtues most affected by consistent joy are kindness and patience.25
While things of a spiritual nature are very difficult to quantify or measure, and a survey of course relies on interpretation, I found that Zigarelli’s survey provided helpful guidance by pointing out how practicing particular virtues seems to help one grow in Christlikeness. He found that many Christians, while strong in their God-centeredness and gratitude, reported below-average joy in their lives; and according to his survey, these folks tended to struggle with kindness and patience. He pointed out that when an otherwise godly person does not experience consistent joy in his or her life, the tendency is to be abrupt with others, to have little tolerance for life’s irritations, and to be less generous—often because they have too much to do, which hinders them from being kind and generous. Clearly, burnout is a major joy killer.
When speaking of the benefit of nurturing consistent joy in our lives, he pointed out that someone who is more joyful would be noticeably more patient and kind—overall, more like Jesus Christ. Although we cannot pinpoint the exact mechanisms by which this happens, it is not a stretch to speculate that consistent joy enhances patience and kindness because these two qualities are natural outgrowths of our overall disposition. In other words, a person who has a consistently joyful disposition is prone to sharing that joy by putting others first, by identifying and meeting others’ needs. In such a state of mind, we are more charitable towards others, more accommodating of others’ shortcomings, more relaxed in the face of annoying situations. Conversely, a person who is not consistently joyful cannot share what he or she does not have. The joy-driven empowerment to love and tolerate others is not reliably present in their lives. One thing that requires no speculation, though, is that consistent joy seems to help us overcome any hard-hearted or legalistic tendencies that can make us calloused, impatient, uncaring people—people who are truly the antithesis of Jesus.26
Zigarelli’s survey also shows that people who “often” or “always” forgive others are twice as likely to be joyful as those who don’t. This makes sense, as one of the foundational factors for having Christian joy is our salvation—the fact that we have been forgiven for our sins.
It seems to be that a lack of forgiveness embeds in us anger, bitterness, indignation, and resentment—obstacles to our inner peace and joy. Alternatively, choosing to forgive can remove those encumbrances, paving the way for, among other things, more consistent joy.27
Growing in joy calls for regularly thinking about and meditating on God’s goodness and love for us. Joy is an outgrowth of our reading, believing, and acting on God’s Word; of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us; and of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Christian joy is living life within the conscious framework of God’s love and care for us, facing the ups and downs of our lives with deep faith that the Lord is always there, comforting and caring for us; and being glad, rejoicing, that we are always under His loving care.
The joy of the LORD is your strength.28
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 1 Peter 1:3–5.
2 Ephesians 1:18.
3 Titus 2:11–13.
4 1 Peter 1:8.
5 Romans 5:3.
6 1 Thessalonians 1:6.
7 2 Corinthians 8:2.
8 2 Corinthians 6:10.
9 1 Thessalonians 5:16.
10 John 15:10–11.
11 Romans 8:28.
12 Romans 8:18.
13 1 Peter 5:6–7.
14 James 1:12 NIV.
15 Isaiah 41:13.
16 Psalm 33:21 NKJV.
17 Psalm 71:5.
18 Psalm 9:10.
19 Jeremiah 17:7.
20 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
21 Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2012), 129–30.
22 Michael A. Zigarelli, Cultivating Christian Character (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design Publications: 2005), 49.
23 Zigarelli, Cultivating Christian Character, 50.
24 Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline (New York: HarperOne, 1998), 191.
25 Zigarelli, Cultivating Christian Character, 50.
26 Ibid., 52.
27 Ibid., 54.
28 Nehemiah 8:10.