Written by: Kensie Story
“ But the fruit of the Spirit is… joy…” Galatians 5:22 NIV
If I’m completely honest, the word joy bothers me. As someone who’s dealt with chronic depression and anxiety their whole life, joy seems almost impossible at times. And when Christians say things like “choose joy” or “always be joyful” it frustrates me beyond belief.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4 NIV
It’s not that I am mad at them, but more that I envy them. I envy the joy they seem to have no matter what is happening. I envy the smiling and positivity they exuberate day in and day out.
I start to wonder if I’m the only Christian alive who doesn’t feel joyful. I wonder if that makes me a “bad Christian”, a sinner. Maybe you can relate.
The ironic thing is, on good days I’m actually a very “joyful” person. But there are days, even seasons, where life gets super crappy and things just seem to keep going wrong.
Disappointment, frustration, fatigue, doubt – they circle my head like a baby mobile. And no matter how hard I pray, no matter how hard I try to “choose joy”, no matter how hard I fall on my knees and surrender to the Holy Spirit – joy just doesn’t seem to come.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 43:5 NIV
It wasn’t until recently that I figured out the real problem. It wasn’t that I was a bad Christian. It wasn’t that I needed to lean into the Holy Spirit more. Nope. It was simply an issue of skewed understanding.
The world has tainted our understanding of what true Biblical joy is. Definitions like “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” (Google) or “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune” (Merriam-Webster) have us thinking that joy is a feeling, a feeling connected to circumstances. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Biblical joy – the joy produced by the Holy Spirit – does not always feel like happiness. Jesus Himself experienced sadness and grief and yet He was always connected to the Holy Spirit regardless of those negative emotions.
He wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). He was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38) the night He was arrested. Those are emotions I can relate to. And if Jesus experienced them, He must have held those emotions while still having full joy from the Spirit, which means we can too.
Understanding this changes everything. Encountering God’s truth often does. When we dislike a situation we don’t have to feel guilty. We don’t have to try and fake joy because it’s possible for us to be sorrowful and still have Spirit-produced joy.
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” 1 Peter 1:6 NKJV
So, what is Biblical joy then? I encourage each of you to study joy on your own and ask God to guide you to your own definition, but I will share what I feel He has spoken to me.
Joy is recognizing the past and present grace of God and hoping, desiring, and longing for the grace to come. That is what gives us strength to continue on in faith until Christ’s return. That is a type of joy that seems reachable to me.
“For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10b NIV
Even when I am feeling lonely, sad, or frustrated – the Holy Spirit can illuminate a current blessing from God – that’s joy. Even when I want to give up and doubt overcomes me, the Holy Spirit can remind me of God’s faithfulness in my past – that’s joy. Even when I am crying for hours and feeling hopeless, the Holy Spirit can create hope for my future life with Christ – that’s joy.
I hope that this definition of joy is something you relate to as well. I hope it builds a bridge of understanding allowing you to cross into the abundant joy you already have. I hope it encourages you through the tough times and gives you the strength to move forward like it has for me.
Remember that when we put our faith in Christ, His spirit forever lives inside us and therefore is forever producing this fruit. We never have to strive for it. We just have to rest in it.
Sisters – rest and be filled. Rest and have joy.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 NIV