Jesus promised His disciples three things — that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble. — F. R. Maltby
Jesus wants His followers to experience great joy. I am convinced of this. As late as His Last Supper discourse, He let them know they could find joy in part from their prayer life:
Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. – John 16:24
I know Christians are supposed to be joyful people. And I realize joy is a result of having the Spirit in me. Among all the people of the earth, Christians have the greatest reason to be full of joy. But sometimes life steps in and robs me of the joy. I know I should feel it, but sometimes I just don’t. The questions emerge: Is joy something I should just wait for? Will it just come upon me?
I am not alone. There seems to be a great absence of joy in the lives of many Christians and congregations today. Of the several fruits “of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), joy seems to be the most elusive.
Interestingly enough, the Bible never recommends we rejoice; it commands us to do so.
I will say it again: Rejoice! – Philippians 4:4
When I first realized this, a few questions immediately came to mind: How can I suddenly have the emotion of joy? According to the Bible, how can it be cultivated? In short, what can I do to work on my joy?
After plowing through some of these questions, I made up my mind a few years ago that I wanted to be a joyful Christian, not periodically, but consistently. I wanted to be a person who regularly experiences the fullness of joy that Christ promised. Most of all, I wanted my experience and expression to be authentic, real, and contagious.
But God won’t force the expression of joy on us. Much like a host throwing a party, who invites you to the event in full hopes you will absolutely enjoy yourself, He provides all that is needed for a good time — the atmosphere, the food, the people — but your attitude and actions determine how much you enjoy the event.
Disciplines Leading to Joy
In order to tap into the joy supply Christ has secured for us, we will need discipline. Joy is not merely an emotion felt within; it is a discipline we must cultivate and practice.
The Bible makes it clear that certain disciplines in our daily routine will lead to a greater sense of joy. Here are some I have found:
1. Joy Reads!
Reading the Scripture can be an incredible source of joy. The psalmist apparently tapped into this source of joy often:
The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. – Psalm 19:8
I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure. – Psalm 119:162
2. Joy Sings!
Singing, whether in a church or in my car, is one of my favorite ways to stir up and release the joy of the Lord in my heart. Singing allows my soul to move its focus away from the circumstances of life and toward the character of God. It’s downright therapeutic. Even Paul encouraged the Ephesian Christians to make music a habit in their lives:
Be filled with the Spirit… Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord. – Ephesians 5:18-19
3. Joy Gives!
A generous spirit is a joyous spirit. Paul praised the Corinthians for their cheerful giving:
Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. – 2 Corinthians 8:1-2
4. Joy Communes!
At this stage of growth in Christ, in the Twelve, the primary characteristic of a follower is being a comrade. Our focus and much of our joy come not only from walking with Christ, or working for Christ but also from doing both of these together with others in community.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!… For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore. – Psalm 133:1, Psalm 133:3
5. Joy Meditates!
Our joy is renewed by remembering God, by meditating on His goodness, by recalling his specific acts of faithfulness to us:
You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise You with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of You, meditating on You through the night. Because You are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of Your wings. – Psalm 63:5-7
6. Joy Serves!
Jesus came into this world presenting Himself as a servant, not a king (Philippians 2). He came to show us that the greatest joy is found when we learn how to truly serve God and people in need. The journey of serving God is supposed to be one paved with great joy:
Serve the Lord with gladness. – Psalm 100:2
7. Joy Enjoys!
What about enjoying God? God wants us to worship Him, and He wants us to enjoy Him. The psalmist wrote,
In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. – Psalm 16:11
Pastor John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
C. S. Lewis also recognized the importance of making the joy choice, even when doubts arose:
Moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing [Christianity] looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable… That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist.
In the final analysis, joy is a regular experience no Christian can afford to miss. It requires certain disciplines, but they are well worth it. Growing in Christ takes us from one experience of finding our joy in God to another. Paul referred to it as moving “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). And on that journey,
- in the Crowds, we experience that joy listening to Christ and watching Him at work;
- in the Five Thousand, we experience it by receiving from Christ;
- in the Seventy, we find joy in working for Christ; and
- in the Twelve, we find the joy of walking with Christ.
Growing as a Christian might best be described as working on our joy and the joy of those around us. One day our final destination will be not only entering into heaven but entering into joy itself! And we’ll hear,
Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord. – Matthew 25:21
Remember… in the Twelve, the way of Jesus is the way of joy; to follow Him is to follow joy.
Watch the Video for The One Jesus Loves
Excerpted with permission from The One Jesus Loves by Robert Crosby.