I have yet to see a counselee come into the counseling room exuding joy in the first session. The all too familiar face sitting across from me is usually that of sadness, hopelessness, despair, or worry. Whatever circumstance the Lord has ordained for them has stolen their joy.
But can anything really steal our joy? Can trouble, sorrow, heartache, and the miseries of this sin-cursed world triumph over our joy in the Lord? Is it even possible to rejoice always as we are commanded to do (Philippians 4:4)? We all must admit we allow unpleasant circumstances to grab a foothold in our lives and quench our joy in the Lord, thrusting us into all sorts of heartache. Because the compass of our hearts so easily swings to our daily struggles instead of upward to the goodness of God in all circumstances, we are prone to seek joy in the things of this world and lose the true joy that is in the Lord of the circumstance. However, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up bones” (Proverbs 17:22) and the apostle Paul calls us to rejoice always. How then are we to rejoice always and live a life of uninterrupted joy?True lasting joy is from God and is always anchored in Him. Click To Tweet
God is the Source of Our Joy
The word joy is found over 150 times in the Bible and if the words “joyous” and “joyful” are included, the count comes to over 200 times.1Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary Revised and Expanded (Nashville B&H Publishing, 2015), 934. The verb “rejoice” is found over 200 times as well. In about 250 of all those, the word “Lord” is included in or near those verses—making it clear that the source of our joy is the Lord. True lasting joy is from God and is always anchored in Him. In his command, Paul instructs us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” The command states the object of our joy as God and our rejoicing to be continual and never ceasing.
In Christ, we can have a constant gladness and confident delight in God that results in satisfaction in Him in all circumstances. It is unlike a temporary happiness, which is attached to the favorability of life’s events. Many things bring us happiness in this world—such as a new job, the birth of a child, good grades, a promotion, or recovery from sickness—but the happiness from these things is fleeting. It is like the fleeting smoke trail of a candle when the flame on its wick is extinguished. Joy in the Lord, however, is not a fleeting feeling but is constant and continual because it is grounded and centered in the eternal and unchanging God. When we remember that joy is found in the bottomless fountain of the goodness of God, we can fulfill the duty of rejoicing always because we know that all things will work out well for our good (Romans 8:28) no matter how dark the circumstance.
God is the Sustainer of Our joy
When sorrows come, we tend to be like the disciples on the night Jesus was crucified. In the upper room their mood was dark and gloomy as Jesus told them His hour to be delivered up to be crucified had come. Undoubtedly, great anguish and sorrow filled their hearts, as they loved Him deeply and were about to witness His horrific death.
Jesus, however, comforted His disciples with a promise. He assured them their weeping and lamenting would turn to joy. Not any kind of joy, but an everlasting joy that no one could ever take away from them. He said to them,
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:20-22)Nothing can steal our joy because it is forged and anchored in our unchanging God and the fulfillment of His promises. Click To Tweet
The joy Jesus spoke of is joy in God and His promises that overrides any heartache, sorrow, discontent, or sadness. Here Jesus is saying joy in the Lord lives in the presence of suffering and sorrow and is the relief and medicine to despair and hopelessness. It cannot be interrupted by any event in our lives; it is an uninterrupted joy sustained by God. Nothing can steal our joy because it is forged and anchored in our unchanging God and the fulfillment of His promises.
Joy and Sorrow Are Interwoven
Knowing our joy cannot be taken away inevitably leads to the conclusion joy and sorrow are experiences not completely divorced from each other. In fact, the two are interwoven in the life of the believer and God grants them both. However, in the face of sorrow, trials, and hardships, joy is invincible. Joy is not a periodic, momentary experience but is a continuous flow in our lives that exists simultaneously with times of trouble. Consider the words of Jesus:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11)
Jesus here speaks of an invincible joy over reviling, persecution, and all kinds of evil. He affirms that great trouble will come but joy will rule the day. We are to rejoice and be glad. The perpetual light of joy will always override the darkness of trials and tribulations. Our sorrow should not negate the existence of joy in the Lord in our lives. Rather, we are “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Sin is the Enemy of Our Joy
It is easy to overlook that a lack of joy is a grave sin of unbelief in God. When we lack joy, it means we have replaced our delight in God with a delight in something else. When we lack joy, we are basically saying “my happiness is in something else” or, “my misery is better than rejoicing in God.” Joylessness is a defiant act against the sovereignty of God to work out all things for our good (Romans 8:28).
Remembering this truth makes us realize sin is the greatest enemy of our joy. Where sin resides, joy is threatened. Sin infiltrates our joy in God when we allow it to overrule our joy. When sin rules and we give into earthly desires, all we can harvest is sadness, misery, hopelessness, and despair.
Having known these truths, we must therefore be in the business of guarding our joy in the Lord from being diminished by sin. Since God is the source of our joy, we must continually discipline ourselves to root our joy in Him. When we do this, our joy can never be interrupted through the greatest of life’s troubles or sorrows.