“I choose joy” is a phrase we’ve probably read many times. Shared on social media, artfully scrawled on journals and prints, this mantra declares a desire to be happy in spite of the turmoils of life.
At the close of one year and the beginning of another, my mind naturally ponders ideas of resolutions and goals and legacies. What will this new year hold? In what ways will I grow? What mark will I make on this world as 2016 unfolds day by day? What does God have in store for this year? And how can I be a part of His plan for this world?
So in my wondering and praying and seeking, God called me to joy.
Joyful is a word I want used when describing my character. Full of joy is how I want to live. For I’ve realized how quickly and easily I sink into despair when life does not turn out as I had hoped, wanted or planned. I’ve realized how one minute I feel alive and content and secure, and then the next I start to dislike my life and wonder what’s the point of it all, losing interest and feeling alone, while anxiety creeps in and chokes out.
I’ve written before about God’s teaching me to be content in Him. This call to joy is another lesson of contentment. For joy and contentment are linked together. Both found in Christ. Both intentional, active choices. Joy is a building block of contentment, with Jesus as the foundation.
Not long ago, my sister and I had a late night God-talk, sharing what He had been teaching us, what we were seeking and striving for. I told her of this call to joy; of my desire to be joyful always. Shortly after that conversation, joy became fleeting.
For about half a year, my family has been building a new house. The move in date has kept getting pushed back. In the midst of all I need and want to do, I’ve also been helping at the house. Scrambling to finish what I need to do as quickly as possible. Oftentimes giving up what I want to do so I can help out.
Then the holidays came. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Years. Each one going by with us still not living in the new house and instead living in a state of chaos and clutter. My stress levels have been high, sometimes overflowing in the form of tears. I’ve been impatient, sometimes it boils into anger.
I voiced the desire to be joyful always. No matter what. And then found myself living in a situation that was not at all conducive to being joyful.
But you know what? That just tells me I’m on the right track. Because Satan will twist and distort and trip in an attempt to keep me from joy. To keep any and all of us from joy.
So I’m going to run all the harder this race.
There are many places in God’s Word where we are called to joy and rejoicing. In Philippians 4, as Paul speaks of his learning to be content, he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (v. 4) In Psalm 66:6, we are beckoned, “Come, let us rejoice in Him.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:16 speaks of and calls us to joy everlasting: “Be joyful always.”
We are called to joy. Not so we may be merely happy. For joy is a richer depth than happiness, bringing smiles and laughter more steadfast and enduring than giddiness can give. Bringing confidence and assurance that take root and do not fade even as the entertainment, the excitement, the sunshine, the easy-going does.
We are called to joy because joy and rejoicing are both facets of God’s character. We see God’s joy displayed in Zephaniah 3:17: “He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Jesus expresses His joy in Luke 10:21: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.”
I’ve always heard and known that joy comes from God, but to know that joy is defined by God, is a part of God, one of His qualities, this explains the richness of joy and how it can be present always; because God is eternal and always present. When we live joyful, we are encountering and experiencing God. And the more we encounter and experience God, the more joyful we become. For “joy [is] in His dwelling place.” (1 Chronicles 16:27)
Scripture shows us ways in which we can cultivate joy in our lives. Psalm 19:8 says, “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.” Learning God’s Word and doing what it says gives joy, because in this we are coming to know God more and are interacting with Him through obedience.
Jesus speaks of this in John 15, when He says, “If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (vv. 10-11) Often in reading that passage, we focus on the aspect of love, but there is a clear promise of joy also. For what greater cause of rejoicing is there than a love relationship with God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ?
Sometimes obedience can be scary. We fear the unknown. We want to stay safe and comfortable among what we can see and hold and control and explain. But in this false safety and comfort there is no joy, for true joy is only found when faith is lived out. As 1 Peter 1:8 says, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
Being thankful and praising God also brings joy; celebrating and rejoicing in His provision and blessings and promises. In Deuteronomy 16, God calls His people to joy through thanking Him for His provision and His promise to provide: “Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of you threshing floor and your wine press. Be joyful at your Feast… For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of you hands, and your joy will be complete.” (vv. 13-15)
And Psalm 30:11-12 says, “You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever.”
Even though the past weeks have been hard - hard to trust, hard to be thankful, hard to have joy - there is much to rejoice about. The helping hands of friends and family. The time spent with my family as we work together. The new appreciation for home cooked meals and sitting round the table together. The new experiences. The growing of faith and gratitude.
Life is seldom perfect. Most of our situations are not conducive to being joyful. But God calls us to joy. He calls us to Himself. We can get caught up in the stress and the mess, only finding temporary happiness on those few perfect days. Or we can respond to God’s calling and trust, obey, rejoice.
We each must choose.
I choose joy.