Thoughts on JOY: What it is, What it’s not and How to have it no matter what

As Christmas quickly approaches, we are on the lookout for the promised things the Advent season represents: Hope, Faith, Joy, Peace. 

This past week at my church, the third week of Advent, we looked at JOY. 

And I can’t get it out of my head. 

I can’t stop asking the questions: What is JOY? How do I know if I have it? What does it look like to be joyful in the midst of suffering, uncertainty or inconvenience? If I want JOY, is there something I have to let go of in order to have it?

After thinking about this for days on end, I think the reason I’m wrestling so much is because JOY IS ONE OF THE MOST MISUNDERSTOOD CONCEPTS OF OUR TIME. We have many terms and experiences we use to describe JOY. But I believe we have wrongly attributed these as interchangeable hallmarks of true JOY. 

Here’s what I believe JOY is NOT: 

JOY is not a thing to be had, a destination to reach or a goal to accomplish. It is not circumstantial. Joy is not limited to the seasons of life when everything is going well and everyone is healthy and happy. Joy is not the removal of our pain and problems. It’s not a synonym for an easy life, pleasure (which is temporary) or happiness (which is fleeting). 

I believe JOY is the comfort of God’s presence WITH us

If we believe God is good, true to His word (even when we don’t understand it), and faithful – then when we know He is near, we find an ease, relief and glad cheer in that reality. If Jesus truly did become Emmanuel: God with us, then there is an unexplainable peace that comes from that truth. The truth that He loves us. That He came to endure this life in human flesh to bridge the gap the choices our free will created. The truth that He’s going to hold us and help us through each season of life (Isaiah 41:10). 

I believe true JOY is found in the person of Jesus. 

The person the whole earth rejoiced to welcome that first Christmas night (Luke 2). The person who lived a perfect life. The person who, at age 33, would face certain death in order to give us everlasting life. And not just a ticket to heaven, but the promise of peace in the here and now. The person who showed us what it looks like to hold JOY when simultaneously holding critique, ridicule, pain and even death (Matthew 27-28). 

JOY alleviates the grief of despair and hopelessness. It soothes our soul with an assurance that God will never leave us or forsake us (Deut 31:6, Heb 13:5). Joy provides a place for our souls to breathe a deep sigh of relief in the knowledge that God is near, always has been and always will be. 

In order to fully embrace JOY, true JOY, I believe we must exchange the lie of convenience for the truth of presence

The lie of convenience tell us JOY is the absence of pain, loss or hard choices. The lie that we shouldn’t have to wait. The lie that whatever we desire or think we deserve will come easy and quickly, or else it wasn’t “meant to be”. The lie that if things are hard, then God is not good. 

The truth of presence tells us that JOY can be held at any point in our lives, whatever we’re facing, because God is with us. Jesus, Himself, faced the greatest challenges this life has to offer and still put His trust in God the Father (Luke 22). As He stared death in the face, Jesus prayed and begged God to provide another way, for the cup (of death) to pass from Him. Yet, through His heartache, He choose to put His trust in God the Father, saying: “not my will, but your will be done.” Because He knew God was good and would be faithful to His promise of life and redemption – even though, in this moment, life was gut-wrenchingly hard. 

Jesus debunks the lie that JOY is solely synonymous with happiness or ease of life. His life death, burial and resurrection showcase that JOY (beyond circumstance and reason) comes from trusting God is good, faithful and loving, even when we don’t understand why He does what He does the way He does it.  

In our microwave culture, we want our way and we want it now. Choosing to wait and put our trust in a God we can’t see seems foolish and highly inconvenient. But I believe it is the sure way to hold JOY, not only this Advent season but in each and every season of our lives. 

A prayer:

God, we’re confused by JOY and would love clarity as we unlearn cultural concepts we’ve naively clung to in order to better understand what JOY actually is. Please be gentle but clear in Your direction and guidance as we sift through the things we think are interchangeable definitions of JOY. Remind us to be gentle with ourselves as we take an honest inventory of what we believe and why we believe it, because what we believe about You determines the lens we filter everything else through.  

I pray each person seeking clarity experiences the trueness of who You are and the glad cheer that comes from knowing you are Emmanuel: God with us. 

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