Philippians 4:4 says, “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
Joy is not giddy delight or bliss. It’s not even happiness. Joy is a spirit of contentment that one should possess all the time, even when things are going poorly. Joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit that mature Christians will strive to bear for God. Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the knowledge of the abiding presence of God.
For example, notice how Paul and Silas maintained a joyful heart in the following situation:
The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:22–25).
There are many other similar examples in Scripture. Peter and John rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41). The Hebrew Christians managed to be joyful although their possessions had been confiscated by persecutors (Hebrews 10:34). The Old Testament patriarch Joseph found joy in twenty years of exile and false imprisonment because he could see God’s hand in the events (Genesis 45:8, 50:20). Habakkuk found joy even in famine (Habakkuk 3:17–18).
As long as I am sure that my relationship with God is good and right, physical conditions cannot and must not hamper my exultant spirit. In fact, in many cases suffering intensifies joy, because it forces a person to identify his blessings in God, and not be distracted with worldly things. Joy is the ability to be satisfied with God’s blessings without regard to external circumstances, even while everything else in the world is going wrong.
Joy is also a great example to people in the world. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years, explained he might have given religion more serious attention “if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted like undertakers.” If Christians lack joy, the world wonders what’s the point.
To cling to joy in the midst of hurt, first be sure to keep God’s commandments. Jesus urged His followers to obey God “so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:8–11). Also, realize that great joy often arises from great affliction. Jesus explained,
Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John 16:21–22).
James says very simply, “consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trails, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2–3). Be joyful that you are saved, and that others are being saved, like the eunuch who “went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39), and like Paul and Silas who were “describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren” (Acts 15:3). Be joyful for the relationship you share with other Christians, like Paul who testified that his brethren were his “hope or joy or crown of exultation” (1 Thessalonians 2:19–20).
Ultimately, be joyful that there is a reward awaiting you in heaven. Jesus said, “blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:21–23). There’s not an event of trouble or a wave of persecution that can compete with the eternal fulfillment of heaven.
Joy can enable us to do great things—like Jesus “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Acquire joy and allow it to have a sustaining influence on your character, and a positive impact on the people around you. —John Guzzetta