“I tell you these things that my joy might be in you, so that your joy might be full.”
– Jesus (John 15:11)
Did you ever run across the old children’s book called Mr. Happy? His story goes like this: One day he leaves his very happy home and goes walking in the neighborhood. He finds a door and wonders to himself, “Who lives here?” When he goes through the door he is led down a long staircase and into the room where Mr. Miserable lives. Mr. Happy leads Mr. Miserable out of the room, up the stairs and back to his home, where Mr. Miserable stays for some time. Over the time he is there, Mr. Happy begins to rub off on him and one day Mr. Miserable finds himself beginning to do something he has never done before. He smiles. The story ends with the lesson that if we’re ever miserable, we can fix it by smiling!
Isn’t that precious? And maybe a bit delusional?
Yes, there are some people who actually can “fix” themselves just by turning their frown upside down. I don’t how that works. Either they have such optimism that they can will themselves happy, or they live in such denial that they can smile past anything. Privately, I am envious of those people. We need them, so the rest of us don’t pull the whole ship down.
But those people — the naturally giddy ones — are not most of us. Most of us are moody. We are stressed out and confused about our lives and the lives of people we live with. We deal with real depression, real anxiety, real mood disorders. Many of us chronically feel like we’re running just to keep up. So how do messages about joy work for real people like us, whose lives are a little more complicated than Mr. Happy? How do we do this thing called reality without it looking like a Hallmark card? How does joy mesh with stress and broken dreams and broken relationships and the death of people we love and the kind of anxiety and depression that goes deeper than a bad mood or a bad day?
Here’s my real question: How does what we read in the Bible about joy make sense if you’re on Prozac or worse yet, if you’re not, but should be? If Jesus said, “I came that you might have joy, and that you might have it to the full,” then how do I acquire that inheritance
Here’s what I believe: I believe biblical joy is not only attainable, but is the normal state of the Spirit-filled life. Christians are meant to grow in joy. And as we’ve already said, maybe your temperament or approach to life or other circumstances makes this more of a challenge for you. But as a follower of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, it is your inheritance. And there are things we can do to clear the channel so we have the most opportunity to experience the fruit of the Spirit-filled life.
Let’s start with a definition. What is biblical joy?
1. Joy is a spiritually generated response to God’s goodness.
2. Joy is a deep, down assurance that the quality of my life is not rooted in my feelings or circumstances but in the love, cover and hope of a good and faithful God. Spiritual joy comes from a deeper place than our everyday emotions, which are also gifts from God. The difference is that emotions don’t have roots, but spiritual fruit does.
4. Joy is a natural fruit of the Spirit-filled life.
What are the habits of these Spirit-filled people? I count at least seven:
- Joyful people forgive easily.
- Joyful people have learned the value of intimacy.
- Joyful people have mastered the discipline of waiting.
- Joyful people are gratefully generous.
- Joyful people focus on progress not perfection.
- Joyful people maintain a mood rooted in something bigger than themselves.
- Joyful people pursue the Holy Spirit.
Over the next few weeks and the next few posts, I’d like to teach a little on the habits of joyful people because as we’ve said, Christians are meant to grow in joy. I don’t notice an over-abundance of joy in the Christians I meet, and I wonder if it is because we’ve misunderstood the nature of this inheritance. Maybe we’ve become impatient for it; maybe we haven’t done the hard work it takes to break through into joy. Yet, Jesus promised it. “I came that you might have joy, and that you might have it to the full.”
How do we acquire that inheritance? I hope these posts on the nature of joy will help you diagnose those areas of your life that block the flow of joy, so you can experience all the fruit of the Spirit-filled life.