I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?) down in my heart.
Ah that Christian classic. It's a bit of a caricature, isn't it? The happy-clappy Christian, clutching their Bible in one hand, the other raised in worship with a big smile plastered on their face who can't stop singing about the joy that Jesus brings.
Christians are called to be joyful
It's very possible that this Christian person exists—and all power to them! Joy is certainly an emotion that should not be foreign to the Christian life. There are many passages in the Bible that command and assume that joy is a given for those who claim to be Christian.
Passages like Psalm 118: 'This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.' Or Paul's encouragement from prison to 'Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!' And the words of God himself through the prophet Isaiah; 'You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.' Indeed, part of the fruit of the Spirit—and a marker of Christian growth—is, in fact, joy.
Joyful because of God's work
Why are Christians called to be joyful? It's not to do us. It's to do with God. We can be joyful and rejoice in his sovereignty and control over the world. His big rescue plan for humanity that involves giving us his Son Jesus. The hope of eternal life that begins as soon as we believe.
Joy in the hard times
And yet. Yet. I've lamented before; at times, the world looks so dim, so full of pain and sorrow. How on earth can we be joyful in the midst of this? I haven't even experienced huge hardship in my life yet.
So what about people who have experienced the loss of a close loved one, whose lives have been shaped around this sad event—can they be joyful? Or those whose mental health is plagued with depression and anxiety—can they be joyful? And what about other trials people face? Long-term unemployment, addiction, isolation, persecution, homelessness, sickness—can they be joyful? Does God expect them to be?
I think they can and he does. Because joy is not about walking around with a big happy grin on your face only to mask gritted teeth. Joy is deeper than pleasure, which is fleeting. Joy is not about looking around at our circumstances and dwelling on them alone, but casting our gaze up/forward/behind (God's everywhere, remember?) at the Father who carries us through every road, weary though we may be.
That doesn't mean it's easy. It's still difficult, I think, to be joyful. And it's not something we can command of other people in the middle of difficult circumstances. 'Sorry you've got cancer. But stop being so sad—you need to be joyful!' No, that is unloving and unkind. Still, we must be reminded and assured that we cannot be robbed of joy, because we cannot be robbed of God himself and our circumstances do not change what he has already done for us.
Joy and thankfulness go hand in hand
The moments I feel most joyful is when I stop and notice small things and couple that with thankfulness to God. Recently there have been moments where I wish I could stretch time (or meet The Doctor to travel back in time) to experience them for longer. Many have to do with my son; watching him sleeping, making him giggle, remembering how tiny he was just a few months ago. The more I reflect, the more moments I find to rejoice in while giving thanks.
Can you think of your own personal joyful moments? Here are some more of mine.
Moments of joy from my life
Moments like; feeling crisp, cool air on my face while the rest of me is bundled up, toasty warm; sitting down and feeling the weight come off my achy feet; shopping at the supermarket at surveying the sheer amount of choice available to me (now may I choose wisely!); watching a candle flicker in a dark room; listening to acapella singers whose voices blend to send shivers down my spine; smelling freshly cut lawn and feeling a warm sun on my back; receiving prayer from a friend who happens to pray for things you hadn't even spoken about.
Yes, we can experience joy every day. Even when experiencing grief, sadness, sleep-deprived weariness or stress. The joy of knowing God and enjoying his creation in thankfulness can never be taken from us nor extinguished by the weight of worries. Sometimes it just takes looking a little bit deeper. Where? It's down in our hearts. To stay.
Sarah Urmston lives in Melbourne with her husband, Stephen. She loves God, her family, writing, colouring in, crochet, and creating lists. Sarah works full-time at home and tries to get out when her motivations, feeding schedules and nap times allow.
Sarah Urmston's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sarah-urmston.html