I've always been interested in joy: the differences between joy and happiness, what it looks like, how you know you have it, etc. It is something I have been learning about for most of my life. I remember my pastor's wife talking about the differences between joy and happiness in youth group one night. I still remember what she said. She said happiness is based on circumstances, our situation, but joy is not. We can have joy no matter what we are going through. That is something I have thought a lot about, but I guess I still didn't really understand it. I don't think I really began to understand what joy was like until about four years ago.
Four years ago, I hit my rock bottom. What caused it is irrelevant to the point. To help you understand where I was at this point, let me try to paint a picture for you. Imagine being at the bottom of a well. It is pitch black. You can't even see your hand touching your face. Now, imagine feeling fear all around you. It is so real, you can literally feel it. I was at the point where I was afraid of everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. I was more depressed and hopeless than I had ever been before, and that says a lot because I dealt with depression for most of my life and had contemplated suicide several times before. It was a scary place to be, BUT here's the thing. I felt God there with me the whole time. I knew He was there for me. I knew He wanted me to just reach out my hand to Him in the darkness. Even though I could not see Him, I could feel Him so I reached out my hand into the darkness, and He grabbed hold of me and never let go. He started pulling me out of that pit. He put people into my life that came beside me and supported me and listened to me and let me know I was not alone. This brings tears to my eyes to write this because it means so much to me. I will forever be grateful to God and the people He put in my life during that time. It was during that time that God began showing me what joy was.
I really believe that joy is not what most people think it is. Joy is not dependent on anything or anyone. Joy comes from God. He gives it freely, but because we humans always like to do things our own way, we don't always experience it. We think our ways are better than His so we turn our backs on Him, and we walk away from joy. It doesn't make sense, but that's the way it is. I have turned my back on it and Him far more times than I would like to admit. It is literally a daily struggle to keep my focus on Him. Satan is bound and determined to take my focus off of God and put it on myself and my circumstances. Just yesterday I was sitting in my office at work, and all of a sudden, I just felt blah. That's the only word I can really use to describe it. It was like the joy had been sucked out of me, and I was just sitting there! I wasn't even really doing anything. I saw it for what it was though and decided I had better turn my focus back to where it belonged. The rest of the day went better. I don't know about any of you, but I find that it is usually shortly after I have experienced God face to face that Satan sneaks in and tries to steal my joy. I don't think he has failed once to attempt this. It's pretty predictable that he will try. I just never know when it will happen.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. What is joy? What does it look like? What does it feel like? Can anybody have joy? Where does it come from? :-) That last one is the easiest to answer. Lol I think I will answer that one first.
Joy comes from God. One of my favorite verses about joy is the one that talks about the fruits of the spirit. Galatians 5:22 reads “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” I know it doesn't say the “fruit of God”, BUT it does say the “fruit of the Spirit”, the Spirit being the Holy Spirit which is part of the holy trinity.... basically, the Holy Spirit is FROM God. Every good thing comes from God. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” So do we all agree that joy comes from God?
Next question: What does joy look like? This one is a little bit more difficult to answer. I believe that joy is easier to see in other people than to see in ourselves. We don't necessarily recognize it when we have it. It just IS. Joyful people to me are those that can have a genuine smile on their face in the midst of the most trying circumstances. To be able to praise God and help others while you yourself are experiencing something awful is definitely a sign of joy (and peace, but that's another topic). There are probably other things it looks like, but that is the main one I can think of right now.
What does joy feel like? Hmm. Another good question. Joy feels like excitement in the midst of difficult times. It doesn't really make sense that you should feel that excitement, but you do nonetheless. That excitement or joy is not coming from you; it is coming from God. It feels like being able to be thankful for what you have even if you don't have everything you want.
Another simple question: Can anybody have joy? The answer is YES! Absolutely yes! Anybody can have joy. The Bible says, “Ask and you will receive.” (Matthew 7:7) Receiving joy begins with asking for it. It may not be as simple to experience it as you'd like, but He will give it to you.
Last question: So what IS joy? Whew! That's actually a complex question. Joy is both simple and complex at the same time. Joy itself is simple but experiencing it can be quite the process. Joy is an amazing gift from God. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit which means that anybody who has a personal relationship with God can and should have joy. It is a bi-product of being saved. I'm not saying other people can't feel joy, but true joy comes from God. I'm also not saying that all Christians will necessarily feel joyful all the time. Life is hard, and there will always be times when we feel overwhelmed with things of this world, BUT we have a promise from Jesus: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace [or joy]. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I pray that you all experience peace and joy at some time in your lives.