Last summer I began a series on the Fruits of the Spirit, but did not get very far before getting distracted with other things. The truth is that those other things are usually either easier or more fun to write, or spur of the moment musings brought on by something that has inspired me in my daily life. Something like a close examination of a lengthy and important Biblical passage takes a bit more research and prayerful consideration and therefore becomes a bit more of a task. However, circumstances have converged in a way that has aroused my desire to pick up the mantle. A general malaise and feeling of dissatisfaction with my life has somehow coincided with the writer’s block that hits me on occasion lifting. So rather than write a bunch of stuff that would only be of interest to disciples of Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Kurt Cobain, I have decided to write about joy. Oh how I dig irony.
Most may assume that we have a firm grasp on what joy is, but do we really?? Joy is defined as great delight, gladness of heart, keen pleasure, elation, glad feeling, and festive gaiety. Oftentimes the terms joy and happiness are used interchangeably, but is that accurate?? I think not. The author CS Lewis pondered the question thusly: “I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy. Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is”. We can follow that up with this musing from another author, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both”. I think one would be correct in stating that happiness is much more akin to pleasure, and therefore happiness and joy are not the same. Lewis is right…happiness is usually within our power. It doesn’t take all that much to make the average person happy. The possibilities are endless and depend on one’s own individual preferences. Personally I am happy reading a good book, when my favorite sports teams win, playing with my puppy, eating good food, and whenever I catch a favorite old movie on television…just to name a few. Others have spouses and children that make them happy. Some folks travel. Others play music. The problem, however, is this…as easily as we can be happy we can also quickly become unhappy. Anger, bitterness, and frustration are byproducts of being fallible human beings and dealing with others just like us. Happiness is all too temporary. Those things that make us happy may only last mere minutes or hours, and then it is right back to the inherent unhappiness in a world fraught with sin.
We spend our entire lives in the constant pursuit of happiness and pleasure. “The pursuit of happiness” is even written into the United States Declaration of Independence as an unalienable right endowed to men by God. The Founding Fathers almost had it right…but not quite. What we tend to find is that this pursuit of happiness is exhausting and ultimately empty. At the very least we are limited by time, money, and other responsibilities. In extreme cases we see people who tried to find happiness via alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, and other assorted illegal or unhealthy activities have their lives destroyed or even ended prematurely. St. Thomas Aquinas once stated “man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joy it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures”. Now I am not saying that we should stop having good clean fun. To be honest I get aggravated with Christians who unwittingly put a bad spin on the faith because they are uptight wet blankets that will not allow themselves to loosen up. However, what I am suggesting is that we put fun/happiness/pleasure into its proper perspective and understand its fickle nature. What we truly need to pursue is joy, and that cannot be found in a bar, as an ingredient in any drug, on television, at the mall, in any food we eat, or in the seemingly intimate embrace of another human being.
Romans 14:17 tells us that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. At the end of the day the pursuit of happiness will always leave a void remaining within us, but true joy in The Lord is eternal. That joy will enhance the highs of life, but it also assists in riding out the low points…and there WILL be low points. One of the problems we run into is that we don’t like feeling sad, lonely, angry, disappointed, etc. In order to avoid those bad feelings we pursue more happiness, which in turn eventually lets us down again. We are like a cat chasing its tail, and it’s a game we cannot win, a most vicious cycle. What we need to do is change the game. Life does not have to be like golf or tennis…us against the world. Life is a team effort, but we not only have to accept the help of our teammate, but we have to make Him the captain of the team. Psalm 16:11 says “You will show me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore”. The only way we can grow from the meaningless, vacant pursuit of happiness into having joy is to put our ego aside and let Him lead.
Now one thing we do have to understand is what I mentioned about those low points. I truly believe that the closer we draw to God the more it ticks off Satan and the more he tempts us in an effort to force us into sin. And while it is a certainty that we will still sin on occasion, we can lessen the impact if God is our team captain. I don’t want to plunge too deeply into the topics of salvation and grace, not only because it is straying from the purpose at hand but also because those subjects deserve their own focus. Suffice to say that if we are covered in the blood of Christ our sin is washed away and we are assured eternal life. But more germane to the present issue, if we have full joy in God then we can better weather the storms of life that are sure to come along. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation”.
Also, if we are experiencing true joy in our life then we are better equipped to witness to others. Mother Teresa once said ““joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And isn’t that part of our mission?? We are to be “fishers of men”. I am certainly not an expert fisherman, but I know enough to understand that it is a lot easier and one will catch more fish with a net.
So how do we find joy?? I am not sure I am qualified to answer that question, as I am still figuring it out myself (and, to be quite honest, not doing such a great job lately), but I know a few things. I know that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. One needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ…that is the foundation for everything. I know the basic rules, i.e. The Ten Commandments, and other teachings of Jesus and that we are to strive to be Christ-like. I know that I am “in the world but not of the world” and that we (Christians) are to be “peculiar people”. And I know that, as Ecclesiastes tells us, everything else is vanity. But there is a difference between knowing and doing. Famed 19th century minister and author Henry Ward Beecher said that “There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.” We are so busy pursuing temporary, meaningless, and sometimes carnal and sinful pleasures that we overlook the eternal joy within our grasp. Stopping the cycle of futility is an ongoing battle. Much like an alcoholic is never truly “cured”, we need to fight for our joy every day, resisting empty temptations and turning instead to our Father in heaven. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known to all men. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” – Phillipians 4:4-7.
- Understanding the Fruit of the Spirit of God (brighthub.com)
- From Mediocrity to Magnificence: A Meditation on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (adw.org)
- The Fruit and Gifts of the Spirit (pjsprayerline.blogspot.com)
- Faithful with the Gospel (anointedplace.wordpress.com)