The word “joy” can mean all sorts of things depending on the context it is used in. But when it comes to the context of Christian living, what does it mean to have joy? The theme of joy is spread through God’s Word. David concluded Psalm 32 with these words, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). After instructing His disciples of the importance of abiding in His love and walking in obedience to His Word, our Lord said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). I am sure you are familiar with the words of the apostle Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil 4:4). From these three texts, it is clear that the life of the believer is to be characterized by joy. When we talk about joy, we are to think beyond the concept of an outward cheer. To have joy in the Lord does not mean the believer is immune to sadness and grief. In-fact, as God’s people we are commanded to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). So joy is not some superficial smile that we are to put on at all times. That is fake and of no benefit whatsoever. True joy is much deeper than that.
For God’s people, joy is the condition of being glad. This gladness comes as a result of being in fellowship with God. It is produced by the inward working of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and springing out of this condition are the actions of being joyful or rejoicing. It is important to understand that the act of rejoicing (expressing our gladness) is a command for the Christian (Ps. 5:11; 33:1; 64:10; Phil. 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16). In-order for us to effectively carry out our duty of rejoicing, we need to be fuelled by the delight of our joy. The Christian’s rejoicing is in the Lord (Phil. 3:1; 4:4). What this means is that we need to remind ourselves daily of who God is and what He has done for us. The knowledge of His greatness and grace in our lives fills the heart of the believer with joy, and we are to respond to such knowledge with the act of rejoicing.
The amazing thing about this joy is that it can be present in good times and bad times. Circumstances do at times lead us down a pathway in which we experience sadness, sorrow, and grief. However, the condition of being glad (joyful) is not conditioned upon how we are feeling or how well everything is going. Our joy comes as a result of our communion with God. No matter what trials or hardships impact upon the lives of God’s people, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35, 39). As the pain of sorrow or hardship beats upon us, we can be reminded and receive the comfort from the settled truth that we are the Lord’s, that He loves His people (John 13:1), and His sovereign plan and purpose is at work in our lives (Rom. 8:28). In this way, we can rejoice because as we respond to the reality of God’s sovereign care and love, we are to be thankful to Him for such realities. Though we weep, we can still rejoice. True, deep, and abiding joy is found in knowing and delighting in the greatness and grace of our Lord.