Joyful people used to make me very skeptical. Toxic positivity had been common in the ministry spaces I occupied as a teenager and college students. I had equated joy with never permitting sadness or negativity, never acknowledging pain or struggle, and projecting a friendly face with a venomous bite.
My heart was initially softened to joy by watching two joyful people (whom I had initially dismissed as “obviously fake”) walk through a series of difficult circumstances, name them as trying, and still maintain their joy. That observation was reinforced by finally noticing that joy is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Essentially, that means joy is one of the evidences of a life that is controlled by the Spirit.
Pursuing joy gives us the opportunity to prioritize those things that Scripture teaches result in joy and in which we experientially find joy.
Often, I hear 3 reasons for why we do not prioritize pursuing joy:
- It’s selfish. If taken to an extreme, sure. But we pursue and prioritize plenty of other things that, if taken to an extreme, can also be selfish. We prioritize spending time with God, taking time to rest, and taking care of ourselves. Taken to extremes, each of these could also be called selfish. Prioritizing spending time with God over familial relationships or responsibilities regularly is not good. Excessive resting is called sloth or laziness, but observing a Sabbath is good. Eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep is stewarding our bodies well, but neglecting responsibilities or always prioritizing care for our self over care for others is self-centered.
- I don’t have time. Respectfully, allow me to suggest that you don’t have time to not pursue joy. You were made for joy. God didn’t create you to plop you down in a life of drudgery and obligation. He created you out of love and joy. He delights in you. He wants you to delight in Him and in His blessings. “I don’t have time” is a great way to guarantee a joyless, Spirit-less life.
- Pursuing joy isn’t practical. Think of it a different way: is who you are becoming more, less, or just as important as what you produce? Pursuing joy prioritizes who you are becoming. It doesn’t minimize what you do, but it at least acknowledges that it isn’t everything. More fundamentally, making sure you are in an optimal state to effectively accomplish the tasks that God sets before you in a given day is using your time practically. Maybe you need to attempt to accomplish fewer things in a day.
Why does pursuing joy matter?
In a world of obligation, hustle, and striving, joy is a powerful apologetic.
A person who consistently experiences joy, even when things aren’t going well, has a powerful testimony to the world and to other believers.
My own journey towards joy was influenced by the joy experienced by friends and the realization that joy is listed as the fruit of the Spirit. The joy experienced by my friends made me long for what they had. The conviction that a life controlled by the Spirit gives evidence through joy made me consider why I didn’t experience much joy.
Joy in Scripture
Rather than a self-centered, bohemian pursuit, pursuing joy is a commitment to pursue Christ intentionally and to take time to delight in His gifts in gratitude and worship.
Joy is one of the distinctive characteristics of being in God’s kingdom: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” –Romans 14:17
If you’re a Christian who isn’t experiencing joy, then you’re missing something central to this entire experience. Scripture is filled with references to joy and what brings it:
“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” –Psalms 16:11
No joy? When was the last time you were meaningfully in God’s presence? His Word says that His presence brings joy.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13
God fills us with joy. How does He do that? Through His Word, through prayer, through enjoying His creation, and ordering our lives according to how He says life works best.
“The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” –Psalms 118:24
Joy is a mindset. Choose to find joy in all things, not because of all things.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Pursuing joy is not a fatalistic resignation to be ok with everything that happens. The “this” in “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” equates with the command to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” The will of God for you in all circumstances is that you will find cause to rejoice in the circumstances, not for or because of the circumstances.
How do I pursue joy?
How do you prioritize pursuing joy? Here are 5 recommendations to get started on the road to pursuing joy:
- Do you have a consistent devotion time? If not, it’s going to be hard for you to experience joy consistently. Remember, Scripture says that “you will fill me with joy in your presence.” (Ps. 16:11)
- Is your devotion time actually leading you to God’s presence or is it an item on your to-do list? Even the best things in our lives can be done in a lifeless, robotic manner. Our devotional times are no exception. Only you can answer this, but if you feel like your devotional practice isn’t leading you into the presence of God regularly, it might be time to try something new.
- Identify the things that you like to do. Make a list of things that you would like to give time to but feel like you don’t have time for. One of the best ways for us to experience joy is to do the things that we love to do! In doing so, we’re actually worshipping by exercising the gifts and passions that God has placed in our hearts.
- Observe a Sabbath. Take a day to rest. Spend extra time with the Lord, and do things something from the list you made in #3 above.
- Manage your thoughts. Your attitude is largely dependent on what you allow your mind to dwell on. Scripture knows this: “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5)