Faith – What Does Joy Mean?

My niece and I were out for breakfast a month ago. She shared a passage of Scripture with me that she had been meditating on. The verse mentioned joy so I asked her what she thought having joy meant. It created a neat conversation.

Joy is a tricky thing. Does it mean you’re happy?? How can James tell us to consider joy during trials?

“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

Why does it seem that joy and trials are often intermixed?

The fruits of the Spirit all sound lovely. It’s a fun song to sing and a great passage to pray. Because we know it so well, we can ignore the full complexity of each element. Joy sounds like the most fun characteristic of them all. Everyone wants to feel joyful right? But what does it really describe if joy doesn’t mean happy?

Happiness is a surface type emotion. It comes when you experience or get something that you’ve wanted. It can come when you spend time with family and friends. You can enjoy happiness when you accomplish something you’ve worked hard at. But happiness is fleeting. You can stub your toe, get a bad report, or have someone ignore you. It’ll result in your happy emotion disappearing and being replaced by something less pleasant.

Joy on the other hand is eternal. It drives deep within your soul anchoring you to the everlasting hope you have in Jesus. It’s a spiritual God-given emotion that will carry you through the hardest of times. Even Jesus had joy when He endured the cross, which seems unimaginable.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  – Hebrews 12:1-2

Jesus was able to endure the cross because of the ‘joy that was set before Him’ in heaven. Jesus held onto joy while enduring the cross because He knew the victory it would bring. His death and suffering opened up the greatest opportunity for us all to love Him and join Him in eternal bliss one day. He knew that His suffering had purpose and therefore He could fulfill His mission because He knew the victory and celebration that were coming.

Our joy does not come from the things of this world. Our joy comes from God Himself and the excitement we can have of the glorious home we will abide in for eternity. It will be beyond our wildest imagination. We will experience the full complexity of joy because there will be no sorrow or sin trying to steal it.

When you focus on the ‘weights’ (worries, heavy burdens, etc.) and the sins holding you back, you cannot experience the joy of Jesus. But, when you do as the author of Hebrews explains and ‘lay aside’ those things, you can ‘run with endurance’. How? By the hope and joy that lies before you. Yes, Jesus had a much better idea of what was coming. But you can have a fairly good idea too when you explore passages like Genesis 1, Ezekiel 1, 2 Corinthians 5, Revelation 20-22. These hold some glimpses of what God’s creation looks like, His kingdom, creatures, and heart are revealed bit by bit all throughout the Bible.

When we understand the love of the Lord for us and what He has planned for us, it makes the trials we endure a little easier. The trials don’t need to overwhelm us. They exist and are painful to go through, but we know they aren’t everything. They aren’t the end. There is a great victory coming that allows us to find joy in the midst of our sorrows. Death will be no more. Sickness, pain, and sin will end. Stress and worry will cease. Unthinkable and overwhelming joy will replace them all as we live in the presence of God almighty for all of eternity. Hallelujah! I can’t wait for that day!

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