"This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,…"
It is so freeing to understand that the fruit of the spirit is not something that we can muster up, it is the characteristics that the Holy Spirit develops in us as we walk with Him in an intimate relationship. To me, an intimate relationship includes reading God's word, praying about my response to what I have read, worshiping, and choosing to walk in obedience to Him. It would also include being very present in life and noticing exactly what God is doing in me, around me, and through me. When we experience God's love we are filled with His love and able to respond by loving Him and other people. Joy is similar in that it is born out of a deep, trusting relationship with God. It, just like love, is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Joy is not necessarily happiness, excitement, or pleasurable emotions that we so often search for. It is a steady feeling of contentment and trust that is not based on our circumstances. It may evoke other feelings that overflow into tears of joy or laughter that we experience as we are broken or excited by what God is doing. The joy can be present in positive situations like weddings, births, baptisms or hearing a believer’s testimony. It can also be experienced in extremely difficult circumstances like rejection, sickness and death. I have had a couple of friends who always praise God when I share something difficult I am going through, because they know that it will produces growth in me.
Several years ago, one of my best friends got married and excitedly began her family. Their first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and then her second baby died of an accidental suffocation at six months of age. She got pregnant right away with twins only to have one of the twins die in her womb. She had to lie in bed for a month to give the surviving baby a chance to survive while hoping it would not get an infection. They learned tremendous lessons about God and His love for them as our church family surrounded them and supported them through the grief process. People were saved and drawn closer to God as a result of what they went through. They grieved deeply, but there was hope in the midst of their grief that was beautiful to behold. They had the same deep hurt, questions, guilt and anger that anyone in their circumstances would have, but because of their relationship with God they could pour their hearts out to Him. They had a deep assurance of God's abiding love constantly bathing them and they had joy because they chose to believe in His goodness, faithfulness and love even in the face of the losses they experienced. It was because of their choice to cling to God that the Holy Spirit was free to fill them with His joy even in the midst of the deep pain they were feeling.
There are several things that rob us of our joy. One robber is not knowing God's word or even more importantly not knowing God. Another joy robber would be having a distorted view of what the Christian life is supposed to be. We are never promised a problem free life in this world, however we are promised that God will never leave us or forsake us and that He will work all circumstances for our good. Another joy robber is basing our worth on people’s opinion of us rather than God’s. Another joy robber we face is the misconception that Christians don’t experience painful emotions like sadness, anger, frustration, guilt and confusion. If we believe we have to hide those emotions and don't talk to God or other Christians about them our joy is blocked. It is important to know that God's desire is for us to be full of joy (John 16:24). It is just as important to know that joy comes through a transparent relationship with God and His people as we go through painful circumstances. By that I mean bring our hearts and our questions to the light. When God in His sovereignty and love allows deep hurt to occur, we have to believe and trust that if we will keep walking with Him we will experience His love at a deep enough level to turn that pain to joy. (Jeremiah 31:13). Lastly the last joy robber is our own rebellion. When we sin we make a conscience choice to turn away from God. If we continue in a sin, we will feel like God has deserted us. Part of that is due to the fact that we feel guilty and begin to justify our sin and turn off the guilt. As we harden our hearts that part of us that senses and experiences God is numbed. If we continue in the sin God remains with us, but the hardness of our own hearts and possibly our unbelief prevents us from experiencing Him in order to make us so hungry for Him that we will give up the sin. Psalm 51:12 is an example of David crying out to God to restore the joy of his salvation following confession.
The questions we need to ask ourselves is do we trust God enough to be open and honest with Him? Do we believe in our heart that it is okay to take our doubts, anger, hurt and questions to God? Do we trust Him enough in all circumstances to ask Him to change our sadness into joy? Do we really believe it is His desire for us to experience great joy? Life can be really hard, but there is joy in being a child of God and not having to do it alone.
Prayer: Father, I thank you for people like Paul in the Bible and the different friends You have given me who have walked faithfully with you through very painful circumstances. Seeing You produce joy in the middle of their pain has strengthened my faith tremendously and helped me to hold on when it was hard to do so. Lord, please help each one of us be transparent with you. Please show us what to do with the uncomfortable emotions we experience, especially our anger, hurt, confusion, and doubt. As we grow in our faith through that transparency please develop in us spirits full of your joy! Amen.