Christian joy is intimately connected to faith, hope, and gratefulness. It’s about taking a long-range view of life that is based on faith in God, trust in what He has told us through Scripture, and the knowledge that our earthly life is only the beginning phase of our eternal relationship with Him.
Our joy is based in our faith in what Scripture has taught us: that God is our Creator; that though humanity is alienated from Him due to our sins, He has made a way for us to be reconciled with Him through the sacrificial death of Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins; that through this reconciliation, we enter a relationship with Him in which His Spirit dwells within us, and this relationship will last for eternity.
Our faith in God and deep trust in His promises of salvation, reconciliation, and ultimately eternity with God help us have peace of mind and a confident outlook. Our beliefs generate hope, an expectation of good things to come, and cause us to live in joy.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.1
Gratitude is related to joy. When we’re grateful for what God has done for us; when we’re focused on His goodness, love, and care, and are content with His blessings, then we have reason for joy. Being thankful for God’s love, blessings, presence, and promises helps us live in joy, with a positive attitude toward life.
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.2
Because joy is a response to who God is and the blessings we have in Him, and not to our circumstances, joy can flourish even during times of pain and suffering.
We rejoice in our sufferings.3
They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.4
We are always happy, even in times of suffering.5
It’s not easy to rejoice in our sorrows. In fact, generally speaking, it’s not natural to be joyful and constantly rejoicing. Many of us want to cultivate a joyful spirit, but it’s not something we can do through our own power. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and to cultivate it, we must raise our sails so that the breath of the Spirit will move us in the direction of joy.
One way to raise our sails is by reading, absorbing, and living the teachings of Scripture. Speaking to His disciples right before His crucifixion, Jesus said:
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.6
As we read the Bible, God’s Spirit uses Scripture to speak to our heart to comfort and guide us, thereby giving us faith and hope, which are stepping stones to joy. We do what we can by abiding in God’s Word, and the Spirit moves within us to give us joy.
We cultivate joy by putting our trust in God. Being trustworthy is part of who God is; it’s part of His character. All throughout Scripture, we’re exhorted to put our trust in Him. Trusting Him means putting our confidence in Him, knowing that He loves us and has our best interests at heart.
Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.7
Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do.8
Regardless of whether our circumstances are pleasant or unpleasant, we are to be thankful. This doesn’t mean that we need to be thankful for difficult circumstances, but rather that we give thanks in the midst of every circumstance, good or bad. Scripture teaches us to thank the Lord that He is working in our present circumstance for our good, knowing that He will not give us burdens which are too much for us to bear and His grace is sufficient to enable us to bear it. As we thank and praise Him, we experience the joy that is our heritage in Christ.9
As we’ve seen, Christian joy is connected to and is a result of our belief system. We believe in God as our Creator and Father. We believe in His Word, which tells us about Him, and we use it to guide us in making good decisions. We have an ongoing two-way relationship with Him, which will continue for eternity. Author Michael Zigarelli wrote about what it means to have this joy:
From a biblical point of view, we can define joy as “having a daily spirit of rejoicing through all circumstances.” It’s more than inner contentment, more than gladness, more than overall satisfaction with life.10
Zigarelli found that those who reported that they were “often” or “always” joyful also exhibited more of other Christlike characteristics than those who were “rarely” or “only sometimes” joyful. He explained that the “virtues most affected by consistent joy are kindness and patience.”11
While things of a spiritual nature are very difficult to quantify or measure, and a survey of course relies on interpretation, I found that Zigarelli’s survey provided helpful guidance by pointing out how practicing particular virtues seems to help one grow in Christlikeness. He found that many Christians, while strong in their God-centeredness and gratitude, reported below-average joy in their lives; and according to his survey, these folks tended to struggle with kindness and patience. He pointed out that when an otherwise godly person does not experience consistent joy in his or her life, the tendency is to be abrupt with others, to have little tolerance for life’s irritations, and to be less generous.
Growing in joy calls for regularly thinking about and meditating on God’s goodness and love for us. Joy is an outgrowth of our reading, believing, and acting on God’s Word; of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us; and of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Christian joy is living life within the conscious framework of God’s love and care for us, facing the ups and downs of our lives with deep faith that He is always there, comforting and caring for us; and being glad, rejoicing that we are always under His loving care.
- 1 Peter 1:3–5 ESV
- 1 Peter 1:8 ESV
- Romans 5:3 ESV
- 2 Corinthians 8:2 NLT
- 2 Corinthians 6:10 CEV
- John 15:10–11 ESV
- Psalm 33:21
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18 CEV
- Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2012), 129–30
- Michael A. Zigarelli, Cultivating Christian Character (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design Publications, 2005), 49
- Zigarelli, Cultivating Christian Character, 50