Question: "what is the joy of the Lord?" Answer: the joy of the Lord is the gladness of heart that comes from knowing God, abiding in Christ, and being filled with the Spirit.
Just as a believer is commanded to love — a choice that leads to action that ultimately changes our attitudes — a believer is commanded to rejoice always.
We can choose to rejoice in who God is and in what He has done for us, regardless of our circumstances. Doing so changes our focus toward God rather than on us.
In Nehemiah 8:10, he declared, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Joy comes from God. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, every believer is to grow the fruit of the Spirit, giving us God’s joy.
James, the brother of Jesus, writes that every good gift is from God (James 1:17), administered through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. The Spirit grows the fruit that makes us more like Christ, which manifests joy that flows out of our hearts and souls.
The Joy of the Lord as Displayed by Jesus
Jesus exemplified joy in His ministry. His enemies accused Him of being too joyful on occasion (Luke 7:34).
Jesus described Himself as a bridegroom enjoying a wedding feast (Mark 2:18-20), He “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21), He spoke of “my joy” (John 15:11), and promised to give His disciples a lifetime supply of it (John 16:24).
Joy is reflected in many of Jesus’ parables, including the three stories in Luke 15, which mention “rejoicing in the presence of the angels” and end with a joyful shepherd, a joyful woman, and a joyful father.
It is that very joy of God given through the Holy Spirit, that prepares us, allows us to experience, and carries us through trials that, without Him, could destroy our emotional and physical bodies.
The Joy of the Lord as Displayed by Believers
The early church was characterized by gladness and the joy of the Lord (Acts 2:46 13:52), and “joy in the Holy Spirit” is a distinguishing mark of the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). Those who are part of the kingdom share in the kingdom’s delight.
From a Philippian jail cell, Paul and Silas were arrested and beaten without a trial. At midnight, they joyfully sang praises to the Lord (Acts 16:25). God protected and blessed them.
During trials, God can give us peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and the comfort to endure the trial.
After the apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching Christ, they returned home “rejoicing...” They followed Christ’s example, who had “for the joy set before him . . . endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
God rejoices, delights, and exults over us (Zephaniah 3:17). What does “exult” mean? “To feel or show triumphant elation or jubilation” (Google Dictionary). God finds delight in rejoicing over His children.
When God restores broken fellowship, He says we will dance with joy (Jeremiah 31:4). When we repent and are forgiven, the Psalmist says wailing was turned into dancing and clothed with joy (Psalm 30:11).
Growing Joy Through Hardship and Endurance
James 1:2 tells us to count it all joy when we experience diverse trials, as it tests our faith and produces steadfastness in God so we can be made perfect and complete in Him.
Exhibiting joy during trials showcases our faith and trust in God’s faithfulness to us and keeps us centered on the “hope that is within us” as we can witness to others God’s working in our lives (I Peter 3:15).
We are to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) and rejoice in our sufferings (Romans 5:1-5) as we are found worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake (Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 4:13). Knowing God carries us through our trials and enduring those trials makes us blessed (1 Peter 3:14), or, joyful.
After suffering, God restores us, making us strong, firm, and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10). Paul states our current sufferings do not compare to the eternal glory that is ours, outweighing them all (2 Corinthians 4:17).
How Can We Rejoice Always During Times of Affliction?
That focus gives us peace in the storm; it prepares us for what is coming to strengthen our faith, our confidence (hope), and our endurance to complete our course (Hebrews 12:1).
Follow Paul’s instructions (Philippians 4:8-9), focusing on God’s goodness and His character traits of whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.
We are to think (renew the mind) on things that are excellent and praiseworthy (Psalm 106:47). This brings about God’s peace and joy.
David declares that even when his enemies surround him, God will keep him safe and sheltered. He shouts with a sacrifice of joy and singing, making music to the Lord (Psalm 27:6).
He offers it as a sacrifice. David must consciously act in his faith, thinking of God’s goodness, protection, and shelter by giving a sacrifice — something not naturally on his mind.
Hebrews 13:15 reinforces this: “let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess His name.” This will change our focus in our storm.
2. Focus on others. Suffering trials and troubles may be for the purpose of ministering to others when they go through similar trials (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Jesus experienced suffering so He could identify with us when we are suffering (Hebrews 2:18).
We can witness God’s faithfulness and help other believers rejoice (find joy) in God’s goodness and faithfulness to them.
3. Getting to joy. Actively focusing on God, His Word, and His goodness followed by focusing on the needs of others changes our perspective, over time.
The Apostle Paul reminded the Philippians (4:4-7) to rejoice always, regardless of circumstances.
His Joy Is Our Strength
The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). In our weakness, we are made strong (2 Corinthians 12:9). His joy can be our joy through His strength. Our strength is found in the Lord’s joy (Isaiah 51:11-12), trusting Him to carry us through our trials.
God does everything in our lives for our good so we can be made more into the image of Jesus. And we can boldly approach God to ask and rely on Him for help, as our trials drive us to communion with God!
Look at your life through the lens of God’s joy. When viewed through that lens, we can “rejoice in the Lord always” and give Him the glory. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12).
We can boldly proclaim that God is in control, so we do not have to fret, fear, or work out our own salvation in the circumstances. We know He is always there to see us through, protect, comfort, and strengthen us through His joy.
As we abide in Christ, the True Vine, we the branches are full of His strength and vitality, and the fruit we produce, including joy, is His doing (John 15:5).
We rejoice in the Lord by focusing and seeing things about the Lord that cause joy to rise up in our hearts. That is the work of the Holy Spirit and the forming characteristic of joy in His fruit that grows within us.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/PeopleImages
Randy DeVaul serves as a community/crisis response chaplain with a national Christian response team and as a deacon, missions coordinator, and small groups leader in his home church in Central Florida. Published regularly since February 2000, Randy is a regular contributor to international, regional, and local trade, lifestyle, and news publications and author of three workplace safety books. You can follow him here and here.