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“Real joy doesn’t always feel like laughter, no
And blessings don’t always come from
The places I thought they would
And Your love doesn’t look anything like
It does in Hollywood
You don’t walk out when it’s over
That’s when I need You the most
Lord, I’ll never know”
When I first heard the song “Why,” by Elevation Worship, I stopped when I got to the phrase above. A million thoughts swirled in my mind.
What do you mean by real joy?
What do you mean it doesn’t always feel like laughter?
How else could it arrive?
How else could it feel?
A Worldly Definition of Joy
In the world in which we live, joy is defined as many things: wealth, sex, a successful job, a feeling, an emotion, pleasure, being happy, and the list goes on.
I have joy when I win the lottery.
I have joy when I get a promotion at work.
I have joy when I make X amount of dollars.
I do not have joy when I do not.
But if our measure of joy is always dependent upon others and external circumstances beyond (or even within) us, it will always run dry, fall short, and last temporarily.
A Biblical Definition of Joy
In a Biblical sense, real and true joy in its purest form is so unlike the world it is striking.
It is gold compared to silver.
It is a buffet instead of a single dish.
It is the prized possession rather than the hammy down.
And as a fruit of the spirit, it is attributed and obtained through a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things”
(Galatians 5:19-23 New Living Translation)!
While the presence of the Holy Spirit has the ability to produce rich and lasting fruit in our lives (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), the world produces temporary facades.
If you notice, our sinful nature craves attributes that our humanity distorts; sexual cravings out of control, desiring more, partying too much, putting things above God, worshipping other gods, growing dissatisfied with what we have, and seeking our self-interests. These things that we think will bring us joy are mere delusions and knock off’s. They will not last, and they certainly will not satisfy us.
In fact, they only leave us feeling emptier.
So if these counterfeit opportunities for joy only leave us feeling worse off than before, how can we experience true, real, and everlasting joy?
How can we experience Real Joy?
The first step to experiencing real joy begins with seeking our Creator.
Step One: Seek Our Creator
God is love, and love is God. It is impossible to know either apart from Him. The same is true regarding joy. True joy comes from the Father. And if we try to experience it separated from Him, it just won’t work.
Jesus tells us in John 15 that He is the vine, and we are the branches. Without that connection, or when the connection is severed, we cannot bear fruit. Again, joy is a fruit of the spirit, and acquiring it requires patient persistence, enduring hope, and faithful hard work.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted” (John 15:1-7, New Living Translation)!
Step Two: Readjust Our Vision
The second step to experiencing pure joy requires us to readjust our vision. After we have gone to the source of joy Himself, it is then crucial for us to fix our eyes on how He sees the world.
Isaiah 55 prophesied and reminded us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. And while that might stir up some anxiety and discomfort to know that we do not think the same way, let this be a source of encouragement to you.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9, New Living Translation).
God is above time, space, and circumstantial differences.
He sees in places we are unable.
He makes flourished lands out of deserts and straight paths through the wilderness.
If we want to experience lasting real joy, it begins with aligning our eyes to see His unseen hand in everything. We may not ever physically see Him, but we know He can orchestrate it all for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
Step Three: Accepting the Dissonance
The third step to experiencing God’s joy means accepting it may not always look like what we think it should. This is called Cognitive Dissonance, and it is a fancy word for the tension one feels when reality does not match their intended desires, wishes, and outcome for an event. It also occurs when your beliefs and behaviors do not match.
Bad things happen to good people.
A person getting throat cancer that has never smoked a day in their life.
Finding joy when it makes no sense.
Seeing people smile that has lost everything.
Learning to accept this dissonance ultimately means trusting that God is God and we are not–especially when things do not turn out the way we thought or hoped they would.
Releasing this control to Him not only creates a lasting and pure joy from within, but it releases the responsibility and pressure off of ourselves and others. While it is important to take care of ourselves and do things to help promote joy in our lives, we have to make a conscious decision that joy may not always feel like laughter.
Blessings don’t always come from the places we thought they would.
Answers don’t always come in the form we prayed and asked for.
Healings don’t always come.
Seek HIs Joy Today
Joy is not the absence from trouble but His presence in every circumstance we face. It is knowing He is there. He sees us. He is with us. He is within us. And real joy is possible even when we’re struggling.
Press into Him, my friend. He is the source of all joy, peace, and love. And He who is faithful will not let us down.
Even when we cannot feel it, His joy surrounds and embodies those who belong to Him.
Amid my anxiety.
Amid my doubt.
Amid my tears and chaos.
His joy is here.
We just have to remember it.
The joy set before us.
The cross behind us.
It is finished.
His joy never ends.