at the Water's Edge


Living life and learning all I can along the way!

The Fruit of the Spirit - JOY

We often confuse joy with happiness.  I think it may be better equated with contentedness and a deeper satisfaction of the soul.  Happiness depends on circumstance; joy does not.  Happiness is a feeling that is in many ways beyond your control.  You can’t be happy about everything, but you can have joy in all things.  Joy is more than a feeling.  Joy is a response.  Joy is a state of being.

It’s fairly easy to be joyful when things are going well.  When you have a lot to be thankful for, you can dwell on those things and get a sense of joy from that.  The psalmist says, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalms 118:24).”  When I’m having a great day and things seem to be going my way, I can read that verse and easily come up with reasons to be joyful.  But what about when things are not going so well? 

1 Thessalonians 5:16 urges us to “Be joyful always.”  Certainly that is not possible if joy depends on circumstance.  Instead, we are told to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:18).” 

Let’s look for a moment at the example of Job.  Job was a man who had everything—and then had everything taken away from him.  In one day Job had all of his livestock and animals taken from him, and his children all died.  Do you know what his response was?

 …he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”  -- Job 1:20-21

That is joy in the midst of adversity, and that is what we are called to.  James tells us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance (James 1:2-3).”

Just like love, joy is a choice.  We cannot control all of the situations in our lives, but we can control our responses to them.  When faced with troubles and trials we can choose to be angry, we can choose to worry, we can choose to be pessimistic, or we can choose joy.  Our pastor did a sermon on this a while back and encouraged the congregation to “choose joy” – no matter what life throws at you.   He calls this a “uniquely Christian” response to life’s troubles.  Being one of the “fruits of the Spirit,” joy is something that should characterize the life of a Christian, and it should be something that sets Christians apart from the rest of the world.  When you choose joy, it doesn’t mean things are easy.  It doesn’t mean everything’s grand.  It means that you know there is more to life that the things you are going through right now, and there is opportunity in every situation.  Our pastor gave three common examples in life where people find joy in the midst of unpleasant circumstances:

  1. The gardener who labors and toils for hours in the dirt and hot sun, who gets blisters on his hands and sunburn on his skin – yet he still finds joy knowing that his work will produce fruit and vegetables and flowers, which makes all the effort worthwhile.

  1. The runner who struggles to finish a run along the trail, who comes home completely beat and exhausted – yet she finds joy in knowing how far she has come in her fitness level and what great things her exercise is doing for her health.

  1. The mother in labor – who goes through so much pain and effort, willingly, because she knows that when it’s over, she will have a beautiful baby to hold.

We can all see that there are reasons to find joy in those struggles.  Something good comes out of it.  So what about our day to day struggles from whence we think no good could ever possibly come?  How can we find joy there?  If you go back up to that verse from James, you’ll find the answer: “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance (James 1:3).”  And the apostle Paul adds, “…we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).”  The trick, as my pastor says, is to not let your suffering go wasted.  God can work something good out of our bad circumstances if we let him, and we may end up better people simply by choosing joy in the face of hardship. 

The apostle Paul is a great example of someone who chose joy, despite the many hardships he faced.  He tells us that he has “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12).”  I believe this “secret” lies in trusting that God is in control, and even when things around us are chaotic, we know that God can and will work something good out of it.  The Bible tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).”  And in this we can rejoice. 

Of course, I cannot discuss the topic of joy without bringing in my favorite author, C.S. Lewis.  One of Lewis’ works that is perhaps lesser known is his space trilogy.  Yes, C.S. Lewis wrote a space trilogy – and if you’ve ever read anything else by him, his version of sci-fi is much like you’d imagine it, and not much like anything else I’ve ever heard of.  The second book of his space trilogy is called Perelandra.  The premise of the book is that a man from earth finds himself on a different planet – an “unfallen” world – a world without sin, where the only intelligent creatures on that planet are that world’s version of “Adam and Eve”.  The main character in the story interacts with the female on the planet, and they have some very interesting conversations, based on his point of view, coming from a fallen, broken world; and her point of view, coming from a soul of complete innocence.  At one point, the man tries to explain to the Lady that not all events that happen on Earth are pleasant or welcome.  She was confounded at first, not having experienced anything as “unpleasant” or “disappointing”.  Finally, she was able to come to this understanding:

“What you have made me see,” answered the Lady, “is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before.  Yet it has happened every day.  One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind.  Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of.  One joy was expected and another is given.  But this I had never noticed before—that the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside.  The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you.  And if you wished—if it were possible to wish—you could keep it there.  You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning to the good you had got.  You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.”
        C.S. Lewis, Perelandra

What truth the Lady speaks!  How often does our own discontentedness come from that longing of the soul after something which we wanted and yet were not given?  Instead of focusing on the good in what we have, we cling to what might have been.  And where does that get us?  Nowhere good; nowhere we ought to be.  It leads us down the road of bitterness and resentment rather than thanksgiving and joy.  We ruin the chance of enjoying what we have when we keep our focus on that which we have not, and it becomes a poison to the soul.

Later on in the story, the Lady makes another profound statement:

“Every joy is beyond all others.  The fruit we are eating is always the best fruit of all.”
 – C.S. Lewis, Perelandra

What if we lived our lives truly believing that?  What a difference that would make in our outlook on all of life’s circumstances!  Instead of dwelling on what could have been, recognize what you have in front of you as the best you could ask for, and as God’s will for your life in this particular moment.  All you can do is take what you are given and recognize whatever situation you’re in as an opportunity – an opportunity to learn, to grow and to choose JOY!

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Our bible study group has decided to take some time to look at the so-called “fruit of the spirit” as listed in the book of Galatians – and to study each one of these fruits, evaluating the prevalence of each in our own lives.  I hope to be able to share parts of my study and reflections here, as we go through each of the topics.



This week, we are looking at the concept of JOY – what it means and how we can live a life characterized by joy.

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ABOUTME

Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Happy Gilmore. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!

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