At times, or in certain situations, choosing joy is not easy to do. Nevertheless, in His great kindness and goodness, God desires that His children be full of joy. He has even commanded that we rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). How gracious of God to grant us the responsibility of enjoying the great privilege of His joy! Furthermore, we are intended to be image-bearers of Christ, and Christ is the source of joy, so rejoicing is one way we reflect the image of our Lord.
So how do we heed the command?
How do we put on joy?
John the apostle, the man who recorded Jesus’ statements of His desire for us to enjoy Him, what not originally known for his joy. When we meet John in the gospels, we hear Jesus label him a “Son of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). John was characterized by anger. Jesus transformed him. In Christ he became an apostle of love and joy, so much so that he made the joy of others a primary purpose for one of his letters (1 John 1:4).
What did he write to accomplish that purpose? Truth. His first letter is full of the word “know.” Joy is built on knowledge of truth that is applied by faith. What truths? John writes truths about who God is and what He does. He writes about the gospel and how one can know whether he or she has eternal life. He writes about the love of God and love for others. Joy increases through obedient application of those truths.
Considering how dominating the stubborn habit of anger can be, John’s transformation gives me hope. If he turned from habitual anger to habitual joy, then there must be a way that I, too, can turn from my old sinful habits and put on joy. All followers of Christ have that hope. Practically speaking, what can you and I do to practice joy? The following list is not exhaustive.
- Study the Word of God. Psalm 19:8 says, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” There is nothing wrong in it, nothing to sicken the stomach or sour the spirit, nothing to raise suspicions or corrupt the mind. On the contrary, it works wonderfully in the heart of the person who studies to know and do it–purifying, cleansing, correcting, strengthening, encouraging–producing great gladness. All good, the Word of God is so deliciously satisfying. No wonder it rejoices the heart. Delight in it.
- Want a place to start? How about 1 John? John says that what he was writing would lead to joy in his readers. Round it out with his gospel and other letters.
- Repent from all known sins (1 John 1:6-10). Sin is the great kill-joy. It kills joy with guilt. That’s a good thing. Guilt is intended to alert us to a problem and lead us to repentance. The goal is not to escape from guilt but to respond rightly to it by repenting from what offends Holy God.
- Think on who God is. For those who know Him, how can that not cause joy?
- Think on what Christ has done for you. For example, take forgiveness. That alone is beyond comprehension. For those who have received such mercy, how can that not cause joy?
- Serve the King. John the Baptizer’s joy was made full when God’s will was done so that Jesus received glory. Similarly, do you realize that your obedience is service to the King of the universe? The King of all creation? Is that not a privilege that stirs joy in the heart?
- Obey God. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). What things were those? In the context, they were commands to obey Him and love others. Obedience shows love for God, so it produces joy.
- Pray for that which would accomplish the will of God. John 16:24 says, “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full” (John 16:24). Ask for what? We’ve already seen that it isn’t self-indulgence that produces God’s joy, but the accomplishment of God’s will. Therefore, rather than pray for relief from trouble, we ought to pray for wisdom and strength to obey God in the midst of our troubles, so that we bring Him as much glory as possible even without relief. Ask for that which will purify your life and enable your obedience. After all, if we want what God wants, if our greatest desire is His glory and not our comfort, then wouldn’t His purposes drive our prayers, even when it means that we suffer hardship?
- Practice gratitude to the Lord. This is the will of God (1 Thess. 5:18). Thank Him for everything all through the day.
- Fellowship with others. According to 1 Thessalonians 3:9, Christian fellowship causes joy. If you tend to avoid people, determine to participate with them and to enjoy them while you are with them.
The Lord Jesus Christ is full of grace and truth, love and joy. Don’t be passive about joy, waiting for it to happen to you. Deliberately and actively
Rejoice in the Lord!