The Imperative of Joy
Christian joy is not superficial happiness in circumstances and stuff; it is deep
satisfaction in God. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5: 22). However, it is also an
imperative in the Scriptures:
- “Rejoice in the Lord” (Ps.97: 12)
- “Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!” (Ps.
- “Rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1).
- “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).
Notice however that the command is to be joyful in the Lord. Christians have God as
their Protector, Provider and Saviour through Jesus Christ. We ought to be joyful.
Suffering serves joy
But we are fallen people living in a fallen world. So God is not ignorant of or
indifferent towards suffering that challenges joy in the lives of his people. In fact he
ordains it. Think of Job’s words: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be
the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Or Paul’s words: “For it has been granted to you
that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for him”
So if God ordains suffering and God commands Christians to be joyful, suffering must
serve our joy in some way. If things are always going well we can be strongly tempted
to be joyful in the Lord for good circumstances and stuff instead of being joyful in the
Lord himself. One of the reasons God ordains suffering is so that we will treasure him
more than what we’ve lost in the suffering. Paul tells us in Romans 5 that we can
even rejoice in our sufferings knowing that they produce endurance and character and ultimately hope (Romans 5: 3-5). That is deep Christian joy, which is also a great
witness when others see it.
When darkness is your closest friend
However, many believers know all this but they just don’t feel joyful. Certainly some
of us are more predisposed towards melancholy than others. Depression is real and
painful. Psalm 88 is the only psalm that doesn’t end hopefully, as it were. The final
words are: “ You have taken from me friend; and neighbor darkness is my closest
Maybe you don’t suffer from depression but we all have moments in life when Psalm 88
is real for us. So what do you do to feel joy again?
4 ways to feel the imperative of joy
Be honest and cry out to God. The psalms are full of ways of expressing your suffering
to the Lord. The psalmist often confesses his sin and need of grace, and so moves from
joylessness and fear to hope and faith.
Remember Jesus knows and is with you in your pain. Jesus knew suffering beyond
anything you will ever know. He is your great High Priest who can empathise with you
and he is your Good Shepherd who will walk with you in it.
Cultivate gratefulness in the small things. Being grateful in everyday mercies grows joy.
Grumbling kills joy.
Believe the promises of God. You have a Father in heaven, who cares for you more
than birds and flowers. You have Jesus who died for you. How then will God not also
give you everything you need for your joy? You have the hope of heaven. It ends well
Lean into wise and joyful friends. We need others to help us. Choose a mature and
cheerful friend, ask for help and then take their counsel. God uses others in the church
as a means of joy-producing grace to us.