When we are walking alongside the Lord and seeking His will for our lives, the fruit of the Holy Spirit will be present. One of the fruit that results is joy. Paul mentions joy early on in listing the fruit of the Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23)
What is joy? Joy is an emotion that is a result of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. The Spirit produces this ongoing, positive, hopeful emotion as we live each day focused on Christ and one day joining Him in heaven.
Joy is not something we manufacture on our own. It flows from a heart that is Christ-centered. Joy is an ongoing state of mind and heart for the Christ-follower. It is present when life is peaceful and free of pain, and it is present when life swirls around us, chaotic and troubled.
Scripture makes the case that joy is something more than a feeling we experience when things are going well:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2–3 NIV)
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV)
How is joy something we experience in the midst of trials? And how could Jesus have felt joy when approaching the cross? The answer is that the true definition joy is something way more than happy feelings. Being joyful can seem a lot like being happy, and when things are going well, our happiness is an aspect of our joyfulness. But joy is sustaining in a way that happiness can never be. Happiness comes and goes based on circumstance. Joy abides.
Some time ago I worked at a job where many days I’d leave feeling exhausted, discouraged, and just sad. I'd get in my car completely wiped out. How was I going to be able to have anything to offer my husband and children when I got home? Often, I found myself spending a few moments in prayer, then turning on the song "I Have This Hope." I'd listen to the lyrics, but more so, I’d open my heart up to be ministered to by the Spirit.
And without fail, I’d begin to experience the lifting of my burdens. My heart would focus on the Lord, drawing me close to Him. And I would be reminded of the joy I know as a result of being a child of God. It was God working within me, pointing me toward the joy that is mine as a part of my inheritance in Him.
By the end of the song I'd often be teary and smiling at the same time. This is the Lord's joy. The joy of the Lord was truly my strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Proverbs 17:22 says, "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Turning to God, over and over again, is like good medicine for our souls!
It's possible to be in circumstances where we feel sadness, anger, confusion, and hurt . . . and still have joy. Just because you experience real, raw emotions doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit is not living in you, and that you don't have the joy in your heart. Joy is a God-centered confidence, a hope whose focus is outside of us, that sustains us in the midst of trials, prompts us to turn toward our one true portion, and guides us through troubling times. That’s joy!