I wish so very much that I could claim to be a joy-filled person, but that’s not always the case. It’s something that requires intentionality and work on my part. Over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of research on the topic, and I have come to realize that I am not in the minority. The human brain picks up and focuses on negative experiences more than positive ones, because it is constantly trying to protect us from danger. As a result, in order to experience true joy, we often must work at it. We have to cultivate it.
Dr. Pamela King, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, has done some great research in an effort to define joy and look at its impact on our lives. Below is an excerpt from an interview that she did in 2020:
“A helpful way of thinking about joy is understanding what matters most in human life. Reviewing philosophical, theological, and psychological approaches, I identified three areas that deeply inform joy. They are (1) growing in authenticity and living more into one’s strengths, (2) growing in depth of relationships and contributing to others, and (3) living more aligned with one’s ethical and spiritual ideals.”
Her interview was for a secular website, but in other articles, she is clear that when talking about “one’s ethical and spiritual ideals” she is talking about the relentless pursuit of Jesus.
Life is hard. We can’t escape that. But what we can do is cultivate joy through the pursuit of Jesus, the pursuit of healthy relationships, and by serving others out of our strengths. I would also add that it is often necessary to look for and find joy in the mundane things of life.
Last week I had a sick 6-month-old, and my 3-year-old was working on potty training. At one point, while starting yet another load of vomit-and-urine-soaked laundry, I wasn’t feeling the most joyful. Then, I heard both of my kids belly-laughing from the other room. In that moment, I felt a surge of deep overwhelming joy as I considered what an honor it is to be their mom and have the privilege of doing their laundry. That might sound silly, but in that moment, I was living within my strengths and serving the people I love. And in doing so, I was honoring God. Joy is the natural byproduct of these things. We simply have to look for it.
Joy is not always easy to find, and when we are in really tough seasons, reading a devotional like this one may even trigger a feeling of resentment. But as Christians, God does not command us to have things that he does not willingly and generously provide. He has commanded us to be joyful, and therefore we can trust that when we seek it, He will be faithful to provide it!
For the Joy of the Lord is our strength.
— Nehemiah 8:10
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be made perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
— James 1:2–4
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law. — Galatians 5:22–23
God calls us to be filled with joy. Not only does He promise that it will come out of the overflow (the fruit) of pursuing him, but that He will provide it in times of suffering, and the joy that He provides will be our source of strength. He is trustworthy, and he is faithful.