“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17, ESV, emphasis mine).
When I was a teenager, I was intense about everything. This included my pursuit of spiritual things. I had a “a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Rom. 10:2, NASB). The knowledge I was missing was a deep heart knowledge of how loved I was by God.
The result was that I walked around feeling like I was failing Him most of the time. I was convinced that I should be telling every random stranger on the bus, “Jesus loves you.” A dark cloud of failure hung over me because I was too shy to do so. How ironic! I did not even really know, the way I needed to, that He loved me.
How He has changed that over the years! What a journey it has been, getting to know His heart for me. Deeper and deeper into His heart has He taken me. And this, my friend, is where my joy comes from.
Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit. That means that He produces it; not us. As we yield ourselves to His working, He carefully brings forth in us the character of Jesus. Jesus is a joyful God! In His presence is fullness of joy… because He is full of joy! So becoming like our Savior means becoming increasingly joyful people.
The thing is, real, lasting joy does not come from a specific set of circumstances. The emotion of happiness does. But joy is deeper than that. This is why Paul could describe himself as “immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy” (2 Cor. 6:10, MSG). Supernatural joy, the kind lavished on us by Holy Spirit, can and does coexist with sorrow. It can and does coexist with the painful hardships that often beset us during our lifetimes.
The Prophet Habakkuk expressed this concept sweepingly with these words:
(Hab. 3:17-18, ESV).
Do you see the pains he goes to, to voice the suffering of an anguished trial? He uses no less than six different phrases to describe a desperately barren time. The external circumstances couldn’t be worse. And yet he bursts out at the end with an exultant expression of joy.
How is this possible? Where does he get joy when everything is crumbling? There it is: “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Real joy comes from the Lord’s presence. Since God is inside of you and me, we have the Source of eternal joy immediately available to us, all the time. And, as Habakkuk explains in the next verse, this is what He will do for us if we ask Him to:
“God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (v. 19). Even in the midst of the darkest of times, Holy Spirit will give us deer’s feet. He will supernaturally empower us to ascend to the heights as we draw near to Him!
Have you experienced joy in the middle of very difficult times?