Is being joyful difficult for you? It has been for me, until I began to realize and internalize that happiness and joy are not the same thing. Happiness has to do with circumstances or what’s going on. Joy is the internal knowledge by faith that God is in it with you. He is your joy, so you can respond to tough days like the Apostle Paul from prison. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Here is Paul heading toward execution and rejoicing. This is crazy from a worldly perspective, but from a faith-filled and eternal perspective it is central. We can rejoice because God is in it with us. Psalm 22:3 says, “God is in (inhabits) the praises of His people.” James puts is another way saying, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). So keep rejoicing, it is a choice.
For several years I have been choosing a “word of the year” or trait on which to concentrate. Chosen characteristics have been faithfulness, kindness, and gentleness for 2016. I am choosing “Joy” for 2017. Not that I have already succeeded in it as Paul said in Philippians, “Not that I have already attained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me” (Philippians 3:15). No, I have not been perfected in these things. In fact, concentrating on them has reminded me how far I still have to go. I could keep on choosing the same word forever, but I will keep working on them all in the New Year. The “Fruit of the Spirit” referenced in Galatians 5:22 speaks of certain characteristics of God like joy, faithfulness, kindness and gentleness that are one fruit we should be developing more and more together with God’s help. They are not attainable without the Holy Spirit’s counseling, convincing, comforting and convicting. This is not easy, but comes slowly through trials, temptations, victories and defeats. As Paul says, “Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious for anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7). What a wonderful promise to take in. Rejoice and be thankful in prayer, not worrying about anything in life, and His peace will be your guard. This is difficult, for it seems that humans are an anxious lot. But elsewhere in Scripture Moses says, “For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete” (Deuteronomy 16:15). Nehemiah tells the Israelites after rebuilding the broken wall of Jerusalem, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10).
Philippians is known as the “Joy letter” as Paul mentions joy 27 times saying, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2). Complete joy is a state of mind and heart that is content in the Lord, at peace.
It is the Christmas Season as I write this essay. Joy to The World, a wonderful Christmas Carol reminds us “the Lord has come.” Yes, Jesus has come to earth to live and die for us that that those who believe in Him might have eternal life and rejoice in it. Have you received your King as “the indescribable gift,” or are you still stuck in trying to make yourself happy? The world does not get it. Jesus told the disciples, ‘So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22). Make your joy complete, choose Jesus as Savior and Lord and rejoice! Have you chosen a word for the New Year?
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).