A People of Joy in a World of Dread.
How do we become a people of joy in this new year?
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I want to kick off this new year thinking together about joy. It’s a timely topic, as so many of us are struggling to experience it.
In March of last year, the World Health Organization released a scientific brief reporting that the “global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%” in just the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything I hear and read points to the sobering reality that this downward trend in mental health has only continued. My point is simply that joy appears to be far from the everyday experience of many, many people. Yet, I don’t know anyone, who would not say that they long to live with more joy in their daily lives.
So let’s spend the next few weeks, contemplating joy; specifically what joy is, why it’s so elusive and how we actually go about experiencing it. You ready? Let’s get into it.
Here’s the first thing, we need to understand about joy:
Joy is a distinctly Christian virtue.
Joy is listed among the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22. Here’s what that means. In John 14:15-16, Jesus says that when a person makes the decision to surrender their life to follow Him by faith, God’s own Spirit dwells within them. This means, because of the Spirit’s presence with us and empowering grace within us, joy will be an ever-growing characteristic in the life of everyone who walks with Jesus.
Furthermore, joy is constant subject throughout Scripture. In our English translations the words joy, joyful, and rejoice appear over 400 times. In fact, there are north of 30 different Hebrew and Greek words that we translate as “joy.” For instance, Zephaniah 3:14,17 alone, use 8 different Hebrew words for joy in just two verses. This should signal to us, that joy is probably a far more rich reality than what we typically comprehend. It’s closely related to, though not synonymous with, gladness and happiness. It differs in that, joy is less an emotion and more a state of being, or an attitude.
The second thing about joy we need to understand at the outset, is this:
The experience of joy is inseparable from the person and work of Jesus.
Think about this. In Luke 2:10-11 the angel that announces the birth of Jesus says this:
“Don’t be afraid [remember they were terrified by the sudden appearance of the angel], for look [here’s the reason he gives to assuage their fear], I proclaim to you GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah the Lord.”
According this angelic being, the birth of Jesus was and is the ultimate source of joy. Because of this, we can’t experience what the Bibles means when it invites us to joy, if we don’t seek it in Jesus. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Remember, Paul didn’t write that from a place of ease. He was in prison! Yet, he could still experience joy and invite us to do the same, because He knew that joy was found in Jesus, not circumstances.
So here’s the big idea I want to hit on over and over again this month:
Joy is the fruit of the daily choice to give our attention to the good news of Jesus.
We’re just days from Christmas, so this should be fresh on our minds. The birth of Jesus was and is, good news of great joy.
We have a Savior.
We can flourish.
Jesus is and will restore all things.
He is with us and won’t leave us.
He is our Comforter, Healer, and Helper.
We have good news!
The problem is, we’re prone to give all our attention to the almost endless array of bad news that fills our world. So the million dollar question is, how do we begin making the daily choice to give our attention to the good news of Jesus? Before we explore the answer to that question, I think it’s important that we understand why joy is so elusive in our actual experience. But that’s the subject for next week.
For now, I want to start this new year by praying that Jesus would draw you into a deeper experience of joy this year. Let me pray for you:
“Abba, you are a good Father. You are so good and love us so much that you sent Jesus to live, die, and rise again, so we could walk in an ever-deeper experience of joy. But our hearts hurt and life in this world is hard. So I pray for my friends, especially those living in the wake of immense loss and with painful wounds. Would you help us to turn our attention to the good news of Jesus? Not in a way that denies the reality of our hurts, but in a way that embraces the full story of goodness. Would you draw us into a deeper awareness of Jesus’ presence with us, His love for us, and His work on our behalf. We long to be a people of joy in a world of dread. Would you make it so. I pray this in the name of you, God our Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.”