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Joy: A Reaction or a Response?

It's a freezing cold day here in Halifax. It's days like these that people seem more likely to be irritable and frustrated. People mumble and grumble over pretty much nothing - all because there are freezing temperatures and blustering winds. Funny how our whole attitude can be affected so easily by something like the weather.

All too often, we lose our joy in life just as easily. One moment, everything is perfect and wonderful and the world is great; the next, the world is out to get us with fire and brimstone. It only takes one small thing - a rude comment, a long line, a messed-up coffee, an unexpected (and undesired) snowfall - and happiness is ruined. We spend the rest of our day frustrated and miserable.

My question to you is, what is joy?

Is it the butterflies we get in our stomachs when things are great and life is perfect? Is joy a product of the good things that happen to us? Also, if it can take so little to lose it, what is our joy founded on?

Philippians is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It contains so much personal life application in just a few short pages. Not only encourages us to continue boldly in the faith for God's glory, this book also instructs us on how we are to live a God-honouring and Christ-centered life.

In Philippians 4:4, Paul instructs us in the area of joy:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice."

Though short, this verse directs our attention to a few truths:

1) Joy is a Choice

A lot of people tend to see joy as just an emotional response to a situation. If it's sunny outside, we're happy; if it's raining outside, we're sad.

Just this is not what joy is like. Joy is not fickle - it doesn't change whichever way the wind blows. Yes, joy is a feeling, but it is also a decision. Many time it isn't something you automatically have - joy is something you must choose through God's grace to acquire and strive after, even fight for. If joy was simply a reaction and something we couldn't really control, Paul wouldn't bother commanding us to rejoice.

However, we do have a choice. Choosing joy means choosing to trust in God's sovereignty and that all things work out for good, even when we face sorrow and trials. We choose to remain peaceful by resting in Christ when our world is falling apart. We don't have to lose our joy because our situations are less than desirable. We can chose joy even in the downpour.

2) Joy has an Object

We are instructed to be joyful, but I don't think Paul meant that we would just be happy-go-lucky and care-free. To have joy that lasts, it has to have something it is grounded on.

So what are we to focus on? Paul specifies that as Christians, we are not given the lee-way to place our joy in whatever we choose, but our joy must be in Christ. Why?

We can't have true, lasting, and meaningful joy without having that joy grounded in something that is true, lasting, and meaningful. In Christ, we have a joy that will never fade or pass away. We don't have to worry about our joy becoming pointless or out-dated, because Christ and His gift of salvation never changes. We will always have a reason for and object of our joy when we place it in Christ's finished work at Calvary.

3) Joy is a Continual Perspective 

Anyone who has struggled with depression knows how it tints every aspect and event in life. There can be so many good and beautiful things happening in their life, but one who has a depressive perspective will find it nearly impossible to enjoy all the good and beauty around them.

The same is true with joy. It is a way of life, an outlook, a perspective. When we look at the world and every situation with joy - regardless of how much seemingly bad is going on - we will still be able to see and revel in the good. If we truly have joy, we realize that joy is not the absence of sorrow: it is choosing to trust God despite it. 

Joy isn't something we can obtain by our own strength. One thing I have been learning is how incapable I am to make myself compassionate, content, humble, grateful, or joyful without begging God to not only give me the grace and strength to obtain these characteristics, but to also simply give me the desire for them.

God will give us joy in Him - we must simply ask, trust, and follow Him.


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