Fruit of the Spirit Series
When you were a child, perhaps you read the classic Winnie the Pooh books. You might recall a few of the animals with their quirky personalities – there’s Tigger, the tiger who is exuberant and bounces on his tail. There’s Rabbit, the stubborn one when changes affect his schedule. Of course, there’s Pooh, the slow-witted but loyal bear who loves to eat honey… even if it gets him in trouble! Yet there’s one character who always seems down, depressed, and expects the worst in each situation – Eeyore, the donkey. If there’s a situation that Pooh and his pals are facing, Eeyore sees the glass half empty… he’s a natural pessimist! Even if there’s a crack for a ray of sunshine to come through, his depressive nature clouds any inkling of hope and finds a way to see the negative instead.
I can readily admit that I have had had several moments of walking and talking like Eeyore during this pandemic. When the virus was first introduced and changes seemed to be happening every other day, I was in a state of disorientation. The way I had lived life rapidly changed, and how I did ministry was mostly on hold. A sense of joylessness was sucked out of me as I felt discouraged and sad. It sure seemed like I had an Eeyore spirit!
I realized after a week of being in a depressive state that I had automatically clung to my schedule as an indication of security. Once I had my plans ripped from my hands, I became miserable due to the constant changes. If I had my focus on Christ instead of emotionally reacting, I could have joy amid this trial, which would have kept me from being as stressed or depressed.
I thought to myself, “Where is the joy that I once had?”
I realize that I am not the only one. Here’s what I know:
One, we need joy. Desperately. Although joy is such a small word, it carries enormous implications for how we can live a spirit-led life. In times like these, where we are all operating in a degree of flux, from following government orders to managing one’s personal life – joy is a necessity. Many of you have felt the negative impact of the world’s upheaval and how that has crept into your families, communities, workplace, and everyday social interactions. While the nations are in a swirl of chaos on multiple levels, joy has been in seemingly short supply.
Second, there needs to be a greater understanding of joy. How can someone possess something that they don’t fully understand? To grow in joy, we need to dig deep in the Word to recognize the joy that can be present in our lives. Joy has positive implications that will strengthen your resolve in troubling times to keep you grounded.
As a reminder, the fruit of the Spirit are mentioned in Scripture to reveal to us that the Holy Spirit is working in our lives – the fruit is the evidence that He is within us. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit with joy as second in the list. Therefore, when this biblical joy shines out from us, others can benefit from knowing who Christ is. Similar to fruit from a tree, people are nourished from the fruit – that is, the joy that radiates from your life! Your time spent cultivating joy will result in the fruit for others to partake in and grow within their lives.
So what is joy?
Joy is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness. The word ‘joy’ appears 88 times in the Old Testament in 22 books; 57 times in the New Testament in 18 books.
Here’s the key to understanding joy that most people get confused – joy is not the same as happiness. Can you experience happiness as a result of having joy? Yes. Can you be joyful even when your circumstances are awful? Yes.
Let’s break down a necessary distinction – joy is a state of mind that flows from the Holy Spirit. Happiness is based on what happens – and what happens is always subject to change. If life seems splendid and everything is working out, you’ll most likely be happy. However, if life has seemed to throw you a curveball and you’re not sure what to do or where to turn, you’ll probably be unhappy. With joy, even if life turns against you, it is possible to have joy in your hearts. Joy is foundational, whereas happiness is circumstantial.
This is why James writes in the beginning of his epistle this verse:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” – James 1:2
Did you catch that? James is recommending to us the correct posture we are to take when we face trials, and that is to have joy… pure joy! In other words, the ordeal that faces us shouldn’t shake us, but reinforce our faith that Christ is doing something incredible within us. We should have great joy knowing that this is a test that we can pass to be mature and complete, not lacking anything (v.3). That sounds like a reason to rejoice!
The Holy Spirit reminded me of Paul and Silas’ ministry in Acts 16. They had just exorcised a spirit in a slave girl who predicted the future (v.16). Once the owners realized their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and brought them before the authorities (v.19). Next thing you know, they are attacked by the crowd, stripped and beaten with rods (v.22), and through into prison fastened with their feet in stocks (v.23-24). Talk about a turn for the worse!
If I were in Paul and Silas’ shoes, I would imagine feeling miserable, focusing on my bodily pain and my ministry failures. What did they do instead?
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” – Acts 16:25
Paul and Silas’ focus was not on what they just went through, but where they are headed. With the eternal focus in mind, they could worship in the worst conditions and pray fervent requests even when it hurts. Joy chooses to respond to external forces with a resolved contentment and expectation. It is not swayed upon a state of circumstances, nor is it reactive like a depressive Eeyore. Instead, like these two disciples, we choose joy because we know that God will use these trials to forge us to accomplish His higher purposes that He has in mind.
For Paul and Silas, it led to a shaking of the prison walls that miraculously loosened the prisoner’s chains and opened the doors. The jailer, instead of taking his own life (out of fear that the prisoners escaped), found a new life in Christ and was baptized (v.27-34a). As a result, “he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household” (Acts 16:34b).
It’s not by coincidence that this event took place in Philippi and Paul’s letter to the Philippians is the most joyful book in the Bible – the words ‘joy’ and ‘rejoice’ are mentioned sixteen times in 104 verses. Who would have thought that writing from a shabby, unpleasant Roman prison would contain so many elements of joy? Yet once someone contains joy, regardless of their situation, no matter how dire, nothing can stop them because the secret is to rejoice in the Lord (see Philippians 3:1; 4:4).
If we keep our gaze towards Jesus rather than what’s in front of us, we will have joy.
- John the Baptist had ‘complete joy’ as he waited for the bridegroom (Jesus) to come (John 3:27-30). Although his ministry was waning, his joy was increasing because it was set on Jesus. What Jesus offered was better than the popularity of man.
- When Jesus finished explaining the vine and the branches, he concluded his portion on abiding with this: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). When we realize to stay connected to the source, the Holy Spirit will give us joy that will be overflowing!
You might be thinking about how difficult it can be to have joy in this season. Don’t forget that joy is a choice that is cultivated by every small decision that you take. Instead of the circumstances dictating how you feel, be resolute to be joyful through the ups and the downs. It may take time before you start outwardly rejoicing, but don’t give up! Nehemiah 10:8 (NLT) says, “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” There is a steadfastness and a determination that arises when joy is present to help you overcome your trials. Seek Jesus, rejoice always, and be amazed by the change the Holy Spirit will do in and through your life.
Have a blessed week!
 1 Thessalonians 5:16