I’ve thought about all those stories of people facing severe trials and yet they still radiated with joy and peace. How is that possible? The desire for some kind of relief whether outward or inward has led me on the search for the Holy Grail of Joy. Here’s what I found:
Joy is relational.
According to the book, Joy Starts Here by E. James Wilder, Edward M. K hours, Chris M. Coursey, and Sheila D. Sutton, “Joy means someone is glad to be with me.” That’s an odd way of describing joy, but stop and think about it.
If you were to walk into a room full of people and the conversation immediately stops while people stare with hostility, you’re not going to feel joyful. You’ll wonder if you accidentally stepped onto the set of the “Want to get away?” commercial. On the other hand, if you stepped into the room and people greeted you with waves and smiles, you would experience joy.
The development of joy begins at birth through bonding with mom and dad. When parents show that they are happy to see their baby, neural pathways develop and connect with other neurons. This helps the baby learn emotions. Depending on the bond created by parents, babies can either develop joy pathways or fear pathways.
Think back on your relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. Were they bad or abusive? Were you abandoned, rejected? These experiences can produce negative neural pathways that produce depression, anxiety, and fear. The good news is that our brains can create new pathways with healthy relationships.
Starting with the most important relationship of all which is that with Jesus. When he promises to forgive you and make you new, reprogramming your brain is part of it. He talks a lot about “renewing the mind” and setting us free with truth. This is great news for us. There is hope to live in relational joy with Him and with others.
Joy is futuristic.
Hebrews 12:2, “…Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Some people interpret this as Jesus experiencing joy while he suffered a torturous death on the cross.
That doesn’t make sense in comparison to his emotions hours before his death. While praying in Gethsemane, he sweated blood and asked God for this cup to pass from him. Suffering is painful! This verse indicates a future emotion, a reward for his suffering.
As a teenager, I was terrified to play piano solos in my church. The thought of my peers and their parents watching me was enough to make my legs shake in fear and tears gather in my eyes. I was so terrified with my first solo that my brain blocked the memory out. All I remembered was playing the first note and the last note, nothing in between.
Fortunately, while part of my brain shut down out of fear, the other part continued, and I played the full song without being aware of it. Eventually, I learned to look forward to something afterward. My reward was warm gooey chocolate chip cookies. Instead of focusing on my solo, I trained my brain to focus on the reward waiting for me after my public suffering. Because of that, I was able to push myself through the solo. Joy was coming!
Because Jesus focused on the future joy of being reunited with his father in heaven, he was able to endure the cross. We have the same reward waiting for us after this life. We may suffer here in this life, but we are also comforted in knowing that it’s temporary. Eternal joy is just around the corner. If you’re suffering, take comfort in the promise, “this too shall pass.” “The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you….” (Deuteronomy 33:27)
Joy is having God’s perspective
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31 NLT
This is a beautiful picture of joy, but how do we soar like an eagle? Eagles can fly up to 10,000 feet! Imagine what they can see from that height versus what a chicken sees on the ground. If you haven’t put it together, we are the chickens strutting around in our little world only seeing a small patch of life.
God on the other hand has a greater view of us and our life. He can see our past, our present, and our future and how we all interconnect with each other. He knows what our suffering will produce in us. You were made to be an eagle, to soar above earth’s cares. Truth from God’s Word will set you free from the chicken coop and will allow you to fly with joy.
The Book, Joy Starts Here, states that “Hope and direction come from seeing situations, ourselves and others the way they were meant to be instead of only seeing what went wrong.” Extending grace and forgiveness toward each other and to ourselves as Christ does, keeps us living in joy.
Joy given is joy received.
Think of Christmas. Do you have more fun watching a loved one open the gift that you gave them or opening a gift that you received? For most, it’s the giving of the gift rather than the receiving it that makes the holidays special. It is the same with joy. When you show that you’re happy to be with someone, then the joy they feel will also come back to you.
Galatians 6:7 NLT says, “…You will always harvest what you plant.” If you sow the seeds of joy sparingly, you will reap sparingly. I think of a chronically cranky person whose hobby is criticizing people. They’re not known for joy but rather for their bitterness which leads to isolation because they’ve pushed people away. Joy can’t be returned because it was never given.
Joy is found in quietness.
…a mighty windstorm hit the mountain…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. – 1 Kings 19:11-13 NLT.
Be still, and know that I am God… – Psalms 46:10 NLT.
Getting alone with God in a quiet place produces joy. Silence allows you to examine your emotions and thought patterns to bring before him. David asked God to search his heart and to know his thoughts to see if there was anything out of alignment.
God does that when we’re in a quiet heart space ready to receive his answers. Don’t be afraid of this moment! He’s not going to beat you over the head for your imperfections, but He will smother you with a ginormous amount of love and acceptance. That’s where joy comes from!
No matter if you are in chronic pain, depression, grief, financial struggles, or any other trauma, you can still find joy. Joy is a choice. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to fly above the trauma and produce in you a heart full of joy. He will give it to you!
The main objective of Christian coaching is to help clients soar above their present circumstances to get God’s perspectives on their lives. Unsure of how to parent? Study the fatherhood of God. Need help with your marriage? Study the relationship between Christ and the church. Struggling with your image? Make a list of all the verses that declare you to be beautifully and wonderfully made. If you’re not sure how to do this, get connected with me or someone at SCC. We are here to help you fly!
E. James Wilder et al., Joy Starts Here: The Transformation Zone (Illinois: Shepherd’s House, Inc, 2013), p. 7
Wilder et al., Joy Starts Here, p. 250
“Couple in the Park”, Courtesy of pixel2013, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Mother and Child”, Courteys of Fancycrave1, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Future”, Courtesy of Wokandapix, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Eagle”, Courtesy of theSOARnet, Pixabay.com, CC0 License