I’m driving down the road to meet a friend on a day that’s as fresh as a daisy, and I’m thinking to myself, “If I don’t have joy today, I’m never going to have it!”
The sun is out, my husband loves me, I am caught up on my work, my stomach is full, I’m not embroiled in a controversy, I’m not addicted to anything, I’m not jealous of anyone, I’m not stuck in a unhealthy relationship, I’m not stuck in morbid sin patterns, I’m not unemployed, and I don’t have a terminal illness.
It was then I realized that joy is not the absence of troubles. Joy is not the automatic experience of the absence of cares. It is possible to have everything one wants and needs and, nevertheless, not have joy.
This is interesting to me because I spent years thinking that if I lost weight I would be happy, and if I had this thing or the other I would be happy. So I discovered (in a careful subjective analysis not dissimilar from Paul’s in Romans 7 and Koheleth’s in Ecclesiastes) this truth of human existence: that joy is not the inevitable byproduct of problem-free life, nor is it the default mode of the heart, at least not mine.
I see that joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And I have the Holy Spirit (John 14:17), and still the experience of joy is not a foregone conclusion! Oh, we can always fool ourselves and say that we have joy when we don’t. We can say joy is not the same as happiness but is deeper. Or we can say it is present in us even when we don’t feel its presence (which sounds like gobbledygook). But if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit it when we don’t have joy.
At this point the Apostle Paul helps me out when he instructs a church in Macedonia:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
And then I understand that the circuit of the grace of Christ, which is everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), is only complete when I obey, and when I bring doctrine off the printed page to an action energized by faith.
So I take Paul to mean this: “Choose joy!” Choose—this minute—to say “I rejoice in you right now, my Lord Jesus.” Choose—against all your 60 years of emotional habit—to say: “I choose joy!” And what I find is that what keeps this from being a mere psychological mantra is that the act of praise becomes a crowbar opening the mind to all the blessings of God. And just as bad habits are formed over time, righteous habits are established by the power of the Spirit, who dwells in us and wants to bear His fruit through us.