Is that what you think you’re feeling, here at the end of the school year, possibly the beginning of your summer vacation? Most often, when we think of joy, it’s our circumstances that we first consider. Knowing that we have months of waking without an alarm, dealing with minimal paperwork, and looser schedules can feel us with such gladness and positivity that joy is the only word that comes to our mind. But, when we think of JOY, in the sense that it is discussed in Galatians 5, are we selling it short?
I’m as thrilled as any educator to have two months of relative freedom in front of me. However, I know that freedom alone cannot satisfy myself nor can it satisfy you. Not to the extent that we hope.
At some point, I will become dragged down by chores – the things that I didn’t have time to do during the school year and have therefore crept onto a to-do list that will slowly seem to be never ending.
At some point, I will become restless, unable to enjoy with contentment the time I have to spend in my home, with my family, with personal pursuits. The lure of advertisements, social media, and past experience will leave me wishing for more excitement, more adventure, more “life” in my summer.
At some point, I will inevitably be glad to welcome back the school year, I’ll look starry-eyed upon new lesson plans, new lists of goals for my students, an opportunity for a “new” classroom, thinking that this year, perhaps, will be the year.
Does this sound familiar? What you think will bring joy, in the end, does not?
Unlike the discoveries I made when researching love, there are many different words used to express our concept of joy throughout the scriptures and word study alone afforded me no great revelations on how to view this characteristic in light of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it was to the concordance that I went, looking at different ways that the word joy is used, both in the Old Testament and the New, original Hebrew and Greek. What similarities could be found there, even when language differed?
Beginning in Nehemiah and moving through to 1 Peter, there is one consistent theme: God, not our circumstances, is the source of joy.
In Psalms, joy is something given to us by God. In Luke, joy is a response to Jesus when He is recognized as King. In 1 Thessalonians, joy is given to believers by the Holy Spirit. In James, joy is a response to knowing that the faith you have in Christ is true.
Regardless of the word – simhah, hedvah, gili, or another – God is the ultimate source. He gives us joy, recognizing Him as Lord gives us joy, knowing that we possess a true faith gives us joy. Circumstances are irrelevant in these instances.
I can remember learning something of this as a child growing up in church. Joy is of God, not myself. However, I sometimes feel that this did not go quite far enough. In some ways, at least in the rationalizing that takes place in my brain, joy became completely independent of my own actions.
I do no think this is the case.
While it’s true that true joy is not dictated by what I do or don’t do with regards to things of this world – my possessions, my travels, my accomplishments – I don’t feel it’s true that I’m not, in some way, responsible for it.
You see, when I look at the circumstances that surround true joy in the scriptures, I see a marriage of sorts, something relational between myself and my God. God provides joy, yes. But I must also receive it. In Luke, joy is experienced at the recognition of God as King. In James, joy is experienced when one knows that the faith you have is worth suffering. It’s not enough for God to be the provider of true joy if my own response is not to fully acknowledge Him and surrender to Him.
He gives joy. But I must deny myself to experience it.
As I go into my summer, I am fully aware of the struggles I will face if I am not in willing surrender to my God. I challenge myself, and I challenge you, to not let your circumstances dictate your joy, but to let your response to God gift you joy. I pray that, whatever befalls you this summer, for pleasure or suffering, that you will recognize God as King and let that be your ultimate gladness.
Nehemiah 8:10 | Psalm 4:7 | Psalm 21:6 | Psalm 43:4 | Psalm 66:1 | Habakkuk 3:18 | Luke 1:44 | Luke 2:10 | 1 Thessalonians 1:6 | 1 Peter 1:8