Before I share the official definitions of joy, I think it’s helpful to first reflect on what we already think joy is. How do we know if someone is joyful? What does being joyful look like and sound like? Well, we might see people laughing or smiling, and they might have a warm, happy countenance or a glow about their person. We might see people spending time with others, eating, or celebrating. There might be shouting (the good kind), singing, dancing, or the playing of music.
Also, how do we know if we are experiencing joy? What does being joyful feel like? We might feel free, light, peaceful, or restful. We might feel whole, healthy, or good. We might feel positive, happy, relieved, thankful, or strong.
Now that we have our own idea of what joy is, let’s compare our thoughts to what the dictionary says about joy. When consulting a dictionary, sometimes nuances are discovered, and it gives opportunity to understand and appreciate the word better. Using dictionary.com, here’s what the word “joy” means.
- The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or
satisfying; keen pleasure; elation. She felt the joy of seeing her son’s success.
- A source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued
or appreciated. Her prose style is a pure joy.
- The expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety.
- A state of happiness or felicity.
For each of these definitions, I see a direct connection to our ability to have joy through
Jesus (as well as our inability to have joy if it isn’t through Jesus). The first definition emphasizes the fact that joy is an emotion. God gave us emotions; they help us to experience life to the fullest and to more deeply “feel” alive. The catch is that our emotions are fickle and can’t always be trusted or relied on, especially in the area of following the Lord’s voice. God speaks to us through our spirit, not through our emotions. So here is my prayer: may our emotions be in line with (and, thus, reflect) God’s will and Word for us, which will bring about God’s steadfast kind of joy in our lives.
The second definition emphasizes the fact that joy is a source or cause. Jesus Christ himself is our joy. He gives us reason to be glad. He died gruesomely for us so that we could be free from the bondage of sin and death. Through him, we have eternal life and a real, living hope. In return, may our own life be a joy, to God, to ourselves, and others.
The third definition reveals that joy is an expression or display. It’s important to not only feel joy as Christians but also to express that joy. Otherwise, we’ll just look as forlorn as the next person. As Christians, we have something special in our hearts, and there should be something distinct on the outside that attracts others to this party called abundant living in the Lord (which, at its root, has nothing to do with things or possessions!). So may we show the joy we feel in our heart.
The fourth definition emphasizes a core thrust of this project, that joy is a state. May our joy exist beyond external stimuli so that we simply are constantly “at joy” (like “at peace”), regardless of what’s going on around us. We can have this kind of life, where we are at a constant state of joy, if our trust is in the Lord.
After I first examined these definitions of joy, I had some thoughts come to my mind. The fact that joy is a state of being doesn’t mean that we are “happy” at inappropriate times or that we always have a silly smile on our face. For instance, when people die or when tragedy strikes, it would be a form of lunacy to laugh it off and not take the events seriously. We aren’t talking about being crazy Christians who are out of touch with reality. Being in a state of constant joy doesn’t mean that we are in denial about what’s really going on or that we avoid conflict or that we refuse to confront and deal with negative emotions and circumstances.
But being in a state of constant joy does mean that when negative things do happen to us, we are able to retain our joy in spite of the circumstances around us. It means that we don’t despair or give up hope or become depressed over things. Yes, we need to respond appropriately to the circumstances we face (as an emotionally balanced person would be able to do, with God’s help), so that if someone dies, for example, we are able to feel and express sorrow and grief. Yet, as Christians whose hope is in the Lord and not in this world, we should be able to feel and express these negative emotions appropriately and without coming apart at the seams.
Basically, joy holds us together on the inside. We can be “at joy” on the inside (similar to being “at peace” as noted earlier), even when we are experiencing sad things, because we also have hope and peace and love in our hearts, among all the other wonderful blessings we have as a result of being children of God. Joy is connected to everything else we have in God and because of Jesus’ work on the cross. Without having a relationship with Jesus, we have no joy. Joy starts and ends in the Lord Jesus Christ.