5 Verses to Help You Live Joyfully

by Bret Eckelberry

What is the difference between joy and happiness? Is there one? Even the dictionary says they’re the same thing. But as Christians, does that satisfy our understanding of the second fruit of the Spirit?

Here are five verses to help us rediscover a biblical definition of joy…

Joy when it all goes wrong

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” – Habakkuk 3:17-18

Let’s kick things off with a verse from everyone’s favorite book of the Bible – right? Truthfully, I don’t remember coming across this verse before, but it’s incredible. Habakkuk essentially lists all the ways his life could go horribly wrong and then commits himself to be joyful anyway. In fact, just a short time later, things would go terribly wrong for the people of Judah. The Babylonian Empire would destroy Jerusalem and send its people into exile.

What about us? Are we expected to be happy if we lose everything? I know I wouldn’t be. But somehow, someway, amidst our suffering, we’re still challenged to find joy in God.

Counting our trials as joy

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” – James 1:2-3

Here’s another example where joy is linked with difficulty. What’s the deal?

We know the trials that the early Church encountered were no small thing. They were persecuted in a way that many (myself included) find hard to fathom. And yet, these faithful followers were told to count their sufferings as joy.

Few people in the Bible could say that they got a raw deal as much as Joseph. His brothers sold him as a slave, and he was made to serve in a foreign land. He was falsely accused and thrown into prison. Yet, God used those trials to prepare Joseph and place him exactly where he needed to be. Though he didn’t know it at first, Joseph came to realize that God worked through him to save many lives – including his family (Genesis 45:4-7).

The healing nature of joy

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22

Why are we encouraged to consider our trials as joy? Maybe it had something to with this proverb. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Most medicines are distasteful; but [joy], which is the best of all medicines, is sweet to the taste, and comforting to the heart.”

Without joy, the weight of what we face in this world can (and often does) bring us to our knees. Right now, you may be thinking of the things in your own life that threatened to crush your spirit and leave you wasting away. But here we are told that joy is “good medicine,” an antidote to help us face our struggles.

The joy of Jesus

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

Jesus plainly knew the path that was before him. He understood it ran straight through the cross. He agonized over it so much that his sweat became like blood in his plea for God take the coming suffering away from him (Luke 22:42-44).

Ultimately, Jesus trusted the will of God the Father. He endured the cross. Why? “For the joy that was set before him.” The joy at the other side of the cross. He conquered sin and death and made a way for us to be saved by his sacrifice. Which brings us to…

Our inexpressible joy

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:8-9

Peter brings it home for us. The Christian’s joy, in many ways, is “inexpressible.” It is a foreign feeling in a fallen world, only made possible by what we have been gifted through Christ’s victory: the salvation of our souls. Because we know we have been saved by God’s grace, we can live a life full of joy – independent of our worldly circumstances, as difficult as they may be.

As Christians, I think the dictionary fails us in its definition of joy. Happiness is a wonderful thing, but it is a feeling that comes and goes and fades in time. True joy – the joy we have in Jesus Christ – is so much more.

Bret Eckelberry serves as the Project Manager for Education Issues at Focus on the Family and helps facilitate Bring Your Bible to School Day. He and his wife live in Colorado.

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