When you think “joy”, do you think mad happiness? Quiet contentment? Something else? A very smart man I know once described it as “your personal climate”. Some people have a joyful climate. I don’t mean that they are incessantly happy all the time. They aren’t bursting into laughter like a crazy person or flinging rosebuds and rainbows everywhere. They are normal people. They might have spots of bad weather, but overall, their personality is positive.
My dad and my younger son (birds of a feather) are often described as “always on the lookout for merriment and mirth”. They have a joyful climate.
One of my best mates is funny and sweet and clumsy and kind with a lot of nonsense going on upstairs. But nothing is ever a big deal and every problem has a solution. She has a joyful climate.
All these people have down times. They get stressed, angry, upset and frustrated. But it’s just weather. They’re overall climate is joyful.
I know other people whose climate is grey, thundery, dismal, rainy and muggy. They can have spots of weather when the sun shines, but mostly their climate is wet and dark. No joy. Just stress.
Being around people who don’t have a joyful outlook is boring. People who don’t have a naturally joyful climate find it hard to see joy around them. They find it hard to observe and draw joy from others.
It’s also problematic though. As a climate it can become inflicted on others. Others get rained on. They can feel the air crackle when a storm is coming. They get swept up in the tornado. Being around them is stressful. Your own joy fades.
And that’s just general joy. What about Christian joy? According to the bible we’re supposed to have joy and be joyful.
I should note here that people feel and express joy differently. Just because they aren’t showing it outwardly, doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t feeling it inwardly. They don’t have to be jumping up and down and waving their arms in the air to show they are feeling joy. Nobody has anything to prove to anyone except God – and he already knows us anyway.
No, I’m talking about people who seem unable to feel or see joy around them. Their climate is so entrenched and pernicious, it’s almost as though they cannot allow themselves to feel joy – or see it or allow it in others.
Here’s the problem. The bible says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13). The joy comes from God – and it is so that we may overflow with hope. That’s how important joy is.
Our response to God should be joy – “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” (Psalms 47:1) because “the prospect of righteousness is joy.” (Proverbs 10:28). Our joy is glorious (1 Peter 1:8) and what we glory in, glorifies God.
John Piper describes Christian joy as “a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”*
Joy comes from the Holy Spirit – it’s one of the fruits of the spirit in fact. So if we don’t have it, there are some things to think about.
The things to think about are hard, because they require self-reflection and humility. It requires us to look at what our natural climate is. Are we naturally a “joyful”, positive glass-half-full type person? Are are we a grey and rainy glass-half-empty type person? This is not necessarily bad until we come to the next set of questions – do we inflict our climate on others? Does our climate stop us from seeing joy around us? Does it stop us from seeing good in others? Or does it incline us to see the bad in others?
Here’s the key question – Does it stop us from feeling joy in God? There’s more to it than just feeling it. The hidden depth in this question is whether our climate inhibits our powers of observation and our ability to see God at work in the mundane. We can see God in things that are obvious (such as nature) or in things that we specifically prayed for. But can we see God everywhere in everything and feel it in our joy (not just know it in our heads)?
If Christian joy is enjoyment of God** which is the fruit of communion with him, then sin gets in the way of this. So we need to deal with our sin. We need to deal with ourselves. “To be joyless,” Bridges says, “is to dishonour God and to deny His love and His control over our lives. It is practical atheism. To be joyful is to experience the power of the Holy Spirit within us and to say to a watching world, “Our God reigns.””
The good news is, we can do better. We can practice gratitude – this helps us hone our powers of positivity. It helps us broaden our view of where we see God. Which means we can be more intentional about practicing our powers of observation.
Sometimes we need to take ourselves out of our environment to re-calibrate. Is our climate actually influenced by our circumstances? Break the norm for a short while. Take time out with God, Time in prayer and Bible reading.
Take a breath. Pray. Open your eyes. Observe. Be grateful. And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
* https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-do-you-define-joy which is the first in a 6-part series in the book of Philippians
** which is how Jerry Bridges describes it in his book The Fruitful Life