“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.” – Romans 15:13
Many think of joy as an elated state. A dictionary definition tells us that joy is “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” In the Bible, however, we find something a little bit different—something that looks a bit more like a peaceful, vibrant, and contented cheerfulness instead of a dance party.
When James says in chapter 1, verse 2 to “[c]onsider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” the Greek form of the word “joy” is closer to calm delight. Doesn’t this sound a bit more attainable for daily life than imagery that bursts forth with loud shouts of praise at every moment?
To capture the true spirit of joy, we must rewind and go as far back as God’s response to his creation that we find in Genesis 1. Upon completion of the greatest of his creation—man and woman, made in his own image—we see God’s response: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” The Hebrew words for the phrase “very good” conjure up an image of someone who responds with vehement or exceeding cheerfulness and joyfulness.
For six days, God had been creating one beautiful thing after another and was satisfied along the way. But when he made Adam and Eve, this was magnified even more. Think for a minute of a time when you were pleased with something that happened: perhaps you received a diploma after years of hard work, or maybe you completed a project you had been pouring yourself into for months. You may call this “satisfaction,” but if you look deeper, you may see another layer called joy. It moves past contented and into a space of gratitude.
This kind of joy was God’s response to us, his image bearers. He was more than just content; he was very pleased and delighted.
But there is a problem, and I can maybe best explain it using the lyrics of a song.
How many of us recall from ours or our children’s childhoods the levity and delight we felt as we belted out the lyrics, “I have the joy, joy, joy, joy, Down in my heart, (where?) Down in my heart, (where?) Down in my heart, I have the joy, joy, joy, joy, Down in my heart, (where?) Down in my heart to stay”? Rarely do we find a child not smiling as they wave their hands in the air and dance with full might to that song.
But look closer. This song, although emotionally powerful, is fueled by a somber reality for many of us: joy is down in our hearts—perhaps so far down and hidden that we have lost what it means to be joyful!
But I believe that God is asking us to rediscover his joy this Advent and as we enter a new year.
Deep down in my heart, O God, is a gift, unopened and unwrapped.
Layers of other things—fear, sadness, worry, distraction—have buried the treasure.
As I dig deep, deep, deep into my heart,
show me the glimmering, shimmering colors of this thing
Give me strength to search the rubble that covers
And to open something unexpected.
I love you for this gift of joy and so much more, O God.
May it never find its way to a shelf or sinking again to a buried place.
Joy is the gift I’ve been looking, longing for, for so long.
Thank you, Jesus, for giving me cheerfulness in sorrow and hope where despair hovers.
Laurie Nichols is content editor for Christians for Social Action, founder of Common Good Communications and the Heromakers Movement, and host of the Heromakers Podcast.