Joy is a topic that intrigues me. It’s not the same thing as happiness, which is much more situation-dependent. Joy is an enduring quality that people can have even when things are going bad and there’s no apparent reason for happiness. It’s also something that feels elusive. Some people seem to radiate joy, but for many of us it’s harder to grasp.
I don’t think of myself as someone who’s typically or consistently full of joy, but I suspect that having it is related to inner peace. It’s hard to have joy when you’re anxious and worried about things, but shalom–the peace that comes with knowing God has made you whole; nothing missing and nothing broken–is an antidote for that anxiety.
Of course all the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) are related to one another so closely that Paul calls them just one “fruit.” We need to keep that in mind when we’re separating out joy and peace for closer study. They don’t stand on their own, but we can focus today’s discussion on them and try to learn more about how we can have both peace and joy in our lives.
Joy Following Peace
I suspect that you can start feeling peace without feeling joy, but it’s pretty hard to have joy without peace. Maybe that’s just my perspective, but I see peace as the opposite of frantic worry. If your mind is scattered, latching on to all the things that you have to worry about, it’s very difficult to shift over to joy without first finding some peace.
Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.Philippians 4:6-9, NET
That sounds to me like a good foundation for joy. Training our minds to shift off of anxious thoughts and onto whatever is true, respectable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy makes it possible for us to have the perspective that joy requires. The God of peace can bring things about in our minds that surpass all understanding. He makes it so we can have peace even if there is trouble around, and joy even if there are things happening that could make us unhappy. Joy comes when we follow God’s example of peace and peacemaking.
Peace Comes as We Learn to Trust God
There aren’t a whole lot of Bible verses directly linking peace and joy. This one we’re about to look at in Hebrews doesn’t directly say that joy comes along with peace. Instead, it points out that things which don’t seem joyful at the time later produce peace and righteousness.
Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed.Hebrews 12:11-13, NET
This verse indicates joy doesn’t typically come before peace. Peace comes after we get experience going through trails with God’s help. Experiencing His faithfulness through those trials lays the foundation for a joy-filled life. The author of Hebrews also says righteousness is developed right alongside peace. That link with righteousness is particularly interesting in light of what Paul says here in Romans:
For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people.Romans 15:17-18, NET
Joy, peace, and righteousness exist together in maturing Christians who press on faithfully toward the kingdom of God. As we learn to take refuge in God, find our peace in Him, and see Him faithfully aid us over and over again, we also realize how many reasons we have for joy (Neh. 8:10; Ps. 5:11; 16:11; 71:22-23; Is. 12:2-4; 61:10-11). Joy develops as we go through a refining process (Luke 6:22-23; Col. 1:10-11; Jam. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-9; 4:12-13). As we cultivate greater peace and joy in our lives, that lays the foundation for a perspective that can say even if everything else in my life is going badly, “yet I will rejoice in Yahweh. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” (Hab. 3:17-18, WEB).
Peace and Joy for Today and Forever
I live in a country where the founding documents say people here have the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” Far better than that is the promise in the “founding documents” of the Lord’s Heavenly Country where I now claim citizenship. God says joy is part of what we get when He gives us His spirit. He promises us joyful lives. There might be moments when we feel joy is elusive and need to pray alongside David, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12, WEB). But the overall trajectory of our lives is heading toward peace and joy that we can experience now, and which will be fully realized when Jesus returns.
For as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky,Isaiah 55:10-12, WEB
and doesn’t return there, but waters the earth,
and makes it grow and bud,
and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
so is my word that goes out of my mouth:
it will not return to me void,
but it will accomplish that which I please,
and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do.
For you shall go out with joy,
and be led out with peace.
The mountains and the hills will break out before you into singing;
and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands.
We can relax into God’s promises, knowing He’s there working to give us joy and peace. We can also be intentional about cultivating peace and joy in our lives. For example, in Paul’s closing remarks for Romans, he prays God would fill his readers with “all joy and peace,” then in 2 Corinthians he instructs his readers to “rejoice” and “live in peace” (Rom. 15:13; 2 Cor. 13:11). As with so many of God’s gifts, we can ask Him to give them and also do our part to make the most of these blessings.
If you look back on the verses we’ve read and referenced today, you might notice that joy and peace are connected to righteousness and salvation (Ps. 51:12; Is. 12:2-4; Rom. 14:17-18, for example). These words show up again and again in scriptures talking about joy and/or peace. That’s no coincidence. Salvation is the biggest reason we have for joy. Knowing that God loves us, forgave us, and redeemed us to welcome us into covenant with Him is a reason for joy that isn’t affected by anything happening outside us. Our relationship with God is the main reason we can have real joy. It’s also something that produces righteousness in us because the closer we stick to God, the more and more we become like Him. As we focus on cultivating peace and joy in our lives, we do well to remind ourselves of the precious gift of salvation and to pursue righteousness (Matt. 6:33; 2 Tim. 2:22). As we put God’s kingdom first, seek His righteousness, and embrace His peace, our lives will fill up more and more with joy that no one can take away from us.
Featured image by Jess Foami from Pixabay
Song Recommendation: “Old Church Choir” by Zach Williams