My favorite shot from Myron’s 7-month photoshoot!
Joy Despite Circumstances
The photo above is of my son, Myron. That shot was taken right in the middle of a crazy day. He had been fussy just before this photoshoot and he was fussy right after it. But right there in the middle of all that fussiness, Myron found some joy.
Sure, some of his favorite toys, books, and stuff helped. But joy was found nonetheless!
To be honest, Myron’s experience of joy sounds an awful lot like mine. As I’m seeking to live a Spirit-synced way of life, I often find joy wedged right in between hardships.
Right between a letdown at work and a car problem.
Right between bad news about a family member and a plumbing problem.
Right between violence in the neighborhood and burning dinner.
It’s right there that joy is found, the joy that is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.
In Every Season of Life
The circumstances that shouldn’t impact our joy from the Spirit are not just limited to one-time events. No. We should find joy in all seasons of life, even those seasons that seem long, dry, and difficult.
How do we do this? Do we try to manufacture joy on our own, putting on a happy face for the world to see?
No! When we try to drum up joy on our own, it may look cute for a minute or two, an hour or two, or even a day or two…but eventually people will see that this “joy” is as real as a plastic doll’s smile.
Instead we can only truly experience joy as we walk in step with the Spirit, as the Apostle Paul talks about in Galatians 5. That’s where we’ll find joy.
The unending depth of joy that are available in the Spirit is our source of joy, not our will power, discipline, or acting ability!
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
So we shouldn’t fake it ’til we make it! We should trust in the Spirit of God to infuse us with his joy as we walk with him.
Now if there’s anyone who needs to hear this advice, it’s us — Christians! I bet this scenario sounds familiar to you if you’ve been part of the Church (at least in America!) for a while:
It’s Sunday morning and the time when you need to leave the house to arrive to the worship service more or less on time is rapidly dwindling. Everyone in the house is harried, frantic, and on-edge. People are yelling at each other. There’s a fight over who showers next. Maybe even an expletive or four are thrown around.
Then you get in the car. No matter how long your drive is, it’s probably filled with continued stress and anger. More yelling. Threats of violence are leveled against the children. Promises of eternal hate are returned.
Then you arrive in the parking lot that you use when you go to the worship service. Until the doors to the car are opened, a few more tight-lipped verbal salvos are lobbed at one another. But everyone is taking care to not look like they’ve just been angry at one another for at least the last ninety minutes!
Then the car doors open. That’s when the plastic smile from the doll in the picture above is slapped across everyone’s faces. The family must put on airs, appearing to be happy, loving, and joyful.
And the sad truth: everyone else is doing it too. Okay, not everyone. I know there’s a few of you out there who live this Spirit-synced life better than the rest of us!
But it’s truly sad that during our times of Christian community and gathered worship we are most tempted to fake joy or the manufacture it on our own.
It would be better for us to be honest with ourselves, our families, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. At least that way we could begin to grow and learn. As long as we’re pretending we don’t need to learn, we’re certainly not going to seek learning out!
So let’s NOT fake it ’til we make it. Let’s pursue the Spirit, being vulnerable along the way. Let’s admit our shared humanity and help one another find the joy of the Spirit more and more!
My favorite place in the New Testament that reflects on joy (to some degree) is the beginning of Philippians 2. Here it is:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2.1-4)
Paul had a vested interest in the church at Philippi. He planted the church in Philippi and was falsely imprisoned while doing so (Acts 16.11-40). And so this church, which initially met in the home of an early female Christian leader named Lydia, had a special place in Paul’s heart.
You can see this in Paul’s words in Philippians 2. He’s begging them to be unified. And he says that if they are unified together — being like-minded, having one love, putting aside selfishness and embracing true community — then his joy would be made complete.
He doesn’t say that he won’t have any joy until this happens, just that if the church in Philippi his joy will be complete. This word, “complete,” can mean “full” or “mature” as well. It’s almost as if Paul is saying that his joy is like a fine wine, and when the church in Philippi finally gets unified, then his joy will be properly aged and ready to be enjoyed.
But I want to be sure we note a few things here.
- First, this kind of joy that Paul longs for has its origins in a “common sharing of the Spirit.” This isn’t a joy that can be manufactured on one’s own. It comes from the Spirit of God working within and among his people.
- Second, this kind of joy is communal. Paul’s joy is deeply connected to the church in Philippi and their joy is connected to Paul and to one another. Joy isn’t something that is reserved for individuals to enjoy on their own. It’s born in community (through joint pursuit of the Spirit) and it is best expressed to one another within community.
- Third, immediately following this passage at the beginning of Philippians 2, Paul writes that we should have the same mindset that Christ had. In other words, in order for joy to be made complete, we need to be more and more Christ-like. In fact, I’m going to make a revolutionary claim here: living a Spirit-synced life is a synonym for following Jesus! *gasp* As we pursue the Spirit, he’ll lead us to live like Jesus lived when he was walking around on earth. And as we seek to imitate Jesus, we can only do so with the aid and help of the Spirit (and one another).
- Fourth, joy and love are intimately connected. As we discussed previously, love is a choice which is acted upon to put the interests of others before our own. In so doing, joy can be made complete. And as we experience joy (both as a recipient and a conduit), we’ll demonstrate our love for one another more and more! Paul would talk about this more in Philippians 4, where he says that because of what he has found in Christ and within community, he can have joy, that is, contentment, in all situations and at all times. I don’t know about you…but that’s what I want!
So joy means having a deep and abiding sense of contentment despite what life, circumstances, and others throw at us. Joy is based on the unchanging nature of the Triune God and not on our moods, our life stages, or our friends and family. But when we experience joy, it is one of those things that can only truly be enjoyed with others!
What do you think? How do you define joy? How does pursuing the Spirit help you find it? Let me know in the comments below!