Did you know that joy is the hallmark, the sign of a true believer? This is not to negate the fact that we all experience sadness, anger, grief, or other negative emotions, but these negative emotions should be temporary, not our normal state of being.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
As my friend and pastor, Kris Vallotton, says, “Two thirds of the kingdom is felt.” If we truly live in the Kingdom, under the domain of King Jesus, then we reside under the ruling atmosphere of our king. Jesus is full of joy, peace, love, faith, mercy, kindness, and everything that is good. All that is in Him is available to us. Joy and peace are the inheritance of the believer, and not for just our future state in Heaven but for our current state as well.
Fear, depression, anxiety, bitterness, anger, hatred, envy, etc. are not rooted in the Kingdom of God. These negative emotions originate and flow from the ruler of another kingdom, a kingdom that we have authority over through Jesus Christ. These negative emotions should be foreign to us, not familiar, normal, or frequent. When these negative thoughts and emotions arise in our soul, we need to realize quickly which kingdom is trying to influence us. It is our responsibility to use the weapons and armor given to us by our Father. We always, and I mean always, have access to a greater Kingdom, and we have authority over these negative thoughts. That is why John could write:
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
The king we serve is the King of kings and the Lord of lords and in Him is great joy. Jesus Himself said:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (John 15:9-11).
Joy is truly the normal state of the believer. If you do not arise each morning with a sense of joy and peace in your heart, then something is wrong in your spirit. I liken fear or depression to fever, which is a symptom of an underlying disease. When you develop a fever, you know your body is fighting an infection. You may treat the fever with aspirin for a few days, but if it persists you will probably go see your medical provider to find the cause. In other words, you understand that even though you can bring the fever down with medication, the fever is a symptom of something more serious that needs attention.
Yet how often do we experience feelings of fear, anxiety, dread, sad- ness, and other negative emotions and just assume that this is normal or okay? We don’t see these negative emotions as symptoms of an underlying disease in our body, mind, or spirit. Some of us have become so familiar with these negative thought patterns that they have become normal. Joy and peace have become feelings that are infrequent and fleeting, instead of the other way around.
Do you expect to awaken each day with a sense of peace and joy? You should because joy is normal. Anything else indicates underlying illness in your being.
Not swayed by circumstances in life or the world around us, we know that Christ lives in us and that He loves us beyond all measure and reason. Joy is not an occasional feeling or a promise for the future but our core, the place we live from daily. This is the reason Paul said:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philip- pians 4:4)
Do you understand that the joy of the Lord is your strength? Joy can be a stronghold in your life if you learn how to cultivate joy as a lifestyle.
Being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:11-12 ESV).
I want to give you permission to be joyful. Many people feel guilty when they experience joy. It is true that there is sorrow and tragedy in our world, and sometimes we feel guilty for feeling joyful when we know others are sad. Yet it is healthy to focus on what is good and right in the world around us, to train our mind to meditate on all that Christ has accomplished for us. Not only is it our right, but is is our duty to live a life of joy. Anything else inaccurately displays the Kingdom.
Think about it. Don’t you enjoy being around people who are cheerful and joyful? I have numerous patients who, no matter their illness, always have a joyful, hopeful spirit. I can think of one particular patient who always comes in with a smile and a kind word. Tracy is the caretaker of her disabled husband, and she has several serious medical conditions herself. As her husband is unable to work, she works full time to provide for her family. This woman has every reason in the world to be depressed and worried, but she is always so cheerful, hopeful, and thankful to God. She looks at her world and purposefully finds what is good, then focuses her attention there.
In comparison, Norman, an older gentleman, lives in a constant state of anxiety. Peace and joy are rare experiences for him. The physical and psychological effects of anxiety drive people to seek medical care more often than people who are not anxious or depressed, so I’ve gotten to know Norman quite well. He has a wonderful wife and children, good health, and stable finances. But instead of being thankful for what he has, he focuses on what is wrong in the world around him. He has not mastered the instructions given to us by Paul:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…. And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).
Joy awaits this man. It is there for the taking because joy is a choice that is not dependent on circumstances. Norman is in better health and financially more stable than Tracy. If anyone had a right to worry, it would be Tracy. The difference is that she has set her mind to trust in God. She is thankful and looks for the good around her. You do find what you are looking for. If you look for good things, you will find them. If you look for bad things, you will find them. What are you looking for?
Be joyful always? Really? Can you be joyful when your children are not living for God or when you are facing bankruptcy? Can you be joyful when you look at what is happening in our government, the economy, or the world around us? What about a diagnosis of cancer or loss of a job? Is there a place of joy for you there? The answer is a resounding yes!
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12).
I am not saying to pretend that everything is wonderful or to ignore evil. But these things do not have the power to rob us of our internal joy. Even when we face an impossible situation, we can consider it joy, as James said:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2).
Jesus, our model for life, had quite a bit to say about joy.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11 ESV).
What would it look like to have the joy of Jesus filling your spirit, mind, and body in fullness? Do you comprehend the fullness of the joy of Christ dwelling in you?
The only way we can lose our joy is if we lose sight of our identity. Seriously. Can you even grasp how much you have in Christ right now? When I read the first two chapters of Ephesians, my heart explodes with joy, even though I am unable to comprehend fully the immensity of what Paul is trying to convey in this letter. My spirit understands, even though my mind is unable to grasp what it means to have every spiritual blessing, to be chosen before the creation of the world, to be holy and blameless, to be lavished with the riches of God’s grace, to be made alive in Christ and seated with Him in heavenly places (currently, not just in the age to come). The only way I cannot respond with great joy is to refuse to believe this is true for me.
Joy and peace are also fruits of the spirit. Paul states:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kind- ness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Paul then goes on to say that if we live by the Spirit, we need to walk in step with the Spirit. Because the Kingdom of God is our inheritance, joy, along with righteousness and peace, belongs to us. The people in the world around us should know us for our joy. Do you exhibit enough peace and joy to convince the people around you who are from another kingdom?
I see so many anxious, fretful, and unhappy Christians in the world today. How can this be? This negative fruit comes from another tree and is foreign to the Holy Spirit. When we are robbed of our joy and peace, we are also robbed of our witness.
We owe the world joy because it speaks of another kingdom within us, more powerful than our current circumstances. Jesus is the good news, the “tidings of great joy, to all people” and He lives in us (see Luke 2:10).
The peace and joy we carry is both superior and transferable. Joy sets us apart, marking us and making us an attractive fragrance to the world around us. We carry within us the ability to change the atmosphere of our surrounding environment. For many, the only God people will ever see is the God who lives in us. Paul states:
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
How big is Christ in you? Does the peace of God that surpasses all understanding reside in you? It must. Not only is it your right and your inheritance, but you owe the people around you a model of our glorious and loving Savior, who is the Prince of Peace.
If you are in a difficult situation and put your trust in God, then you have a right to be full of joy in spite of your circumstances. Joy in the Lord protects you. You have the favor of the Lord as a shield.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield (Psalm 5:11-12).
Joy and peace are your rightful inheritance now and in the age to come. Make sure you do not let the enemy rob you of what belongs to you every day.