God With Us: Joy

This time of year the word ‘joy’ can be seen and heard everywhere–on decorations, in songs, even on people’s lips. All of which become reminders of just how much we long to have joy in our souls. Instead of just seeing and hearing about joy, we deeply desire to possess it ourselves.

Ironically, it’s this time of year when we are most at risk of losing our joy. We’re overly busy or overcome with grief. We’re lonely. Resentful. Ashamed. Disappointed–again. All the reminders dangling in our line of sight can distract us from true joy.

What if. Instead of fixating on all that has to be done or all the painful reminders before us, we look to the One who came–at this time of year–to make a difference. To change things so that we don’t have to live so swallowed up by the hard and hopeless.

What if. Instead of looking for situational happiness, we seek Jesus’ joy–the inner gladness that remains and strengthens us no matter what is happening around us. 

Finding Joy

The only way to find joy is to find Jesus–like the shepherds in the local field or the magi who travel thousands of miles. Faithful, lowly shepherds receive the news that Messiah is born–then they go to Him. Wealthy, foreign men of science, who know the sky and see a strange star, don’t just jot down notes when they spot the celestial phenomenon; they get up and follow, at great risk and sacrifice.

On the surface, these two groups of men have nothing in common. Until they learn of Jesus’ birth. Each group recognizes the significance of this long awaited Savior, and they are filled with so much joy that they turn their eyes toward Him and get in His presence.

So should we.

It Is That Simple

The last night of His life, Jesus prayed that all His believers would have His joy. That we’d be filled by it (John 17:13). Earlier that same night, He taught His disciples the concept of abiding in Him–like branches to a vine: 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. …As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

John 15: 5, 10-11, ESV

Abiding leads to fruit. Obeying leads to love. And all this leads to true joy.

Finding joy is not impossible. Joy exists in the presence of Jesus. It is fruit that grows sweeter over time because we’re anchored to the Vine, abiding in His life-giving presence. So, all that’s required for the finding of joy is finding Jesus. Then remaining there.

So, when you hear people like me say Christiany things like, “just dwell in Jesus,” it really can be that simple to find His joy.

It’s also that difficult. 

Like peace, joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Fruit doesn’t appear overnight. Fruit doesn’t come without effort and intentionality. Fruit requires something of us–namely, to abide in the life-giving Vine. In fact, if we close our eyes and picture ourselves, the branches, remaining attached to that firmly rooted, well-established Vine, we become immovable. Anchored.

Yet, I don’t see Jesus telling us to grab hold of Him and hang on for dear life. That seems too fragile, too dependent on our own strength–which fails when we’re unwell, flounders when we doubt, or flees because our grip weakens.

Rather, Jesus tells us His burden is light. That we can yoke ourselves to Him and find rest. And, Nehemiah offers another truth: “the joy of the Lord is [our] strength” (8:10).

Joy As Strength

If we zoom out a bit, Scripture shows us that joy is both a feeling–an inner gladness that comes from knowing and abiding in Jesus–and a function, the strength we need to remain in Him.

If it seems hard to believe joy could be or do two things at once, we need only to look to branches and stems. These marvels of nature simultaneously carry minerals and water from the roots to the leaves and fruit AND food from the leaves to the rest of the plant (re: photosynthesis). I imagine each stem as a two-lane highway with traffic flowing in both directions. One stem. Two functions.

So, maybe we’re beginning to understand Jesus’ brand of dual-actioned joy more fully–it is the strengthening agent Jesus uses to help us cling to Him and the fruit of all our trusting and abiding in Him. But, maybe even more marvelous than the flow of food through branches and stems, is the fact that joy rises up within us because of who Jesus is while at the same time helping us remain anchored to that Source of said joy. Joy is the means and the end (insert mind-blown emoji).

Whatever threatens to steal your joy this Christmas season, friend, it has no power, no hold over the true joy Jesus offers. Be like the shepherds who leave everything to go see Jesus. Be like the magi who risk everything to go find Jesus. Be like branches who are anchored to the Vine. Whatever you do, get in Jesus’ presence because that’s where the joy is. And, on the chance you just don’t think you have the energy or will to go to Jesus, trust that His joy is already at work in you and will give you the strength you need to remain in Him. Here’s a promise, just for you. Keep it close. And trust it:

[God,] You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11, emphasis mine

Father God, You are joy. In all your glowing glory and goodness, joy exudes. To step into your presence is to know true joy. We may not see You now, but we believe You and rejoice because of You! We pray to have hearts that receive your joy–and minds that desire and discern the difference between your brand of joy and the world’s counterfeit version. We long to experience the deep inner gladness that remains despite the storms that rage and the doubts that threaten. Lord Jesus, thank You for being our anchor and for praying that your joy would fill us and that your joy would be made complete in us. We know that whatever You pray for happens, so we look to You now with arms wide open–fill us with your joy. Holy Spirit, in your power and profound wisdom remind us continually to abide in Christ. Be our supernatural help to remain in Him throughout each day this week so that our souls become seedbeds for the fruit of joy to flourish within us. So that we become that fruit of joy in the world. So that joy becomes the strength we need to keep ourselves attached to the Vine. In Jesus’ name, amen. 
(Inspired by Psalm 16:8-11, 1 Peter 1:8-9, Psalm 33:21, John 15:5-11, John 16:24, 1 John 5:14, John 14:15-18, Psalm 28:7, Nehemiah 8:10)

  • Rhythms: Eugene Peterson’s “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:29) is a phrase I keep close to mind so that I don’t start forcing things like prayer and Bible reading into the busier days of December. Instead, I lean into the grace Jesus gifts us. Instead, I pick up rhythms that fit the season. Like a Praise Rhythm.
    • Week Three Praise Rhythm: As the announcers of great joy, angels abound at Christmas. So, each time you see one this week, thank Jesus for His truth proclaimed–like joy is for all people (Luke 2:10).
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • There are some incredible songs of joy on our Advent playlist. Example: Caroline Cobb in her song, “Hallelujah, Christ is Born,” reminds us that “this is the One we’ve waited for!” Rejoice!! Even as we yet wait…
    • I’ve been listening to Annie F. Downs’ podcast, That Sounds Fun, every chance I get because her Advent series touches on the themes we are here. So far, she’s spent a week on hope and peace. They are short, daily insights that have really stirred my heart and imagination.
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. I’d LOVE TO HEAR how the Praise Rhythms help you keep in step with God this season. Do share!
    • God’s joy needs to be shared. One way to do that is to share this site. 😉
Photo by Andy Cat on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Matthias Cooper on Unsplash; Bits and Pieces Photo by Yana Gorbunova on Unsplash
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Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

2 thoughts on “God With Us: Joy

  1. Thank you for encouraging me through this post!
    “Joy exists in the presence of Jesus. It is fruit that grows sweeter over time because we’re anchored to the Vine, abiding in His life-giving presence.”
    This thought comforts me in a season where joy has been elusive, seeming to be for others but not for myself. I seek to abide in the One who is able to produce the fruit of joy. 😊

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