“If God wanted me to be happy, I would be happy. But He wants me to be miserable, sad, alone, and utterly useless. So, that’s what I am! My houseplants have more purpose than I do. That’s how God wants it, so that’s how it is! You might as well print out a copy of any other fairy tale. But an existence where there’s nothing wrong, no problems, and everything is perfect, everyone loves each other forever, like Peter Pan or Harry Potter—fairy dust, moonbeams, rainbows, lollipops, and unicorns!
“We’re only here for the powers that be to have something to play with. Sentient beings on strings. To be tossed aside when they are done. I can go on, but what would be the point? We don’t have a choice. If we did, the world would be a much better place. Puppets on a string. Period.”
The above is from an email I received recently here at Berean Bible Society from someone responding to our Two Minutes with the Bible daily devotion. Sadly, many people are convinced that a life without joy is their destiny. A recent study reported that 57% of teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless. It seems as the world advances in areas like science and technology, we increasingly hear about more and more people who describe themselves as feeling persistently depressed, totally hopeless, and full of frustration and anger.
We might understand these reactions by those who reject the existence of God and His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we see Solomon, as if to warn his readers, question the meaning of life and declare the utter futility of an existence without God.
But the feeling that life is destined to be full of sorrow and frustration is not held by unbelievers alone. There are many believers who suffer from the idea that God takes little to no part or interest in the affairs of mankind, even when it comes to our happiness or joy. This issue extends far beyond theological boundaries or denominations. This pastor, and I’m sure I am not alone, has spent many hours counseling people of like-minded doctrine on the question of “Does God care that I am unhappy.”
The idea that God wants anyone to be miserable or sad is not only false, but it is a lie that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. No doubt, when Satan asked Eve if God said they could not eat of every tree, he wanted to introduce the idea that man’s happiness was something that God was unconcerned about. That “old serpent” truly is the originator of “divide and conquer.”
Few things can be as far from the truth as the idea that God is not actively involved in producing joy in the life of the believer. In that great chapter about the Resurrection of Christ, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul acknowledges that “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,” but then he immediately says those two glorious words in which so many precious doctrines rely, “But now.”
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-22).
A believer, or anyone for that matter, would have reason to be “miserable” if it were not true that Christ died and rose again. But because Christ is risen, believers have no need to be miserable, and dare I say, or should we be. This isn’t to demean or question the legitimacy of pain and suffering, depression, or the difficulty faced by living in a sin-cursed world where cancer and other diseases strike not only the old but also the young. But if we truly want to be well, then we must use the correct remedy. If we want to have joy, then we need to understand how. We need to know where joy comes from.
Don’t Settle for Less
Still, this is not purely a question of how to have joy but also of what joy is. Joy is different from being happy. The words happiness and joy are not interchangeable and do not have the same meaning. Happy is related to the words happen and happenstance and is what you feel when something good comes along in your life. In their quest for happiness, many will forsake the very things necessary for joy. Many are so distracted in trying to be happy that they have yet to understand that it is far better to have joy.
“One Sunday, a preacher told how, while sitting in his garden, he had watched a caterpillar climb a painted stick that was for decoration. After reaching the top, the caterpillar reared itself, feeling this way and that for a juicy twig to feed on or some way to further progress. Finding nothing, it slowly returned to the ground, crawled along till it reached another painted stick, and did the same thing all over again. The preacher said: ‘There are many painted sticks in the world, those of pleasure, wealth, and fame. All these call man and say, “Climb me to find the desire of your heart, fulfill the purpose of your existence, taste the fruit of success, and find satisfaction.” But, they are only painted sticks.’ ”
Don’t make the mistake of searching for happiness at the expense of having Joy. Joy comes from the Greek word chara and is unrelated to shifting circumstances of health or sickness, whether you make a great salary or are homeless, if you’re in a relationship or are alone. Joy resides deep down in the soul and is unchanged by the winds of struggle, tribulation, and turmoil. It is having consistent and resolute satisfaction and contentment. Chara always relates to that joy that’s based on divine realities.
Joy is what allowed Paul and Silas to sing praises unto God after having been beaten with “many stripes” and cast into prison (cf. Acts 16:23,25). It’s what allowed Christian martyrs of the first–fourth century Rome to face almost unimaginable situations while likewise singing, and whose testimony still speaks today.
In the catacombs of the Appian Way, near Rome, lie the inscriptions left by Christians who buried fellow Christians killed for their faith and who, if caught, would likely also be tortured and killed. Remarkably, the majority of these inscriptions mention “In Pace,” which means “In Peace.” They were essentially saying, “At Peace Because I Know Where I Am Going After I Die.” A resounding witness to the truth of Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The Source of Joy
Joy is not dependent on our circumstances but rises above them; it stems from our unshakeable faith in God’s goodness and His faithfulness. It enables us to rejoice even in the face of adversity because we understand that God’s perfect plan will ultimately prevail.
Joy is not a product of our lives but produced in our lives by the One who gives us life. It comes not from what we have but from whom we are from. Joy is a “fruit of the Spirit” (cf. Gal. 5:22) and is thus something that is accomplished in us and through us, but we should never think it is accomplished by us.
What is fruit but that which is produced by the inherent energy of a living organism? As a fruit of the Spirit, it suggests those with the Spirit have within them the power and means to both express and have joy.
“A certain king instructed his gardener to plant six trees and place statues beneath them representing prosperity, beauty, victory, strength, duty, and joy. These trees were to show to the world that the king had tried to make his reign fruitful. They were also to typify the statues beneath them. The gardener planted six palm trees. When the king came out to inspect the work and looked at the statue of joy, he said, ‘I surely thought you would typify joy with some flowering tree like the tulip or magnolia. How can the stately palm symbolize joy?’
“ ‘Those flowering trees,’ said the gardener, ‘get their nourishment from open sources. They live in pleasant forests or orchards with hosts of other like trees. But I found this palm tree in a sandy waste. Its roots had found some hidden spring creeping along far beneath the burning surface. Then, thought I, highest joy has a foundation unseen of men and a source they cannot comprehend.’ Do you realize that if the light of Jesus Christ is within your heart, it can be the only place in which joy is found, and yet it will be sufficient? You do not need the company of others in order to experience the joy that the light of Christ brings. A palm tree does not need the company of other trees to flourish and bring forth fruit.”
The fruit of the Spirit is those gracious dispositions and habits that the Spirit produces in those whom He dwells—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Nine are listed, yet they are not called the “fruits” of the Spirit but the singular fruit. Nine parts to one fruit expressed not by those that seek them but by those walking in the Spirit.
What If I Have No Fruit
What if you don’t recognize joy in your life? What if you are not long-suffering, gentle, or meek? Does it mean you have lost the Spirit or never were truly saved? The listed attributes are indeed a test; however, they are not, as some claim, a test of a person’s salvation but of their walk.
Don’t be quick to judge or assume there is no life in you or another because there is no fruit. As it relates to the Body of Christ, fruit does not reveal a person’s standing with God. It is not joy or any other attribute that is the test of salvation but faith. The Scriptures do not say we are justified by fruit but by faith (Gal. 3:24).
The power of salvation does not rest in fruit but in “the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). It doesn’t say to every one that believeth
and has fruit.
When my wife and I moved to Wisconsin, it was the end of January, and nearly every tree in the yard of our new home appeared dead. There were no leaves; the walnut tree had no fruit. If I were to judge the situation based on what I saw at that moment, I would have completely misunderstood the reality. Even at that moment, whether anyone could see it or not, life existed within those trees, ready to burst forth when in the right environment.
Much like trees in wintertime, Christians always have life within them; even when fruit is not being produced, if you put them in the right environment, what comes out is a product of that life that’s within.
What can inhibit the fruit of the Spirit? When I was younger, the term “killjoy” was thrown out, toward adults who stood in the way of the freedoms we wished to express. In the Christian life, there are many killjoys. Many things will kill joy and rob you of the fruit the Spirit desires to demonstrate in and through you.
Sin in our lives can quench the Spirit and is the quickest way to kill joy. A guilty conscience has the power to rob a person of joy, and a clear conscience is an environment for rejoicing. Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:12, “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.”
It’s no wonder then that Paul, when teaching the Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit, first warns:
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:13-16).
Walking in the Spirit is something we are told to do, not something God forces upon us, and it certainly is not the means to determine someone’s salvation.
Reason for Joy
“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 15:13).
Not every Christian has joy, but every Christian has the means and the reason to. The nine qualities of the fruit of the Spirit are the natural product of the influences of the Spirit on the mind of man. Renewing our mind is what we are told must happen if we are to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect,
will of God” (Rom. 12:2). But what must our minds be focused on? Christ! “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
Our reasons for joy are not found in what we have or if we are appreciated by others but in what Christ has done for us. We experience true joy as we allow Jesus to take His rightful place in our hearts and minds.
“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed.– Corrie Ten Boom
If you look within, you’ll be depressed.
If you look at God, you’ll be at rest.”
If we are to have the joy that God wishes to produce for us and in us, then we must put aside the love for this world and rejoice in knowing that “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). But His death was merely the end of the beginning, the tomb is empty, Christ is risen, and because Christ lives, we can face tomorrow.
God has already conquered and declared victory for Himself and for all those who are in Christ: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?…But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55,57).
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Cor. 1:18,19).
This is why Paul could boldly say of saints, “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:8,9).
As happiness dissipates in a world destined to be judged by its Creator, we can have joy because “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), and though “we are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).
“But let all those that put their trust in Thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because Thou defendest them: let them also that love Thy name be joyful in Thee” (Psa. 5:11).
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By Whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1,2).