Jubilant voices rang out and echoed on cold prison walls. When was the last time such joy had been heard in its precincts? Could people really rejoice in such an environment?
Paul and Silas could.
Their crime? Preaching the gospel and delivering a girl from demon possession. See Acts 16:16–40.
But punishment and imprisonment could not depress them. They didn’t complain or wish for comfort and ease. With feet hanging in stocks and backs aching from a whipping, these men chose contentment and joy in the midst of their circumstances. The prison rang with song.
Suddenly, the ground began to shake. Prisoners shrieked as doors rattled, locks broke open, and chains fell off. The earthquake was setting them free. Meanwhile, Paul and Silas continued to sing—evidence of the freedom they already had in their hearts. Their joy was in Christ.
Joy is part and parcel of the experience of those who walk with Jesus. Beyond the fleeting nature of happiness, joy is a lasting quality that is unaltered by circumstances. So how can we have this quality in our lives?
Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing.
We often think of God as stern and solemn, but these verses give us a different picture. If God is joyful, then wouldn’t He also desire those created in His image to experience joy?
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
God calls us to live with joy and gratitude. And whenever God calls us to do something, He provides the way for us to fulfill that calling.
John 17:13 And now come I to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.
Jesus Himself experienced joy from doing His Father’s will; in fact, the joy that was set before Him enabled Him to endure the horrors of the Cross. Heb. 12:2.
He wants us to have that same joy that isn’t shaken by circumstances. Living our lives with Jesus shouldn’t be dull or depressing; it should be the most joyous experience ever! This joy is not superficial excitement that comes and goes, but a deep-seated contentment and delight that is rooted in faith.
Jeremiah 15:16 Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by Thy name, O LORD God of hosts.
Philippians 1:18 What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.
1 Chronicles 29:9 Then the people rejoiced, for that they offered willingly, because with perfect heart they offered willingly to the LORD: and David the king also rejoiced with great joy.
2 Corinthians 8:1, 2 (NKJV) Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality.
Philemon 7 (NKJV) For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.
Studying God’s Word, sharing Christ with others, and giving to help others and benefit God’s work are all activities that provide Christians with a sense of fulfillment. In fact, research has revealed that when people serve others, they experience more joy. The positive emotions, in turn, support the body’s ability to build resilience and handle stress.1
Joy is found through fellowship and relationships with others too. God created us as social beings and designed us to experience delight through connecting with one another. And finally, even trials can be a source of joy in the Christian walk when we recognize the way that God is repurposing those trials to draw us closer to Him and help us grow.
Galatians 5:22, 23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
We can’t generate these characteristics, but as we seek their source—the Holy Spirit—He helps us to cultivate them in our lives.
Philippians 4:11–13 I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Paul had been in some really difficult situations and yet he had learned to be content through the strength of Christ. Joy, contentment, and gratitude don’t happen overnight; we cultivate them over time. Whenever we choose to think thoughts of joy and gratitude instead of sadness and discouragement—even when we don’t feel joyful and grateful—we are rewiring our brains for these emotions.
Psalm 5:11 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.
Psalm 21:1 The king shall joy in Thy strength, O LORD; and in Thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!
Psalm 27:5, 6 For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me up upon a rock. And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in His tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.
Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation.
Biblical reasons for gratitude include salvation, God’s strength, and His protection and defense. God’s people in the Bible spent a lot of time in gratitude and praise; in fact, singing and remembering how God had worked in their behalf was an integral part of their worship services.
One way that we can cultivate joy in our lives is through recounting ways that God has worked in our lives and things that we are grateful for. Take time to write them down or share them with a friend. Gathering together with other believers to sing and share about God’s goodness is another excellent way to cultivate joy.
Hebrews 12:14, 15 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.
As much as possible, we should seek to live in harmony with those around us. Otherwise, conflict, and the resulting bitterness and unforgiveness, will eat away at the joy God intends for us to experience. At times, situations out of our control may cause us pain; the Bible doesn’t minimize that pain, but it does offer us ways to move forward and rejoice through pain.
Psalm 32:1–4 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.
In this psalm, David describes the struggle he experienced when under the guilt of his sin. If you’ve been weighed down by guilt from your sins, be encouraged to know that God wants to forgive you and set you free to live with joy.
Philippians 4:4–7 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
When you are tempted to feel worried, frustrated, or discouraged, turn to God in prayer instead, taking time to praise Him for the good things in your life. You could even write them down in a journal. The results of this simple activity will amaze you!
Each day, we get to choose our attitude. Just like Jesus, or Paul and Silas, we can choose to cultivate joy in our lives by the thoughts we think and the things we do. As we cooperate with Him, the Holy Spirit will empower us to produce the fruit of the Spirit, which includes joy!
Will you choose joy in your life? Why not begin today with your own gratitude journal?
Elizabeth Scott, “Link Between Happiness and Stress Relief,” Verywell Mind, verywellmind.com, Dec. 2, 2020.