What is the Joy of the Lord? Can We Have it?

“The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

If I hear a Christian occasionally use this expression, I always notice, as it’s not a statement often said. Certainly nowhere near the frequency of, say, “God is good!” or “Jesus loves us.”

I think this is because Christians often struggle with joy. We know we’re supposed to feel it, because of Jesus, but life is often hard. Like Peter, who only momentarily walked on the water at Jesus’ invitation, we sink when we shift our eyes from Him to our problems.

Perhaps “stressed out,” “worried,” and “fearful” more aptly describe us most of the time. But the Bible says that the joy of the Lord” is the reality we can continually experience. So why aren’t we? In Googling for answers, I gleaned insights from stay-at-home moms, professional writers, and pastors (including this impressive 1871 sermon by Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers”). If, like me, you want consistent joy in your life, read on. 

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Defining Joy

The dictionary defines joy as “feeling great delight with present or expected good.” But some of us think we can’t have joy if we’re not feeling happy. So let’s clear up the difference between the joy we’re able to generate on our own — and the joy we gain from Jesus.

In one of his sermons, Pastor John K. Jenkins, Sr. points out that the joy of the Lord is a bubbling up of contentment we feel from being connected to God. It is entirely unrelated to enjoyable circumstances. Only this supernatural joy, adds Jenkins, can give us “calm delight in the midst of hell” and a “cheerfulness even when life isn’t cheerful.” 

Real joy — a fruit of the Holy Spirit — is a supernatural transaction we experience with God. It’s the soul-deep assurance that helps us to face cancer … bankruptcy … the end of our marriage … even our COVID-19 loneliness … because we know that Jesus is carrying us through it. 

Francis Chan, Christian speaker, author, and founder of Crazy Love Ministries, reminds us that Philippians 4:4 calls Christ-followers to rejoice in the Lord always. “Do people see you as a rejoicer?” challenges Chan. “That you’re always praising the Lord?” No pressure, Francis! If we’re going to get there, friends, we must create daily habits that keep up plugged into God’s supernatural power.

“Nobody is immune from heartache or suffering or regret and depression,” notes Candace Payne, the stay-at-mom who, overnight, found herself a social media celebrity after she posted a video of herself laughing with delight over her Chewbacca mask. Her video has been viewed more than 200 million times, for the simple reason that Candace’s joy and belly laughs are so contagious. 

Having struggled with depression in the past, Candace is now so joy-focused that she’s written several books on the topic, which she shares with live and online audiences. “When life hits you, defiant joy stands up and fight backs and refuses to let negative circumstances define her,” says Candace. “Defiant joy finds her identity, her worth, in Christ.”

So how do we, like Candace, add the joy of the Lord to our daily lives? We can start with the following three steps. 

Step One: We Abide in Him

Psalm 16:11 says, “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Step one, friends, is smack dab in the middle of this verse: we are to get before God in prayer and worship. 

What is prayer and worship? Is it hours on our knees, speaking with the formal “thee” and “thou” of the King James Bible translation? Sure, if that’s your style. But God’s not particular; He just wants our focus and humble hearts. So prayer and worship can be our silent convo with God while we’re on the bus to work. Our singing to Him as we feed our baby a bottle. Our appreciating His woods as we take a walk. Our dancing so loudly to praise music that our dishes rattle. Our looking skyward during lunch, to thank Him for providing yet another meal. When it comes to our one-on-one God time, we get to think outside the box. God is all ears, on all frequencies, 24/7.

Yet we can be guilty of seeking God only when we need or want something from Him. As Christian teacher and author Joyce Meyer notes, “It’s amazing how much time we have for God when we’re desperate.”

Life is crazy hectic with full schedules, draining jobs, endless bills, interrupting phones, and demanding relationships. That’s the reality of our modern world, says Will Graham, grandson of the evangelist Billy Graham. And, he adds, “it can be difficult to tap the brakes and slow down when we try to spend quiet time with God. We’ll race through a short passage of Scripture and our list of prayer requests, keeping one eye on the phone to make sure we don’t miss that text from the boss. I commend you for taking time to spend with the Lord, but I encourage you to meditate on the words of Psalm 46:10: ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’”

This feels awkward if we’re new to the habit of meeting alone with God. After all, why would the Great I Am wanna hear from us? Because He’s our loving Heavenly Father! He made us; He even knows the number of hairs on our head. Don’t parents delight in their kids wanting to spend time with them?

Step Two: We Spend Time in Scripture

Fess up: Do you know your Bible well enough to find John 3:16, Romans 8:38, and the other promises God has for you?

Some Christians read their Bibles often, marking the text with pens and highlighters. They regularly get into God’s Word to know what it says, so they can live it out. Other Christians never crack open a Bible, not realizing what they’re giving up.

If you don’t read the Bible, why not? Perhaps because you tried reading a passage or two and decided it was boring? Certainly, some parts of the Old Testament are a bit dry, but they’re included because they’re historically important. But there’s no way you can call the New Testament boring. It teaches us about our Savior! To fall in love with Jesus, we have to get to know Him. To get to know Him, let’s start with the truest, most historically vetted source: God’s Word.

The Bible is not a dusty work of fiction, but timeless wisdom still very applicable to modern life. Do you have a problem with knee-jerk reactions? Memorize James 1:19: Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Are you often tempted to gossip? Study Proverbs 16:28: A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. This verse reminds us why God cautions us to set a guard over our mouth. Do you have a spending habit? Lack integrity? Struggle with being generous? The Bible has plenty to say about each issue, to help you overcome them so they don’t overcome you.

Step Three: We Live for God

By connecting with God, and knowing what He says to us in His Word, we begin to desire to please Him with our thoughts, words, and actions. It is in Him that we find our roadmap for joyful living. So why do we tend to be drawn to following how the world tells us to live? Let’s do a short comparison to identify which voice should have authority in our lives.

The world tells us that it gets to define who are “winners” and who are “losers.” God reminds us that only His high opinion of us matters. The world tells us that self-focus guarantees our “best” life. God reminds that in having a servant’s heart we truly live. The world tells us that nothing is free, and to not expect second chances. God reminds us that His love has no strings, and that He’s the architect of unlimited comebacks. The world tells us to be perfect to be accepted. God reminds us that our growth is what matters to Him.

Clearly, the world cares very little for us. But God loves us so much that He died for us. He wants us to be “all in,” living firmly rooted in His strength and wisdom. Let us, then, daily chase after a deep connection with Him, so that we bear good fruit — including His supernatural joy.


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Sheri writes and edits for Josh McDowell Ministry.

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