It’s very well to say that Christians should be as happy as they can. But circumstances can make pursuing joy very difficult. Many of us are battling daily against illness, depression, bereavement, relational breakdowns, and who knows what else. In such situations, it’s tempting to think that contending for joy is a pipe dream. But Scripture shows us how to pursue joy in the midst of trials; it’s something Paul calls being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10).
In large part, this comes from the unique beauty of Christian hope—the fact that believers await a world made new, one liberated from all suffering. We know that our sorrows ultimately, by God’s grace, lead to increased joy, although the journey can be excruciating. (See Rom. 5:1-5; James 1:2-4; and 1 Pet. 1:3-9.) Our confidence is also enhanced from pursuing joy with dogged resilience, knowing that one day it won’t be like this.
How, then, do we go about chasing joy? I suggest two things, both of which may involve a substantial change of mindset. One, make joy in God your priority, and two, make it a discipline.
Our first duty every morning is to get happy in God, because until that’s the case, we are of no use to anybody.
Make joy in God your priority.
I don’t mean “priority” in the normal Christian sense of “the things we are supposed to do,” such as pray, read the Bible, preach the gospel, participate in a local church, and so on. I mean it literally—make it “prior,” as in the first thing in your life. George Müller famously said that “the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day [is] to have my soul happy in the Lord.” He knew that if he didn’t have joy, then ministry, prayer, study, and evangelism were empty, desperate attempts to find satisfaction somewhere other than in the Lord. So our first duty every morning is to get happy in God, because until that’s the case, we are of no use to anybody.
Make joy in God a discipline.
This might sound strange because joy and discipline don’t normally go together, but discipline allows us to achieve our priorities. If we’re going to get serious about being happy, we must pursue what makes us so in God. Otherwise, we just drift through life. So here are some examples of disciplines that help me.
• Read the Scriptures. A no-brainer, this one, but I’m mentioning it because the Bible is the greatest, richest, deepest source of “joy fuel” there is. I don’t read Scripture in the morning just to study it academically or to get through a reading plan; I read it in search of joy, like a 49er looking for gold. Imagine the difference it would make if we changed the phrase “quiet time” to “happy time”!
• Spend time with people who increase your joy in God. These are the people who make you more delighted in who God is and what He’s done. So seek them out. Spend time with them. And remember to be this person for others.
• Give yourself away. Isaiah 58:10 says that if you pour yourselves out for the needy, your “light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.” Whether we express it by serving, giving, encouraging, or praying—or all four—giving ourselves to others increases our joy.
• Get the relationship between body and soul the right way around. Many of us wait until we feel delighted in God before expressing it physically, which in biblical terms is topsy-turvy. Look at how the psalms exhort people to praise: Shout, sing, dance! Kneel! Praise Him with cymbals! Wake up! Physically expressing yourself in worship to God fosters delight in Him. Make use of it.
• Walk in creation and talk to the Lord. Galatians 5:25 tells us to “keep in step with the Spirit” (niv). For me, this means walking by the sea where I live and talking to God in a normal voice about whatever is on my mind.
• Speak positively. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones once asked, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” That’s profound. Speaking positively to your own soul does wonders. (And doing so to others doesn’t hurt either.)
• Find sources of “joy fuel.” Establish daily, weekly, monthly, and annual rhythms for pursuing joy in God. I have a list of things that help me get happy in God—books, songs, video clips, articles, and so on. It might be a good idea to develop your own, if you haven’t already.
Remember, being glad isn’t always easy, but we can cultivate a cheerful heart when we focus on the only source of true happiness—God Himself. He’s the reason we can say, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps. 16:11).
This concludes Andrew Wilson’s two-part discussion of joy. Read last month's installment "Why Chase Joy?"