The Practicalities of Joy

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

Upon first glance, this is a seemingly straightforward instruction: be joyful in every circumstance. This was one verse I had no quarrel with, especially as a 19 year old intern, who up until the pandemic had very little to complain about. Rejoicing, as I understood it, was to be continuously happy, demonstrating the hope I had within. Now of course, there is nothing wrong with being continuously happy, but I am yet to meet someone who can actually pull it off!

I read a lot, hence my myriad of (probably naive) opinions and I like to think I am a somewhat joyful person. 2020, however, was a year of frustrations, despair and loss, a year that was arguably joyless. The months of lockdown dragged and I found myself being forced to really examine the depth and content of my belief. I had been snatched from my comfortable theology and thrown into a pool of existential questions. Why hasn’t God stopped the pandemic? Why were my remaining teenage years being taken? Why did I feel so anxious and low all the time? When Philippians 4:4 reared its head in my daily devotional, I laughed. This was not the time for rejoicing but for despair.

I felt challenged, if I truly believed that the bible was relevant and God was good, then there had to be more to rejoicing than forcing an uncomfortable smile. The more I thought about it, the less joy was a fleeting feeling. Humans are fickle beings, who innately jump from one emotion to another, chasing pleasure and meaning. If we are relying on a happy feeling to come along before we can rejoice, then we are missing the point. Joy is not dependent on circumstance, it is a spiritual blessing that defies all human standards of happiness.

I found it better to describe joy as a practical mindset rather than a feeling, (less romantic I know but bear with me). Joy, arguably exists as a product of hope and peace. As Christians, we hold the truth that when we stand with Jesus and his sacrifice, we no longer need to fear death (John 3:16), the future (Jeremiah 29:11), the enemy (2 Chronicles 20:6) or anything that this world throws at us. The Holy Spirit promises to help us navigate joy but I really believe it starts with an active decision. Through showering ourselves with truth, we can change our
perspective. This life is only the beginning, our God is good and He has saved us. You do not need to be happy to be joyful.

True joy is seeing God’s good hand whilst in the storm, not being happy because there isn’t one.
We can feel pressure to put on a happy face in order to display a righteous life. Struggling is to be human and to be human is to need God. Let us be authentic in our Christian walk, demonstrating that while life with God isn’t perfect, there is a fundamental hope that we can cling on to. Let’s fully embrace the freeing joy that He is so willing to pour out. What an incredibly kind God we have.

We don’t have to walk around with our faces stapled into a smile. Instead, we can whisper in the back of our minds the truth that not all is lost.

Ettie Robins