I lost my dad to cancer when I was twenty-three years old. We were close, and my dad was, in many ways, an anchor in my life, so I struggled immensely in the months following his death. One of the cards we received during this time had Nehemiah 8:10 printed on it: “The Joy of the Lord is my strength.” I remember staring at the words longing to understand what it meant to have joy in the midst of my pain.

A few years later I sat in my sister’s living room while she battled the side effects of treatment for breast cancer. The world felt weighty. I pushed back tears as I looked through her music, hoping to find something uplifting, joyful. I saw a song entitled, “Joy,” so I played the music anticipating a fun and light tune. What filled the room were the words of the familiar childhood song:

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart…

But the singer sounded…sad. It was almost as if she was crying as she sang the heartfelt words. I dropped to my knees and prayed. Is this what it means to have joy in you, Lord? Can I cry while remaining joyful?

Biblical Joy is Not Dependent on Our Circumstances.

A common thought is that joy and happiness are one in the same. And it’s true that there are several places in the Bible where the word joy is used as a synonym for happiness or gladness. But there is a deeper meaning to biblical joy that is different from happiness because joy is not dependent on our circumstances.

One of the passages where we learn about this commitment in varying circumstances is James 1: 2: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

The trials James is referring to are the difficult, trying situations in life that test our faith.

His point is not to encourage us to smile our way through tragedies or ignore the pain that is present when we face challenges. If this were the case, the exhortation would be to find happiness during trials, but that’s not what James is asking us to consider.

Instead, the instruction is to ponder a different perspective when facing various trials. Rather than becoming bitter or disheartened, rather than putting our hand out in rejection of Jesus because of a hardship, consider instead joy. Consider that the trials of life can deepen our relationship with Jesus.

These hardships, big and small, can be used by God to shape our hearts into committed followers of Him. To trust that the Lord is at work in every detail of your life, including the most trying ones, is to have joy. It is not an emotion that changes with our circumstances, and it’s not even something that has to be accompanied by a smile, but it’s an unwavering trust that remains deep, deep down in our hearts.

Biblical Joy is a Settled Satisfaction in Christ and in His Provisions  

Having joy means that no matter what tomorrow may bring, we know we belong to Christ, and because this is true, we can rest assured that that our Heavenly Father will provide exactly what we need on the happy days, on the days that feel mundane and pointless, and even on the days when our faith is tested because of trouble. I like to define biblical joy as having a settled satisfaction in Christ and in His provisions.

Happiness fills many of my days. As I think even now about what makes me happy, I think of my children and their distinct personalities. I can’t help but smile. But happiness comes and goes. When my kids were younger, they did things like pour rice down the vents, paint the carpet with nail polish, “baptize” their sibling with toilet water, and cut their hair just to “see what it would be like.”

In these moments, my smile dissipates, to the say the least. On these kinds of parenting days, I am not happy, but I’m not joyless. The joy we have in Christ remains because He is always at work, providing exactly what is needed exactly when we need it to walk through each challenging moment in this life.

Biblical Joy Comes from God Alone

Even as we begin to grasp the true meaning of joy, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we can somehow obtain it on our own, but biblical joy comes from God alone, for His children alone. We can’t conjure up joy by our own strength and abilities.

John 17 is a beautiful chapter of the Bible in which we get to listen in on Jesus praying to His father, and in the prayer, He pleads with God on our behalf. Part of Jesus’ prayer is that we, His children, might have the same joy that He has. Jesus says in verse 13: “But now I [Jesus] am coming to you [the Father], and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”

Jesus knows what it is to have the satisfying joy that comes from the Father, and He wants us to experience this joy too. Why? Because Jesus loves His children, and His love is deeper and wider and more secure than any love we have ever known or will know. And because Jesus loves us this much, He asks His father, the only source of true joy for any believer, to provide it for His beloved.

Jesus IS joy. He is the only source of real and lasting fulfillment that we long to feel deep inside. If we think that by merely changing a few things about our circumstances we will find joy, we will be sorely disappointed when our abilities fail. Look to Jesus and allow His strength to work within you as He passes on His joy that comes from the Father’s incomprehensible love. Trust in Jesus and find unwavering joy, that settled satisfaction in Him, deep down in your heart.

About the Author:

Katie Polski

Katie is a writer, teacher, retreat speaker, and Bible study leader. She is married to Chris, a PCA pastor at Trinity church in Kirkwood, MO, and is a mother to Ella, J-Rod, and Lily. Katie works as the music director at Trinity, serves on the Women’s Ministry Committee, and teaches a few high school English classes. She loves writing, leading women’s Bible studies, and speaking to women’s groups about the joy she has found in Christ. Katie graduated from Covenant College with a BA in English Education and is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Theology from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. For more information, as well as various blog entries, you can visit her website at www.katiepolski.com