How to Cultivate Joy


Faith / Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

Joy isn’t a natural response to difficult circumstances or suffering. We can cultivate joy with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Three words, In three words, it was immediately clear that God was speaking directly to me. “Be joyful always;” 1 Thessalonians 5:16 (GNT). At that moment, joy didn’t describe me. I was worn out and downright cranky. My eyes were fixated on overwhelming daily demands and problems I couldn’t solve or ignore. Sickness rotated through our house, demanding energy and focus while detracting from my productivity.

Like a teenager, I felt grounded. I didn’t like the forced pause of illness and felt justified in my sulking.
Yet, right in front of me was God’s command. For me; for you. We don’t feel joyful always, do we? Therein lies the problem.

Joy isn’t just a feeling; happiness is. Confused, we use them interchangeably. Happiness is an emotional reaction to our circumstances. Joy is a response to the gospel, reconciliation with God, and the promise of eternity with Jesus.

Happiness is temporary. Joy is eternal.

It’s not surprising we’re confused. The world equates joy with a fleeting emotion. This so-called joy depends on how we feel about our circumstances, with a focus on material things and prosperity.
It’s easy to feel joyful when things go well. But when life gets bumpy, our feelings betray us with reactions not grounded in truth. Like any emotion, happiness comes and goes, making room for others like anger, sadness, or fear. Paul, who wrote these words, did not say, ‘Feel joyful always’ on purpose. Feeling joyful always is impossible.

So, if joy isn’t an emotion, what is it? We find the key in two letters: BE.

How to Cultivate Joy | thisgratefulmama.com #joy #bejoyfulalways #cultivatejoy #fruitofthespirit

Be Joyful

Paul says to be joyful. While a feeling is fleeting, being is a condition for living. Not a worldly feeling swayed by emotion; Biblical joy. Biblical joy is a deep-seated, unwavering joy. It’s not fickle or dependent on circumstance, nor does it hinge on material things or achievement. Joy depends on the ‘even though’; even though we feel sad, hurt, frustrated, overwhelmed, or abandoned, we have joy because Jesus is with us in it all.

This joy cannot be created by human will. We can’t muster it up or force it. Yet, it is possible to experience joy always. In Galatians, we learn joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (WEB, emphasis mine)

Those words, “The Holy Spirit produces” are profound. It’s not our job to produce joy. What a relief! It takes the pressure to ‘figure it out’ off our shoulders. We can’t be joyful in suffering on our own. It isn’t natural to find joy in difficulty, struggle, or being overwhelmed by laundry, kids, and meals. Thankfully, where we can’t, God can.


When we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ by grace through faith, we receive and are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Our unwavering, right standing before God and restored relationship with Him are our constant source of joy.

Our unwavering, right standing before God and restored relationship with Him is our constant source of joy. #joy #fruitofthespirit #faith #thisgratefulmama Click To Tweet

Why Cultivate Joy?

We’re human. Humans have the tendency to fix our eyes on what’s right in front of us and react. Without steadfast joy that is rooted in Christ, our circumstances and emotions rule us. Joy goes hand-in-hand with the other fruit of the Spirit; without joy, it’s hard to feel peace or hope and to respond with gentleness, kindness, or patience. When our emotions rule us, we lack self-control, and our emotions leave us unsteady.


Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can our hearts and minds be trained to ‘be joyful always’. Through this process of sanctification, God changes us and promises to complete His work in us (Philippians 1:3-6). He isn’t done with us yet.

Joy in Action

It’s encouraging that God chose Paul to write these challenging words: ‘Be joyful always.’ In 2 Corinthians 11, we learn about the hardships Paul suffered. None of them were happy. Five times, Paul was beaten with 39 lashes. Three times with rods. He was stoned (Acts 14:19), shipwrecked three times, and spent a day in open water. In constant danger from Jews and Gentiles, he was always on the move. Paul had gone hungry, thirsty, cold, and naked.

These terrible, nightmare-worthy events are worse than what most of us will endure. Yet Paul ends with, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” His joy is not of this world. Paul’s example is tough to follow, but don’t miss the hope. If Paul can be joyful in all this, we can too.

God knows that many of us will excuse Paul as an anomaly. So, our wise and gracious Father gives us plenty of other examples, like Job, David, Ruth, Joseph, and Jesus. He gives examples of those who specifically struggled with joy, like Naomi, David, and Job. Come what may, we, too, can be joyful.

Cultivate Joy

Although we can’t create joy, we can cultivate our hearts and relationship with God so the Holy Spirit has room to work.

Check Your Gaze

When you lack joy, where is your focus? Thoughts and words reveal our hearts. When those words, ‘Be joyful always,’ jumped out at me, I was caught up in the daily grind of mothering sick kids. My gaze was in the wrong place. I was complaining. Complaining lacks gratitude and keeps our focus off of God.
Circumstances do require our attention, but not all of it. We must have God in sight while tackling our to-do lists, serving our people, doing our jobs, and even suffering. An eternal perspective changes everything. We may not feel happy walking through today’s problems, but we can still be joyful in the eternal.

We are assured of our salvation and eternal inheritance in Christ. Our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20), and no one can take our joy (John 16:22). With eyes on Jesus and the promise of His presence, we can be joyful, regardless of our circumstances.

Abide

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love…These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:9,11 (ESV, emphasis mine)

How do we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus? In John 15, Jesus says joy is experienced by abiding in the love of Christ. We abide by staying in God’s Word and prayer. Staying in the presence of Jesus results in fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). Abundant joy. We don’t need a vacation, a new outfit, or another temporary comfort when we lack joy. Those are good things, but we need to spend time with God. Our need feels obvious in hardship, but the reality is that we need Jesus in good times, too.

So, we must abide, whether it be easy or hard, happy or sad. Only then will we be equipped to be joyful. Rooted in His Word and confident in our identity in Christ, even the most unexpected or difficult events are filtered through the lens of salvation. That’s where joy in suffering comes from. If you lack joy today, when did you last spend quality time with God? Time in His presence is sure to cultivate gratitude, hope, and peace while reminding us of the joy of our salvation.

Prayer

Sometimes, I do have joy regardless of my circumstances. One month after my encounter with ‘Be joyful always,’ I faced the same circumstances. Sick kids. Activities canceled. Grounded. But this time, I wasn’t a big cranky mess. Why? I spent a whole month abiding in Christ and asking God for joy.

God is generous and gives His children good gifts. Joy is one of those gifts. When we ask for any fruit of the Spirit, He withholds no good thing from us (Psalm 84:11).

Fellowship

Sweet friends, if you struggle with joy, too, you’re in good company. God knows you can’t do it alone. God gives us the gift of fellowship along with the Holy Spirit and His Word. We are mutually encouraged and experience joy by spending time with other believers. They point us to Jesus, speak the truth, pray alongside us, and even grieve.

Living in Joy

I have noticed more joy amid hardship lately, but I am still learning to put off old habits. Sanctification is a process. We’re still in progress. The Holy Spirit will equip us to be joyful always, strengthening our faith through suffering (James 1:2-3) and teaching us to be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). The joy of the Lord is our strength.

What are you facing today? Even though we experience trials, loss, suffering, and difficulties, we walk through them all with hope for eternity. We have faith that this is all temporary, and we rejoice in the steadfast love of the Lord. Be joyful always.

Prayer to Cultivate Joy

Lord, you are a generous Father who loves giving your children good gifts. We thank you for your grace and mercy, and desire for our lives to be characterized by your joy. Give us abundant joy for this day. Teach us to abide in your presence and keep our eyes on you, no matter what comes our way. Give us a steadfast joy in the certain hope of eternity and the assurance of our salvation. Help us walk in your joy through all we encounter today so we can glorify you with our lives. May people see our joy and desire to know you. Amen.

Additional Resources

Teaching Kids: Joy, Becca, My Joyful MOMent

Joy in the Mundane, Erica Renaud, To Unearth

6 Ways to Reclaim Joy When Stuck In Mom Guilt, Elaine Stores, This Grateful Mama

10 Replies to “How to Cultivate Joy”

  1. Joy is definitely more than a feeling. If we look at God as our source, especially of joy, it makes it so much easier to have true joy despite the circumstances.

    1. Yes, Thank you Ayanna! God is definitely the source and true joy can only come from Him. Isn’t it comforting to know God provides the fruit of the Spirit? We don’t have to produce it or come up with it on our own. He is so good to us!

    1. So true, and yet it is hard NOT to focus on our circumstances, isn’t it? We definitely need God’s help to keep our eyes fixed on Him. He is faithful; He won’t give up when we look away and is always looking towards us, calling us back!

  2. Oh this is SO good! I can certainly relate to those days of NOT feeling very joyful. My kids have been sick for what seems like FOREVER! With sick kids at home, I’m stuck at home too! The long, dreary days of winter cascading into rainy days of spring, weighs heavily on my heart. But you have given me encouragement today! Funny how God finds us in these unexpected places, and leads us home. He knows what we need.❤️

    1. I’m so thankful this meets you where you are today! You are certainly not alone in feeling that way, and I can definitely relate. You’re right, God is SO good and knows exactly what we need when we need it. What a loving Father He is! Thank you for sharing your thoughts here today, you’ve encouraged me as well.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this, Elaine! I’m working on reclaiming joy in motherhood, and one thing that I have noticed is that I lose joy when I focus my mind on the wrong things…like I’m doing all this work, but I’m not serving from the right place. My heart is focused on me..just like you mentioned above I lose joy when not focused on Jesus.

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