Thank you for reading the previous posts on the Fruit of the Spirit (Fruit of the Spirit #1: An Introduction, Fruit of the Spirit #2: It all begins with Love, Part 1 and Fruit of the Spirit #3: It all begins with Love, Part 2).
In this post, I’d like to briefly take a look at the next Fruit of the Spirit that follows Love, which is Joy.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4 (TNIV)
Joy comes from the Greek word “Chara” which means “joy, to rejoice and gladness.” Connected to its sister word, Charis (“To rejoice, grace“), it describes that which causes joy, pleasure and delight in the recipient or the observer.
I think I’ve bypassed Joy many times when I read about the Fruit of the Spirit because I’ve not been able to follow through on what Philippians 4:4 suggests (to continuously sustain a joyful spirit) because my life has been pockmarked by some crummy life experiences.
Let’s face it; if you have lived long on this Earth, life has probably thrown some unenvious curve balls at you, and perhaps like me, you’ve probably come away from those experiences feeling that they were unfair to you or yours. Perhaps you lost a job due to downsizing, or a job fell through during a move to a new state, or you experienced an untimely sports injury that jeopardized your scholarship to college. Perhaps you have experienced devastation in your life that accompanies a miscarriage, a breakup of a close relationship, or the discovery of an extramarital affair or you have lost a close friend, parent or child.
If you have experienced unenvious “lemons” like this in life, it’s difficult to feel happy, much less joyful in all of your circumstances when calamities like this have occurred. Can I get a witness? But this is where I think taking a closer look at that which creates Happiness and that which creates Joy deserves greater attention. I’m glad I took a closer look at this.
The word Happiness comes from the Norse word Hap, which speaks of occurrences due to luck, chance or fortune. Although I think we all want to feel the emotion of Happiness, we need to realize that happiness is dependent on something good happening to facilitate this emotion. Joy on the other hand, flows from our relationship with God (Philippians 4:4-7) and is not dependent upon happenstance or our circumstances or situations occurring “in our favor” in our life.
This discovery regarding the meaning of the two words and the processes therein helped me to realize that certain (if not all) life circumstances were not going to result in me being or feeling happy about them. However, because of my connection and relationship with God, I realized that I could derive a different outlook and experience a different outcome with the life experience that occurred, again, even if those experiences weren’t in my favor when they happened. I also realized that God promises peace of mind as a result of being in connection with Him (Isaiah 26:3) which certainly helped me in one life circumstance where I experienced the unenviable suffering and anguish alluded to earlier.
When our family lost our daughter Marissa in an automobile accident in 2008, there was no happiness to be experienced, but strangely, there was a certain peace that I experienced in the days and weeks that followed. I attribute this to others praying for me, because there was no way that I should have been in my “right mind” after something as devastating like this having occurred, and I also think I was in that state of mind largely due to my being connected to God and being able to experience His presence during that painful time. Here’s how.
I realized that all of the years of being connected to God, through study, worship, service, fellowship, etc., were like rich and meaningful “deposits” of love and strength into my heart, and when this major “withdrawal” occurred in our lives, I wasn’t “bankrupt” nor insufficient, and because of His promise to me, I knew He would not leave nor desert me (Deuteronomy 31:6,8).
This was the beginning of my understanding of what real and true Joy meant because I needed God more than ever to walk me through the unchartered waters that my wife, son and I were experiencing at that time. I wasn’t happy because of this life circumstance, but I understand I was experiencing what the Bible calls Joy, because I was able to draw upon God’s empowerment, support, love and wisdom at a time of great need because my relationship and connection with Him was established and active. In addition, Jesus’ words took on a new meaning because of the connection I had with Him:
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” – John 15:4 (TNIV)
Even though 2008 was a dark time where I experienced grief because of our loss, I also began to see another component of Joy: that God’s story never ends in the suffering and anguish associated with the grave; it ends in the brightness, power and life associated with the resurrection and life after death. I knew this as a believer in God but it became very, very personal when I began to think about my daughter in Heaven, and that because of my relationship with God, one day we would all be reunited again because we were connected with Jesus’ life, which conquered death (1 Corinthians 15:51-58)!
This truism facilitated so much Joy because my story doesn’t have to end in the despair connected to death, but on the other hand, since the plant always pops through the ground after it has struggled in the darkness of the soil, I realized the grave and anything connected to it is only a transitional passageway to the renewed life that the resurrection promises. Again, I knew this in my mind, but the experience of losing our daughter helped me to have a different perspective and subsequently, the beginning of positive experiences that were to come. This currently brings so much Joy to my life, and ironically, happiness as well, because I experience this painful life circumstance differently, largely because of my connection with Christ.
As I close this post on Joy, I have one more point to share with you. In sharing this point, I need to mention that a few nights ago, my family watched the movie “90 minutes in Heaven” (my wife and I read the book back in 2008 in the first few weeks after Marissa died, as it was suggested to us). One of the things that Don Piper spoke about in his book about his near-death experience is that there was a purpose for him to embark on in light of the accident he experienced.
For me, one of the purposes and outcomes that I have great joy about is that God nurtured and developed a passion within me to write the Cultivating Love book series, to help others see how God could help them to make it through devastating and dark places in their lives or in their marriage.
For our family, we were able to partner with a ministry that helped us to develop Marissa’s House Projects, which provides housing, education and other services to 23 children in Kampala, Uganda and in Jimma, Ethiopia. In light of our experience with the grave, God nurtured and developed an idea He planted within us, which blossomed into a passion and a purpose within the soil of our heart to provide this care to others. This was the ministry that God had birthed in Marissa’s life shortly before she left Earth to return to Him and it gives us joy to participate in the ministry that would have given her much joy in her life had she lived to engage in it herself.
So I wish to share that if you have experienced any form of devastation in your life, and perhaps you are struggling with the idea of how could your experience be “redemptive,” which ultimately leads you to experience the spiritual fruit of Joy, then I encourage you to remain connected to Him (John 15:4).
By doing so, I trust that “your purpose” will develop and blossom from within you, simply because of your established connection with God (Romans 5:3-5). I don’t know how long it will take; it took me 6 years before I published my first book and it was 4 years before Marissa’s House opened, but as Jesus said, good and fruitful things occur when we remain connected to Him. My hope for you is that you’ll arrive at a place where you begin to see that there is life beyond your current experience(s) that you could be having with the painful “grave-like” experiences you have encountered.
Finally, I realize that it’s no mistake that Joy is sandwiched between Love and Peace because Peace, the next Fruit of the Spirit that we’ll explore, is the natural result that flows from Joy, which is heavily influenced by the connection we have with the one who Loves us.
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