PEOPLE normally want to live a joyful life. But in these last days, everyone faces trials that are “hard to deal with.” (2 Tim. 3:1) Injustice, poor health, unemployment, grief, or other causes of anxiety and sorrow may gradually cause some to lose their joy. Even servants of God may become discouraged and see their joy slip away. If this has happened to you, how can you regain your joy?
To answer that question, we first need to understand what genuine joy is and how others have remained joyful despite trials. Then we will learn what we can do to maintain our joy and even add to it.
WHAT IS JOY?
We should not confuse being joyful with simply being jovial or cheerful. To illustrate: After too many drinks, a drunkard may be in a hilarious mood. However, when he sobers up, he laughs no more, and he may return to a life full of sorrow and troubles. His momentary exuberance was not true joy.—Prov. 14:13.
Joy, in contrast, is a deep-seated quality of the heart. It has been defined as “the emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good.” Joy is a state of happiness or gladness that remains whether the conditions around us are pleasant or not. (1 Thess. 1:6) In fact, a person can be disturbed about something but still have joy in his heart. For example, the apostles were flogged for speaking about the Christ. Yet, they “went out from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.” (Acts 5:41) Obviously, they were not rejoicing over the flogging they had received. But as servants of God, they found true joy in keeping their integrity to him.
We are not born with such joy; nor does it develop automatically. Why not? Because true joy is part of the fruitage of God’s holy spirit. With the help of God’s spirit, we can fully develop “the new personality,” which includes joy. (Eph. 4:24; Gal. 5:22) And when we develop joy, we are better able to cope with the stresses of life.
EXAMPLES WE WANT TO IMITATE
Jehovah intended for good things to develop on the earth, not the bad things that we see so often today. Yet, the wicked deeds of others do not rob Jehovah of joy. God’s Word states: “Strength and joy are in his dwelling place.” (1 Chron. 16:27) Furthermore, the good things that are being accomplished by his servants make “[Jehovah’s] heart rejoice.”—Prov. 27:11.
We can imitate Jehovah by not becoming overly concerned when things do not work out as we had expected. Rather than lose our joy, we can focus on the good things we have now and wait patiently for the better things ahead.*
We can also find many Biblical examples of humans who maintained joy in the face of trying circumstances. Abraham is one who endured life-threatening situations and difficulties caused by others. (Gen. 12:10-20; 14:8-16; 16:4, 5; 20:1-18; 21:8, 9) Despite such pressures, Abraham maintained joy in his heart. How did he do so? He had clearly in mind his hope of living in the new world under the Messiah’s rule. (Gen. 22:15-18; Heb. 11:10) Jesus said: “Abraham your father rejoiced greatly at the prospect of seeing my day.” (John 8:56) We can imitate Abraham by pondering the joys ahead.—Rom. 8:21.
Like Abraham, the apostle Paul and his companion Silas were focused on God’s promises. They had strong faith, and they kept their joy alive despite negative experiences. For example, after they had endured a dreadful beating and were thrown into prison, in “the middle of the night, [they] were praying and praising God with song.” (Acts 16:23-25) In addition to drawing strength from their hope, Paul and Silas were joyful because they were suffering for the sake of Christ’s name. We can imitate Paul and Silas by keeping in mind the good that comes from serving God faithfully.—Phil. 1:12-14.
Today, our brotherhood includes many fine examples of individuals who maintained joy in the face of trials. For instance, in November 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the central part of the Philippines, destroying the homes of over 1,000 Witness families. George, whose home in the city of Tacloban was obliterated, said: “In spite of what happened, the brothers are happy. It’s hard for me to express the joy we feel.” Whenever we experience great difficulties, we will remain joyful if we meditate appreciatively on what Jehovah has done for us. What else has Jehovah provided that gives us reason for joy?
OUR REASONS FOR JOY
What greater reason for joy could we have than our relationship with God? Think of it: We know the Universal Sovereign. He is our Father, God, and Friend!—Ps. 71:17, 18.
We also treasure the gift of life and our ability to enjoy it. (Eccl. 3:12, 13) As intelligent creatures who have been drawn by Jehovah, we understand God’s will for us. (Col. 1:9, 10) Hence, we have real meaning and direction in our lives. On the other hand, the majority of mankind have no clear concept of life’s purpose. Highlighting this contrast, Paul wrote: “‘Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, nor have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.’ For it is to us God has revealed them through his spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:9, 10) Do we not rejoice over our understanding of Jehovah’s will and purpose?
Consider what else Jehovah has done for his people. Are we not happy that our sins can be forgiven? (1 John 2:12) Because of God’s mercy, we have a living hope that a new world will soon be here. (Rom. 12:12) Even now, Jehovah provides a wholesome group of fellow worshippers. (Ps. 133:1) God’s Word also assures us that Jehovah protects his people from Satan and his demons. (Ps. 91:11) If we meditate on all these blessings from God, we will see our joy deepen and grow.—Phil. 4:4.
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR JOY
Can an already joyful Christian increase his joy? Jesus said: “These things I have spoken to you, so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11) Does this not indicate that we can grow in joy? You can compare your efforts at increasing joy to stoking a fire. You must feed the fire to intensify the heat. Likewise, you must feed your spirituality to increase your joy. Remember: Joy is fueled by God’s spirit. Hence, you will develop greater joy by regularly requesting the help of Jehovah’s spirit and prayerfully meditating on his spirit-inspired Word.—Ps. 1:1, 2; Luke 11:13.
You also increase your joy by being active in works that please Jehovah. (Ps. 35:27; 112:1) Why? Because we were created to “fear the true God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole obligation of man.” (Eccl. 12:13) In other words, we were designed to do God’s will. So when we serve Jehovah, we naturally get the most enjoyment from life.*
THE GOOD THAT RESULTS FROM JOY
As we develop godly joy, we will experience benefits that go beyond simply how we feel inside. For example, we will become more pleasing to our heavenly Father as we joyfully serve him no matter what problems we may face. (Deut. 16:15; 1 Thess. 5:16-18) Also, as a result of having true joy, we will reject a materialistic way of life and will instead seek to make greater personal sacrifices in behalf of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 13:44) When we see the good that this accomplishes, we will grow in joy, experience a greater sense of well-being, and add to the happiness of others.—Acts 20:35; Phil. 1:3-5.
“If you are happy and satisfied with your life now, you are more likely to be healthy in the future.” That is what a researcher at the University of Nebraska in the United States wrote after reviewing a number of studies on health. This is in agreement with the Bible, which says: “A joyful heart is good medicine.” (Prov. 17:22) Yes, as you increase your joy, you are likely to have better physical health.
So despite living in stressful times, we can develop true and lasting joy as we acquire holy spirit by means of prayer, study, and meditation on Jehovah’s Word. We also increase our joy as we reflect on our current blessings, imitate the faith of others, and seek to do God’s will. In all such ways, we can share in the truth of Psalm 64:10, which says: “The righteous one will rejoice in Jehovah and take refuge in him.”
The quality of patience will be considered in a future article in this series on “the fruitage of the spirit.”
For additional ways to enhance your joy, see the box “Other Ways to Increase Joy.”