As we continue to look at the fruit of the Spirit, today we look at the characteristic of joy.

Joy (Greek, chara; Antonym: anxiety and worry)

The Greek word for joy is chara, derived from the word charis, which is derived from the word we know as ‘grace.’ This is important for it tells us categorically that chara or joy is produced by the grace of God. Put in another way, because we have experienced God’s grace, his forgiveness and mercy, we can now genuinely experience joy. Because we choose to grow our relationship with God, he empowers us to live a joyful life.

Beyond this, joy then is not happiness which is fleeting and oftentimes trivial. Rather this type of joy is an expression within us given by the Spirit which can occur in any circumstance, but especially those that are challenging or trying. In these circumstances, this is when we know that we are utilizing the joy that He desires for us to have. Ironically, sometimes for us to experience joy, we have to face some trial or difficulty, perhaps a loss of some kind, maybe we have been let down by someone or things just haven’t gone our way. It is at these times we know that we have the fruit of joy. Joy is easy to experience when things are going great; it’s when life is challenging that we have to reach within our soul to pull out genuine chara. When we literally will joy into our lives in these difficult times, it is ourselves that determine how we will feel, what kind of attitude we will take and how we will act—-not the circumstance. Again, as it is with each of the fruit of Spirit, they are given to us by God, but in the same breath, we must take hold of them and act them out.

Sometimes for us to understand a word, a good way is to look at its opposite or its antonym. As mentioned above, the opposite of chara or joy is depression or worry. The Bible is clear to point out that often emotions whether they are positive or negative are manufactured and created by our own selves. As an example, if I think about a lot of depressing things, inevitably I will begin to feel dejected and low. Granted, any emotion can be beneficial—even depression or anxiety can be something good for us to feel and experience. As an example, if you experienced a sudden loss of some kind in your life, I would expect you to be angry and depressed, and if you weren’t I would have concerns. Depression then can be a positive emotion for us to experience depending upon the circumstance and how we let it have power over our lives. This is the important point—an emotion is something that in most cases, we can control. Therefore, no different than depression, joy is something we can be in command of and direct in our lives.

As the writer and priest Ronald Rolheiser said, “The opposite of depression is delight, being spontaneously surprised by the goodness and beauty of living.” In this statement, he is describing an important aspect of joy—delighting in the goodness and beauty of living. Joy is about seeking pleasure in what life has to offer. Here are just a few things we can find delight in and discover goodness and beauty: a new friendship, a hike on an unfamiliar trail, our children even on the most difficult of days, playing bocce ball on a freshly cut lawn, sitting with a good book or movie, a favored hobby, a romantic evening with your loved one, washing the car or cleaning the house, a last minute excursion up north for the weekend, a well-made meal, even pulling weeds in your garden. Often in the most mundane things we do, we can find joy. For myself, sometimes my most joyful moments are when I am driving to work, listening to the morning radio and plotting out what my day will be like. In this solitary space, I look around at the fields, and trees, and the people passing by and find a gratefulness that I am about to experience another day—wondering how the day will unfold. So with this, we have to seek out joy and look for it. Again, joy almost never just shows up announced. It is often an invited guest. I like what Charles Spurgeon said about this fruit of the Spirit: “The command to rejoice is as undoubted a precept of God as to love the Lord with all your heart. The vows of God are upon you, and they bind you to be joyful.” I think that sums it up.

Below are some questions you can ask yourself as you attempt to apply the fruit of chara or joy to your life: How well do you “joy” in your life? How well do you counter depression, fear or anxiety with joy? To become more joyful, do you need to become less discontented or unhappy in your circumstances? Do you need to find better ways to control your emotions which sometimes leads to feelings like depression, anxiety or anger? What situations are you facing right now that you need to seek out joy instead of fear or dread? How do you need to ‘will’ joy in your life? How can you pursue delight in your life? Are there ways in which you need to change your life and find more joyful things to do? What do you need to do to change in your life to become more joyful?

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In: Spiritual Formation
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