If you’re a gardener you know joy. There’s just something special, something extra tasty, in the crops harvested from your own plot of dirt. It’s not just freshness. I can buy fresh-picked produce from the local market when the season is right. While good, our own green beans or corn or potatoes just seem to taste better. I think it’s because we can taste the hours of tilling, seeding, and weeding in them. That taste is what joy is all about.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NASB95)
If you are just joining us, this is the eighth article in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit. And yes, we’re working backward. For this series we are going to be looking at three things, what does the fruit look and taste like, how can we encourage its growth, and how can we give it away. The fruit of the Spirit that grows in us by walking with Jesus is not only for our benefit but also for those around us. In addition to this article, there is a link to a short story I wrote in 2004 which portrays in some way a Fruit of the Spirit that is being given away.
What does the real fruit of joy look like?
Joy is complicated. On the one hand joy can seem like happiness. A giddy celebration when something good happens. But joy is so much deeper than kicking up our heels and shouting yippee and yahoo. Sometimes Joy is resolute. Like the gardener that joyously pulls weeds on a hot summer day knowing that a harvest is just around the corner. Or like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said while reminding his readers not to lose heart, “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame….” (Hebrews 12:1b–2a, NASB95) Joy is also inviting. It wants to, needs to, share its excitement with others. There is both a settledness and a restlessness to joy. A settledness that nothing can shake, a restlessness that wants others to share in the moment. Paul’s strong encouragement is to, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NASB95) Happiness is fleeting, joy is forever.
Another reason joy seems complicated is that it is often mixed with other emotions. When the women came away from the Jesus’ empty tomb they experienced both fear and joy. (See Matthew 28:8) Joy can be mixed with amazement as when Jesus appeared to his disciples after His resurrection (See Luke 24:41). Joy can be caught up in the moment like when Rhoda left a freshly released from prison Peter on the doorstep. (See Acts 12:14) And joy can be extremely forward looking as we’ve seen with Jesus and the cross. Joy is connected to hope. It may seem that hope causes joy, and there is some truth there. But consider, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NASB95) This verse indicates that joy and peace generates our hope. I don’t think that it is a stretch to say that joy is the mortar that glues faith, hope, and love together.
How can we grow the real fruit of Joy?
There are two other words in the Bible directly linked with joy. You could say that the fruit of joy grows as a cluster of joy, grace, and thanksgiving. I won’t bore you with the Greek, but joy along with grace, and thanksgiving contain the same root word, “chara.” We grow joy by receiving and giving grace. Our primary joy is the grace given to us by God through Jesus. We didn’t earn it or deserve it, it is a freely given gift. There is joy when we understand our completely broken condition and God’s unfailing love towards us. There is joy when we experience unmerited forgiveness. There is joy in being accepted as His sons and daughters because of God’s grace. That joy in God’s grace releases thanksgiving and worship. Think of the joy felt when a toddler gives their mom a sloppy kiss, a tight hug, and says “I wov you mommy.” That’s the joy our thanksgiving, praise, and worship brings to God.
Being thankful and giving grace also grows joy in us. Not feeling joy? Start with being thankful, not only to God but to your spouse, your kids, your parents, the checkout person, your co-worker, your employer or teacher. Being thankful and saying it plants seeds of joy. If thankfulness are the seeds then grace is the labor. Giving someone grace is hard work that costs us something of ourselves. They may not deserve forgiveness, love, or even to be liked. That’s grace, giving ourselves to those who don’t deserve it. It’s the same grace that we received from God. I guess you could say that growing joy is a lot like growing green beans, corn, and potatoes.
How do we give away the Real Fruit of joy?
Joy is naturally infectious. The other night we went bowling with a group from church. Over time some natural joy emerged as we cheered for each other’s strikes and spares. One or two times I found myself cheering without even knowing the cause or who it was for. That’s joy. Giving away the fruit of joy is more than just cheering someone on. I think it is wise to remember the old saw about teaching someone to fish. We can give joy to someone that lasts for a moment, or we can encourage them to plant seeds of thankfulness with the labor of grace so they can harvest their own crop of joy. Either way we’re giving away the fruit of joy.
Joy is complicated, inviting, and infectious Joy can be caught up in a moment or resolute and forward looking. While joy and happiness walk together, joy doesn’t depend on immediate circumstances because it finds itself in God’s grace. We feel God’s joy when we receive His grace of forgiveness and life in Jesus and respond with thanksgiving, worship, and praise. We grow joy as we extend God’s grace to others with thankfulness. Not feeling joyous today? Maybe this article made you feel more depressed and hopeless, that joy seems like a carrot on a stick. You can smell it but it’s just out of reach. That’s not God. Instead of chasing the feeling start to plant the seeds of being thankful. Find ways to extend God’s grace to others. I can guarantee without reservation that in time you will reap a harvest of joy. Like the song says, joy unspeakable that won’t go away. Lastly, remember these two words of powerful instruction from Paul, “Rejoice always.”