Joy, as one of the fruits of the Spirit, is expected to show up in the life of a committed believer sooner or later. If I am “abiding in Christ” and living well, my life ought to be reasonably pleasant most of the time, shouldn’t it? Paul commented, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). The Psalms assure us that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
But what exactly is the fruit of joy? Is it happy feelings or is it more like the ability to rejoice (think and speak positive things in celebration of God’s provision) in spite of calamity and emotional turmoil? Is the fruit a constant or does it come and go? Does it mean I might be slipping if there appears to be a shortage of joy in my life?
These are the things I think about (whether I want to or not). And it’s not just because I’m concerned about pleasing God. As a person who is admittedly driven by my intellect, I want to understand everything, both out of curiosity and a desire to apply the rules to my benefit. But God gives us precious little information to work with. And formulas? Good luck finding them, apart from the handful of absolutes found in Scripture. Nearly everything that applies to God seems to be in flux. Of course, this is when faith and trust must be applied, but this is a maddening arrangement. I don’t know about everyone else, but with regard to my Christian obligations and the entire incremental enterprise of character development, I just want to get it done: learn everything I need to know in a huge cramming session, kill my sinful nature with a fifty-day fast, give away all my belongings, shave my head, etc. and then walk away without ever again having to feel like I’m being burned alive in the latest “fiery trial” Peter glibly assures us is normal for the Christian (1 Peter 4:12).
But sanctification (maturity) can’t be accomplished expeditiously. It is a process that proceeds slowly and painfully for many of us. Joy isn’t a vending machine product. From my own Christian experience, I can testify that when I resist God, I end up experiencing pain. As an Episcopal minister I heard once said, “The Fruit of the Spirit is only found in the garden of obedience.”
Whatever God is up to in all this, he doesn’t give us much in the way of explanations. We roll with the punches and get with the program or we experience more difficulties as an added learning incentive. The events in our lives are a great chess game between us and God. I’ve found that joy usually accompanies acceptance. Hurry up and checkmate me, Lord, so I can stop fighting you.