A few months ago, I found myself having a “blah” day. I didn’t have any fun or exciting plans to look forward to, the weather was gloomy, and I just didn’t feel happy. I didn’t like that feeling… nor did I like the realization my happy feelings were often dependent on good circumstances. 

The phrase “joy of the Lord” came to mind, as I’d heard so often sung, preached, and encouraged in church. But if I’m being honest, I never really knew what that phrase meant. What is “the joy of the Lord”? It was such a common idea; I’d never really stopped to consider what it might mean for my life.

I finally decided to ask God– what is the joy of the Lord, and how can I experience it? God started to answer me almost immediately, and over the next several months, I began to dig in to understand this concept better.  

Throughout this time of learning, God revealed a few lessons to better help me understand his joy:


1. Joy isn’t circumstantial 

It turns out, “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” originated in the book of Nehemiah. 

The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem after centuries in exile to rebuild the temple, their community, and the city walls. Yet, they were weary from the hard work, opposition, and arguments. Though God was working to renew his people, joy was fragile and scarce. In Nehemiah 8:10, Nehemiah declares, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” The people had to be told to have joy in the Lord, as it didn’t come naturally to them during that time. I realized joy didn’t come naturally to me either. I’d have to be intentional about seeking the joy of the Lord.  

God was showing me that joy isn’t dependent on our circumstances– instead, I needed to fix my gaze on something permanent and unchanging. While my weekend plans, the weather, or even my health may fluctuate, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). I need to keep my focus on Jesus, so that when my earthly circumstances seem boring, gloomy, or difficult, I not only see the struggle, but I also remember what is still constant and good. Hebrews 12:2 says, “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith…”.  

2. Joy can be found in small acts of faithfulness

I began to explore how to keep my focus on Jesus in little, but consistent, ways. I tried praying more– prayers throughout the day for small things I needed help with, or even to praise God for simple joys like the birds chirping. I made Bible reading more of a priority. I found that reading the Bible, even if it doesn’t address my particular circumstances, is life-giving and provides a vast amount of comfort, guidance, and encouragement. I felt better, without my circumstances necessarily getting brighter. That might seem simple– pray and read the Bible. It wasn’t just prayer and Bible reading that did it, though. I was fixing my mind on something that is good. I was realizing and experiencing God’s goodness in the most ordinary of times. 


3. Joy is possible, even in our hard moments

Even as I began to experience God’s daily goodness, one of the hardest times to have joy from the Lord is still during difficult times. Recently, I had a really bad day. I had a super busy day at work, my coworkers were being needy, and I was exhausted. It left me in a bad mood and frustrated with everyone I encountered. I thought to myself, how do I still have joy on a day like today?  James 1:2 tells us, “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy”. But it’s not trouble itself that equals joy. It’s what comes after the trouble that’s joyful. Verse 3 continues, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow”. Yes, trouble can make us stronger and build our endurance, but I also have joy in knowing Jesus is there–always–when we have trouble. I have joy in knowing that handling a troublesome situation with Jesus will produce a far better outcome than if I try to deal with it alone. 

For instance, on the bad day I was having, I wanted to take my bad mood out on others. But keeping my eyes on Jesus reminded me to act in the way of love, as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is not rude…It is not irritable.” The result was much better than if I’d acted on my own feelings, which gave me joy!  

And when life gets really hard? The second part of Hebrews 12:2 proclaims, “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Jesus experienced life at its absolute worst. Yet, he kept his eyes on the joy that awaited him— complete union with God. We can mourn the hardships of a season, even asking God to remove our burdens, but ultimately, we have the hope that comes with keeping our eyes fixed on the joy awaiting us in heaven. 

I still don’t think I can give a single definition of joy. But now I have a much better understanding of what joy is and how to experience it. Joy isn’t based on circumstances but found in something permanent, unchanging, and good (Jesus!). Joy is always available, a gift from God, and a fruit of the Spirit we have inside us. But we must be intentional in seeking joy, or the enemy will work to destroy it. On a bad day, focus on prayer, Scripture, and his presence. Consider the ways he’s already been faithful to his people, to you, and his promises of what’s to come. If it’s just a plain old boring day, think about God and His goodness. And on a good day? Rejoice with God in the spirit of Philippians 4:4: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!”