The organ notes sounded like dancing. I already knew that the guest organist for the noon Lenten service was one of the best around, but I was unprepared for the sheer joy that shone through a relatively short introduction to the closing hymn. The organist wasn’t just accompanying a hymn. He was living out his gift, his purpose, and his delight in making music for the glory of God. The organist’s joy overflowed to the entire congregation.
Walking Closely with Joy
In Galatians 5:22–23, Paul lists some hallmarks of a Christian who walks by the Holy Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
In the Bible, particularly in the Psalms, joy is often associated with closeness to God. In Psalm 63:7, David evokes a picture of God’s closeness and protection: “in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” In Psalm 16, David compares the sorrows of those who run after other gods to the joy of living life with God. It ends with this verse:
You make known to me the path of life;
in Your presence there is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
This verse reminds me of the dancing notes of the organ. When we are close to God, we are close to God’s purposes for our lives. The path of life with God includes using both our natural and spiritual gifts for His glory and for our neighbors’ good.
Taking Note of Joy
As someone who tends toward overthinking and melancholy, I sometimes find joy elusive. I mix it up with happiness or fun and then wonder if I am too serious to be a truly joyful person. But when I make a practice of noticing joy, both mine and others’, I see it more and more.
Expressions of joy take as many forms as there are people. Look around and notice what makes others “light up.” One of my children lights up in nature. From a young age, she regaled her family with facts about animals. Another has always been sensitive to colors and beauty, and she is currently studying at an art college. Several friends of mine formed a knitting/crocheting group, and even though I don’t knit, I love seeing pictures of their latest creations and, even more, their smiles. Their joy has overflowed in the form of prayer shawls, newborn hats, and blankets given away.
Discover more joy in the Bible with Deb Burma’s Bible study on Philippians
Joy Overflowing in Us from Him
Joy also overflows when we tell the stories of God to each other. A friend tells of a time in her life when everything went wrong, but God worked all of the hard things together for good. I’ve heard her tell this story over and over, but the joy and wonder of God working through the circumstances of her life to take care of her and her family never grows old.
Living in God’s purpose for us, being close to God’s presence, and noticing the joy of God’s people around us all bring us joy. But if joy is a fruit of the Spirit, it’s also a part of God’s character. What brings God joy? Two passages come to mind, the first in Zephaniah 3:16a and 17.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem ...
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness
He will quiet you by His love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.
Here the prophet looks forward to the day of the Lord, a day when God will rejoice, will love, will exult over His people “with loud singing.” What brings God joy? Being with us!
A less exuberant verse 1 and 2 from Hebrews 12 tells us just how far God is willing to go to secure His joy:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
“For the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” Jesus suffered the pain and shame of the cross knowing that on the other side of His death would be joy—the joy of drawing all people to Himself. Drawing you and me into His presence, unhindered by sin and death, is the joy that made the cross worthwhile. How Jesus loves us, that this joy was worth His sacrifice.
Joy overflows in the presence of God, both His joy in us and our joy in Him. He invites us to notice, to draw close, to listen as He sings to us, to allow His joy to overflow to others as we live in Him.
Jesus went all the way to the cross to attain this overflowing joy. For the joy set before Him, He endured. You are His joy!
Each session of Golden Fruit will focus on one fruit of the Spirit and consider how the life and story of one of nine biblical women convey that characteristic.