“...for the joy of the Lord is your strength. You must not be dejected and sad!”—Nehemiah 8:10 (TLB).
A recent study by WalletHub ranked the happiest and least happiest states in America, using three key dimensions: emotional and physical well-being, work environment, and community and environment. Curious about the results, I scanned the data, only to discover the state in which I live, Oklahoma, is near the bottom.
Considering Oklahoma is part of the Bible belt, I wonder why we are considered an unhappy bunch. If our ranking is only determined by the three key dimensions above, maybe we do fit the description. If happiness can be measured, what about joy?
While different theologians disagree about the difference between happiness and joy, the Bible repeatedly talks about experiencing the kind of joy that surpasses our circumstances. Although Jesus knew the pain He would face on the cross, He wanted His disciples to experience the fullness of His joy in their lives. Because He loves us more than life itself, Jesus wants us to find that same joy in our lives.
Joy during difficult times is also exemplified by the Apostle Paul who urges believers to “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). In the midst of his own difficult circumstances, including imprisonment by the Romans, Paul continued to write joy-filled letters of encouragement to other Christ-followers.
In an article by Dr. Matthew Harmon, he writes about the unshakeable joy of Paul and how we can attain it. Harmon says we can discover two key truths through Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
First, says Harmon, “unshakable joy is rooted in Christ and what He has done for us.” Paul reminds the Philippians of some of their blessings experienced through the gospel. The apostle wants them to complete their joy “by living in a way that reflects the mindset of Christ Jesus.”
That mindset is reflected in Christ’s servant attitude. He set aside the glories of heaven, taking on human flesh and living among us. Jesus lived His life in perfect obedience to His Father. Something we could never do on our own.
Second, says Harmon, “unshakable joy is rooted in the progress of the gospel. Even though Paul was in chains, the gospel was not.
“The fact,” says Harmon, “that other believers began to share the gospel with others even more actively because of his imprisonment brought Paul great joy” (Philippians 1:12-18).
Paul continues his ministry among the Christians at Philippi because he wants them to grow in their joy in Christ (Philippians 1:25). Offering his life as a sacrifice to God so that others can grow in their faith in Christ brings him undeniable joy.
American evangelist Dwight L. Moody once said, “The Lord gives his people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to Him.”
Maybe that’s why Paul was undeniably filled with joy. Because Jesus never changes—He is the same yesterday, today and forever—we can live a joy-filled life, in spite of our circumstances as we walk in obedience.
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