There are times when I wish I could just stir up more joy in my heart toward God. I love God and am incredibly thankful for all that He has done in my life, but I often wonder why I don’t have more of a fondness in my heart toward Him. After all, He’s the One that saved me from certain death and not only that, but made me His child—giving me more than I could ever ask for or imagine. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the impact the lack of joy has had on my life, why it’s important, and what it really means to have joy. Some of these thoughts have come from my recent lack of motivation to read the Bible and spend time with God. Growing up, I always heard that you should read your Bible even when the emotions aren’t there. While I believe that’s true, I honestly desire to want to spend time with God. When I hear other Christians talk about their joy in God, it almost makes me a little jealous and has led me to start asking why I don’t have that joy. The most frustrating thing about it is that God hasn’t given us as humans the ability to conjure up emotions. Meaning, I can’t just say I want to desire God more and it happens. So what is the correct response when this is the reality in our lives? Here are a few truths that have been helpful for me in thinking about what it means to find joy in God.
The first truth to remember is that joy comes from God. I already hinted at this when I said that we can’t cause ourselves to have joy. Joy is something that we feel but can’t directly control. God is the one who gives us joy. This is evident in the Bible near the end of Romans. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13) This is showing that it is God who ultimately fills us with joy. It’s humbling to think that we can’t even desire God without Him giving us that desire in the first place. Something else that is interesting to note about this passage is the word that bookends this verse: hope. Hope is vital to finding joy in God. This leads to another helpful truth about seeking joy.
We can’t have joy without first having hope. As Christians, the reason for our hope is in stark contrast with other religions. Instead of our hope being rooted in the things we do, it's in the good things God has done for us. This is why we can have joy even when we don’t measure up and things are looking bad. Romans 5:2 says: “...through him (Jesus Christ) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Here is a verse reminding us to rejoice in the hope of the grace that we have through Jesus. There is never a joy without a root cause. As Christians, we have the best possible reason to be the most contagiously joyful people on the planet. We have been brought from death to life! Basically, we don’t have any excuse for a lack of joy. If we do find ourselves lacking joy, we might just be putting our hope in the wrong thing. This leads us to the final truth about seeking joy.
What is our hope in? Or, as I heard it put, who is on the throne of your heart? Who are we worshiping? A helpful indicator of what our hope is in (and ultimately where our joy is found) is by looking at where we spend our time. What do I value enough to make time for, and what gets pushed to the back burner? Thinking about this reminds me of the verse “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) This explains why we become so invested in the characters in our favorite TV show or athletes on our favorite team. After investing so much time in something, we begin to value and desire it. That’s the way God designed us. If we invest our time in the things of this world, then our heart will follow, but if we invest in heavenly things, that is where our heart will be. Another way to think about this passage is that we will always make time for things that we value and think are important. If we flip it around and start making time for the things we believe are important, then that will be what we value.
For me, it’s helpful to remember that my joy in God is from God. The joy that God gives us is rooted in everything that He has done for us. To preserve that joy, we have to fight to keep our hope in Him by reading His Word and spending time with Him.
Lastly, I want to mention how our joy in God impacts evangelism. When our joy and excitement is not present, it makes sharing the gospel more difficult. For instance, if I was sick and someone told me they had the cure and had also been healed, but there was no excitement in their life, I would be skeptical. I believe it’s the same way with the gospel. As Christians, we should want to tell others about Jesus, and people should be able to tell there is something different about us. All the more reason for us to pursue joy in God.
I by no means have figured out everything there is to know about finding hope and joy in God, but these truths have helped me have a better answer to my initial question of: “Why don’t I find joy in spending time with God?” I pray that we will all grow in our love for God and our joy in Him.
Ethan Sanders works in Birmingham as a software developer and leads a group of guys in the College Ministry.