Walking around this Christmas season has convinced me of something. Joy seems to be missing. People are wandering from place to place with the look of “there’s got to be more to life than this,” on their faces. Even when Joy to the World is playing in the background. The truth is that whenever there is trouble in our lives or in our relationships, the first thing that seems to go out of the window is joy. It’s like we go to the hospital and get a joy bypass done so that we are appropriately distressed until the trial or problem is over.

This was certainly true of David. Many times in Psalms we find him crying out to God in his trouble, asking for a recovery of the joy he once knew. We see this in Psalm 51, which is a song of repentance. David had sinned. His sin had created a distance between him and the God he once worshiped so freely. And now with a broken heart, he turns in repentance, crying out for God to restore the joy.

But what is joy and will I recognize it when it appears? We often confuse joy with happiness. Happiness is a matter of pleasant circumstances or events, like payday, or a nice back rub. While it brings happiness, all too soon it is over, or the money is gone. In short, happiness at best is arbitrary, subject to individual whims, is shallow and often fleeting.

Joy, on the other hand, is deep and lasting, and it’s not dependent upon pleasant circumstances. The source of joy is not what happens to us, but Who is present with us. The only source of joy is God. David writes about God as the source of joy in Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

I draw your attention to two words, path and presence. The path refers to the ways of God. Certainly there is much happiness to be found in following God’s Word and living in obedience. But the word “presence” refers to a personal relationship with God that will result in real joy. This is the joy for myself, my family and all those who attend Northstar.

Joy is a result of the relationship we have with God, even when our situation and circumstance are bad. Why? Because Joy springs from God’s love and activity in our world. Joy springs from knowing God. Joy springs from worshiping God. In fact, Joy is not the absence of difficulty in our world, but the presence of God with us in our difficulty. After speaking of remaining in Christ’s love, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11). Joy exists from being in a loving relationship with God and sometimes that relationship walks us through persecutions and hardships, trials and testings, all of which seeks to perfect us in the faith.

So my definition of joy is this: Joy is the satisfying confidence that comes from knowing, trusting and serving God. I hope you find happiness, but I really hope you discover joy this Christmas.

So where in the world is joy? It’s found in Jesus.

Discussion Questions:
1. How can we have the joy the Bible talks about when we feel unhappy?
2. Suppose a stranger asks you why Christians make such a big deal about joy. In 90 seconds, how would you describe real joy?
4. Read Luke 1:50–55. What is the greatest area of stress in your life right now? What would it look like to respond with joy? What is the desired outcome of a tested faith?
5. Pray and ask God for patience and the wisdom to let the Holy Spirit work in our lives.