What are people willing to give for joy? What price are they willing to pay? Consider what people spend on vacations, luxury goods, entertainment, and stimulants and it’s clear the cost is sky-high. And yet all that time, money, and effort never seems to be enough. For so many people, joy remains elusive. And if they do find it, it is fleeting and unsatisfying.
It’s ironic that during the holiday season—when we talk about joy the most—it seems to be the hardest to find. The holidays are stressful. We have a lot to do. We are pressed for time and money. Family conflicts tend to rise to the surface. But even in the midst of these things we can remain genuinely joyful. This sounds paradoxical, but as Bill Farley discusses in his recent book, The Secret of Spiritual Joy (to which this article is indebted), it is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
This means that for Christians, there’s a joy that comes without price—prepaid, as it were. Joy is one of the first three fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, along with love and peace. Farley explains what spiritual joy really is, and how we can obtain it. Spiritual joy doesn’t necessarily mean some kind of 24/7 cork-popping effervescence. Sometimes it does feel like exuberant happiness, but at other times it flourishes even when our present circumstances are bitter and we don’t feel good.
In fact, the Bible regularly connects this kind of joy with trials, sorrow, and affliction. For example, James 1:2 exhorts us to “count it all joy…when [not if] you meet trials of various kinds.” And Paul described himself as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Then, in the next chapter, Paul says that he was “afflicted” yet “overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:4). At the same time!
How does that even work? For most people, the words trials, sorrow, and affliction don’t go with rejoicing and joy. But for those living in the Holy Spirit, they are increasingly and intimately entwined. “For the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
Farley says that spiritual joy is like a heat-seeking missile. It pursues those who walk in the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16). This walking involves a number of spiritual disciplines, but foremost among them is the discipline of gratitude or thanksgiving.
Few have walked in the Holy Spirit like Paul did. Farley quotes a New Testament scholar who notes that Paul mentions gratitude or thanksgiving “in his letters more often, line for line, than any other Hellenistic author, pagan or Christian.” That’s because Paul knew what he deserved. His rightful inheritance was crucifixion and eternal damnation. But because Jesus died in Paul’s place, Paul would never get what he deserved. So no matter how bad his circumstances, the apostle Paul was continually thankful, and therefore continually in possession of spiritual joy. Farley reminds us that the secret of spiritual joy for believers in Christ is gratitude to God. This is the path that leads away from grumbling, self-pity, and temper tantrums.
For many of us, the holiday rush has already started. We’re figuring out how to navigate that tricky time that runs from the fourth week in November until a little after New Year’s. In the United States it all begins, at least officially, with Thanksgiving Day—a day originally designed around gratitude to God. We might not consider the holiday season a time of suffering on the level Paul experienced, but the lesson still applies. Most of us will encounter stress. Maybe even conflict and trials. The cure is still the same.
So as we ready ourselves for the food and travel, the gifts and visiting, the pleasures and the stresses, we need to walk through it all with a fresh grasp on gratitude. The eternally finished work of Christ on the cross offers us powerful and unchanging reasons to be grateful. We must dwell on these truths, deeply and daily, from now until New Years (at least!). This will enable us to cultivate and share deep spiritual joy in any and every circumstance. Even during the holidays.
Bill Farley’s recent book on gratitude is The Secret of Spiritual Joy. For the next few days, Cruciform Press is offering the ebook versions of The Secret of Spiritual Joy for $0.99, including on Kindle, and the paperback for $5.99. If you review books online, you might want to pick up a free copy.