The abrupt question caught me off guard.
If someone, anyone, but my long-time friend, Olivia, had asked I would have recoiled, but even her most penetrating questions are always bubble-wrapped in so much love.
My index finger took a few spins around the thick edge of my empty coffee mug as I thought of my response. Possibilities waved about like a broken sprinkler head.
Glancing up at Olivia's tender eyes, I knew she'd wait as long as needed for an answer, a characteristic that made me adore her. My eyes fluttered about the café in search of an honest answer.
"On a scale of 1 to 10—I'm a 3," I confessed.
"Why do you think it's such a low score?" she asked.
Reasons flickered in my mind and started flowing like melted wax.
"Some days I feel isolated. Others I am discouraged too easily. I feel restless and stuck."
Olivia reflected so much grace in her response: "Joy is a gift God wants to expand in your life," she said. "You can be more joyful tomorrow than you are today."
Her words echoed deep and true inside me long past our afternoon at the café: Joy is a gift. I want to tenderly look in your eyes and ask the same question that Olivia asked me that day.
How much joy do you have in your life?
Sometimes it's hard to be honest with ourselves. When I said the number three aloud, my face scrunched. No one wants to be a three. I'd much rather be an eleven! Or twelve! But I had to make a candid assessment of where I was before I could journey to where God wanted me to be.
Thanks to Olivia—whose name just happens to mean "joy"—and her gentle prodding, along with a few other sacred echoes, I began a journey to lay hold of a deeper, more abundant joy.
Until then, I believed joy would naturally flourish in my life without any effort or work. Somehow joy would abound with each passing day. But if anything, my joy was slipping away.
The Connection Between Love and Joy
As I began to explore joy, I soon recognized the close connection between love and joy. Whenever love walks in the room, joy is close behind. If love brings chips, then joy adds guacamole. They travel together, camp together, and have sleepovers together.
The reason we can experience joy is because of God's fierce love.
Joy flows out of God's affection for us. That's why I'm convinced, joy emanates out of the abiding sense that God fiercely loves us.
One of the most foundational ways we can begin to grow in joy is by spending time grounding ourselves in the truth of God's tremendous love for us. We need to spelunk the depths, probe the widths, and scale the heights of His affection for us. This is the surest path to joy.
My hunch is that you desire God's love to break into your life in a fresh, vibrant way, too. Perhaps, like me, you ache for the uncontainable love of God to fill you, saturate you, and overflow in such a way that it drips out of you everywhere you go.
When you have that abiding sense of God's fierce love—a love that will carry you through every circumstance, challenge, and battle you face—you can't help but experience more joy.
For me, Psalm 90:14 has become a personal prayer: "Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days" (NIV).
This verse sparked a spiritual discipline of sorts. I began spending time reading Scripture that grounded me in the wild affection of God. I rummaged through translations that used the most vibrant, passionate, soul-stirring language to describe God's affection, and collected a list of verses about God's love.
In the deepest parts of my soul, I needed to awaken to the fierce love of my Heavenly Father. I'm convinced that God wants to give us a deeper, fuller understanding of joy than we realize. The joy God has for us is grander than any single emotion, action, or response.
A New Understanding of Joy
To embrace the fullness of joy that God has for us, we need to broaden, rather than narrow, our understanding of joy.
When you look at Scripture, joy involves a spectrum of emotions, actions, and responses that include gladness, cheer, happiness, merriment, delighting, dancing, shouting, exulting, rejoicing, laughing, playing, brightening, blessing and being blessed, taking pleasure in and being well-pleased.
Our response to the joy God gives may include laughter, shouting and rejoicing. Or it may be more subdued and include the brightening of the face, the deep sense of being blessed and the pleasure found in being God's beloved child.
The Truth About Happiness
Growing up in the church, I was taught from a young age that joy is a deep and remaining friend, but happiness was a far more circumstantial acquaintance.
Happiness was persnickety about coming to the party of life. If the appetizers weren't fabulous or the right people weren't in the room, then happiness would disappear out the back door like a fickle friend. Happiness wasn't to be trusted, or celebrated.
But passages like James 5:13 instruct us that when we are happy, we are to give praise to God. In other words, happiness issues us a holy call to worship.
I realized I had spent a lot of years thinking I just needed joy and not happiness.
As children of God, could our circumstances be any better? We have so many reasons to be ebullient. We are drenched in the mercies, grace, and love of God.
I long for all the joy and happiness and blessedness and delight and merriment and celebration that God wants to give me as His child. I want the fullness of the pleasures at God's right hand, and the fullness of joy found in Christ.
My hunch is that you do, too!
That's why, from time to time, we need to do a prayer checkup to see if there are ways we may be neglecting opportunities for greater joy, happiness, and celebration.
Let's make a commitment together that we will seek God for all the ways He wants to fill us with joy, happiness and delight. That we will be people whose lives are marked by celebration because God loves us fiercely.
Excerpted from the Bible study Fight Back with Joy, Week 1.
Learn More About Margaret Feinberg's Bible Study
Fight Back with Joy : Sooner or later, we find ourselves on the battlefield of life and struggle to know how to respond. But God says, "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's" (2 Chronicles 20:15). On that fateful day, King Jehoshaphat and his army marched forward rejoicing. Though we can choose from many weapons, God wants to empower us to fight back with joy. Join Margaret Feinberg for this 6-session Bible study that will help you embrace a life that's richer and fuller than you've ever known before—a life of joy.