"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."
It's the fruit of the Spirit that we all desire, but none of us can control. The cultural moment we live in can often feel quite the opposite of joyful. The latest string of bad news and tragedy has a way of eating away at our joy and causing us to give way to despair. Yet, the biblical writers insist that there is a joy that can be found regardless of circumstances. That somehow we can live a joyful life no matter what adversity comes our way. To many, this seems like wishful thinking on the part of Christians everywhere. Yet, countless people have lived such lives, exuding the wonderful fruit of joy despite near soul-crushing storms of life.
This kind of joy is radical, counter-cultural, and only found in the person of Jesus. To have joy in any circumstance, you must have a relationship with someone or something that's bigger than any circumstance you face. And that can only be found in relationship to the One who created and sustains all things. Jesus, interestingly enough, was also known as the "man of sorrows," acquainted with our grief. How can the man of sorrows be the one in whom our joy is found? It's because his own joy was found not in his circumstances but in His relationship to his Father. Jesus said it was for the "joy set before him" that he would endure the cross and sacrificially die in our place. This same mindset can be true for us. In fact, the apostle Paul in Philippians chapter 2 prays that we would have the same mindset Jesus had when he humbled himself and became obedient to death. Paul has clued into the reality that can be ours if we root our well-being in our relationship with Christ.
What would it look like for you and me to treasure Christ and commune with him so deeply that the joy of the Lord permeated our own lives? What needs to change in how you relate to Jesus for that to be true of your life? For most of us, we need to do the hard work of carving out more time to be with Jesus in private so that we can learn to be with him as we go about our day! I think this is what Paul meant when he said we should learn to pray "without ceasing ."Paul doesn't mean we must spend all day, every day kneeling at our bedside in prayer. Paul refers to a kind of prayer that we can enter into at any time of day, no matter what we are doing. This kind of prayer leads to the type of relationship where Christ's joy can flow through us more freely.
Joy may be something that we can't control, but it is a fruit of the Spirit that we can cultivate. My prayer for us is that we can learn to cultivate the type of life that allows the joy of Christ to flow in and through us no matter what our circumstances may be.