For some reason, I always feel like there is great pressure to just “be joyful” without acknowledging that joy is a fruit of the spirit. It’s something that we receive from God, not something we need to achieve in order to please Him. Of course, we should be joyful. Scripture clearly tells us to “Shout for joy… Be joyful in all things… Count it all joy…” and it’s undeniable that a heart in union with God is a heart of joy. The conflict here comes when the rubber hits the road: life is hard and joy is not a natural response in the face of difficulty.
Thankfully, this joy is not at all a burdensome command placed on weary shoulders! It is a gift. God delights to give us gifts, and when joy seems out of reach we can (must!) ask for it with confidence. I love that the hymn Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee abounds in encouragement. This song points us to God who gives joy instead of demanding something that seems so impossible to achieve on our own.
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest; vale and mountain; flowery meadow, flashing sea;
Chanting bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
Mortals, join the mighty chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us sunward in the triumph song of life.
-Joyful, Joyful text from Henry Van Dyke in 1907.