Joy. This is a misunderstood principle in our modern culture. It is not happiness, but instead a deep rooted sense that is independent of life circumstances and fully dependent on our knowledge of God's truth that we are not in control of anything in our world, yet we know that our God, a good God, is in full control. Joy comes from knowing deep down that whatever circumstances the world wants to throw at us, we are able to stand in understanding that all will be made right in the end by a just God.
My early life was not full of joy. Circumstances did weigh me down. The challenges of being a latch-key child in a world where two-parent homes were still the norm, the lack of any faith or religion, and moving a lot in my younger years left me with fleeting feelings that this world was too challenging a place to be and that no one was really looking out for me. I denied the concept of a God on the mere basis that He did not seem to be involved in making things right in this world. That was my perception. In my early twenties, God showed up in my life in such a powerful way that I could no longer doubt His existence or even how much He cared about our lives as people. The day that I was saved was such a glorious day that joy truly entered my soul. My circumstances were still the same, but a joy came over me that led to an inner peace. This joy occurred because for the first time, I saw God and I knew that no matter what life had in store for me going forward, God ultimately had my best in mind.
Paul writes in Romans 8:28 we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. With that knowledge, we can stand before everything the world will throw at us. We are always on the mind and in the love of God: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword (Romans 8:35)? It was summarized by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence that the reason many American children are not doing well in school is their life is falling apart around them. I related to his statement when I first read his book and I knew it to be true because in my personal life, I did so poorly in school mostly due to my specific life challenges. I did not really care about the product of two numbers, or even what a product was for that matter. But once I came to a knowledge of God, and that He had my best in mind for all things, I knew that everything would be OK for eternity, and with that feeling, the joy became prominent in my heart.
There are no steps anyone can give you about how to achieve the joy I am discussing today, but the key I found to intensify my joy was service to God. Since I no longer needed to try to find myself in this life, I started to focus on showing the true face of Jesus to other people. I found areas to serve in local churches (not just my own) and also in other community groups and programs. Once I started to focus on the needs of others, I was no longer looking to my own needs which actually increased my dependence on God. Ultimately, great joy comes into our life when we place our trust in Jesus, experience God's salvation, and then proceed to work in the kingdom. Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us that we are not saved so we can live our life by our own terms, but rather, we are set apart for God's work:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
What is service to God? It is anything that helps anyone learn who God is, helps them come to a knowing salvation in Jesus, or helps them understand their God better. It does not need to be international ministry like some popular pastors teach, and there are many needs in our own neighborhoods that should never be overlooked. I personally focus on small local missions like youth mentoring and soup kitchens, and teaching on the internet is certainly my widest ministry. Other people feel called into long-term or short-term missions to foreign countries, and still others are merely called to called to focus on bringing up their children in the Lord. These are all good and from God. We just need to see how we can best serve the Lord in our world, what fits our skill set, and then we need to take the initiative to make it happen. With service on your heart, the joy will overflow in your life.