I recently said to my wife, “I feel like I’m losing my joy.” That came after a weekend getaway where I should have been “up,” and yet I found myself “down.” It caused me to take a step back and look at the root of joy and why I sometimes don’t feel it.
Maybe this happens to you as well. Problems mount. Conflicts abound. Disappointments overwhelm. And joy seems lost. Have you ever said to yourself, “I must not be a good Christian, because I struggle with doubts, and I’ve lost my joy”? I have.
In my search for answers, I came across William Wilberforce once again. He, too, struggled with seasons of doubt, great physical affliction, and burdens of conflict that would have crushed most. And yet Wilberforce had a self-forgetting joy where he saw opportunities more than problems, and God used him to eradicate the African slave trade and slavery itself from the British Empire in 1833 (which took nearly 46 years of his life).
How does one endure such opposition as Wilberforce year after year and not lose heart? Part of his resilience came from the root of joy. His conviction was that joy is not optional. It is an “injunction . . . strongly enforced in the New Testament.” Or as he says elsewhere, “We can scarcely indeed look into any part of the sacred volume without meeting abundant proofs, that it is the religion of the Affections which God particularly requires . . . Joy . . . is enjoined on us as our bounded duty and commended to us as our acceptable worship . . . A cold . . . unfeeling heart is represented as highly criminal” (A Practical View of Christianity, 45-46; quoted in Piper, The Roots of Endurance, 150).
For Wilberforce, joy was a means of survival and perseverance, and it was a path toward worship. It was his deliberate choice to be rooted in Christ and thus receive the fruit of the Spirit welling up within him, the second of which is . . . joy (Galatians 5:22).
Our joy, therefore, is not based on circumstances but on the One who has overcome them. Look not to the chains that bind but to the One who holds the key. We might lose the “feeling” of joy, meaning happiness has flown the coop. But the root of joy is not a feeling but a Person. The root connects to the same Vine in which we abide. In other words, happiness is temporal, but joy is eternal. Happiness is rooted in favorable circumstances; joy is rooted in Christ.
If you want more joy, grow deeper in Christ, and thus you will be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:4). That, my friends, only comes by receiving what God provides, not by what we muster in our own strength.
And so now receive these words: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).