When You Lack Joy

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written by Jane Kwon

You’re continuing with spiritual disciplines— you’re reading your bible, praying day and night, continuing in ministry, seeking to work heartily in school, meeting up with fellow believers, doing seemingly all the “right things”…and yet, it feels like you’re just going through the motions. You know the gospel, you know that it is sufficient, you know that God is good and worthy and holy, and you know that we are called to rejoice always. But for some reason, you lack joy.

If you feel like this, let me tell you friend, we are in the same boat. But you and I both know that a lack of joy doesn’t give us the license to just set everything down and say with folded arms, “Well then, I can’t continue with ministry until I have joy.” No, as followers of Jesus, we are still called to obedience. Our Lord says that if we wish to follow Him, we must carry our crosses daily (Luke 9:23).  

But our dutiful obedience as bondservants of Christ does not mean that we should brush off our concerns regarding joy. We are rightly concerned when we don’t feel joyful in the gospel because God is concerned for our joy:

  • “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)
  • “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
  • “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)

Now, I don’t know why you specifically lack joy right now. Maybe there is sin in your life that you need to repent of. Maybe you’re so swamped with things to do that you haven’t set aside time to cultivate your intimacy with the Lord. Maybe this is your first year leading a small group and you don’t have the same level of accountability you had in previous years.

Whatever the reason, I think it’s safe to say you lack joy because you are looking at something other than Christ. This something could be school or relationships, maybe even godliness and holiness; you can be pursuing God-glorifying attributes for God-defying reasons. Let me explain by asking you some questions: Why do you want to be holy? Is it because you want people in GOC to affirm you, or because you fear the Lord (Eccl 12:13)? Why do you want to be joyful? Is it because you just want to be happy and feel fulfilled, or because you love the Lord your God and want to be satisfied in Him as with marrow and fatness (Psalm 63:5-7)?

Joy is important, but joy itself is not our ultimate pursuit; joy in the Lord is our pursuit. I know this sounds obvious, but it is incredible how I personally forget this simple truth. Christian, God is the object of our affections. I assure you that when you pursue Him, the Spirit will work in you to bear fruit (John 15:4-5), including joy in God.

Whether you feel like you are filled with joy or not in this moment, if you are a believer, remember:

  1. It is good to long for joy. Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12). Thank God that He has given us the desire to be all-satisfied in Him!
  2. You have reason to rejoice. You are dressed in the righteous garments of Christ. No matter your circumstance, your cup overflows because your sins have been atoned for and you will one day see your Lord face to face, loving Him in a perfection that we know not now on this earth.
  3. Pray, pray, pray. Pray as David did, that the Lord would restore to you the joy of your salvation, that you would then sing of His righteousness and teach transgressors His ways (Psalm 51).

“Go you, who crave for joy, and traverse the wide world round in the vain search for it—my soul shall sit down at the foot of the Cross and say, ‘I have found it here!’ … At the Cross our sun is at its solstice and stands still forever, never moving, without parallax, or shadows of a tropic—always the same—bright, full and glorious!“ -Charles Spurgeon

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