As I began my second week in this journey of Spirit-led living, I was somewhat apprehensive about the "joy" week. I have always been perceived as a happy person, but there has been a deep-down struggle in me for many years to maintain the joy that I knew God desired for me to have. I have battled depression several times, and have not been very vocal about that battle until now. I feel in order to truly let the Spirit lead me and bear this joy in my life, I have to be honest about my past struggles in this area.
I really do love life. I have been blessed to experience so many wonderful things, yet still find appreciation for the simple things in life. I would not consider myself to be a moody or negative person. But for whatever reason, I have struggled with depression. It seems there is always this nagging voice inside of me trying to draw me down into myself and away from others. I am thankful that I have never battled severe depression or seriously contemplated suicide. But I have struggled with feelings of insignificance, insecurity, worthlessness and failure.
Through these times, I am always reminded of the verse I learned as a child, "The joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10) I have recited this verse to myself, and even offered it as a source of encouragement to others, but as I started this week focused on joy, I decided to really research "joy" and why this is such an important characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit as to be described as a source of strength. Here is what I found:
Joy- Intense and exultant happiness; the expression or manifestation of such a feeling; something causing such a feeling
Middle English joie, from Old French, from Latin gaudia, pl. of gaudium, joy, from gaudre, to rejoice
Looking back at the verse, I see that it is not simply joy itself that gives us strength, for joy in and of itself can be a contrived feeling of happiness, not something that can only be birthed by the Holy Spirit. But the joy that the Word speaks of as a source of strength is the "joy of the Lord". The Lord alone is the source of our joy, and consequently, our strength.
As I looked further at the root of the word joy, and realized that it comes from a verb that requires action, I believe that the Holy Spirit began to reveal to me the truth about His joy and the strength we find in it. Joy is not simply a feeling of happiness. It is not a plastic smile pasted on the face of a Christian going through a difficult time. It is not even the absence of tears or grief during a loss. Joy is the supernatural ability to rejoice during those times; to find strength in the Lord and a voice to worship, no matter what the circumstance.
There have been times that I have made excuses for my depression. I rationalized that my feelings were a result of bad circumstances or the reality of the difficulty of life. I convinced myself that the Lord would return strength to me when He returned my joy and turned my situation around. But I have failed to see that although my situation may change, the source of my joy never does. And because of Jesus Christ, I can choose to rejoice. I can turn my eyes toward heaven and find unspeakable joy in the hope that I have in Jesus.
Joy is not just a feeling. It is not something that is given or taken away. It my internal response to a source. If I choose to make my source my circumstances, then I will continue to struggle with maintaining joy in my life. But if my source is Jesus Christ, the unchanging hope of glory, then joy is only a whisper away. When I rejoice and choose to worship my God, joy is inevitable in my life.
"But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, "The LORD be exalted!" Psalm 40:16