When you hear this sparkly word, what do you imagine? Joy can be felt with a huge smile, fireworks in a summer sky, a warm hug, tickets to a great game, a major accomplishment, a beach vacation, dinner with friends, and so much more.
But sometimes joy doesn’t look or feel sparkly. Sometimes it doesn’t arrive on our doorstep beautifully wrapped with a bow.
In fact, Jesus himself didn’t come wrapped in a shiny package.
Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, took his first earthly breath in the most humble of circumstances–a feeding trough, animals, a poor family, shepherds, escaping as a refugee. Then he set about saving the world, but not through military power or political fireworks. Instead, he attended house parties with outcasts, told confusing parables, touched lepers, washed dirty feet, and healed at the cost of his reputation, all without having a home to call his own. Three years of this selfless ministry led him to the most unexpected of places for a King: a brutal death on a cross.
That’s not what joy looks like. Or is it?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Let’s read that again: “For the JOY set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame…”
Can you imagine what it was like for Jesus, being born on this earth knowing that his whole purpose here was to be mocked and shamed and to die a painful death? In every moment of his life he saw the cross looming on his horizon.
But joy got him through what looked like a very un-joyful situation.
So what is that joy and how can we have it? Can we still have it if we’re feeling unhappy? Or if we’re weary or losing heart, as verse three says above? Yes! I love that the Oxford-English dictionary uses the word “triumph” to describe joy. Our joy isn’t dependent on a feeling; it’s dependent on Christ’s triumph on the cross already won for us.
- Joy is remembering the great cloud of people behind you who have fought the good fight and triumphed. Mother Teresa said, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” You can catch souls with your contagious joy.
- Joy is admitting that life is hard and requires perseverance when you are entangled by difficulties. Joy is knowing Jesus is fighting for you and you face it together.
- Joy is fixing your eyes on Jesus knowing he fixed his eyes on you when he went to the cross.
- Joy is Jesus’ resurrection! Because of his risen life, we know the end of the story, and Jesus gives us all that we need to triumph to the end.
Questions for reflection and prayer:
- What are you facing today that is causing you to feel weary? Have you lost heart in anything?
- What do you think gets in the way of you experiencing joy?
- Verse three says, “Consider him…” Spend some moments considering the joy set before Jesus on the cross. How do you think he was able to focus on the joy and not the pain?
- In prayer, give God the things in your life that you have lost heart in. Ask him to give you a new spirit of triumph over these areas.
Lord, I confess I don’t feel joyful all the time. Thank you for accepting me and loving me for who I am, no matter how I’m feeling. Help me to fix my eyes on you and run the race that you’ve designed for me with joy! Amen.