THE SECRET OF SPIRITUAL JOY is about the application of a crucial biblical principle which, if applied methodically, will definitely increase your faith, amplify your humility, and expand your joy.
I have intentionally not titled this post The Secret Of Spiritual Happiness. Generally, we use the word “happiness” to refer to positive external circumstances When the weather is nice and everyone loves me I feel happy. But happiness is not a common biblical idea. The ESV translates the original languages into the word happy or happiness only thirteen times. By contrast, joy is a prominent biblical theme. The words “joy, rejoice, or joyful” appear 359 times. Joy is something we are commanded to do. It is also something we experience. It is a fruit of the Spirit. Like happiness, joy can refer to positive feelings flowing from pleasant circumstances. But it can also refer to a deep-down-inside, quiet, settled conviction that all is well despite horrendous circumstances.
For example, James exhorts us to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). And Paul described himself as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Then, in the next chapter, he described himself as in “affliction” yet “overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:4). The words “trials,” “sorrowful,” and “affliction” don’t normally go with “rejoicing” and “joy,” but for Paul, the fruit of spiritual joy increasingly and intimately mingled with them. Jesus experienced the same. “For the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).
In other words, by faith every believer can access spiritual joy even when life is serving up occasions for sorrow. Again, I am not talking about a simplistic cure-all for a miserable day, the escape from sorrow at a loved one’s death, or a cure for the “downer” produced by a “termination notice” in your inbox. I am talking about an active faith response which, despite miserable circumstances, says at the heart level “all is well with my soul.” And, I am saying that this response is effective: it changes you; it brings you joy.
Horatio Spofford (1828–88) knew this joy despite adverse circumstances. In 1870 his only son died of scarlet fever. Then in 1871 the great Chicago fire destroyed much of his wealth. A few months later Spofford sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him to Europe while he stayed in Chicago to wrap up some business affairs. The ship carrying his family collided with another vessel and sank. All four daughters died. Only his wife, Anna, survived. From Europe she telegraphed her husband these dismal words, “saved alone!” Grief-stricken, Spofford quickly sailed for Europe to comfort his grieving wife. As his ship passed the area where his four daughters had drowned he penned the lyrics to the famous hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” The first verse captures the essence of spiritual joy.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Despite sorrows that “like sea billows roll,” Spofford knew what the apostle Paul called the “peace that passes understanding.” It is the deep, quiet confidence that God loves me, that he has everything under control, that he works all of life’s events together for the good of those who love him, and that I deserve much worse than I am getting but, because of the cross, I will never get it. Last, it is the assurance that “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8), “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7), and “love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19) will someday be my eternal inheritance. When faith clings to these as its present possession, the fruit is tangible, spiritual joy.
If you would like to know more about spiritual joy, and how to get it, check out my book here.