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  • Writer's pictureAdam Smith

The Pursuit of Joy

Joy as training in gratitude

“And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.”—Ecclesiastes 8:15

Do you wish that you had a greater capacity to enjoy life? My guess is that most of us would answer that question with “Yes, by all means.” Of course, that answer simultaneously reveals that while we long for more joy, we also sense a lack of it in our lives. We know there is more of it to be had. 

But, if you are a Christian, it is God’s will for you to find joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 5:22). Ecclesiastes consistently points out that joy is a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:13; 5:19). Jesus told his disciples that their joy would be “full” (John 16:24). To be a Christian is to be given the gift of joy. So why then are so many of us anxious, unhappy, and joyless rather than joyful?

I think that part of the answer is that many of us have not been properly trained in the pursuit of joy. To a great extent, much of our life does in fact revolve around this pursuit. Is this not the truest aim of all our work, our anxieties, and our plans for the future? We want a better life for ourselves and for our families; we want joy and satisfaction. Nearly all of our life, it seems, is spent in the pursuit of true and lasting joy. 

The Bible, however, indicates that joy cannot be found through increased wealth and security, a good reputation, or a change in circumstances. Rather, joy is the fruit of a grateful heart—a heart that has fully surrendered to the Spirit of God. This is echoed all throughout the book of Ecclesiastes: it is the person who accepts their limits, trusts in God’s plan for their life, and gives thanks for what they do have who finds joy. This joy is a gift from God. 

But if joy is the fruit of gratitude, then despair is the enemy of joy. Of course, despair is seemingly all around us in our cultural and political discourse and on social media. We are bombarded daily on global horrors and alarmist rhetoric. In such times, it is much easier to despair than it is to be grateful. 

However, as Christians we are called to pursue a life of joy; the kind of life that “rejoices always, prays without ceasing, and gives thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).  To do this, we must not succumb to the despairing narratives of our age. Instead we must pursue joy by training in gratitude. Such training will teach us to learn how to slow down, count our blessings, remember the ways the Lord has met our basic needs, give thanks, and to ask the giver of joy for more of his good gift. We must learn to say along with the Swedish poet and economist Dag Hammarskjold: “For all that has been, thank you. For all that is to come, yes!”

During World War II, Dorothy Day wrote in her diary “Man cannot live long without joy, without some vestige of happiness to light up his days.” Indeed, we need joy to live. "A joyful heart is good medicine” says Proverbs 17:22, “but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” We need more joy in our lives if we’re going to live fully and faithfully, and so we must train ourselves in gratitude, learning to slow down and to savor, delight, and be thankful for the good gifts God has given us: food, drink, shelter, family, nature, and, above all, Christ.

Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C.


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