Recently, I checked the tread on my truck tires. They need replacing so I’ve been researching the different types of tires available. Unlike summer tires with their best traction limited to the summer months, many brands now carry all-weather tires, meaning they give the best traction year-round and in all seasons.
Speaking of seasons, we are into Christmastime, which is a season notable for its emphasis on joy. This is a time when joy will be preached on, sung about, and otherwise proclaimed more than at any other time. And I suppose with good reason. The angel did declare to the shepherds, “’Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people’” (Luke 2:10).
I can’t help but compare tires to joy. Some joy experienced at Christmas is seasonal—the kind that comes out with the ornaments and is put away with them when Christmas is over. Is our joy only related to Christmas because of all the pleasant things associated with it? Or is it “all-weather” joy like the tires, good to run on all year through all seasons?
As I consider my life and observe the lives of other believers, it seems that joy is not as prevalent as it should be. As I’ve heard it quipped, “Some of us look like we’ve been baptized in lemon juice.” There is a chorus we used to sing that goes, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart.” But if that is true, our faces often don’t show it.
What exactly do we mean when we talk about joy? I know the Bible says that Christian lives are to be characterized by joy but it never defines it anywhere.
In grappling with this I recalled something C.S. Lewis wrote. He had struggled to understand and define joy and intentionally looked for it. His search led him to discover that joy was not the same as happiness or pleasure. And in the end he found it in the most unexpected place. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes, “No slightest hint was vouchsafed me that there ever had been or ever would be any connection between God and Joy. If anything, it was the reverse. I had hoped that the heart of reality might be of such a kind that we can best symbolize it as a place; instead I found it to be a Person.”1
The Apostle Paul experienced what Lewis found. He penned his letter of joy, Philippians, while chained to a Roman guard in prison. He used the words “joy” and “rejoice” 14 times and wrote, “But I will rejoice even if I lose my life…” (Philippians 2:17). He could say that because his life was wrapped up in Christ.
The Apostle Peter also understood this. Writing to persecuted Christians he said, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:8). Those believers were not in happy or pleasant circumstances yet they were filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.
The experience of C.S. Lewis, the Apostle Paul, and the persecuted Christians to whom Peter was writing suggest that happiness is from outside of us, caused by pleasant circumstances such as we may find at Christmas.
Joy, however, is different. It is not seasonal or circumstantial. It is internal and not dependent on externals. When I think of Christ who humbly came to this earth to be crucified that is not a happy thought. But I am filled with inexpressible and glorious joy knowing that Jesus Christ is my Saviour who died to pay the penalty for my sin and bring me into a relationship with God.
As Lewis also discovered joy is not an end in itself to seek after but a byproduct of life with our God. True joy is a sign of God’s presence (Galatians 5:22). The Holy Spirit who is given to us at salvation is the source of all joy. The secret to having all-weather joy is this: seeking Him and experiencing His presence in whatever circumstances we face—even suffering.
As we move into this wintery season, may I suggest you check the tread on your joy? If it comes out with the Christmas decorations and gets packed away at New Year’s it is only seasonal joy. Seasonal joy is tied to Christmas presents. All-season joy is tied to God’s presence. It alone will give you the traction you need to get through all the weather you experience in life.
1. C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World), p. 230–231.