What is joy?

For the JOY that was set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. Hebrews 12:2

Hebrews 12:2 quite simply epitomizes what JOY is. It enables you to look past what is in front of you, good or bad, and allows that to not have the final say. This JOY is so deep, so pure, that it propels you through all that life throws at you, into the concrete reality of being eternally united to God. A kind of unification that no power can disrupt, to not even mention, break or dismantle (Romans 8:38-39). This is the JOY that was set before Jesus on the cross.


How is that even possible? How can there be any joy in enduring the cross?

Simple. It is this very JOY, the JOY of knowing that God loves you and that He delights over your life and your obedience to Him. This JOY empowered Jesus and gave Him the strength to endure even the cross. Knowing that regardless of the outcome, He will be with His Father in heaven, the ultimate reward and JOY of a life lived in obedience to God. This kind of strength is found in, and released from, the authentic JOY of being in the Lord’s presence.

I am referring back to Nehemiah 8:10 where Ezra reads from the Word to a rebellious, defiant, defeated, broken and lost nation of Israelites’. As the Law was read to them, they were cut to their hearts. So much so, that they began to weep. They wept because they understood, in their spirits’, the extent of their rebellion and disobedience to God. It had separated them from their God. It got them into the very place they were. But, Nehemiah, the governor, gets up and urges the people not to be dejected and sad. Instead, he rallies them to go and celebrate that they heard and understood the Word of God. Telling the people that “the JOY of the Lord is your strength!” God reaffirmed to them that they are still His chosen people, and He is still their God. That is a joy that could impart strength. And in verse 12, this very JOY that they are told to have is described: “So the people went away to eat and drink at a festival meal, to share gifts and food, and to celebrate with great JOY because they had heard God’s words and understood them.”


We know that nothing can secure our peace as much as faith in God can. Faith in Jesus and His death and resurrection. Faith that because I have heard and believed these truths about the Messiah, I am guaranteed to eternal life. Now consider Nehemiah 8:12 again. “…they heard God’s words…” Faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). “…and understood them.” They heard the truth and understood it, so it shot fresh faith through their veins, which activated JOY in their hearts because of the eternal implications that the Word of God had for them. It was here that their faith in the promises of God was reignited, and here where they were empowered through JOY, to live in obedience to God.

Rebuilding a city wall within 52 days may require a particular type of strength, but obeying God requires an entirely different kind. A strength that would only be active in the one with eyes solely focused on the ultimate JOY that lay ahead. Then drawing upon that JOY, from an eternity future, we find ourselves strengthened by a power that is not our own, but God’s. In essence, this JOY is like a bungee cord tied to Jesus, who is seated in heavenly places, pulling us closer to our final destination moment by moment. What a rush, what a JOY!

I can only imagine that this must have been the JOY that Jesus experienced on the cross. The inevitable, albeit excruciating, reuniting of Son and Father. This is our JOY too! This JOY is what should energize and charge us to endure all things in this life. The JOY of being able to say, as Paul says, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)


It is clear to me that JOY is not a circumstantial or situational state of being; JOY is an internal, eternal reality. Joy is not subject to our experience, and it does not depend on emotions. It is as steadfast and unwavering as Christ Himself. It is our challenge to be reminded of this fact when it feels like our JOY levels are low. Be reminded that your feelings make good servants, but they don’t make good masters. Allow the Word of God and the Spirit of God to be your master, and then let your emotions serve you in Christlike character.


In John 17:13, Jesus prays for His disciples (including us, who are His disciples). Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy.” Jesus wants us filled with the same JOY that He has through intimacy with the Father. He knew when He prayed this, that it would be this JOY that would empower His disciples when they were martyred for their faith. He understood the absolute necessity of the presence of JOY in the Christian life. And therefore He prayed that we would have it. Because when we do, we tie ourselves to Jesus with that bungee cord. Remembering that He endured all things and is waiting for us, with His Joy fulfilled, as ours would be too.

Do you need your JOY restored as the Israelites did in Nehemiah? We would love to pray for you, as Jesus did for His disciples, that you might be filled with His JOY. So that you can be strengthened in your race and that you too would reach the finish, full of JOY, the JOY of the Lord.

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Waldo van den Berg

Waldo is the proud husband of Nadia, father of two - Isabella and Hunter, and is passionate about Jesus and seeing Him get what He paid for. He believes that every believer can live a life that is significant and powerful in advancing the Kingdom of God; on earth as it is in heaven. He enjoys a healthy dose of running, strong coffee and silly humour.