There have been times in my life when I had joy and times when I had no joy.
Looking back, the times when I had no joy are much more clear and well-defined:
- When my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and up through (and beyond, if I’m being honest) her death nine months later
- When I got laid off from a job I loved
- When I was on pregnancy bed rest and had to lie down 23 hours a day for more than 8 weeks
- When I had postpartum depression, up through being diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a stint in a behavioral health center
- When my work from home position was rescinded and I had to go in to the office 5 days a week for 8 hours a day for 6 months before I found a new work from home job
If I really thought about it, I could probably come up with more, but those are the big ones over the last 12 or so years.
Why is the bad stuff so much easier to remember? Why do we grab on to the negative thoughts that the enemy whispers in our ears and leave the positive ones to float by?
Research from Boston College and Stanford University has shown that the brain attaches more significance to negative experiences. Recall is more clear, and memories are more accurate. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether you have a generally optimistic outlook or more positive versus negative experiences in life.
A researcher from Florida State University had this to say (in this New York Times article from 2012):
“Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”
More resistant to disconfirmation, eh? I think this is because the enemy whispers cunning things into our hearts like, you’re not good enough and you aren’t worthy and no one likes you. Do you fall prey to those thoughts? I know I do, all the time.
Our evolutionary history provides an explanation for this preference for bad memories. The same researcher goes on to say that
Those who are “more attuned to bad things would have been more likely to survive threats and, consequently, would have increased the probability of passing along their genes. Survival required urgent attention to possible bad outcomes but less urgent with regard to good ones.”
So there you go. Your ancestors paid attention to threats and thus survived to procreate and pass on their genes.
It makes sense, right? The early man who was attuned to the presence of a mountain lion or bear or wolf lived and passed on his wary genes and the one who was busy thinking about his pretty wife got eaten and didn’t pass on anything.
So how do we overcome thousands of years of natural selection and this predilection for noticing all things wrong with ourselves and the world?
We pray. We study God’s Word in which he tells us that we are lovely and beautiful and beloved. We look for things that spark joy in our lives and we practice gratitude.
These are the actions of the joyful, sweet friend, and if you practice and practice and practice some more, you can be joyful too.
Here are some verses to ruminate and meditate on, especially when you’re feeling negative or weak or unworthy.
Your name is written on the rolls in heaven, and you can reach out to your sweet friend Jesus anytime. He’s just a breath away.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. –James 1:2-4 NIV
James doesn’t say if trials come your way; he says when. You can expect them in this broken world, but know that you can profit from these trials if you allow God to work out His plan in your life.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. –Psalm 118:24 ESV
I love this one so much because of the song we often sing in church. This is the day. He made this day, and He made us in it, and hopefully we can all find joy in that.
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. –Romans 15:13 NLT
Because you trust in Him. That’s what it’s all about, right? It’s about trusting in Him no matter what happens and knowing that trials are part of His plan and will all work out in the end.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. –Psalm 16:9-11 NLT
Won’t it be wonderful, amazing, superlative when we are living with Jesus in heaven forever? I think about that and wonder what it will be like. I don’t think any human words can even come close to capturing the feelings of elation and awe, and that simple fact of not knowing brings me almost more joy than I can imagine.
The Lord is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. –Psalm 28:7 NLT
The old saying that God won’t give you more than you can handle is a lie, plain and simple. He regularly gives us more than we can handle so that we have to rely upon His strength. But He promises us that strength, and we can sing in joy knowing that nothing is too big or bad or scary for Him.
You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever! –Psalm 30:11-12 NLT
In my time of mourning, I wished it to end but it didn’t, not for a long long time. Years. But eventually, in God’s timing and when I was finally ready to let go, it did end. When we can find our way back to Him and trust in Him and sing praises to Him, that’s when the mourning will turn to joyful dancing.
Maybe you’re not there yet. It’s okay. Rest in knowing that He is sovereign and all knowing and patient, so be patient with yourself too.
The commandments of the Lord are right,
bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
giving insight for living. –Psalm 19:8 NLT
We often think of rules and laws as preventing us from having fun and doing what we want, but God’s laws bring joy to our hearts. They make us wise and strong. They reward us. They are a light for our path to show us the way to Him, and that brings joy to our hearts.
Those who listen to instruction will prosper;
those who trust the Lord will be joyful. –Proverbs 16:20 NLT
Same as above. Listening to God’s instructions, heeding them, living in them, that’s what brings us to Him. He knows we can’t be perfect, but He just asks us to try and rest in the joy of knowing we’re on the right path.
I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
he saved me from all my troubles. –Psalm 34:4-6 NLT
No shadow of shame should darken your face, sweet friend. Whatever you do or have done, however long you’ve been grieving or stuck apart from joy, it doesn’t matter. Make today the day you rejoice in your salvation and in the friendship of Jesus, and He will save you.
Happy is the person who doesn’t listen to the wicked.
He doesn’t go where sinners go.
He doesn’t do what bad people do.
He loves the Lord’s teachings.
He thinks about those teachings day and night.
He is strong, like a tree planted by a river.
It produces fruit in season.
Its leaves don’t die.
Everything he does will succeed. –Psalm 1:1-3 ICB
This verse isn’t specifically about joy, but I included it because it’s about not listening to the wicked. That’s where those voices in your head come from, the ones that say you’re not good enough, not righteous enough, not worthy. They’re wicked, and you must learn to ignore them if you’re really going to experience the true joy of the Lord. (Easier said than done, I know it. I’m right there with you, sister.)
Joyful are people of integrity,
who follow the instructions of the Lord.
Joyful are those who obey his laws
and search for him with all their hearts.
They do not compromise with evil,
and they walk only in his paths. –Psalm 119:1-3 NLT
Again with the instructions of the Lord, but notice it doesn’t say “joyful are those who are perfect?” He knows we’re going to mess up. That’s why He sent Jesus to pay the price for us and the Holy Spirit to intercede for us. If you do the best you can do, and trust Jesus for the rest, you will be okay, and you can experience joy.
If your instructions hadn’t sustained me with joy,
I would have died in my misery.
I will never forget your commandments,
for by them you give me life.
I am yours; rescue me!
For I have worked hard at obeying your commandments. –Psalm 119:92-94 NLT
Listen to me: YOU DON’T HAVE TO DIE IN MISERY. Even more important, you don’t have to LIVE in misery either.
I feel like it’s time for some tough love here, some tough love that I needed all those years ago.
There is a time for misery and grieving, absolutely. But there is also a time to move on. If a reasonable time has passed, and you can’t move on out of your misery and despair, please find a grief counselor or a Christian therapist and make weekly appointments and talk through it until you feel better.
Those who plant in tears
will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
but they sing as they return with the harvest. –Psalm 126:5-6 NLT
Our God is able to bring good from any bad situation. Look at Job, who lost everything including wealth and family, and eventually was restored to more than before. Look at Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery and whose “owner” sent him to prison and who eventually saved the entire nation of Israel from starvation in the desert. Look at Rahab, who was a lowly prostitute and became an ancestor of The Messiah. He can and will bring you joy.
“And so, my children, listen to me,
for all who follow my ways are joyful.
Listen to my instruction and be wise.
Don’t ignore it.
Joyful are those who listen to me,
watching for me daily at my gates,
waiting for me outside my home!
For whoever finds me finds life
and receives favor from the Lord. –Proverbs 8:32-35 NLT
Joyful are those who listen to the Lord. Right? We find joy in one on one communication with Him, so if you are struggling with joy right now, perhaps what you need is a time or prayer and meditation. Take the time to talk to Him and then listen patiently in quiet contemplation.
I once spent five minutes every night praying a prayer that went something like this:
“Lord, I want to hear from you. I am going to wait in silence until I hear your voice.”
And then I would sit and meditate, which to me meant that I did my best to clear my mind and, when I had a thought that intruded on my quiet waiting, I watched it float by like a cloud and didn’t dwell on it. It took weeks and weeks, but I eventually did hear from Him, and not during that time of meditation but as an astounding revelation when I was busy doing something else.
My point in sharing this is that I had great joy once I heard from Him. I prayed and waited and found joy both in the waiting and in the answer.
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. –Psalm 4:6-8 ESV
In this passage, David contrasts the two kinds of joy, the inward joy that comes from knowing and trusting God and the outward happiness that comes from life’s positive circumstances. Both are good and healthy, but the inward joy is lasting and steady whereas the outward happiness is transient and temporary.
Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. –2 Corinthians 6:10 NLT
Paul is in the middle of a long paragraph talking about how people have treated him and the others preaching Jesus across the Roman Empire. They have been struck down and abandoned by men, but never by God. They have been ignored and mocked, but God is with them and they have joy and hope. They were living in the very worst of circumstances and found joy in their relationship with their Father God. Can you do the same?
And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord. –Psalm 27:6 ESV
In this section of Psalm 27, David writes that his one request is to live in the house of the Lord forever. The tent he mentions is the temple of the Lord, where he shouts with joy. We can shout with joy too.
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. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. –1 Peter 1:8-9 ESV
Peter is talking here about the joy of knowing and loving Jesus, even though we have never seen Him and won’t until we meet face to face in heaven.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and joy are in his place. –1 Chronicles 16:26-27
The place of the Lord holds joy. When you are with the Lord, you can be joyful. I take this to mean, I can be joyful in prayer and really, all the time. I can be joyful in knowing the Lord and being the temple of the Holy Spirit, because I am His Holy Place.
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. –John 16:24 ESV
This verse is about the new relationship that people could enjoy with God after Jesus came. Before Jesus, people could only speak to God through a priest or rabbi. There was no direct connection, no Holy Spirit to intercede for us. After the resurrection, any believer could reach out on a direct line to the Father, and that personal connection with the Creator of the universe should be a source of joy.
But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven. –Luke 10:20 NLT
Just before this verse, Jesus sent out 72 messengers to all the towns and cities where He planned to preach. They spread the Good News in His name and commanded evil spirits and healed people. They were wildly successful and, I have to imagine, a little proud of themselves and their work. Despite their success, Jesus warns them that their greatest victory – and source of joy – is that they themselves have been saved by faith.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. –Romans 12:12 NIV
In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells the truth about Jesus and gives many admonitions about what it means to live as a Christian. This is but one of those, and he says to be “joyful in hope.”
What does it mean to be joyful in hope? I think it means to have trust and faith in God that everything will turn out okay in the end.
My pastor said to me, as my mom was dying from pancreatic cancer, “Tara, God will heal her. He may heal her body on earth, but if not, He will heal her soul in heaven.” Those words struck me like a hammer. I was astounded because I’d never thought of it that way. I knew she would not be healed on earth. I just knew it, in my soul. I’d like to say I had peace with it, but I didn’t. I did, however, accept it as truth. I knew she wouldn’t get better, and I had no joy.
I wish I could go back in time and say to myself, “Look, you can waste your life in sorrow and misery, or you can rest in God’s hope and joy. It’s your choice. God will heal her in heaven, and she will be truly and deeply happy, maybe for the first time. You can trust Him.” I don’t know if it would have mattered, but I’d like to try.
And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” –Nehemiah 8:10 NLT
Nehemiah, an Old Testament prophet, wanted to encourage the residents of Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls and to restore themselves back to a Godly people. He didn’t want them to mourn over their old ways; he wanted them to be joyful in their knowledge of God’s love for them. God wants the same thing for you even today.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. –Philippians 2:1-2 ESV
Paul’s joy was found in the body of the church, loving each other and loving Jesus. Can we find joy in the same, in knowing that we are doing the best we can do for our fellow believers and for Jesus Himself?
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
for they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes
forever, to the end. –Psalm 119:110-112 ESV
Can you live like David, in a place where the testimonies of God bring joy to your heart? I don’t think it’s about feeling guilty if you can’t but rather moving yourself toward that state, a little at a time.
I hope I haven’t painted an overly rosy picture here; that wasn’t my intent. What I wanted to show was that God is the reason for joy in our lives. He is always there and always faithful in every circumstance, and we can trust Him for joy and peace in any situation. These verses filled me with hope even in my darkest days, hope that Jesus would stay with me and eventually restore my joy. You can experience the same, I promise.
While you’re here, take a look at these Bible verses:
- Encouraging Bible verses to start your day
- Bible verses on anger & resentment
- Bible verses on anxiety & worry
- Bible verses on stress
- Bible verses on disappointment
- Bible verses for when you’re having a bad day
- Bible verses about gratitude
- A complete listing of all my Bible verse posts
© 2019 – 2020, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.