The problem with Joy

red balloon detail from larger acrylic painting called "untethered" by Lydia Crouch
Why is joy tagged with a pinch of shame in the church today?

I’ve been thinking about Joy for years. It’s a powerful thing. But the church I have known has, for the most part, attached guilt or shame to our definition of it. That's a problem.

What a weird thing to realize, now that I write it out in black and white - or dark and light.

What partnership can guilt have with joy?

As I write this, it’s November. I have S.A.D. and live in the Pacific Northwest on the rainy side of the mountains. I am well acquainted with depression and all its nuances - feeling gray, weight gain, lethargy, shame based thinking, fatigue and a whole host of joy robbers.

Also, in my lifetime, I have never seen the church with less joy than right now. Covid. Politics. Sham preachers. Sexual misconduct wrecking pastors yet praised on our movie nights.

Confusion is a joy robber.

HOWEVER, since the Lord keeps walking me toward Joy, I believe He has something here for me!

The most jolting wakeup call for me was years ago when my son, Davis was little. We had recently moved into this house we still call home. I'm not exactly sure, but he would have been around 8, 9 or 10 years old when this happened. As I often did, I snuck into his room in the wee hours to pray over him as he slept. On this night, there was some warfare to do but I wasn’t sure about the what or why. I just felt it. So I asked the Lord, “What do I pray?”

“Pray that his - and your - watermark be Joy.”

Now as an artist and stationery lover who loves papers and their interaction with pen and pencil, this was instantly powerful to me. In my mind, I could see the watermark on paper and knew what He was saying.

You see, for centuries the best papers have watermarks with the manufacturer's name in them. Yes, I said in, not on. You don’t see it unless you hold the paper up to the light.

The thing about watermarks is that the name is not stamped on top of the fibers. It is literally pressed into the fibers of the paper during the wet (transformative) phase.

The Lord was inviting me to pray that Joy would be infused and pressed into the very fiber of our being so that when we get held up to the light, we are marked as His workmanship.

(Was I excluding Rich and Laina? Absolutely not. But the truth is, they somehow already had this. As I said, this was an area of warfare, not personality.)

As I stood there in the dark, I asked, “Well, what is our watermark now?”

“Guilt,” the Lord said calmly but with a firm concern.

“Lord, I understand that I crumble under guilt when I do something wrong. But what about when I’m doing things right?”

“Fear of guilt.”

And there it is. The counterfeit of Joy. The Joy robber.

When he was talking to the Romans, Paul said, “The kingdom of God is not meat or drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

Oh wait. The Holy Spirit has something to do with all this? Hmmm.

And again, later in the letter, Paul writes “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:

So, not only is the Holy Spirit all tied up in Joy and peace, but having this joy and peace in relationship to Holy Spirit is key to overflowing with hope. And there’s power coursing through that!

Can I just say that it’s very hard to be depressed when you have overflowing hope. Overflowing from what? A well? No a flowing spring, of joy and peace.


Strong’s concordance says that the word "joy" here is “χαρά chará, khar-ah'; from G5463; cheerfulness, i.e. calm delight:—gladness, × greatly, (X be exceeding) joy(-ful, -fully, -fulness, -ous)”

But if you were raised like me, you were raised that the cheerful and calm part is fine, but let's not go for the greatly part and certainly not the exceeding factor. And if you even more like me, you’re literally feeling a smidge of guilt or fear of guilt right now in the form of some sort of disclaimer that sounds something like this:

“Yeah, but that’s not the way the world defines joy. This is something deeper.”


“Yeah, but joy is not to be our goal. Obedience is.”


“That joy is more of a deep assurance. It’s not supposed to be this giddy thing.”

-or how about this one -

“You’re confusing joy with happy. Joy is a deeper (implied ‘more serious’) thing.”

And yet, we attach guilt to the word “happy” the same way we attach it to joy. Guilt/fear of guilt comes in many packages: performance for acceptance, fear of letting God down, “obedience” defined as works as separate from our hearts and emotions.

I want to look at each of these half truths. Because they aren’t an all out lie, but a ship that gets just a little off course could wind up in a different country if they don’t course correct. (Don’t you love even the fact that we are capable of change? But that’s another conversation.)

OK, here we go.

“Yeah, but that’s not the way the world defines joy. This is something deeper.”

This sounds true. Yes, what the world calls joy is different. This is more than an understatement. Typically, joy mis-defined is a shallow experience or circumstance based thing that goes away when the experience or circumstance changes. HOWEVER, what I grew up hearing implied is that God’s joy is therefore devoid of experience and is only a cerebral sense of well being. Don’t get me wrong here. I love to think! Our minds are gifts! But so are our emotions, for Pete’s sake. They are both integral parts of our human-ness. You can squash one down in favor of the other, but eventually you pay a price either in lack of intimacy within relationships or lack of direction due to not using the brain God gave you.

Even yesterday, I heard a call to sober action based on Psalm 1. The first word of the Psalm is “Blessed” which translated is literally “happy.” And the disclaimer was immediate and accurate, but maybe incomplete? The totally Biblical teacher was quick to say that this word is not how the world defines happy (getting what we want and the fleeting emotion that comes with that was implied), but that it was a contentment from a job well done.

My question is, “If the world’s definition of happy is shallow and a counterfeit, isn’t the happiness God gives MORE happy? MORE complete? MORE overwhelming?

As someone who has fought depression since my artsy youth, maybe it comes with the territory. But why would I trade the world’s happiness for something eternally more depressing? Is there no overwhelming joy and happiness found in the very Creator of that very thing? Are we as a body afraid of not being respected if we are so exuberant in praise that we look - well - unsophisticated, undignified? Believe me, I struggle with this. But God says to come as children. Children are never ashamed of happiness. Nor are they ashamed of tears. Both draw them to those who love them as something to be shared.

In fact, the word happy is the word Jesus uses in the beattitudes/that famous sermon on the mount. Happy/blessed are the poor in spirit… are their circumstances happy? Nope. So this is something profound here, right? Something that circumstances can’t shake. Something solid and MORE.

“Yeah, but joy is not to be our goal. Obedience is.”

Well yes… and no. I think the first error here is to pit obedience against joy. When I read about obedience, it is intertwined in Joy!

“But it’s not the goal…” um, let’s look again.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

What we do something for is a goal. Or am I missing something? This verse is sandwiched between an admonishment not to give up in hard times. To keep obeying. There’s a relationship here. A HUGE link.

“But we’re not to seek Joy, we are to seek Jesus.”

Again, the error is to say that to seek Joy is something different than seeking Jesus. But Jesus IS our Joy, right? He IS the prize, the thing we run to.

So what does the Bible say that we ARE to seek?

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33) and all these things will be added (not subtracted) but they are not the target, nor are they necessarily evil, unless they become idols.

So what is the kingdom again?

“The kingdom of God is not meat or drink but righteousness, peace and - oh wait - JOY in the Holy Ghost!”

So we do seek Joy? So why am I afraid to even type this?

Because literally every believer I have discussed this with has said, “Yeah, but…”

The person who I see as an exception is maybe Bill Johnson. He is adamant that everything within us and everything we have is meant to make much of God and to see Him raised up so that the world may fear him. And he says one of the things the world sees is the glory of the Lord shining on us - changing our countenance to seriousness and depression? NO! To Joy!

And yet, I feel defensive still. Or maybe geared up to refuse the shame wrapped as a comeback. Why?

Maybe it’s because there’s a powder keg of power in welcoming the joy in the Holy Ghost.

Let’s read that again.

Romans 14:16-18 Do not allow what you consider good, then, to be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18For whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.…

Wait. Look at verse 16. God calls Joy good. It’s part of who He is.

I hear that “Yeah, but…” again.

This Joy is wrapped together with righteousness and peace. Not just here but also in Galatians 5

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.…

This JOY is in direct opposition to the world’s efforts to hack it. In fact, it’s the fruit of the Spirit. There’s Holy Spirit yet again! Is it possible that there can be no real joy apart from Holy Spirit?

I consider Galatians 5 to be one of the most beautiful portraits of Holy Spirit. This is what comes from being connected to the vine! Jesus said, “I am the vine…” and the fruit of it is living with Holy Spirit!

Please tell me you’re seeing this as the freedom God is offering you even as I’m seeing it right now for myself!

Where is my focus? What’s the fruit of my focus and my actions toward my focus? If it is not joy, not peace, not the fruit listed above then is it actually possible that my focus is really off even though it appears righteous? Hmmmm. Something to think about, right?

Here’s what the Bible says about having our focus on magnifying the Lord!

Ps 34

1I will bless the LORD at all times;

His praise will always be on my lips.

2My soul boasts in the LORD;

let the oppressed hear and rejoice.

3Magnify the LORD with me;

let us exalt His name together.

4I sought the LORD, and He answered me;

He delivered me from all my fears.

5Those who look to Him are radiant with joy;

their faces shall never be ashamed.

6This poor man called out, and the LORD heard him;

He saved him from all his troubles.

7The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him,

and he delivers them.

8Taste and see that the LORD is good;

blessed/happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!

Oopsies! There it is again! That word Blessed is interchangeable with “happy” and not just a little happy. It’s “how happy!” (The exclamation mark is in the definition!)

Strong’s Concordanance:

אֶשֶׁר ʼesher, eh'-sher; from H833; happiness; only in masculine plural construction asT interjection, how happy!:—blessed, happy.

-------------------- pause a minute. Think a little? -------------------

What if our admonishments to obedience are correct, but not complete?

What if obedience brings joy?! Obedience can be defined as walking in step with Holy Spirit. Well all I’m reading over and over is that Holy Spirit is a joy bomb in action. So if I’m walking in step with Holy Spirit, shouldn’t I look like, be filled with, flow from, pour out Holy Spirit/joy?

All I’m seeing here is the inseparable nature of obedience and joy and happy happiness, not depressed happiness.

Depressed happiness is absurd. Even to say “serious happiness” is a little wonky. Why do we accept it as a description of being like Jesus? I seriously doubt that Jesus was depressed in any way. Focused? Yes. Powerful? Duh!!! Intense? Quite likely. But depressed/hopeless/afraid? Nope.

One last verse of this glorious connectedness and its fruit.

Psalm 1:1

1Blessed/happy is the man

who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

or set foot on the path of sinners,

or sit in the seat of mockers.

2But his delight is in the Law of the LORD,