If The Secret of Spiritual Joy sounds like a pretentious title, I don’t mean it that way. I am under no delusion that this book will be a cure for all that ails us—a guarantee of cork-popping effervescence for the rest of our days. That said, I do intend for this book to set out a crucial biblical principle which, if applied methodically, will definitely increase your faith, amplify your humility, and expand your joy.
So yes, in the book I will make an absolute claim. But because this claim is based on Scripture, it is true to the realities of this troubled and challenging world. We can have greater spiritual joy, but I’m not promising there’s a way to find perfect or unwavering spiritual joy—not in this life. That would put the very premise of the book at odds with the Bible.
Notice also that I’m not calling this is a book about happiness. We generally become happy when we interpret external circumstances as good or positive. When the weather is nice and everyone loves me I feel happy. Happiness is a perfectly fine thing in itself, but it is not a common biblical idea. The ESV translates the original languages into “happy” or “happiness” only thirteen times. By contrast, “joy,” “rejoice,” or “joyful” appear 359 times in Scripture. So when it comes to pursuing emotions that make us feel good (a valid and biblical thing to do, as John Piper and others have demonstrated so well), the Bible obviously points us toward understanding and cultivating true, biblical joy.[tweet “The Bible mentions happiness 13 times, joy 359 times. We should probably seek joy!”]
This thing called joy is conceptually deep, spiritually powerful, and surprisingly complex. It is something we are commanded to do, and it is something we experience. It is a fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Like happiness, joy can in one sense refer to positive feelings flowing from pleasant circumstances, but it can also refer to a deep-down-inside, quiet, settled conviction that all is well even when circumstances are horrendous.
For example, James exhorts us to “count it all joy . . . when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). And Paul described himself as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Then, in the next chapter, he described himself as in “affliction” yet “overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:4). The words “trials,” “sorrowful,” and “affliction” don’t normally go with “rejoicing” and “joy,” but for those who apply the contents of this book, they will be increasingly and intimately entwined.
A premise of the book, therefore, will be that by faith every believer can have spiritual joy even when life is serving up occasions for sorrow. Again, I am not talking about a simplistic cure-all for a miserable day, nor am I suggesting that sorrow can be banished from your life. I am talking about an active faith response which, despite the ongoing existence of miserable circumstances, says at the heart level, “All is well with my soul.” And I am saying that this response is effective: It changes you. It brings you joy.
Bill was converted to Christ while doing graduate studies at Gonzaga University in 1971. In 2002 he became the senior pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational Evangelical church, which he planted with several other families in Spokane, Washington. Bill is the author of several books published with P&R, including Gospel-Powered Parenting and Gospel-Powered Humility.