Does Jesus’ joy mean a constant grin?

“Why do you always seem glum?” someone asked my friend and fellow Christ-follower. “Christians should be joyful!”

My friend, serious by nature, felt challenged and somewhat bruised by that question. For a time she wondered if she’d gotten something wrong in her faith and life equation. If her joy-basket had a hole in it. After all, didn’t Jesus say, in John 15:11 “These things (he had just urged listeners to heed closely his teachings) I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be made full”? 

The question niggled long and burrowed deep. She’d grown up in Sunday School, singing the catchy tune, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart to stay!” She knew inner joy, and she knew it depended on her relationship to Jesus. But now she wondered how she came across to people who didn’t know or care about faith in God. 

Straightforward as always, she asked me. Did she seem as miserable as her questioner implied? Must Christ-followers always present as Pollyannas? No cloudy days allowed? Must we be always louder and giddier than people who don’t share our faith?

I know my friend. True, her merry laugh doesn’t ring out frequently. She doesn’t fling light-hearted conversation around as one would skip stones over water.  But I’m sharpened in my own faith by her selfless love for Christ, and the peace that surrounds her like sweet fragrance. I also love the honesty and depth she brings to every discussion, the kind generosity with which she treats others and the boldness with which she approaches problems and people and topics other believers tiptoe around.

In spite of her self-doubt, I could assure my friend that during our several-year fairly close friendship, I hadn’t found her glum. Quiet, yes. Reserved, usually. But long before her birth, God assigned her a lovely, quiet personality.

Miserable, bitter Christians are an anomaly—I’ve known a few—but the joy Christ brings doesn’t mean flashing a constant toothy smile or exhibiting a contagiously happy exterior. Both can be easily faked.

Nevertheless, some Christ-followers genuinely feel a lack of joy. They wonder why peace with God and the sure hope of Heaven aren’t filling their joy-basket. If that’s you, consider some other essential ingredients.

What Christians refer to as “the joy of the Lord” is stirred up in faithful hearts by cultivating good spiritual habits. Those include embracing a community of faith, enjoying the company of and regularly praying for those we share it with; remembering only the good about others and our past interactions with them, (forgiving and forgetting slights and offenses); and eagerly anticipating the second coming of Christ, not  fearing it—a sure depressant.

My friend has a great blend of those habits. No pasted on smile. No forced laughter. Just an authentic believer, sharing her life and faith with others in her community in truthful, generous ways that evidence her deep love of God.

Joy down in her heart. To stay.