There is a children’s song composed by George William Cooke that begins: “I’ve got that joy, joy joy, joy down in my heart…down in my heart to stay.”
Joy is one of the supplies on our spiritual journey. Let’s begin this blog by referring to the biblical meanings of the word JOY.
JOY in Hebrew
In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the word(s) for joy appears over four hundred times. In fact there are fifteen different Hebrew words for Joy. One prominent word is simcha (also spelled simchah). It can mean joy, gladness, celebration, gaiety, mirth, joy of God. In the Old Testament, simcha occurs over ninety times.
In Jewish customs events like childbirths or weddings are called simcha: “The song of joy, of gladness, the song of the bride, the song of the bride and song of the joy” (Jer. 33:11).
JOY in Greek
There are several Greek words related to joy. The most used word is the noun chara and is listed over 57 times. “I proclaim to you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10).
Two words related to chara are chariro and charis. One of the meanings of chairo is “to rejoice.” Charis has various meanings. I cite to two meanings: “gift” and “grace” which refers to God’s merciful grace.
Points to Remember
It is important to remember that the biblical words for Joy have a spectrum of meanings depending on the context in which it is used.
For the people of the Bible and for us, the fullness of joy is of God who is our salvation and strength; for Christians this is manifested in Jesus, the Christ.
Some Thoughts on Joy
Joy stems from a grateful heart and a faithful trust. “As we learn to give thanks for all of life and death, for all of this given world of ours, we find deep joy. It is the joy of trust, the joy of faith in the faithfulness at the heart of all things. It is the joy of gratefulness in touch with the fullness of life” (David-Steindle-Rast Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness).
In Philippians 4:4 Paul exhorts us to “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” Can one be a joy-filled person in the midst of tragedies, sufferings, poor health, and constant rejection? In my ministry, I have witnessed individuals whose lives were in constant turmoil and suffering. Yet, they were filled with joy. It was not a masochistic attitude. It was joy and gratefulness to God for being their strength and stronghold.
St. Paul can be a model for us. He was imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, and bitten by snakes and remained a joy-filled person. “I am filled with consolation and despite my many afflictions; my joy knows no bounds” (2 Corinthians 7:4). The lesson for me is that even in trials and difficulties, one can be a joy-filled person for God remains the ground and object of one’s joy.
“Rejoice in the Lord always again I say rejoice.” The bottom line for me is the phrase “in the Lord.” We can rejoice in the Lord knowing that God is our strength and rock; we can rejoice in the Lord for God is our salvation; we can rejoice in the Lord because we know and experience God’s steadfast love; we can rejoice in the Lord because God walks with us in the midst of our sufferings; we can rejoice in the Lord for God is gracious and giving; we can rejoice in the Lord because we have a grateful heart; we can rejoice in the Lord because he is the Lord of joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
God does not want us to be miserable. Jesus says “I have come that you may have life and life more abundantly” John 10:10.
I have joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart…down in my heart to stay.
By Sister Marie A. Leonard, O.S.B.