Our congregation is working through John 13-17 in our sermons right now. Jeremy Jackson, one of our elders, was teaching on John 15:9-17 a couple weeks ago, and he presented a very interesting definition of joy. Joy can't be mere pleasure, because you wouldn't then have it while experiencing severe persecution. But it also seems to be an emotion of some sort. So many of the biblical discussions of joy seem to involve overflowing with some kind of excitement. It can't be mere resignation to the difficult things in life. It's certainly not the outward look of happiness that many have meant when they've told me I should show more joy when leading worship.
So what is joy? Jeremy defined it as the exhilaration of the accomplishment of something worthwhile, in particular of God's accomplishment of something worthwhile in whatever situation we are in. He also likened it to spiritual adrenaline for Christ. When we were looking at Habakkuk at a one-day retreat about a week later, he recast his definition as conscious experience of the fact that God delivers you and the sober exhilaration in the awareness that God's purposes are being worked out. I think this is it exactly. This not only avoids the various things I said above that joy isn't but also explains how someone can be sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as Paul described his own life (II Cor 6:10). I was going to connect this up with some of the ancient philosophers' views on the good life (in particular the Greek concept of eudaimonia), but I think it's more important right now that I finish grading some papers on the ancient philosophers so I can hand them back tomorrow, and maybe this will go into the growing file of things to finish blogging about.