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Cultivate Joy: How Many Times is the Word Joy in the Bible?

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How many times is the word joy in the Bible? 

I never put much thought into this question until recent years.  However, the difficult reality of transitioning from being a healthy, active person to needing multiple major surgeries in the span of a few years was incredibly difficult. These surgeries, while helpful and beneficial, weren’t cures.  Rather, they were treatments for a chronic disease, which can be debilitating at times and has no known cure. The reality is that people can only handle so many difficult circumstances before we start to crumble.  All too often, we forget the abundance of God’s love for His children, especially when life is difficult.  Maybe this is part of why the Bible mentions joy so many times?  

Occurrences of the Word Joy in the Bible

Depending on your translation, the word “joy” can be found in 150 to 358 verses in the English translation of the Bible.  In the King James Version (KJV), the word “joy” occurs 165 times in 155 verses.  The English Standard Version (ESV) has the word “joy” 179 times in 171 verses.  In the New Living Translation (NLT), the word “joy” can be found 272 times in 260 verses.

Joy is Mentioned Often in the Bible

For the word joy to occur anywhere from 165-272 times in the Bible (depending on translation) seems like a lot. I don’t have a seminary degree.  But I’ve heard multiple ordained pastors say that when something is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible, we know it’s particularly important.  For the word joy to occur so many times in the Bible, it must be something God’s people need to be reminded of often.

It can be easy to maintain a cheerful heart full of Christian joy when our lives are going well.  But what about when things aren’t going well?  Can we have joy through difficult situations like chronic illness, infertility, or a cancer diagnosis?  What about the passing of a loved one?  Can we remain joyful in a time of grief?

One of my favorite passages from the Bible is James 1:2-3, which says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (NIV)

Consider it pure joy when you face trials?  At first glance, this verse from James seems to hold a nearly impossible task.  I’ve definitely had seasons when I’ve struggled to understand how one can experience joy in the face of trials and suffering.  How can a person experience joy when they’re dealing with grief and sadness?  I think the distinction comes when you realize that joy and happiness are not the same thing.

Happiness vs. True Joy

Many people confuse the words “happy” and “joy,” thinking they mean the same thing.  Although related, these terms are distinct from one another. “Happy” typically refers to feelings of delight, pleasure, or gladness that arise from specific circumstances. For instance, eating your favorite ice cream, witnessing a child’s pure glee, or receiving an enthusiastic welcome home from your dog can all provoke feelings of happiness. 

These instances are wonderful, yet their ability to make us happy is often transient — happiness depends largely on our current situations.

But then, there’s joy. Joy is defined as “a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight.” This definition leads me to believe that joy is something enduring and deeply rooted. Joy is not simply a feeling of great pleasure in response to happy circumstances.  It seems that the distinction between joy and happiness is that joy is something to be cultivated over time whereas happiness is a feeling or a momentary experience. 

What is Biblical Joy?

When I was first married, I attended a women’s Bible study that was going through the book of James. Little did I know then that James 1:2 would eventually become one of my favorite Bible verses from the New Testament.  Over the last several years, chronic illness has made it necessary to let go of a lot of things I really loved and enjoyed.  I’ve had to let go of a lot of things that brought me happiness.  But, letting go of a lot of things that brought me happiness didn’t mean I would never be joyful.  Quite the contrary.  At the end of the day, the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the only source of true, lasting joy.

James 1:2 says – Count it all joy, my brothers [sisters], when you meet trials of various kinds. (ESV)

The Christian life can be full of trials and much affliction.  Living with chronic illness has undeniably been a trial.  It has worn me down mentally, physically, and spiritually in ways I never even dreamed were possible.  But, that’s one of the things I love about the Bible – it is full of true stories of people who endured difficulties.  

The children of Israel faced trials.  Many of the early Christians were persecuted or martyred.  Christ Jesus Himself, suffered.  Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The apostle Paul became a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, but he was no stranger to trials.  In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes about his own sufferings but that, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  

The Joy of the Lord is your strength

I love that joy is rooted in the person and work of Jesus, and not in our earthly circumstances.  Joy is something we cultivate by spending time meditating on God’s Word.  As it says in Nehemiah, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10b (ESV)

Below are some of my favorite verses about joy.  My daughter and I created the graphics in this post as free printables or phone wallpapers in hopes that they’ll be an encouragement to you.

One of my favorite verses from the Old Testament is Psalm 16:11.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. ~ Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy. ~ Hebrews 1:9 (NIV)

A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. ~ Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. ~ Psalm 47:1 (NIV)

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. ~ Isaiah 51:11 (ESV)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13 (ESV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)



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