In Isaiah 43, Yahweh instructs the people of Israel to serve as “witnesses” to the world that He alone is God. A few millennia later, the Jesus followers of today have inherited that same responsibility. I’ve walked with Jesus for several years, but it wasn’t until last spring that I began to actively explore what being a “witness” to God’s goodness and holiness could look like in my life.
This academic year I started co-leading a small Bible study group and helping two women at Yale cultivate personal relationships with Jesus in a process known as “discipling”, and I recently began hosting a Christian faith-focused podcast, The Redemption Arc. While I do believe that God smiles down at these efforts, I have realized over time that Christian witness can take much simpler forms. Specifically, I have grown to understand the way that joy can be our witness, functioning as a testament to God’s faithfulness and an instrument for His glory.
Psalm 126:2 states, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy” (NIV). And to whom does the writer attribute this jubilance? “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3 NIV). Joy is listed as the second fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22; it is the birthright of every believer, and it cannot be obtained elsewhere. As Christians, we live in a world that aches for the joy that we are freely gifted by God. When we allow that joy to radiate, people start to notice.
I’ll never forget the time a woman approached me while I was working in a cafe on a soon-to-be midterms season Thursday afternoon last semester, beaming like she had just bumped into an old friend. “You just have this light about you,” she said. “I had to come say hello.” Considering the fact that I was knee-deep in unwatched Macroeconomics lectures and abstruse political theory readings, her words surprised me. What “light” could she see behind my sleep deprived raccoon eyes? In the months since this encounter, I have concluded that my Jesus joy drew her to me—that special gladness that is based not on circumstance, but rather on “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 NKJV).
The Jesus-breathed joy which is extended to those who abide in His love and follow His commandments (John 15:10-11) enables us to see beauty in the quotidian and find meaning in every moment. It is not an artificial, affected happiness that fails to recognize that sad things are indeed sad, but is instead grounded in the steadfast hope that even “those who sow with tears” will eventually “reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5 NIV). In a world that is turned upside down by trouble and grief, this kind of joy is not only rare, but revolutionary. By simply basking in the joy of the Lord, which is the source of our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), we serve as witnesses to who He is and the truth of His promises.
Iman Dancy is a junior in Morse College, Yale majoring in Ethics, Politics, and Economics.