I cannot recall a specific moment when "pursue joy" became something I must do as a Christian, but looking back, I imagine the mental shift being a gradual one – a slow, downward slope with no flashing lights or warning signs or time to prepare myself for the confusing mess that would soon ensue and require years to untangle.
Pursuing an education, a career, meaningful friendships, lifelong love – even more "righteous" pursuits like a closer relationship with God – simply weren't enough. I now had to balance all of the above much like anyone else but, more importantly, I was to seek out – and live out – that elusive state of constant joy, in spite of and in the midst of external factors, less-than-desired circumstances and various failures.
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness..." (Galatians 5:22)
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." (Romans 12:12)
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." (James 1:2)
If the Bible played any role in your upbringing, you're likely quite familiar with the aforementioned verses and the necessity of pursuing joy as Christians. But how many of us can honestly say we've succeeded?
Of course, I can only speak for myself, and for me, the problem isn't in my lack of trying, that's for sure.
The problem, I've discovered, lies in me believing that joy needed pursuing.
The very idea of pursuing something implies exuding great amounts of personal effort to actively seek it out and all-the-while believing that we can achieve what we've set our minds to do. The idea of pursuit directly contradicts the idea of putting our trust in God. We may acknowledge that true joy comes from God in theory, but when this concept of pursuit is so deeply ingrained into our brains, we can't help but take matters back into our own hands to try pursue joy with our own means, our own strengths, our own abilities.
Instead of pursuing joy, we must surrender to it.
Surrendering to joy means completely abandoning our need for answers and control, and allowing room for uncertainty, as confusing and painful as it may be. First and foremost, we must learn to surrender our right to "worldly" happiness, to which we all can't help but feel entitled – be it a good job, adequate living situation, supportive friends, happy marriage, well-behaved kids, etc. in acknowledgment that, although these things are a great blessing, they are not to be the source of our joy, because the minute those things are taken away, all joy is gone.
Surrendering to joy means following God's lead without knowing where He's leading, waiting on God's timing without knowing when it will come, accepting that God will provide without necessarily knowing how and trusting in God's purpose without understanding the circumstances.
So whereas the idea of pursuing drives us to try harder, the idea of surrender encourages us to trust more.