Tuning in to Joy

Tuning in to Joy

This lesson will help youth to recognize joy in light of other emotions.

Quest for Life

Enhancer of Joy

We can discover joy in our everyday lives.


60 minutes

Lesson Developed by

Sharon Galgay Ketcham


Discovering Joy in Real Life

Tips to Prepare

  • Review the entire lesson and make adjustments according to your group’s needs. This lesson is intended to be a guide and flexible so your creativity can adapt it.
  • Read Psalm 16 and explore the mix of emotions included in the passage. Why do you think joy erupts for the Psalmist?
  • Shared joy marks the Christian community. Read Romans 12:15 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19. How is joy expressed in your community?  How might joy expressions increase?
  • Ultimately, joy will always be partial until the new creation is complete. Read Jude 24 and Revelation 19:6-7.  What aspects of joy do you see in these passages?

Materials Checklist

  • Use 100 emoji picture to really emphasize the point. You can find it at: https://stylecaster.com/what-are-the-most-used-emoji/.
  • Computer, projection, and screen (if projecting emoji examples)
  • 2 50-piece puzzles
  • Paper and pencils
  • A 3 x 5 card for each participant
  • 1 Bible per participant

Setting the Atmosphere

Prepare the room as it works best for your group. They can either sit in circles on ground or around tables.  If you have more than 8 people, divide into groups of 5-8.

Scripture Focus

John 15:9-11


Joy erupts in the middle of life.  Sometimes it is difficult to recognize joy because it is usually mixed up with other emotions. This is especially challenging for a teenager who is developing social-emotional competence (interpreting and reflecting on their different feelings, experiences, and emotions).  When we tune-in to joy, Christ’s love erupts and can even grow as we share our joy discoveries with others. Learning to make joy discoveries enhances a person’s life as well as the community’s shared life. 


In this session, youth will describe joy in light of other emotions, discover joy-filled expressions in the Bible, reflect on joy discoveries in their lives, and practice tuning-in to joy.


Gather (5 minutes)

Opening Prayer: 

Invite the group to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths.  Explain the following: It is difficult to slow down and be still before God, so for one minute we will work to quiet ourselves.  Every time thoughts come to mind (no matter what!), say, “Jesus is Lord.” This is a reminder that God is present in all parts of our lives.

Greeting One Another:

Invite the group to turn to those around them and way the same thing to each other, “Jesus is Lord.”

Introduction of Session: 

  • Collect a emojies or bitmojies that express emotions.*
  • You might pick some that are straight-forward, quirky, or less clearly identified.
  • Display (project them on a screen or print them out to pass around the room) these and describe each.  Make the following point: Life is a lot like a string of emojies and sometimes it is hard to discover joy among them.  

*Practitioner’s Note: Use 100 emoji picture to really emphasize the point. This one comes from https://stylecaster.com/what-are-the-most-used-emoji/.


Engage (30 minutes)

  • Activity 1: Divide students into pairs and have them pick 5 emojies that they think best capture life.  If appropriate for your group, allow them to use devices to access emojies. Each pair should be ready to explain their collection to others.  Ask the following questions after each group describes their unique collection: 
    • In what ways are the emoji collections alike? How are they different?  
    • What emojies do you want to add to the list that we have not included?  Why?
    • Life’s emotions are not as easy to decipher like the individual emojies.  Why do you think this is? 
    • Have the group turn to a neighbor and think about some phrases that to define joy.  Gather these comments together and form a definition on the board.  Variation #1: On a large surface (white board, large piece of paper), write “Joy” in the middle. Invite everyone to write words or phrases that define joy. Variation #2:You might offer your own definition or use the following. Ask everyone to talk about what it means and add words or phrases:  Joy is an emotion we discover in life, choose as our own, and find worthy of pursuing.

Practitioner’s Note: This can be a very good exercise among groups where students are not used to talking to each other about their lives at all.  When students access emojies on their phones, try noticing what emojies they have most recently used the most and invite them to be curious about what that says about what is going on in their lives. Share into the conversation as comfortable.

  • Activity 2: Joy Discoveries in the Bible
    • Joy is expressed by God’s people throughout the Bible.  This often occurs in response to something God does rather than what we do. Explain that the group will do two simultaneous tasks: 1) Look at the following passages and describe the person’s “joy discovery.” 2) While reading these passages each person should look for other emotions in the passages. Give each student a piece of paper, and invite them to draw a “joy emoji” in the middle (their own creation), when they discover other emotions in these passages they can write or draw emojies on the paper. 
    • Leader notes:  The Psalms are written prayers often sung (like spoken word today) that include expressions of trust, celebration, frustration, hope, and even anger.  There are lots of emotions throughout the Psalms because they are written by people like you and me who are trying to make sense of faith in the middle of life, which is pretty messy for these authors. The specific reason for joy is provided in parenthesis next to the Psalm, but let your group explore these texts and use their own words…let them experience discovering joy-filled expressions in the Bible. 
      • Psalm 21:1 (deliverance from enemies)
      • Psalm 30:5 (forgiveness because of unfaithfulness)
      • Psalm 4:7 (protection from danger)
    • Joy in the New Testament often describes Jesus Christ as the source of joy.  Describe the joy discovery in the following passages (and write or draw other emotions they discover on the same paper).  
    • Leader notes: The Gospels describe Jesus’ birth, life and ministry, death, and ascension into heaven.  Especially in John’s Gospel, joy is closely aligned with Jesus inaugurating a new era.  Jesus is the source of joy because he fulfills God’s promise that began in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12) and throughout Israel’s often wayward history.  When Paul writes Philippians, most scholars agree he does so from jail.  His proclamation of the risen Christ is deemed a threat by religious and political authorities.  Christ’s message spread quickly in the Greco-Roman world, and house churches circulated Paul’s letters regularly. 
      • Luke 2:10-11 (the angel’s news for Mary will bring joy to all people)
      • John 15:9-11 (through Jesus we have access to joy and loving each other erupts the same joy)
      • Philippians 4:4-7 (Paul anticipates Christ’s immediate return, “the Lord is near” and this is reason to rejoice in the midst of difficulties; we also rejoice because we can bring requests to God who hears and responds)


Reflect (20 minutes)

Activity 3: Joy Coexists

    • After talking about the joy discoveries people made in the Old and New Testament passages, give the group a minute to complete their emoji page. Ask the following questions:
      1. Which joy discovery stood out to you? Why?
      2. Which joy discovery do you wish you understood better?  Invite the group to help explain it.
      3. Was there a joy discovery that you have trouble seeing as “joy?” Explain why this is?
      4. Look at your emoji paper.  What other emotions did you find in these passages?  Were they similar to joy or very different?
      5. Why do you think joy erupts even when there are negative or more difficult emotions?
      6. Have you ever had the experience of joy erupting in the middle of other emotions – maybe even negative or more difficult emotions?  What was this like? How did you know it was joy? What happened to the other emotions?
      7. Leader note:  Suggest phrasing that helps the group describe joy as coexisting with other emotions.  Just because we discover joy does not mean the pain, sorrow, or anger disappear.  In fact, it’s the contrast of joy that makes it a discoverable in the middle of struggles.

Practitioner’s Note: Try the question “Which of these joys is hardest to imagine?” Turn the conversation to their own situations and context. We find this opens up a whole different, more personal and less abstract reflection. This is also a good topic for which to invite an adult member of the congregation to speak—to tell their own “realy life” story of the multiplicity of emotions and finding joy.

Activity 4: Edge Discovery:

    • Divide into two groups. Place the puzzle pieces from one puzzle in the middle of each circle.  Invite the groups to compete and be the first group to discover all the edge pieces plus build the puzzle’s boarder.  After the game, ask the following questions:
  • How did this go for your team? 
  • Describe your team’s strategy. 
  • How is looking for the edge pieces in the mix of all the puzzle pieces like or unlike discovering joy in the mix of life’s emotions?
  • Variation: If you have more time to spend on this activity, have students pick up 3 edge pieces and 3 middle pieces.  On the back of each edge, draw emotion that is easy to discover.  On the back of each middle, draw emotion that is more difficult to discover.  Go around the circle and invite students to share one from each category. Ask students to make summary statements following this activity by asking, “What am I coming to see about discovering joy?”

Send Forth

Send Forth (5 minutes) 

  • Review the following points and response questions from the lesson. Provide each person with a paper and a notecard to write down their answer.
    • Use the group’s definition of joy from the or the provided definition “explore” section above. (Joy is an emotion we discover in life, choose as our own and find worthy of pursuing.)  What are you coming to understand about joy?
    • Just like the people of God in the Bible, we discover joy right in the middle of our day. Life is often like a string of emojies, and it can be hard to discover joy in the mix of other emotions especially when we are struggling. Remember that Christ is the source of joy because he extends love and grace to us. This same love helps us care for each other. On the notecard, invite each person to write down an answer to the following question: What’s one area of your life where you want to look for joy? 
  • Closing Prayer: If appropriate for your group, have students swap cards.  Ask them to pray for a joy discovery in the area the other person wrote down. Variation: Use the same prayer in the gathering section.  Invite students to think about the area of their life written on the card and declare, “Jesus is Lord.”  Repeat this phrase with their friend’s card.

Related Video Clips


This Resource includes the following downloadable content:

Yale Youth Ministry Institute