Have you lost your joy? If you feel like you’re languishing in a joyless state from day to day, God may seem far away. But God will meet you where you are and help you connect with joy again. You can ask God what Psalm 51:12 does: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Here’s how to find joy again, with God’s help.
What Does Psalm 51:12 Mean?
This verse is a plea for positive change. In Psalm 51:12, King David is praying in repentance for mistakes he made that ended up separating him from God and making it difficult for him to experience the joy he had enjoyed before. David’s prayer here means that he wants to regain the joy he felt when he had a closer relationship with God. David is expressing that he wants a renewed commitment to obey God because he knows that following where God leads with a willing spirit will sustain him through any circumstances. Joy, which is based on a relationship with God, is much more reliable than happiness, which is based only on good circumstances. Psalm 51:12 is a prayer for joy that acknowledges how joy is connected to a saving relationship with God.
David felt joyless because he had been distancing himself from God through sin. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, and after she was pregnant, David then arranged for her husband Uriah to be killed in battle. After he was confronted, David chose to change direction and move closer to God rather than farther away. He confessed his sin to God and asked for forgiveness and restoration. Psalm 51 records David’s entire prayer, including this plea for fresh joy in verses 8 through 12: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
The phrase “restore to me the joy of your salvation” in verse 12 refers to restoring joy, not salvation. Once we’re saved, we cannot lose our salvation. However, we can lose the joy that comes from being close to God when we distance ourselves from him. The good news is that God is always there for us. We can ask God to restore our connection to him, no matter what we have done to break it. When we’re restored, we can enjoy life again because we can perceive God’s presence with us.
How to Ask God to “Restore to Me the Joy of Your Salvation”
If you need to find the joy of your salvation in your relationship with God again, here’s how to get that joy back:
Start with prayer. Confess the sins that are standing in the way of you enjoying a close relationship with God. Ask God to forgive you, accept that forgiveness, and commit to stopping the sins and moving closer to God. In Jeremiah 29:11, God promises: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Look forward to moving into your future with hope.
Replace old unhealthy behaviors with new healthy behaviors. Make whatever lifestyle changes you need to make in order to close the distance between you and God. In my book Wake Up to Wonder, I describe what well-being research shows about how to change common unhealthy behaviors that people use to cope with stress – from bad habits such as constant busyness, overeating, and excessive screen time, to addictions like those to alcohol, pornography, or gambling. Behaviors like those may make you feel better temporarily, but they ultimately steal your joy because they numb you to the wonder of God’s presence with you. Ask God to help you make the changes that are necessary to build new healthy habits into your life, such as prayer and meditation habits you enjoy.
Pursue support, encouragement, and accountability. Reach out to God and some caring and trustworthy people you know for help on your healing journey. Check-in with them regularly about the progress you’re making with your lifestyle changes. Make a plan for resisting temptation when you encounter situations that may trigger your old sinful habits. If you’re dealing with an addiction of any kind, pray for deliverance from addiction and get help from professionals like counselors and doctors to break free and start a healthier life.
Devote more time to enjoying your relationship with God. God is always present with you, and you can find joy in his presence. “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence…” Psalm 16:11 says of God. The less you focus on sin and the more you focus on your saving relationship with God, the better you’ll be able to notice God’s presence with you. Experiencing God’s love will inspire you to devote more time in your schedule to focus on your relationship with him. As you do so, you’ll wake up from being spiritually asleep, so you can discover more joy in your life.
How Does God Restore Us?
God restores us from the joyless state of broken fellowship when we accept his invitation to return to a close relationship with him. When we say “yes” to the adventure of following where God leads us, we’ll find joy every day on our adventures with God. Day by day, God restores our joy by encouraging us and bringing good out of every situation we face, when we trust him. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” Romans 8:28 promises. However, that process is active, not passive. We need to cooperate with God by choosing to follow where he leads.
You can experience the joy of salvation from working out your salvation through obedience to God. In Philippians 2:12-13, the apostle Paul writes: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” He continues in verses 17 and 18 by connecting obedience to joy: “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” As you live out your salvation by obeying God in all aspects of your life, you experience joy in a relationship with the One who is the source of all joy. Your close walk with God will point you in the direction of joy. You’ll notice and enjoy God’s presence with you, and you’ll rejoice because you’ll see good happening because of your obedience.
If you’ve lost the joy of a close relationship with God, the good news is that you can always find it again. Just reach out to God in repentance, and God will meet you where you are. By welcoming God into your life in deeper ways, you’ll perceive his presence more. That will make it easier to understand the wisdom of God’s guidance, which will help you follow where God leads you. Obedience won’t seem like a chore anymore. Instead, you’ll see how obeying God is an opportunity to live your best life. Then you can agree with Psalm 119:14-16: “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.” The more time you spend in God’s presence, the more joy will return to your life!
Whitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter.