Oct. 12, 2016: Where Is the Joy?

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Have you ever wondered where the joy has gone? I confess that sometimes I have. It is curious how people can seek to religiously affirm our lack of joy, as if the desire to be joyful or even happy is assumed to be some kind of selfish desire. For instance, someone might say something like, “God doesn’t want you to be happy; He wants you to be holy.” or “God wants you blessed, not happy.” Such statements sound spiritual, but they’re really not. Billy Sunday wrote, “If you have no joy, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.”

The Anglican bishop J.C. Ryle concluded, “Happiness is what all mankind wants to obtain — the desire of it is deeply planted in the human heart.” If this desire is “deeply planted” in our hearts, who planted it? It certainly wasn't the enemy. Fundamentally, the enemy isn’t happy and has no happiness to give. It’s clear in Scripture that he’s a liar and a murderer. His strategy is to convince us to look for happiness everywhere but in its only true source. If we believe that God is the source of the fullness of perfect joy, then doesn’t it make sense that part of being made in His image is having both the desire and the capacity for joy? After all, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...” (Galatians 5:22-23a). God wants to give us Christ-centered happiness in Him.

So what is Godly joy? I am grateful to John Piper for his definition: “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the Word and in the world.” Dr. Piper then breaks this down for us:

a) A Good Feeling: Christian joy is a good feeling. It's not something ethereal that we don't notice and we simply plod on miserably holding in faith that we should be joyful. It is something that we, literally, feel. It's not an idea. It's not a conviction. It's not a persuasion or a decision. It is a feeling. “Real joy,” says C.S Lewis, “… jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’ nights.”

b) In the Soul: The immaterial part of my personhood experiences joy. The body may feel the effects of that. There may be tears of joy rolling down my face. These tears are a product of joy but distinct from it. The feelings are, if you like, movements of the soul. Joy produces these movements of the soul.

c) Produced by the Spirit: These movements of the soul are produced by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the joy in my soul overflowing towards God is coming from the work of the Holy Spirit. This joy has nothing to do with our natural temperament or even with our circumstances.

d) The Sight of Jesus in the Word and in the World: The Holy Spirit causes me to see the glory and beauty of Jesus in His Word (the Bible) so that we're with Origen, a 3rd century scholar and theologian, when he says, "This Scripture belongs to me."  – where we read it and we know that He is speaking to us. We see Jesus in the world (that is, in His presence, in His provision, in His people and in His gift of creation). When I see Christ in all that He is doing, and all that He is, then my heart is filled with joy towards Him.

Of such a joy, Mother Teresa said, “Joy is strength.” The Old Testament prophet Nehemiah would agree. He encouraged the Lord’s people, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Without His joy, we are weakened. The primary way to be strengthened is by having our hearts filled with His joy and integral to this is the Holy Spirit’s work within us so that we begin to encounter the breadth and the depth and the length and the height of the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18-19).

Furthermore, His joy protects us. Richard Foster concluded, “Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be light-hearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride.” His joy also makes us more effective in bearing His love. David Jeremiah wrote, “When our lives are filled with peace, faith and joy, people will want to know what we have.” And it's His joy that leads us in obedience. Matthew Henry noted, “Holy joy is the oil to the wheels of our obedience.” I came across this a number of years ago but it's always stayed with me. Let me share it with you:

One day a monk met a beggar. The monk said, “God give you a good day, my friend.” “I thank God I never had a bad one,” said the beggar. “Well, God give you a happy life, my friend,” said the monk. “I thank God,” said the beggar, “I am never unhappy.” The monk, in amazement, said, “What do you mean?” “Well,” said the beggar, “I thank God when I have plenty. I thank God when I am hungry. I thank God since God’s will is my will and whatever pleases him, pleases me. Why should I say I am unhappy when I am not?” The monk looked at him in astonishment. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am a king,” said the beggar. “Where is your kingdom?” asked the monk. And the beggar answered quietly, “In my heart.”

So if His joy is missing from your heart, don’t fall for the religious lie that would tell you that joy is some kind of mere luxury that we can live without. What good father doesn’t want his children to know joy — to delight in good things? Instead, know your Heavenly Father’s desire and passion (regardless of your outward personal circumstances) to restore His joy to your heart.