I've been thinking about joy recently: Finding true happiness in God, no matter the circumstances. I write as an eager novice in the area of joy, not a seasoned expert.
My wife and I recently watched an episode of Jeopardy! featuring kids. Check out this clip, especially the last 30 seconds.
I can tell you what I would be doing if I won Jeopardy!: jumping up and down, hands in the air, smiling and laughing! As I watched the young winner's composure and lack of visible elation, and heard Alex Trebek say, "You can smile now," it reminded me a bit of what we can be as the church. We know inside that we have the most amazing news possible in Jesus Christ, despite our circumstances, and yet we tend to refrain from showing elation in God. Maybe it seems more mature to hold back displays of joy. Maybe we don't always tap into the reality of the joy in God that is constantly ours through renewed mind and heart in the gospel.
I recently read a quote from Martin Lloyd Jones, a famous British preacher from the 20th century, who said this about the Church's display of joy:
. . . the greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful Church. . . . Nothing is more important . . . than that we should be delivered from a condition which gives other people looking at us, the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy, to be sad, to be morbid, and that the Christian is one who 'scorns delights and lives laborious days' . . . Christian people too often seem to be perpetually in the doldrums and too often give this appearance of unhappiness and lack of freedom and of absence of joy. There is no question at all but that this is the main reason why large numbers of people have ceased to be interested in Christianity. (When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper, page 80)
He is basically saying that our lack of joyful display to the world is the primary reason why non-Christians have lost interest in Christianity.
I don't know about you, but it is very easy for me to be devoid of any joy despite feeling very joyful, content and peaceful in God moments earlier. It is sobering for me just how quickly my eyes move off of Christ, and onto merely horizontal things. Just the slightest change in circumstances throws me off.
I liked this commentary note from Matthew Henry, a 17th century Bible commentator, which expands on two famous passages on joy in God (Philippians 4:4, Psalm 37:4):
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice” (v. 4). All our joy must terminate in God; and our thoughts of God must be delightful thoughts. "Delight Thyself in the Lord" (Ps. 37:4). . . . Observe, it is our duty and privilege to rejoice in God, and to rejoice in him always; at all times, in all conditions; even when we suffer for him, or are afflicted by him. We must not think the worse of him or of his ways for the hardships we meet with in his service. There is enough in God to furnish us with matter of joy in the worst of circumstance on earth. . . . Joy in God is a duty of great consequence in the Christian life; and Christians need to be again and again called to it.
For me I need continual reminding of Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Cliff notes: For sustaining joy, I keep my eyes on Jesus, who kept His eyes on the Father to sustain His present and future joy.
I'm encouraged by the way this concept of joy in God is captured in the lyrics of a song called "Beautiful One," by Steele Croswhite, a pastor, songwriter and musician from our sister church in Salt Lake City, Utah:
You’re the author of all that is good in life, the reason for all my joy
You’re the maker of music, the victor of death, the reason for all my joy
You’re the hope of all men, the marvel of angels, the reason for all my joy
Yes, You are . . .
You can listen to the entire song here.
Next time you check your spiritual pulse, and don't feel joy pumping from your heart, remember to set your eyes on God, the reason for all our joy in all circumstances.
And don't forget, Christian, you can smile now.