How is Your Joy?
God’s people are to be a joyful people. So much so, that Billy Sunday, the famous early 20th century evangelist, once said that if joy is missing in your life “there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” For, while love is the operational standard of the kingdom, joy is its defining temperament.
Indeed, in dozens of Psalms and nearly every New Testament epistle, the author expresses a joy he hopes his readers will share. Jesus told His disciples that His teachings were intended to bring them joy. Luke records the joy experienced by them, by those who received their message, and by various individuals like Mary in the Magnificat, Zechariah in the Benedictus, and Simeon in the Nunc Dimittis.
Joy is so emblematic of authentic Christian faith that Paul placed it second only to love in his list of spiritual fruits.
So, how is your joy?
What is it?
To answer, we first need to be clear on what joy is.
Often it is taken to be an elevated state of happiness, giddy sense of delight, or acute satisfaction in some pleasure or accomplishment—things that can be produced through personal pursuit.
However, as New York Times columnist David Brooks notes in his book “The Road to Character,” “Joy emanates unbidden and unforced”—not because of anything we’ve produced or accomplished, but “as a gift . . . at those fleeting moments [when] you know why you were put here and what truth you serve.”
Brooks is certainly on to something. For if the biblical examples are right, whatever joy is, it is born in a moral imagination that has gained transcendent insight into our true nature, purpose, and destiny. Stated differently, joy comes with the arresting apprehension of a worldview that imparts imperishable significance to our lives, reflecting the eternity God has placed in our hearts. Thus, Joseph Marmion, a 19th-century Irish monk, phrased it well when he said “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.”
Unlike happiness, joy derives not from the satisfaction of temporal desires or human accomplishments but by faith in God. Paul disclosed the cause-and-effect relationship in his letter to the church in Rome: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.” Likewise, Peter, commending believers in a time of persecution, wrote, “Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
What does it look like?
A joyful spirit produces a kind of inner peace and contentment. Telling of his own experience while imprisoned, Paul wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Paul’s attitude, under conditions that were not very joyful, reveals one of the great paradoxes and best-kept secrets of the good news: We can have joy, in spite of external circumstances, even in times of great difficulty. And Paul’s experience is not unique.
Consider the prophet Habakkuk, who, foreseeing the impending Babylonian invasion and devastation of Judah, wrote, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Or Job, who in the midst of overwhelming loss and grief, proclaimed: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”
Scripture teaches that joy is the possession of those who know God and know themselves as He made them, called them, and destined them. It is a blessing that many, perhaps, most of us have had an occasion to be intensely conscious of. For me, it was after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis in 2001. For someone dear to me, it came at life’s terminus. Co0ntinue reading here.