Everyone is looking for joy. Marketing companies know this. Every commercial promises the same product: joy. Want some joy? Buy our hand cream. Want some joy? Sleep on this mattress. Want some joy? Eat at this restaurant, drive this car, wear this dress. Every commercial portrays the image of a joy-filled person. Even Preparation H. Before using the product, the guy frowns and squirms in his chair. Afterwards, he is the image of joy.
Joy. Everyone wants it. Everyone promises it. But can anyone deliver it? It might surprise you to know that joy is a big topic in the Bible. Simply put: God wants his children to be joy-filled. Just like a father wants his baby to laugh with glee, God longs for us to experience a deep-seated, deeply rooted joy.
The joy offered by God joy is different than the one promised at the car dealership or shopping mall. God is not interested in putting a temporary smile on your face. He wants to deposit a resilient hope in your heart. He has no interest in giving you a shallow happiness that melts in the heat of adversity. But he does offer you a joy: a deep-seated, heart-felt, honest-to-goodness, ballistic strong sense of joy that can weather the most difficult of storms.
Peter referred to this joy in the opening words of his epistle.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:8-9 ).
Who was Peter addressing when he spoke of unspeakable joy? He was speaking “To God’s chosen people who are away from their homes and are scattered all around the countries of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (I Pet. 1:1). Peter was speaking to persecuted Christians–people who had been driven from their cities, separated from their families. Their rights had been taken. Their property had been taken. Their possessions had been taken. Their futures had been taken, but their joy had not been taken. Why? Go back to Peter’s Epistle again- this time in another translation: “You have never seen Jesus and you don’t see him now. But still you love him and have faith in him” (I Pet. 1:8). The source of their joy? Jesus! And since no one could take their Jesus, no one could take their joy.
What about you? What has been taken from you? Your health? Your house? Have you buried a dream? Have you buried a marriage? Buried a friend? As you look at these burial plots of life, is your joy buried there, too?
If so, you may have substituted courageous joy for contingent joy. Contingent joy is always dependent upon a circumstance. Contingent joy says I’ll be happen when…or…I’ll be happy if. I’ll be happy when I have a new house or a new spouse. I’ll be happy when I’m healed or when I’m home. Contingent joy depends upon the right circumstance. Since we cannot control every circumstance, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Envision the person who buys into the lie of contingent joy. As a young person they assume, if I get a car, I’ll be happy. They get the car, but the car wears out. They look for joy elsewhere. If I get married, I’ll be happy. So they get married, then disappointed. The spouse cannot deliver. This goes on through a series of attempts. If I get the new job… if I can retire… If we just had a baby. In each case, joy comes, then diminishes.
By the time this person reaches old age, he has ridden a roller coaster of hope and disappointment. He becomes sour and fearful. Contingent joy turns us into wounded people.
Courageous joy, however, turns us into strong people. Courageous joy sets the hope of the heart on Jesus and Jesus alone. Since no one can take your Christ, no one can take your joy.
Think about it. Can death take your joy? No, because Jesus is greater than death.
Can failure take your joy? No, because Jesus is greater than your sin.
Can betrayal take your joy? No, because Jesus will never leave you.
Can sickness take your joy? No, because God has promised– whether on this side of the grave or the other–to heal you.
Can disappointment take your joy? No, because though your plan may not work out, you know God’s plan will.
Death, failure, betrayal, sickness, disappointment. They cannot take your joy, because they cannot take your Jesus. And Jesus promised, “No one will take away your joy” (Jn. 16:22).
Is that to say your life will be storm-free? Is that to say no sorrows will come your way? No. “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Is that to say you will never cross the drylands of sorrow? No. But that is to say your sorrow will not last forever; “Your grief will turn to joy” (Jn. 16:20).
Years ago I lived on a houseboat that was docked on the Miami River. The level of the river would rise and fall with the tide. The boat rocked back and forth with the river traffic. But though the level changed and the boat rocked, we never drifted. Why? Because we were anchored to a concrete sea wall.
Courageously joyful people have done the same. They have anchored their hearts to the shoreline of God. Will the boat rock? Yes. Will moods come and go? No doubt. But will they be left adrift on the Atlantic of despair? No, for they have found a joy which remains courageous through the storm. And this courageous joy is quick to become a contagious joy.
Christians of the New Testament church were not known for their buildings or denominations or programs. They were known for their joy. “They ate together in their homes, happy to share their food with joyful hearts. They praised God and were liked by all people” (Acts 2:46-47).
The early Christians were joyful Christians. In fact you might argue that there is no other type. In the purest sense, the phrase joyful Christian is redundant. We shouldn’t need the adjective. We don’t put the word dead in front of cadaver or wet in front of water or handsome in front of Max. (Just kidding.) Ideally, we shouldn’t have to put joyful in front of Christian.
But we do. We do because we tend to major in contingent joy and not courageous joy. But God can change that.
Assess your joy level: Are you joyless? Do you spread more pessimism than you do hope? If so, God can help you. Grimness is not a Christian virtue.
Believe that joy is possible!
Don’t give in to despair. What Jesus said to his followers, he says to you. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
Be open to the possibility of a joy from heaven. Joy may be elusive, but it is never gone. Sometimes it just takes some work.
My friend Jerry has taught me the value of gratitude. He is 78 years old and regularly shoots his age on the golf course. (If I ever do the same, I’ll need to live to be a 100). His dear wife Ginger battles Parkinson’s disease. What should have been a wonderful season of retirement has been marred by multiple hospital stays, medication, and struggle. There are many days that she cannot keep her balance. Jerry has to be at her side. Yet Jerry never complains. He always has a smile and a joke. And he relentlessly beats me in golf. I asked Jerry his secret. He said, “Every morning Ginger and I sit together and sing a hymn. I ask her what she wants to sing. She always says, ‘Count Your Many Blessings.’ So we sing. And when we get to the line that says ‘name them one by one’, we do just that: we stop singing and start naming our many blessings, one by one. And when we are through, recognizing the truth of those many, many blessings does much more to relieve her pain and my anxiety than any of her meds could do.”
Anxiety thrives in the petri dish of if only. It doesn’t survive in the world of already. For that reason, treat each anxious thought with a grateful one.
Take a moment and follow Jerry’s example. Look at your blessings.
Do you see any friends? Family? Do you see any grace from God? Love of God? Do you see any gifts? Abilities or talents? Skills?
As you look at your blessings, take note of what happens. Sorrow grabs his bags and slips out the back door. Unhappiness refuses to share a heart with gratitude. One heartfelt thank you will suck the oxygen out of its world. So say it often.
Who is to say God won’t give the same to you? Why don’t you call out to him?
Ask God, “Lord, what is separating me from joy?”
Ask him to replace your contingent joy with courageous joy. Ask him to help you anchor to the firm rock on his shoreline. Ask him to show you the joy that cannot be taken. He will. He will stir a revival of contagious joy in your heart.