A Prescription for Joy15 min read
When was the last time you felt satisfied with a Christianity that was miserable, groggy, and depressing? Surely none of us feel satisfied with it; even so, we put up with it, thinking there is no other option. Sadly we hear all too often the phrase “Life sucks” coming out of our mouths, because we think that it is all life amounts to. But is this really all there is? Is this really the sort of life Christ made way for through His cross? Is this having “life and life more abundantly”? What about all the Scriptures that mention joy? Are they really just remote concepts that only the highly educated or so-called “clerical” Christians can apply? Obviously not. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit: do we doubt God’s power to work it in us? Perhaps in the conditions you are presently in, joy seems like a foreign impossibility, but is it? Does not Scripture stand without defeat? Does not its authority remain steadfast? Surely we answer with a resounding “Yes!” Why, then, would true rejoicing be offered if it was not available to us? Before embarking on a few thoughts regarding joy, let us remember: it is available in every circumstance. With that in mind, we will approach the subject by looking at three main roots of joy in Philippians, a few points on joy in regular Christian Living, and a word on joy during trials.
Roots of Joy – The Philippi Perspective
Before looking at these roots, we need to understand that a willing heart is necessary at the beginning. To rejoice does not come naturally, nor will it come even after examining its sources if our hearts are not willing to respond to those things. We have so much positionally as believers: we have an inheritance that nothing can touch, we have a Great High Priest Who understands our infirmities, we have access to the Throne of Grace, etc. We have it by possession, yet possession doesn’t mean enjoyment. We must have open eyes to realize what is before us and allow ourselves to appreciate it.
Firstly, joy is grounded in the gospel. Paul says in Philippians 1 that he thanked God with joy because of the assembly’s fellowship in the gospel, and later he said “Christ is preached, and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” In chapter two he looks forward to rejoicing in the Day of Christ because the Philippians were “holding forth the word of life.” “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.” (Jn 4:35-36). The gospel is where our journey of salvation begins, and it is what we constantly look to while the journey continues on still. Surely if anything will promote joy in our lives it will be the gospel. Actually, the very first mention of any form of joy was in Exodus 18 – “And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.” We commonly think of the goodness of God as being present privileges, and that would be true. But is not the greatest privilege of all our salvation? Surely we would rejoice more often if we were intelligent as to what we really have. And, as the John 4 passage emphasizes, if we were passionate to offer what we have to others in terms of evangelism, perhaps then we would have more opportunities to rejoice. Let us be gospel-minded saints. Just see what that will for you. Take initiative to prepare for the Breaking of Bread in gathering thoughts of the Lord’s Death: it will lead you to the gospel once again. Study what the gospel means to you and what it has really brought you into as a believer. Give a tract to someone. Talk to the person next to you on the bus, on the plane, or wherever the opportunity seems available: tell them about Christ. Listen to gospel preaching. Whatever it takes, surround yourself with the blessed message of the gospel in all its depths: this is the key to joyful Christianity.
Secondly, joy is grounded in the Person of Christ: Who He is in and of Himself. Four times over we see Paul using the phrase “rejoice in the Lord” (or “in Jesus Christ”) within the last two chapters of Philippians. We like to quote the verse often “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.” But is He really always on our minds? Has such a profound verse become a simple chiché that we use as a filler in a conversation? What a tragedy if it were so! If only we were caught up with His Person, His glories, His roles, His character, and His promises as to our lives, surely we would not be anything but joyful people. There is so much to learn of Who He is. There is so much to understand that if we would take the time to study Him we would feel much more secure and much more alive. Was it not the concept of abiding in Him that preceded the words “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full”? Throughout all circumstances, there is one element of consistency throughout them all: the Person of Christ. Looking to Him, your gaze will be stable. So then, why not set aside time to consider Him? Why not make it a point of study to establish your mind in Who He is? It will be then that you see the secret to joy.
Thirdly, joy is found in appreciating the assembly and its fruitfulness. In Philippians 2 Paul says “Fulfil ye my joy that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” Paul said later in the same chapter “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.” In chapter 4 he describes the assembly as “my joy and my crown,” because they were “dearly beloved and longed for.” Paul could look at that assembly and find joy by it when he invested his love into it. Yes, assembly conditions can be tense at times because of people problems, but the general application of this truth will yield great joy if it is indeed taken wholeheartedly. There is nothing quite like living by the motto “assembly first,” for it embodies a deep-rooted love toward those for whom Christ died and an attitude of feeling privileged just to be with them in the house of God. Of course Paul had a special connection to the Philippians, because of his labors, but surely the same principles apply. After all, any investment in the assembly and its growth yields a special bond to it. Surely then, when we take God’s assembly seriously we can take this verse for our own: “Also Jehoiada appointed the offices of the house of the LORD by the hand of the priests the Levites, whom David had distributed in the house of the LORD, to offer the burnt offerings of the LORD, as it is written in the law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, as it was ordained by David.” Has the blessed company of which you form a part become a simple “club” and lost its dignity as the House of God in your eyes? Has it become much more prominent to complain about it rather than edify it? Has guarding Scripture’s doctrines for the assembly and upholding God’s gospel become a secondary thing? There will be no joy if these include the attitudes one would take. If our burden is with the assembly, then certainly our joy will be with it too.
Roots of Joy – In Daily Christian Living
Perhaps one might wonder if joy is restricted to the times when we can be active in what has gone forth above. What about the times when there is no opportunity for gospel work, when we are not in the setting to study our Bibles regarding Christ, when the assembly doesn’t meet for another few days? Are we to live “checkpoint-to-checkpoint” as it were, just waiting for another spiritual boost so that we can be happy? Not in the least. While gospel work/preaching should be a lifestyle, meditation on Christ an obvious habit, and assembly support unquestioned, the question still arises as to unhindered, continual joy regardless of the day or time. What can we do to live in joy instead of simply rejoicing occasionally?
- We can take prayer seriously. “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:24. Prayer is certainly an area of our Christian lives that can and indeed must be a daily thing, and yet even then it is not restricted to our “closet” times. We have continual access before the throne of grace. Why not take advantage of it? Surely a life of looking up will yield fewer anxious thoughts from looking around.
- We can take service seriously. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.” Romans 14:17-18. From these verses it is quite clear that service with joy is acceptable to God. But what constitutes service in His mind? Is it restricted to times of gospel-work or assembly participation? Actually, no. Scripture says “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” It says in Colossians 4 that even employed work that in man’s eyes may not have spiritual significance must be done “heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men.” Earlier in Colossians says “And whatsoever ye do, whether in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by Him.” It is a wonderful thing to know that in whatever we do, we can have joy. And surely it doesn’t have to be menial joy considering our reward! God is not unjust to forget our labor of love for Him. So then, whether your work be in the assembly, in the factory, in the yard, or wherever it might be, if God has placed you there to serve Christ in some capacity, it pleases His heart and thus should allow us to take joy in it.
- We can dwell on spiritual successes. John 15:11 says in the context of fruit-bearing “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” In 3 John 4 he says “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” In each one of our lives, regardless of time we have been saved, there should always be some sort of spiritual achievement that we can look back on – a person we encouraged, a contact we led to Christ, a growing knowledge of Christ, etc. The basic question is one of fruitfulness. Surely that is something we can seek and be thankful for on a daily basis. Fruit is Christlike character: we must be thankful that in some measure God has been changing us despite our slowness. Fruit is building up the down-cast. Fruit is explaining Scripture to a seeker. All these things, and so many others, we have opportunity for on a day-to-day basis. Let us seek those things which are above and rejoice when we see treasure laid there. This is the secret to joy.
- We can learn the truth of fellowship. In 2 Timothy, Paul says “Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy.” In Philemon, Paul says to Onesimus, a member of the Colossian assembly, “For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.” Then we see John say in his second epistle saying “Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.” These were men who understood the greatness of being in fellowship with God’s people. They always looked forward to being with them. And even when not with them they rejoiced in the thought of being in fellowship with them. Every day, if you are part of an assembly, you are in constant fellowship with that assembly, regardless of whether you are with them or not. Why not rejoice in that?
Joy In Trials
This is where the question of joy becomes especially real: “Is joy offered, or even possible, during trials?” At this point, the answer cannot be according to our experience, nor the experience of others. God’s final Word must be enough for us. The world looks to philosophy and psychology, but we look higher: to theology. Consider Scripture:
- The Possibility of Joy. – 2 Corinthians 7:4 “Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.” Let us not feel defeated the moment a trial steps foot in our door. Though it may not be ours at that moment, let us at least maintain a goal for joyfulness in the midst of the dark hour, for it is indeed possible.
- The Source of Joy: Future Hope – 1 Peter 4:13 “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” Jude 1:24-25 “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” A gaze above earthly circumstances provides a consistency in where base our hope upon. Often our main failure lies in a misunderstanding of where true joy is derived from. Being let down depends on what we allow to hold us up.
- The Mindset of Joy. – James 1:2-5 “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him..” Perhaps instead of targeting our feelings, we should target our minds and first of all inform them as to the reality behind each trial: God is fulfilling our highest desire, that is, to be more like His Son. From that point, it depends on whether or not we count that joy or not. And if we want wisdom (mind-power) to do this, God is waiting to give it.
- The Pattern of Joy. – Hebrews 12:2 “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Perhaps we could actually look at this trial as an opportunity to grow closer and more affectionate toward the cross, because to some extent we are able to share with His sufferings (Phil. 3:10 / 1 Pet. 4:13). And if this should be so, we can learn from His own example of the suffering He bore for us.
- The Strength of Joy. – Colossians 1:11 “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” Rom 15:13 “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Patience and peace seem to be the impossible things of a difficulty above any other character traits. Yet they are the very ones prescribed. Thankfully, it is not for us to work these things in ourselves, but to simply respond to His working them out in us. It is only and ever His power and His strengthening. And thank God they are offered!
So much more could be said about joy, for we have barely touched the Old Testament in our studies. Even so, joyful Christian living is mainly a personal struggle that we must each individually wrestle with. So then, don’t be afraid to stop here. Go further. For example, you may want to keep the writings of John in mind: each book he wrote except for Revelation has the concept of writing “these things that your joy may be full.” Or perhaps you could write down specific areas of your life needing joy and could ask God for wisdom in those things. Ultimately it will be His grace that makes way for a joyful life. We are thankful that He is gracious. So then, joy is set before you to choose: will you take it? Wouldn’t it be nice to be known as the Christian who smiles? Wouldn’t it be nice to be someone whose presence lightens the day of others? There is so much potential with a simple three-letter word. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say rejoice!”