Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Joy is the fire within the lighthouse that draws the floundering ships of hungry souls ashore. What I have come to notice is that joy has become increasingly rare and increasingly in want among Christians. This is a sign of the health of a church. Joy is a fruit of the spirit, and therefore it should grow naturally out of our relationship and communion with the Branch.
It seems to me as though Christians in the Western Culture specifically, are lacking in joy. This opinion of course is borne from my limited experience and perspective. But it is not uncommon for me to come across a Christian who lives a comfortable life—plenty of food in the fridge, a car, friends, a job, money to spare—and yet they can’t stop complaining. To be honest, they aren’t much of a joy to hang around with. As Christians, we ought to attract those who are lost and without the salvation of Christ. I would hope that we would not find our common ground with others through a need to vent or spew negativity… Our lives should have so much joy that those who seek satisfaction and happiness through worldly substitutes would see the fruit of our lives, and want what we have.
Here are some points that will bring to light what a huge role joy has in the gospel message.
- Angels appear at the time of Christ’s conception and birth with the message, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).
- Christ began his public ministry in Galilee with a bold proclamation of the year of Jubilee, quoting, ““The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61:1,2).
- Jesus speaks to his disciples right before his crucifixion saying, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11).
Joy is in the undercurrent of Christ’s ministry. He did not come to free us so we could continue languishing in our inability to attain holiness. He freed us so we could be free to celebrate what He has done for us! What happened to the disciples immediately after Christ ascended into Heaven? Did they go back into hiding and mourn that Christ had ascended without them, leaving them behind in an imperfect world? Did they fret about what to do next? No! The party continued on!
- “And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.” Luke 24:52-53
In my own life, joy has been a struggle to find. It is a treasure I had to find after clearing away the rubbish and lies I had accepted as truths. Lies such as, “Life doesn’t get better. It only gets worse” or “You are only a burden and problem to others.” I battled for years with depression and suicide, to the point where many thought I was without help. I wish I could say that I went to church, raised my hands and was zapped with a lightning bolt of joy. No, it didn’t happen that way for me. I did have awesome experiences in God’s presence that refreshed my spirit and gave me strength. But mostly I learned through discipline. I disciplined my mind to counter lies with truth from the Scripture. Here’s an example.
- Lie: You are worthless. There’s no point in living.
Truth from the Scripture: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14
- Lie: Life will never get better.
Truth: “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13
Like any type of training, it becomes easier with practice and effort. At first you stumble plenty… but then it begins to flow as naturally as taking a walk. I can only give God praise for how far I’ve come. I know my husband is a witness of God’s work in my life. God has used him as a vessel of healing and love that only increased this fruit of joy in my life. My days are not marked by tears, but laughter and thankfulness. God’s forgiveness, faithfulness, and love have been constant, and for that I have a reason to be joyful! I can say that joy as never been more bountiful in my life, and I hope that it will only continue to do so more and more. Life is fuller, and Christ is clearer to me, with joy.
(I must give credit to Richard Foster’s in his book “Celebration of Discipline”. A lot of my text was from an essay I wrote in response to his chapter “The Discipline of Celebration” and many of my Scriptural references to joy were from that chapter. It is an amazing book, full of wisdom. I highly recommend it for reading!)