What Is Christian Joy?
The joy of the LORD is your strength. (Neh 8:10) The joy of the Lord supports us in our journey. It is our crutch to lean on. Yet, we need to be sure as to what the joy of the Lord is before we lean too heavily on the wrong crutch. The joy of the Lord is much different to the so-called joy of this world. Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom. (Pro 15:21) The unwise man imagines that he finds joy in the foolish things of the world. He senses a fleeting escape from his troubles in the frolicking of a night on the town. His supposed joy may endure for a night, but a hangover comes in the morning. Unlike the world’s folly, the joy of the Lord is real and lasting joy. With the joy of the Lord, weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. (Psa 30:5)
Perhaps every child of God is looking for an elusive ‘something’. It is a mystical ‘something’ that often seems just out of our reach. We are not sure exactly what this ‘something’ even is, but we have this emptiness somewhere deep inside us that yearns to be filled. It is almost like a hole in our soul. We crave this obscure soul-satisfying ‘something’ that would make us feel contented.
The world’s wisdom searches for this ‘something’, but it has no idea what it is looking for, or where to find it. The wise man Solomon looked for it in many places. He looked for it in his much gold. We sometimes think, “Oh, if I were just a rich man …” Solomon had enough money to buy anything his heart desired, but he did not find what he was looking for in what he could buy. Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, but he did not find what he was looking for in women. Solomon sought it in the works of his hands, but it was not there. He searched through wine and entertainment, but his answer was not there. Solomon tried it all. Solomon had it all. The world would say that such a man would surely be content. Yet Solomon concluded that everything under the sun (all that is in this world) was vanity (nothingness or emptiness) and vexation of spirit (not contentment of spirit). Surely, we would think that the wisdom of Solomon could have found whatever it is that men are looking for. Yet, Solomon found that in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. (Ecc 1:18) It seems that more wisdom only gives more realization of the emptiness of this world, even the nothingness of everything. We will never find what we are looking for in the things of this world.
Like Solomon, America looks for this elusive ‘something’ in what the world has to offer. In our so-called earthly wisdom, we chase after riches, lust after women, go for the gusto, and expand our horizons. Yet as far as finding what our souls truly seek, we are probably the most troubled nation ever. Spirits are vexed. Hearts are haunted. Souls are lonely. Booze is guzzled. Pills are popped. Minds are blown. Suicide runs rampant. Just listen to the popular songs of our times. The lyrics tell of the same emptiness that Solomon described. The songwriters do not tell us where to find what it is that we are seeking, but they do understand that we do not have it, and they sense that we all need it.
Solomon should have paid more attention to the words of his father, David. While Solomon was chasing his rainbows, David had left the words: The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psa 23:1) Instead of having a life filled with nothingness, David lived life wanting nothing. If the Lord was his shepherd, he wanted nothing more. Instead of vexation of spirit, David had contentment of spirit. He was filled with the very present presence of his Lord, and his soul rejoiced. The joy of the Lord was his strength.
America also needs to pay more attention to the words of David. We are a people obsessed with covetousness, with things, even with ‘wants’. David had one thing, and no ‘wants’. We have everything, and want more. What did David have that eliminated all his desires for anything else? David knew the reality of the words: The LORD is my shepherd. It is great to know that Jesus is the good shepherd. (Joh 10:11) It is good to know that Jesus is the great shepherd. (Heb 13:20) Yet David knew Jesus as: my shepherd. He belonged to Jesus, and Jesus belonged to him. David needed nothing beyond that. He wanted nothing more. He had the one thing that counted for everything. He had the one thing that made nothing else matter. His shepherd filled his life with green pastures and still waters. His shepherd restored his soul from the vexation of spirit that troubles the world. David did not fear his walk through the valley of the shadow of death. His shepherd would be there with him. David’s cup ran over with joy. He knew that his shepherd’s goodness and mercy would sustain him all the days of his life, and he had the certain hope that he would dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. What more could a little lamb want beyond these things? The understanding that comes from this Psalm turns the world’s nothingness into heaven’s fullness. This Psalm restores the empty soul to one that overflows with joy. As I think about the Psalm, I am filled with joy, and the joy of the Lord is my strength.
Like David, Paul knew what it was to have no ‘wants’. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. (Php 4:11-12) [Emphasis added.] Paul did not speak about earthly ‘wants’. He was not concerned with earthly ‘wants’. He was in a prison and literally had nothing. Yet he could honestly say that he had no earthly ‘wants’. He was content, whether he had lots or little. He was content with wherever he was and with whatever happened. His motto was: I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Php 4:13) The joy of the Lord was Paul’s strength.
Our lives should not be consumed with our earthly ‘wants’. We can be content with whatever, if we have the one thing that really matters, even the promise that our Jesus will never leave us, or forsake us. Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Heb 13:5) If we have the promise that God is with us, we need nothing more. If we know that the LORD is my shepherd, then our cups run over. If we truly have the joy of the Lord’s presence in our lives, we want nothing else.
There is joy in knowing that the Lord is with us. When Jesus came into this world, the angel brought good tidings of great joy. (Luk 2:10) In the Lord’s presence, there was joy. When the seventy returned to Jesus, they came into His presence with joy. (Luk 10:17) In the Lord’s presence, there was joy. When Jesus came back from the grave, their sorrow turned to great joy. (Mat 28:8) In Jesus’ presence, there was joy. Indeed, those were joyful days, when God came into the world as a babe, and left the world as a resurrected King and Savior. In His presence, there was joy.
Since there is joy in the presence of the Lord, it seems that there might have been sadness after Jesus ascended back into heaven. Yet, there was still joy. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (Luk 24:51-52) [Emphasis added.] The Lord was gone, but they still had great joy. They had heard the angels say: This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11) They no longer enjoyed Jesus’ physical presence, but they knew He was coming back. They no longer had His physical presence, but they still felt His spiritual presence, and the joy of the resurrected Lord became the strength of the Apostles.
So with great joy the Apostles returned to Jerusalem, as changed men, strong men, even fearless men. The cowards, who had stood afar off at Jesus’ crucifixion, now boldly took their stands in the temple, publicly preaching the resurrected Jesus to all. The same Peter, who had three times said I know him not, took his stand at the judgment seat of Annas and Caiaphas. They asked Peter for the name of the man who had caused the lame man to leap. By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? (Act 4:7) [Emphasis added.] They wanted a name. These were the same men who had crucified Jesus, the same men Peter had cowered to a few days ago. Now of all things, these men asked Peter to say the name of the man that Peter had previously claimed not to know. What a test of faith! Surely, Peter remembered that Jesus had told him that he would someday be crucified for following Jesus. Surely, Peter considered that this might be the very day. Yet Peter boldly proclaimed: Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. (Act 4:10) Wow! Peter called Him by name. Peter was a changed man, a different man. What if they killed him? So what! He had seen the reality of resurrection. His fears were gone. They all were changed. Those who had been consumed with fear became courageous. Those who had been so prone to strife came together. Jesus was gone, but they were filled with the Holy Ghost. Jesus was physically no longer with them, but His Spirit filled their souls. They were full of joy, and the joy of the Lord was their strength.
Long after Jesus had ascended, the Apostle John began a letter with the words: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life. (1Jn 1:1) John had heard the voice of God, had seen the face of God, had even touched God. He had known and loved the Word of life, even the Word that was God. After his reminiscing, John stated the purpose of his reflection. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1Jn 1:3) John claimed to still have a fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. He wanted us to have this same fellowship with God. John was not here referring to what he once had with Jesus, when he had seen Him eye to eye. He did not want to go back to a time when he was a younger man, so he might again find fellowship with Jesus. Jesus was long gone, but John still felt to be in the presence of Jesus, and Jesus was still in the presence of John. John wanted us to have this same kind of fellowship with the Father, and with the Son, so that we could be full of joy. Listen to the next words of John: And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (1Jn 1:4)
John wrote to us so that our joy may be full, so that we may find what we are looking for in this world. John told us how we can have fullness, instead of emptiness. He told us how we can have contentment of spirit, instead of vexation of spirit. The one thing that can make a child of God happy in this world is fellowship with Jesus Christ. If we have the fellowship of Jesus, we have the way to be okay, even when everything is not okay. We need the fellowship of Jesus, so that our joy may be full, so that the joy of the Lord will be our strength.
Jesus said it like this: The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. (Mat 13:44) [Emphasis added.] In order to understand what Jesus was talking about, we must know what He meant by the kingdom of heaven. It is not surprising that this man from heaven would often talk about the kingdom of heaven. He even began His ministry with the subject. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Mat 4:17) Yet, what most people would find surprising is that Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of heaven had little to do with where we go when we die. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. If something is at hand, it is within reach. It can be taken hold of. It is ‘right here’ and ‘right now’.
To show how Jesus used the words, consider the following passage: Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me. (Mat 26:45-46) [Emphasis added.] “The hour is at hand.” As to time, it is happening ‘right now’. “He is at hand.” As to place, it is happening ‘right here’. The point is not that there is no such thing as an eternal heaven. Jesus sometimes spoke of that, too. The eternal heaven is real, but it is in another place and time. It is not ‘right here’ and ‘right now’. We cannot now take hold of it. It is not at hand. Whatever Jesus was talking about is here and now.
If we assume that Jesus limits the idea of the kingdom of heaven to where we go when we die, we will never understand His message. When I was a teenager, I decided that I would read through the New Testament. Yet I only read a few chapters. At Matthew 13, when I read Jesus’ teachings about selling all that you have and buying the kingdom of heaven, I became confused, and even frustrated. If heaven was by the sovereign grace that I had heard preached and learned to love, then why did I need to buy it? In my confusion, I shut my Bible and quit reading. I must have read over the at hand part. I had missed the ‘right here’ and ‘right now’ aspect of heaven, which followers of Jesus can experience in their hearts, and even in their lives, while still in this troubled world. I failed to understand that Jesus was talking about something that is available in this world, even something that is closely akin to the heaven that awaits us in the next world. I had not related the kingdom of heaven to experiencing the spiritual presence of Jesus in this present world. I had no idea that Paul talked about the same thing, but called it the earnest of our inheritance. (Eph 1:14) I did not know about John’s fellowship with Jesus in this world, so that our joy may be full, even that we may feel to be almost in heaven now. I had failed to realize that if I know that the LORD is my shepherd, then I do not want those things that Jesus said to sell anyway. Oh, the joy of the kingdom of heaven that is at hand far exceeds all we could otherwise have.
About the same subject, Jesus further said: The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luk:20-21) We cannot see the ‘at hand kingdom of heaven’ with natural eyes. Neither can we hold it in natural hands. We experience it on the inside, even in our hearts and souls. It is real, but it exists in the spiritual realm. Paul said: The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Rom 14:17) It is not so much something that we do on the outside, like eating or drinking. It is something that we feel on the inside, like peace and joy. It is spiritual fellowship with the Father and Son, so that our joy may be full. Surely, God’s children, who are now in the eternal heaven with God, even now experience joy in the presence of Jesus. Surely, there is joy in singing the new song. They sung a new song, saying thou art worthy…for thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. (Rev 5:9) Yet, there is also joy for us down here, when we feel the presence of the Lord. Paul said: The Lord is at hand. (Php 4:5) We can now take hold of the Lord. He is at hand. We can enjoy His presence ‘right here’ and ‘right now’. The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Jesus said that we are to sell all that we have in order to have this joy. John desired that we have this same joy. When we are in the spiritual presence of the Lord, our joy is full. When we are in the presence of the Lord, we have that elusive ‘something’, for which our souls crave. When we are in the presence of the Lord, we have that one thing that will give contentment. When we are in the presence of the Lord, we have the thing that will get us through, even give us strength. The joy of the LORD is your strength. The same Holy Spirit that dwells in us inspired John to write the words about this personal relationship with Christ that we can take hold of even now. Oh, that we might have what John had! Oh, that we might experience the close, personal, spiritual fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ! Oh, that our joy may be full!
Peter spoke of joy that we can experience, even while in the midst of the fires of the trials of this world. Though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. (1 Pet 1:6-8) [Emphasis added.] Consider the wonder in these words. A season of heaviness is upon me. Many and varied troubles engulf me. I am in a trial of fire, as gold in the refiner’s furnace. As my faith is truly being tested and purified, the appearing of Jesus Christ is brought before my eyes of faith. In the turmoil of the scene, though I have never literally seen my Jesus, I know that I love Him (maybe more than I have ever known it before). Though I do not now see Him with my natural eyes, I believe in Him with all my heart. The wonder of it all is that as I see Him, I begin to rejoice even in the midst of my fiery trial. By God’s grace, I am able to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
I have felt this unexplainable joy. At the loss of my granddaughter, I felt this joy unspeakable in the saddest moment of my life. No doubt, I had mixed feelings. There was real sorrow, but there was also real joy. I am not promising you that it will all feel good, but there is good in the midst of the bad. There is peace that passes understanding. When Jesus appears, we rejoice in the Lord, even in the midst of our troubles. When we have fellowship with Jesus Christ, even when we are in His presence, there is joy. The Bible does not teach that we should joy in the troubles themselves. While imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote one of his last letters to the church at Philippi. Joy is the central theme of that prison epistle. Among other things, Paul told them: Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say rejoice. (Php 4:4) Paul did not tell us to rejoice in the troubles, but he told us that we can still rejoice in the Lord, even in the midst of the troubles. Paul did not rejoice about being in prison, but Paul knew how to rejoice in the Lord, even in the midst of a prison. He had previously proved such, even while at Philippi. After being whipped and shackled in stocks in the inner prison, at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God. (Act 16:25) Yes indeed, Paul practiced what he preached. He knew how to find joy in the Lord, even when there was none to be found otherwise.
Let us look at the following verse, in order to find two secrets as to how to experience joy in the worst of times. 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. (Heb 12:2) First of all, we take the verse to mean that we can use the faith that Jesus has given us to look directly to Jesus, in order to find direct help in our time of need. Secondly, we take the verse to say that we are to look to Jesus as our example of how to face our troubles. When Jesus faced His most difficult trial, even His crucifixion, He looked to the other side. He looked for the joy that was set before him. Looking toward heaven did not make the cross go away. He still had to endure it, and He still despised the shame of it. Yet, as He endured what was upon Him, He looked at what waited for Him. We need to first use the faith that Jesus has given us, and look to Him, while in the midst of what we must endure. We also need to use that faith to see the other side, where our Jesus is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Oh, the joy that is being experienced up there even at this moment! As we endure our daily crosses, may we look to Jesus, who looked for the joy that was set before Him. May we with patience wait for the joy, which waits for us. Like Jesus, we must sometimes endure the troubles. Yet in our troubles, may we use our faith to rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice. May the joy that we find in the Lord be our strength.
Someday soon, we will leave this world of troubles. When that moment comes, may God bless us to see Jesus, even as Stephen saw Him. May we even see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (Act 7:56) As the thief had his day so long ago, it will be our day. We will finally be with Jesus in paradise, where we will forever rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. We will truly be where we shall not want. We will have said good bye to this world of vanity and to all its vexation of spirit. Even beyond contentment, we will be fully satisfied. I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness. (Psa 17:15) As Jesus was heading home, He endured His cross knowing that joy was just ahead. He knew that weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. He looked for that joy that was set before Him, knowing that the joy would be forever and ever.
Yes, there will be joy in heaven, when we are blessed to be in the presence of the Lord forever. And there is joy in this world when we are blessed to be in the presence of the Lord right now. These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. The joy of the LORD is your strength.