Robert Murray McCheyne said, ‘The purest joy in the world is joy in Christ Jesus.’
In these posts, I want to share some reflections on joy and where, as Christians, we can find our joy.
1st February 2021
In Philippians chapter 4, Paul says rejoice always! So brothers and sisters, it’s as simple as that – we just need to locate the joy switch, flick it on, and we will experience joy.
But that isn’t what Paul says, is it?
Although, as Christians, that is sometimes how we can approach joy. We can think that we have to feel happy all the time. Or we have to look into ourselves and muster up joy. And when we find that doesn’t work, we can become despondent and discouraged. I wonder if you’ve ever had a bad day and someone has said ‘just cheer up’. The comment isn’t helpful or encouraging! And it’s not even possible. Is that what Paul is saying, ‘just be joyful’?
Well, the key is to be found in what Paul actually says to the Philippians,
‘Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.’ (Philippians 4:4)
Religions and philosophies throughout the world tell people to look into themselves for their joy, satisfaction, and peace. Only Christianity says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord’. Only Christianity says, look outside yourself to one who is greater and He will give you His joy. We have a joyful God and He is the source of our joy. We are not those who rejoice in ourselves, our situation, or our achievements – for these things may provide happiness but never lasting joy – but rather are those who find our joy in the Lord. And because our joy is dependent on our joyful God who is eternal, loving, unchanging, and sovereign, we are able to rejoice in Him always – not just when things are good but through all of life.
Paul knew this to be true – his persecutions, beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, rejection, and anxieties were no reason for him to feel joyful in himself or his situation – he knew that his joy was found in the Lord, the source of his joy and of ours.
Immediately after this instruction to rejoice in Jesus, Paul speaks about anxiety. R.C. Sproul says this is because anxiety is the enemy of joy. There is certainly much to be anxious about in our world, much to be afraid of and worried about in our lives. We are fragile human beings with fragile minds. Jesus knew this to be true when he taught people not to worry about tomorrow for today’s troubles are sufficient on their own. Thankfully, Jesus is not silent on the issue of anxiety but gently counsels us to place our trust in our loving Heavenly Father who provides for us and cares for us. And Paul encourages us to demonstrate that trust by drawing near to God in prayer. Finding joy that overcomes our anxieties is found in drawing near to Jesus, the source of our joy, and focussing our hearts and minds on Him.
The Gift of Joy
As we focus on the source of our joy, we can also remind ourselves that joy is a gift from God, which is given to His people. We find these words in Ecclesiastes,
‘For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy’ (Ecclesiastes 2:26)
We know that by our union with Christ we please God and so are those who receive God’s gift of joy. And Paul names joy as a fruit of the Spirit, which is given to all who believe and is evidence of the Spirit’s work in our lives. As Paul writes to the church in Rome, it is God who graciously fills believers with joy and peace.
And while, at times, our joy may wain or feel illusive, it surely serves to remind us that God’s eternal future for us is to dwell with Him and, in His presence, live forever in His perfect joy. The joy we experience imperfectly now is a foretaste of the joy we shall one day experience fully, perfectly, and without limit in the presence of Jesus. Until then, we draw near to Him, the source of all joy, trusting in Him, giving Him our anxieties in prayer, and asking that He would continue to fill us with His joy through the power of His Spirit.
Next week - 'Finding Joy through Abiding in Christ'