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.
Finding joy in God’s presence (Part 1)
8th February 2021
As an ice-breaker, I’ve heard people being asked, ‘if you could invite anyone from history, dead or alive, to a dinner party, who would you invite?’
And the answers are usually focussed on whose presence they would find fascinating, interesting, and captivating.
What if there was someone whose very presence with you brought you joy?
At various points in scripture, we see joy being found in God’s presence whether it is found in our relationship with Him, our prayers to Him, or our future in heaven. Over the coming weeks, we will look at these different aspects of God’s presence and see where joy is to be found.
The joy of abiding in Jesus
In John 15:11, Jesus says,
"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
So, the important question is, what is it that Jesus has just spoken about, which gives us such joy? The answer,
“Abide in me, and I in you.” (John 15:4)
Joy is ours when we abide in Jesus – when we are found in daily, personal relationship to Jesus and our lives are characterised by faith, trust, prayer, and obedience. In the Old Testament, God’s people are described as a fruitless vineyard. Isaiah records God’s dealings with his people in vineyard terms. He describes how God had planted them, cared for them, protected them, and given them everything that they required for fruitfulness, but their faithlessness and disobedience meant they bore no fruit (Isaiah 5). Psalm 80 laments over what has happened to the vine of Israel as the Psalmist says that the vineyard has been ravished and destroyed. But Psalm 80 also looks forward to the restoration of the vineyard. And Jesus picks up this imagery and says,
“I am the true vine” (John 15:1).
He is saying that He is the true Israel. The only way to God is to be joined to the true vine. And so joy is found in knowing that you are joined to Jesus, the very one who possesses the life blood of God. You are united with the one who is the only way to the Father (read that again and allow a smile of joy to come across your face).
Those who believe in Jesus are the branches and just as the branch cannot survive without the vine, we too are those who are utterly dependent on Jesus. To abide in Jesus is to be completely dependant upon Him and to fully trust Him. The vine provides everything that the branch requires to bear fruit, one of which is the fruit of joy. Joy is found in that close, intimate union with Jesus. And as we allow our trust in Him to grow, joy rises within us as the fruit of our union with Him.
Jesus goes on to say that those who abide in Him will also have His words abiding in them. He explains that we abide in the love of Jesus when we are obedient to God’s word and commands.
And perhaps we find the notion of commands being joyful a hard one to process. We often imagine commands to be oppressive and overbearing. But that is because we often associate the idea of commands with someone who is power hungry and harsh. What if the commands were coming from someone who was righteous in every way, completely just, and whose love and care for you was steadfast and unending? Those commands wouldn’t be harsh or oppressive but rather for our good and for our joy.
It is why Jeremiah writes,
“Your words were found, and I ate them,
And your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart,
For I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16)
And the Psalmist can write,
“Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.” (Psalm 119:111)
Abiding in Jesus is to abide in His word and to seek to obediently follow Him. So, as we might be tempted to think, joy is not living according the ways of this world but living Christ-centred lives in surrendered obedience to Him. D.L. Moody said,
"The Lord gives his people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to him."
Jesus tells us that He is the true vine. If we want to enjoy relationship and connection with God we must be connected to the vine. It is only as we live in Christ that we will experience fullness of life and joy. And even when God is pruning – when we go through difficult experiences, or when His word challenges and convicts us – ultimately He does this necessary work in our lives for our good and for our joy.
I would encourage you to meditate on these things and spend some time in John 15:1-17 over the coming days – perhaps reading it over and over; perhaps just reading it a couple of verses at a time and reflecting and praying into those verses. And most importantly, drawing close to Jesus.
Next week - 'Finding Joy through Prayer'