Oh, for Joy!2
I woke up this morning, as did you, and as all people do each day of their lives, with an unshakeable, inescapable, relentless longing for joy. I can’t wash it from my skin in the shower or hold my breath in hopes that it will disappear. Psychological catharsis will not drive it from me. Willpower will not suppress its influence. And contrary to much so-called “Christian” counsel, I should not exorcise its presence or pray for its defeat.
There is in our souls an insatiable hunger for happiness. Every one of us awakened today as we will tomorrow with a chronic, unending ache in our souls for joy and delight. God has hardwired into our souls a yearning, a longing, an unrelenting passion for pleasure. It’s part of what it means to be created in his image.
The problem is not that we have deep and passionate and powerful desires for joy and happiness. We may have thought that was our problem. The church and family and friends or some book you read or seminar you attended may have told you that was your problem. But it isn’t.
The problem is that you are far, far, far too easily satisfied. You and I settle for pathetic little pleasures like illicit sex and drunkenness and the things that money can buy when God offers us fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.
The consistent counsel of Scripture is to pursue God’s presence where “fullness of joy” may be found (Ps. 16:11), to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8), to drink from the river of his delights (Ps. 36:8), and to avail ourselves of every means possible to increase and intensify our delight and satisfaction in him who is joy incarnate.
There are times when, as a pastor and author, I speak harshly and forcefully about some idea or practice. If so, I promise that it is only due to the fact that I see it spoiling our appetite for Christ. I’m not by nature or gifting a confrontational person. But I assure you that I will confront with passion and zeal and energy anything or anyone who threatens to undermine our satisfaction in Christ.
Perhaps the greatest mistake anyone could possibly make in processing and responding to this article is to think that an emphasis on joy breeds passivity or leads to a safe and self-absorbed lifestyle or an approach to Christianity in which the believer is so obsessed with the condition of his heart or his emotional state of being that he neglects his family or ignores the needs of his neighbor or becomes coldly indifferent toward the lost or retreats in isolation from the hurts and needs of others.
In fact, it is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that stokes the white-hot flame of passion for the plight of the nations.
It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that energizes the will of a man or woman to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to preserve a marriage that is falling apart.
It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that empowers the human heart to overcome addictive behavior and sustains the soul in its fight against sin and temptation.
It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that enables a weak and broken soul to persevere when a job is lost or a child rebels or a promise is shattered or a dream comes to naught.
It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that encourages the timid and fearful heart to engage and confront the Christ-less culture in which we live with the good news of the gospel of the cross of Christ and the life and forgiveness and hope that can only be found through faith in Jesus.
It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that will sustain a church through adversity and bind the hearts of its people together in unity and love and mutual affection.
So, don’t deny or suppress or repent for that urgent yearning in your soul for joy. Instead, labor for its satisfaction in the beauty and all-sufficiency of all that God is for you in Jesus.