On the road with the family, we stopped at a hotel. Not a great hotel, but a recently opened and reasonably priced chain joint just off the highway. We crowded into the room–Nan and me with our two nine year old boys, our six year old boy, and our two year old little gal. After ten hours in the car, the kids did the most logical thing they could, which was to jump on the beds. This game was followed by stacking every pillow, chair and sofa cushion in the room to create a tower high enough that they could reach the ceiling. It was sort of a miniature tower of Babel right there in our room. With all the fun going on, little Kate yells over her brothers’ laughs and asks, “This our new home? This our new home?”
Apparently, Kate thought this was where we would live. This was home, and she was as excited as she could be about it. It made us all laugh, but it also got me to thinking. In Kate’s young mind, the highest value was being together. To share a single room with mom and dad and her brothers was the best possible world. Jumping on beds and building pillow towers put it way beyond her greatest dreams.
After a full-day of driving and unloading all of our stuff, I had been a little on the grumpy side. The room was fine for our one night stay, but it definitely did not feel like “home.” Kate’s perspective reminded me that sometimes I need to rethink the way I am looking at things.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve been thinking deeply about what it means that we have a joyful God. It’s been a good reminder for me that is shifting my perspective. I’m not talking about the theological categorizing of God in my mind. If you would have asked me several weeks ago if God was a God of joy, I’m sure I would have thought about it and answered in the affirmative, but I wasn’t fully appreciating the joyfulness of God in my day-to-day outlook.
There are many verses about joy in the Bible. We are commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). He says it twice just in case we are a little slow. We are even told to “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). The Psalms tell us to “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (Ps 95, 98). You will find joy throughout the Bible. I could list verse after verse here, but I decided instead that I wanted to point you immediately to the place where joy may be found and then share a few implications for us to consider.
When God Enters the Room, Joy Comes with Him
The Bible tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5). These are the character qualities that are produced in us when the Spirit of God invades our lives. Just as a particular kind of seed will only yield fruit that is appropriate to that seed, we yield the fruit of the Spirit that has been planted in us. One aspect of the fruit is “joy.” Each aspect of the fruit of the spirit is important, but I’m going to focus only on joy.
What this means is that when God the Holy Spirit is present, joy will also be present. When God enters the room, joy comes with him. Think about that for a minute: wherever God is, joy is. When you let that truth take root in your heart and mind, it ought to shift your perspective.
People have all kinds of thoughts about God–some good and some bad. Part of maturing in the faith is casting off false thoughts about God and replacing them with true thoughts about God. However you tend to feel or think about God, you must now consider him to be a joyful God.
Faith in the Joyful God Makes Us Joyful
We also need to understand what this means for us. When we believe the joyful God, we are made joyful. Scripture says (1 Peter 1:8-9):
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Are you overflowing with inexpressible joy? When you are convinced that the most beautiful and glorious and good and holy and joyful and eternal being in the universe has come to you in love and grace, you can’t help but laugh at the joyous comedy of your good fortune. To make it downright hysterical, our God of Joy will eventually shove sorrow out of the way and shower us with a forever kind of joy: “Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35).*
Though this joy is open to all, far too many people will not know this joy. We live in an often faithless, sarcastic and cynical time. The harsh reality is that those who snub, reject and deny the Joyful God will miss out on his forever joy. Rather, they fill their lives with temporary mini-joys that fade as quickly as they spring up. Giving testimony to the law of diminishing returns, they live in search of the next fix of mini-joy to bring a smile to their face. This is joy with a short shelf-life. But there is a stronger and deeper and better Joy.
For followers of Jesus, our spiritual development is in learning to exchange the mini-joys with the Ultimate Joy. Augustine described his journey from mini-joys to True Joy in his Confessions:
“How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose…! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure…O Lord my God, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”**
This joy is a gift that God gives in his grace to us. Our God specializes in bringing the light of joy into dark places, and even when tough times come, our faith gives us hope for the ultimate vindication of joy (Psalm 30:5,11):
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness.
When Joy Has Its Way
This brings to mind so many thoughts about the implications that faith in a joyful God might have for us. What would this mean for our churches? for our blogs? for our songs? for our testimonies? for our marriages? for our parenting? for our friendship? I’ve even wondered about how our embracing God’s joy might change the chemistry of our brains.
Ancient wisdom from Proverbs reminds us: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17:22).
Would you stop for a minute and identify one arena where you need to let the God of joy disrupt your life? What is one thing that would change if your perspective shifted to faith in the Joyful God? Where should God-given joy begin to burst into your world?
Reminders of Joy
I recently came across a line in a book that stuck with me: the writer spoke of a man who received “another chance to face the sky.”*** I love the optimism and openness of this image. It is helping me to think differently about my days. A day is not something to be unwillingly trudged though or unwittingly trifled away. Today is a unique gift to be enjoyed, and there will never be another day just like it. When I wake, I remind myself that today is another chance to face the expanse of the sky. This helps divert my eyes from the troubles and details of the coming hours. It directs my attention to a universe that is bigger than I can comprehend, and more than that, it directs my attention to the God who made it all.
Each day is an opportunity to look with eyes of faith on the God who paints the sky blue and drops migratory puffs of white across its canvas. In case we are tempted to miss his glory in the sky, this Joyful God begins and ends each day with a warm soup of feathery yellows and blood reds and butterfly oranges and eggplant purples all blended together perfectly. The sky cries out to us morning and evening: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118:24).
Of course, you could keep collecting mini-joys only to discard them as yesterdays toys; you could hold on to your hurt or bitterness or cynicism; and you could let your doubts rule the day.
Or, you might try a change in perspective.
As for me, I want to live for the Joyful God, squeezing joy into every minute I can. I want to enjoy every chance to face the sky that my Lord gives to me until the day I come face-to-face with Joy himself. My hope is fixed on that day, when the torrent of goodness and glory that washes me will overwhelm me with indescribable joy.
* For a wonderful look at the God who brings joy, read all of Isaiah 35.
** Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961). Quoted in John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000) 19.
*** Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time (New York: First Mariner Books, 2006).