Archives For joy

In part one, I shared a video of my daughter chasing her shadow and wrote about the fleeting shadows of earthly pursuits that never fully satisfy or delight us. We feel we are close to joy, but we can’t quite catch it. In part two, I will point you to the only antidote to our shadow problem.


Use your imagination for a moment. I was tempted to shoot another video of my daughter to introduce this post, but I would have changed things around this time. In the video from part one, she was chasing her shadow. This time, I imagined that she would run away from her shadow. As hard as she would try, it would always follow. Just as we cannot run after our shadows to catch them, neither can we run away from our shadows to escape them. They chase after us.

Of course, we can no more run away from our sinfulness than we can run away from our shadows. We seek to escape sin through greater determination. We try to identify our sin patterns and avoid situations in which we commonly sin. In spite of our greatest efforts, the reality is that we can’t do it, and our striving leaves us tired and frustrated. The only way to escape the shadow of sin is to hide yourself in a stronger shadow.

Have you ever had the experience of seeing a small shadow swallowed up by a larger shadow? In the plains of Oklahoma where I grew up, if you stand on a small rise in the fields, you can see forever. In the hot afternoon summer’s sun, even a scrub oak can cast a long shadow. When the wind blows clouds in overhead, you can see them coming for miles. They drop a dark shadow on the prairie that marches over everything beneath. When the line of clouds approaches, the long shadow of the trees vanish. The smaller shadows simply disappear into the larger shadow of the clouds.

Source: unknown

When we run into the strong shadow of God’s presence, we forget about the fleeting shadows of our lives. Psalm 36 says, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (italics mine).

This is good news. God is available to us and ready to be our joy and our comfort and our protector. What is astounding is that his care is motivated by genuine love for us. He’s not some distant relative begrudgingly mailing us checks from a giant trust fund in the sky. He engages us because he wants to. His comfort and protection are not earned by our goodness or performance or wisdom. Instead, they originate in God’s love. He’s the initiator who offers joy and care to us even as a bird cares for her young before they can leave the nest.

My fear, for some of us, is that we tend to sentimentalize this verse. We make it sugary and sweet. We imagine our moms cross-stitching this verse and putting it on the wall above the toilet in the guest bathroom. This is a Christian-bookstore-coffee-mug sort of verse. And it should be, but only if we truly comprehend the good it offers to us.

There are a couple of obstacles that may cause us to minimize the power of this verse. The first is the word “precious.” When I hear this word, I go in one of two directions and neither of them helps me grasp the magnitude of God’s love. In my mind, precious is either: (1) the creepy and hyper-possessive hiss from Gollum in Lord of the Rings (of course, this may be a personal problem resulting from the fact that my boys are reading LOTR and like to talk like Gollum), or (2) the most common term applied by 16 year old girls to describe pictures of kittens on Facebook. Nevertheless, God’s love is precious, and we need to discover why.

The second obstacle is the idea of “taking refuge.” In a society that exalts independence, strength, and success, we’d rather pretend that things are just fine. Strong dudes and dames don’t like to run and hide, but the gospel says to proud people: “you are desperately in need of rescue.” Sin is a tyrant bent on enslaving you. Underestimate the strength of your enemy, and you will not seek refuge.


If you dismiss the refuge of God as mere sentimentality, you will miss the point. The preceding verses (Psalm 36:5-7) show us the strength of this hiding place:

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Our God is not weak, and this is not mere sentimental love.  This is an enormous, expansive, explosive kind of love. Look again at the images used. God’s love “extends to the heavens”–that’s unsearchable. His righteousness is “like the mountains of God”–that’s unshakable.  His judgments are “like the great deep”–that’s unfathomable. His protection is big enough for every “man and beast”–that’s immeasurable. God’s love and goodness and care  are beyond description. Nothing in our experience can be compared to his majesty, and his majesty. *

Have you piled up sins higher and higher?
God’s mercy extends to the heavens!

Have storms clouds rolled into your life?
God’s faithfulness dwells amongst the clouds!

Have the consequences of sin blown you around?
God’s goodness is stronger than mountains!

Have the opinions of men beaten you down?
God’s thoughts are as deep as the ocean!

Have doubts about God’s care left you lonely?
God’s love reaches to the ends of the earth!

It is only in God that we find the perfect combination of vastness and intimacy. He is bigger than Mt. Everest and, at the same time, more personal than a bird in a nest with her young. God is both “out there” beyond us and “right here” with us. Theologically, we say that God is simultaneously transcendent (above his creation) and immanent (engaged in his creation). We hold on to both of these truths. If you are in Christ, you are personally, gently hidden under the wings of God who holds the entire universe together with his immense power.

C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) writes of God’s care:

“The Lord overshadows his people as a hen protects her brood, or as an eagle covers its young; and we as little ones run under the blessed shelter and feel at rest. To cower down under the wings of God is so sweet. Although the enemy be far too strong for us, we have no fear, for we nestle under the Lord’s wing. O that more of Adam’s race knew the excellency of the heavenly shelter! It made Jesus weep to see how they refused it: our tears may well lament the same evil.” **

It is a foolish evil to refuse the care of God. He wants to bring joy to us. Why would we turn away from him and search elsewhere? Simply stated, sin is our effort to find joy in something more than we find joy in God. Jesus knew this was futile, and he wept for those who attempted life without God.

To take refuge in our God is both humbling and reassuring.*** It is humbling because we must acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient, and, in fact, our attempts at self-sufficiency have put us in grave danger. It is reassuring because we are offered a place of refuge that is as strong as it is good.

If we will not humble ourselves and take refuge in God, then we will continue to deceive ourselves with the idea that we can manage sin on our own. While this path inevitably ends in defeat and despair, the refuge road leads to deliverance and delight in God.  We overcome sin as we delight in God’s love, delight in God’s strength, delight in God’s protection, delight in God’s grace, delight in God’s provision, delight in God’s mission.


Psalm 36 goes on to say of those that take refuge in God (vs. 8-9):

They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.

I love that our place of refuge is not somber and fearful. No, it’s a place of overflowing goodness. When we take refuge in God, we celebrate a great feast as sons and daughters of the Most High King. He offers us unending drink from the best wine. What comfort that our God is not a tyrannical God! What joy that our God longs to share with us the river of his delights!

When we sin, the problem is not that our delights are too strong. In fact, they are wrong-headed and weak. We are tempted to settle for delights of our own making, when heavenly delights await us. To take refuge in God is to repent from little delights to embrace the enormous delight in God. It’s the greatest swap meet of all: trading the shallow, short-lived mini-joys of our lives for the deep, forever joy of God.

As Jesus’ work of redemption works itself out in our lives, may we hide the fleeting shadows of our sin under the trustworthy and eternal Shadow of the Almighty.

What about this post resonates with you? Do you find is difficult to set aside the fleeting pursuits you are drawn to seek? How committed are you to seek refuge in God? Do you find it difficult to believe that God is the greatest joy?



* Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975): Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Ed. D. J. Wiseman.

** Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol 1: Psalms 1-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974).

*** Kidner, Ibid.


June 25, 2012 — 3 Comments

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).

When Trials Come

November 18, 2010 — 3 Comments

Though you haven’t seen him, you love him, and though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible & filled with glory. – 1 Peter 1:8

After reading tonight from Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, I thought I’d pass along some good reminders about our experience of trials and tough times.

The verse above tells of a group that is experiencing trial and suffering, yet they are filled with joy. It should be an encouragement to know that others have fought their way through trials and still found joy in the midst of struggle. By faith, we can too.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time finding the good when I’m in the middle of a tough time in my life. That’s why I think it’s helpful that Edwards lists three benefits of trials.

First, trials tend to reveal that which is true and that which is false. That’s why they are called trials. I find this to be the case in distinguishing those who are authentic followers of Jesus from those who seem to believe as long as it is comfortable. But I also find that it reveals the true and the false in my own heart.

Second, trials show the glory and beauty of authentic faith. When a single mom faces unemployment and trusts that God will provide, it’s a beautiful thing. When a man is “circling the drain” (as a good friend of mine used to say) with cancer and keeps a joyful grin, it’s an inspiring thing to watch. As long as these are authentic displays and not put on, they are healthy signs of God’s peace. Trials show off God’s power in us. They say that we have a God who will never leave us of turn his back on us, even when our circumstances seem to say otherwise.

Third, trials purify and refine authentic faith. Trials have a way of surfacing the good as well as the ugly in us. Spiritual transformation never comes by pretending, so seeing the truth about our lives helps us grow. Trials teach us to let go of lesser loves that won’t deeply satisfy us or give us joy that lasts. Trials help us see that those things that distract us from Jesus just aren’t worth it. When we keep the faith and persevere during the tough seasons of life, our faith grows. As our faith in God grows, our joy becomes more rich and real.

So, let your faith be strong when you can see nothing but trials in your circumstances, and the unseen Jesus will give you indescribable joy. This is the promise that we trust when times are hard.

Does this resonate with your experience? What have you found helpful during tough times?

– jdl