Summary: Genuine joy comes after we do what Christ bids us do, and is grounded in our relationship to Him. In fact, the real issue is not our joy but His.
If you want joy! What a ridiculous premise! Of course you want joy. Of course we want to be happy. Of course all of us want to feel deep satisfaction with life. We want joy. That's just self-evident.
The trouble is, we don't know how to get that joy. We don't understand where joy comes from, how to have joy, how to keep joy.
A couple of years ago there was a pop song making the rounds. The lyric was, "Don't worry, be happy." Don't worry, be happy, as if you could just create it by wanting it. Just do it. Well, I don't think I need to waste time this morning debunking that notion. You can't be happy just by announcing that you want it! You can't get joy just by dreaming it up! That would be like my announcing that I am an athlete. I can say that all I want, but not much is going to happen! Just announcing that I'm an athlete doesn't cure me of having two left feet or put me in a one-on-one game with Michael. You know, Michael. As in Jordan; or Sampson. Jackson I might handle!
No, you don't get to be an athlete just by announcing it, and you don't get joy just by asserting that you want it.
There are a lot of wrong places to look for joy. Places most of us try to find joy, but which don't produce. One day Jesus got some seventy folks together and starting getting them ready to do something very special. They were supposed to go out, two by two, into the nearby towns and cities, to announce the good news of the kingdom. They were to announce joy, if you like. But Jesus knew that just announcing good news doesn't necessarily produce good news. And just proclaiming joy doesn't always bring joy. And he knew also that there were a lot of blind alleys people follow when they are looking for joy.
For example, He told the seventy that they wouldn't have many creature comforts. They wouldn't be taking with them all the usual badges of comfort: no money, no fine clothes, no luxury hotel reservations. I mean, just listen to this text: "See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals." Let me read that in a modern translation, a very modern translation. "Carry no Guccis, no Louis Vuitton luggage, and no Reeboks". Why, they were practically naked, weren't they? But, no, you don't get joy out of creature comforts or status symbols. Jesus knew that was a blind alley.
And also, Jesus told the seventy that they wouldn't get joy out of approval from others. If they were looking for approval, they could forget it. "Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.'" In other words, if you have a need to be needed, you are going to be disappointed. If your only source of joy comes in being applauded by your friends, that's not going to happen. If you think joy comes from approval ratings, forget it. You will never achieve it. That too is a blind alley.
And then he gets to us Washington types, when he insists that joy doesn't even come from being successful. You don't derive joy from accomplishing your job or being rewarded accordingly. You don't get your joy from working for the pay raise or the step grade increase. "Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide ... whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'" Don't I get to become a GS 10 or 15 or 99 or whatever? Where is the pension plan? How about the 401-K? And no expense account?! If you imagine you will get joy from being successful, you can forget that too. Professional success will not make you happy. Educational attainments will not make you happy. Promotions will not bring you joy. Being chosen for more responsibility will give you an ulcer, but it will not give you joy. Blind alleys, all of them.
But if you do want joy, there is a way. If you do want joy, wonderful joy, real joy, there is a path to get there. It doesn't involve going through creature comforts or approval ratings or success in your profession. It involves something a whole lot simpler than that, and yet more profound. Something you don't even have to work for, and yet which all too few have found.