Summary: We find joy, not in circumstances, but in knowing and trusting in the present promises of God.
All of us desire to have joy in our lives. No matter what we call it – happiness, gladness, delight, good cheer – we would all like to experience more of it. As we are reminded on this Independence Day, the quest for joy is even enshrined in our Declaration of Independence as a God-given right: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". But unfortunately, the realities of living in this world often bring that quest to a grinding halt. Life seems to regularly throw up roadblocks on the highway to happiness, roadblocks named "suffering" and "sorrow" and "disappointment". Occasionally, we do catch glimpses of joy –celebrating a wedding or a wedding anniversary; bringing a baby home from the hospital; receiving a long-awaited promotion. And from time to time, we find joy in little things as well, the kinds of experiences that show up in Hallmark commercials – watching a son or daughter perform in a school play; sitting by the fire on a cold winter night drinking hot chocolate; spending a quiet Saturday morning puttering in the garden; taking a walk in the woods. Hopefully, you find joy in worship as well – coming here to sing praises to God; to hear His Word, to listen to His voice; to be with other people who love the Lord and who love you as well, in their imperfect, yet genuine, way.
But for many, those brief encounters with joy seem to be the exception, rather than the rule. Instead of feeling hopeful and positive most of the time, you find yourself lapsing regularly into joylessness. Anything from extreme depression and despair, to bitterness and cynicism, to just a general feeling of malaise and discontentment, where nothing seems terribly bad or terribly good. When you’re in this place, as Marie Antoinette once said, "nothing tastes". Perhaps you sense that this isn’t the way things are supposed to be for a Christian, but you’re not sure what to do about it, or even if there’s anything you can do about it.
Well, I have good news for you. You’re right. That isn’t the way God intends for his children to live. Persistent gloominess is not fitting for a Christian. Yes, all of us are visited by dark moods; all of us struggle occasionally with feelings of discouragement and despondency. But we should regard those as the exception, not the norm. Something to seek relief from; something to work through. But too many people have it exactly backwards – viewing joy as something rare and unusual, while viewing its opposite as the norm. We’re almost afraid to hope that things could be any different, afraid of being disappointed. And that’s a problem. My concern this morning is that we not settle for a sub-par Christianity, but that we seek after, and receive, all that the Lord has for us in Christ. Listen as we read these passages, and see if you don’t agree with me that God desires his people to experience joy and gladness as a way of life.
"But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you." – Psalm 5:11
"Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!"
"I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices . . . You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." – John 10:10b, NASB
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." – Romans 15:13
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" – Philippians 4:4
"Be joyful always." – 1 Thessalonians 5:16
Now, to some folks, this doesn’t sound like good news, it sounds like condemnation. Not only do they feel bad, but after reading these verses, they feel condemned for feeling bad! But it is good news. It’s great news, terrific news, wonderful news. Why? Because joy is a tremendous blessing, and whatever God desires us to have, He also provides. Joy doesn’t come from us, it comes from the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t expect us to manufacture joy by our own power; He doesn’t demand that we somehow force ourselves to feel joyful. We couldn’t if we tried. What He wants us to do is simply receive His joy. Yes, it does take discipline and work. Knowing God and experiencing his blessings always requires commitment and devotion. But we must keep in mind that what we’re disciplining ourselves to do is to receive; to receive what God has made available to us, what He freely offers us in Christ.