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.