Ask a believer to describe what God is like and you are bound to hear characteristics like “good”, “righteous”, “loving” and “kind”. Rarely will hear God being described as “joyful” or “happy”, which in itself explains why believers individually and the church as a whole are known for being “good” and even “kind” but rarely “joyful”.
But this is the reason why Old Testament Prophets declared Jesus came into the world: to restore righteousness and joy to the world! Christ came to remove our sins which separates us from God, the source of Joy and Goodness, and restore our original blissful existence. As it was in the Garden and Eden, so it will be in the New Creation: a place of rejoicing and gladness, with no more tears, no more suffering, no more death; a dispensation of joy and peace in the presence of God (Revelation 19:7; 21:1-5). But that joy is not only a promise of our future state – joy is our inheritance even today.
Jesus said we should become like little children to inherit his kingdom. What characterizes a child? Innocence, trust, and joy. How can our joy be restored again like that of a little child?
1: GOD IS THE FOUNTAIN OF JOY
Firstly, we must remind ourselves that our God is called “the happy God” [1 Timothy 1:9-11, J.B. Phillips translation] in whose “presence there is fullness of joy [and] pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11; compare Matthew 25: 21). His Kingdom is characterized by “righteousness, peace and joy” (Romans 14:7). He sent his son Jesus to redeem creation from the perpetual “groaning” (Romans 8:32). Therefore his coming reign was anticipated with rejoicing and gladness (Psalm 97:1), announced as “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:8-11) and he was anointed with the Spirit to “proclaim good news… bind up the broken-hearted… set the oppressed free… proclaim Jubilee… comfort the mourning… pour out the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Jesus first miracle was all about joy where the wine at a wedding ran out and the host feared that the festivity will end prematurely. Jesus instructed six ceremonial pots (in excess of 750 liters in total) to be filled, which he turned into the best quality of wine. This sign was recorded by John (2:1-11) as a prophetic statement: the best joy this world can offer will run out, but the joy Christ brings is the best (superior quality) and will not run out (superior quantity).
And indeed it is so! Jesus’s miracles resulted in joy-filled exclamations of praise to God. His parables about repentance and conversion tells that both the man who happened to find the treasure in the field and the merchant who sought and found the pearl of greatest price “in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that…[field/ pearl].” (Matthew 13:44-46) His motive for teaching his disciples was so “that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11) and likewise prayed “that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (John 17:13).
The early church was genuinely known for their joyfulness, in spite of physical, economic and social oppressing resulting from intense persecution. Luke records that “the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52) How was it possible? The reason is clear: fellowship with our joyful God lets us share in his joy. That’s what Nehemiah meant to say to the mourning people gathered at the rebuilt temple: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) – our strength to endure comes from drawing near to God and sharing in his joy. As we abide in the Lord the fruit of joy is produced by his Spirit in us (John 15:4; Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). It is “in His presence” that we share in his “fullness of joy”, and “at his right hand” that we enjoy his “eternal pleasures”. (Psalm 16:11)
2: JOY FLOWS FREELY FROM A LOVED HEART
Secondly, joy is the natural response to loving affection and security. Just look at couples in affectionate embrace, or at children when they are playing with their loving parents. Joy flows freely from a heart that experiences loving attention and affection, that feels secure in loving acceptance and that is valued by loving appraisal. That’s why a fresh revelation of the love of God makes a heart overflow in joy – even in spite of difficult times. Look again at the prophet’s revelation of God’s love in Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” This “rejoicing over you” pictures our God dancing freely and wildly about us because of his abundant love for us. The natural response to this generous and uninhibited love is joyfulness.
3: JOY FLOWS FREELY FROM A HEALTHY HEART
Thirdly, joy flows freely from a healthy heart – one that is care-free, generous and innocent. In the book of Proverbs there are so many cautions to the preservation against temporal temptations, of which Proverbs 4:23 is perhaps best known: “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.”
Some of the biggest enemies of joy in the human heart include cares and anxiety, bitterness and resentment, guilt and shame. These things defile an innocent, pure heart and impedes its ability to feel deeply and rejoice freely.
- A CARE-FREE HEART HAS NO WORRIES. Worries and anxieties is one of the surest ways to drain the joy and peace we experience in this life. That’s why Jesus repeatedly cautioned the crowds to “not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34) and “worries… choke” the life produced in us by God (Mark 4:19). Jesus’ answer is simple: don’t worry – know that God your Father loves you and cares for you; trust in his provision and protection (Matthew 6:32)! So do as Peter instruct: “cast all your cares on the Lord, for he cares for you!” (1 Peter 5:7) and soon you will be able to testify with David “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94:19).
- A GENEROUS HEART HOLDS NO GRUDGES. You only have one heart. You cannot be a wellspring of joy and yet harbor unforgiveness in your heart; you cannot produce sweet joy from a heart with a “root of bitterness” in it (refer Hebrews 12:15). Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and resentment which defiles your whole life and poison’s every relationship. Forgive and see how joy from God and peace fills your whole heart and lifts the heaviness of your shoulders.
- AN INNOCENT HEART HAS NO REGRETS. David hid his sin and avoided the Lord because of the guilt of bloodshed and shame of adultery which condemned his consciousness and impeded his confidence before God. But when Nathan the prophet confronted him with a Word from the Lord, and the sickness of his baby drove him to seek the grace of God, David approached God to petition forgiveness and save his child. He prayed “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:10-12) Don’t let the burden of failure and sin keep you from sharing in God and his joy. That is why Christ died!
The other day as I prayed about regaining joy these words rolled off my cheek in a prayer. It is so silly to become so serious, strong and independent. May you never stop playing and laughing, and may God’s joy always overflow in your heart, flood your home and fill your world!
DADDY, WILL YOU PLAY WITH ME AGAIN?
I hid and you sought,
I jumped and you caught
We wrestled and fought for hours on end!
Daddy, will you play with me again?
We had cars and planes,
Built robots and cranes
We played with our trains until the Lego came.
Dad, will you play with me again?
You gave my first cycle
And taught me to swim
You couched me rugby and cheered my first win.
Father, can we play like that again?
I left home and became a man
The cares piled up as work began
As our playing stopped my joy ran out.
Lord, will you teach me how to play again?
Ross, April 2016