By Pastor Rob Bloss
Ever been around someone who just sucked the joy out of the room? Maybe they come across as overly critical and demanding, or uncaring and unappreciative. Their glass is half empty, their blanket is wet, their opinions are facts, and they are too busy. Maybe they’re just grumpy, or tired, or hungry, or angry – a lot.
Or maybe it’s circumstances that have robbed you of joy…unmet expectations, shattered dreams, broken relationships, financial hardships, failing health, or the weight of your own guilt, shame, or sin.
Over the past year, I’ve had moments, days even, when I’ve had to fight for joy. I’ve had to battle against giving in to my fears, frustrations, and failures or the failures of those around me. I’ve also had to make sure I wasn’t settling for the laid-back pursuit of happiness expressed by Bobby McFarrin in his hit song from the 80’s entitled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. He was right in telling us that worry only magnifies our troubles, but joy isn’t something that can be conjured up with a smile or by lying on the right beach with the right beverage.
In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul speaks about joy and about the Christian’s duty to rejoice over and over again. For example, he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4a). This is one of those biblical imperatives, and it leaves no room for not rejoicing, for Paul says Christians are to rejoice always—not sometimes, periodically, or occasionally. He then adds, “Again I will say, Rejoice” (v. 4b). Paul wrote this epistle from prison, and in it he addresses very somber matters, such as the possibility that he will be martyred, poured out as a sacrifice (2:17). Yet he tells the Philippian believers that they should rejoice.
Joy isn’t the absence of sadness—it’s the presence of the Holy Spirit. And although the Holy Spirit produces joy within us, He often does so by humbling us so that we would take our eyes off ourselves and fix our eyes on Christ. Real joy exists even amid real sadness, and real joy doesn’t always mean there’s a smile on our faces. It sometimes means we are on our knees with tears of repentance. Charles Spurgeon admitted, “I do not know when I am more perfectly happy than when I am weeping for sin at the foot of the cross.” Joy comes in repentance and forgiveness and by daily looking to Christ and living for His glory, not by looking to self and living for our glory.
If we live each day bearing the shame of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow, we will never experience the joys of today. And joyless living makes us vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, not to mention that it’s a miserable way to live and an awful thing to live around.
We should always be quick to run to the cross to seek the joy that only Christ can give. Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief in order that we might have fullness of joy, now and forever. This is why the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
Real joy comes from God, who has invaded us, conquered us, and liberated us from eternal death and sadness—who has given us hope and joy because He has poured out His love within our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us (Romans 5:5). Joy comes from God, not from within. When we look within, we just get sad. We have joy only when we look outside ourselves to Christ. Without Christ, joy is not only hard to find, it’s impossible to find. The world desperately seeks joy, but in all the wrong places. However, our joy comes because Christ sought us, found us, and keeps us.
How is it possible to remain joyful all the time? Paul gives us the key: “Rejoice in the Lord always”. The key to the Christian’s joy is its source, which is the Lord. If Christ is in me and I am in Him, that relationship is not a sometimes experience. The Christian is always in the Lord and the Lord is always in the Christian, and that is always a reason for joy. Even if we cannot rejoice in our circumstances, we can pass through pain, sorrow, or grief, and still rejoice in Christ.
Joy is that deep confident assurance that God cares, and God is in control. We rejoice in the Lord, and since He never leaves us or forsakes us, we can rejoice always.
As we enter the homestretch of COVID and all that has weighed so heavily on us individually and collectively as a church this past year, may we be better for it because of Jesus. May we experience joy in it and through it because of Jesus. May we rejoice and overflow with joy in every circumstance and every situation because of Jesus.