Luke 2: 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions. Mainly because I usually fail at them by the third week of January after the novelty and excitement has worn off and the work of the resolution becomes decidedly hard. Please lament with me in this regard. No? You always complete your resolution? Well good for you! There is hope for me someday. A few years ago my circle of close facebook “friends” were picking a New Year’s WORD. This was to be just one word that would help you strive toward a goal. People I really admired at least for their facebook lives were choosing really great words like: love, strive, patience, trust, promise, and strength just to name a few. Hmmm, maybe I could get behind a New Year’s word? As recommended I prayed and listened for God to give me a word for my year. I have to be honest I did not hear much during that time because I had gone back to work, I was still homeschooling my four boys and frankly I was still trying to figure out how to just survive. That’s when it hit me, JOY….my word would be JOY….I needed to thrive not just survive just like the Casting Crowns song, and I needed to find ‘Joy in the Journey’ for this next year.
Newly inspired, armed with a my word and my motto, ‘Joy in the Journey’ I did what all good Christians do and looked up the word joy on biblehub and biblegateway and blueletterbible to cover all my bases. I loaded up my wishlist on christianbooks.com with books about joy. Now I was ready to study joy. It sounds silly now but I do not think I’m alone in this journey to obtain this elusive Fruit of the Spirit. If I was, there wouldn’t have been almost 500 entries at christianbook.com concerning joy just in books alone? Curious I headed down the aisle of an actual brick and mortar bookstore and checked out all the secular books promising Joy. The good news is joy is elusive to the general public by twice as much as us church going folks. Bad news: it is elusive to the general public as well as us! It is amazing to me that just one aisle over is the greatest book on joy ever written, the Bible. According to the latest polls of American church members we own at least 4.4 bibles (I guess the .4 occurs as children’s bibles or maybe the New Testament only versions).
As I began to systematically study every verse mentioning joy and rejoice and praying through them each day in our Holy Ancient Scripture one thing was always at the center, drum roll please…..God. I know you’re not surprised! I wasn’t either, not really. I just wanted it to be more complex. I wanted to discover a secret key to unlocking this mystical feeling or at least a twelve-step program that arrived at a known constant destination called Joy Island. In true broken, human form I was disappointed by this confirmation of what I already knew. All these books wanted you to choose to be happy or content and look at the good in the situation but they were NOT providing or getting me any closer to joy. That is because as Oswald Chambers suggests, “joy is never touched by external conditions”. Babies’ toothless smiles, belly laughs, victory for the underdog, twinkling trees, cinnamon rolls, espresso drinks, starry nights, tickle fights, I could go on and on listing all of the things that give me a really happy feeling and they are gifts that I am certain God wants us to experience, but they do not bring a sustained, everlasting, and abiding joy. The first step to clearing up my joy problem was admitting that I was really seeking to be happy all. the. time. Often my days were not filled with happy, fun things instead they were filled with chaotic work that seemed to have no end or progress. I am sure that there are many of you that can form a line behind me in this regard! The world is constantly selling us the idea of joy or as I like to call it happiness on steroids. We can be elated or extremely happy but not all. the. time. Again back to the Bible not one “bible hero” is surrounded by rainbows, unicorns, and butterflies all. the. time. King Solomon, who had a pretty good set up, eventually describes the trimmings of this world all meaningless, meaningless, meaningless….. (see Ecclesiastes)! WOW!!
Now that I have my definitions straight, I can see clearly what God is teaching through scripture. Here is what it boils down to: Joy is where God is! Joy is used at least 200 times in the Bible. Here is just a sample of the events or spiritual disciplines joy accompanies: repentance, prayer, hope, desperation, fellowship, new believers, triumph over enemies, praising Him, seeing God’s power and His omni’s (as I like to call them) His omnipotence (all powerful), omnipresence (all present), and omniscience (all knowing), and most importantly in salvation. Put simply God is the source of our joy. Just to site a few verses: He is the joy of our salvation (Ps 51:12), the Holy Spirit provides the source of it (Gal 5:22), and Jesus is our Good News (Luke 2:10). OK, I have to admit if you look up some of these verses on joy you might think God’s people are celebrating a battle won and that it is and expression of ‘happy joy’ because they are thankful they did not die a horrible death or were not taken as slaves but look closer it is ‘God joy’ because joy is where God is and He was in the battle won. He’s in our “battles” too. Even if it is the Battle of Busyness we so often wage.
So at the end of all this opening up and transparency there is no doubt that I need Him but what’s the point for you? It’s that you do not have to be eluded any longer. Joy is not a phantom. Joy is not an unattainable notion. Joy is tangible force. Joy is the expression of life breathed into our dry bones at salvation. Take a second, pause, and remember the time you first knew you needed Jesus. Is your heart leaping out of your body? Are you at least smiling slightly? That’s joy. That’s Jesus. If you need evidence, look to the manger to see the reality of joy in the harshest of circumstances. God sent us His Son into the chaos of an overwhelmed Bethlehem. Mary delivered the Messiah in a barn or cave relegated to animals which was probably not the most hygienic place to have your first baby. The King of Kings was wrapped in scraps of cloth and set in a feeding trough. Then there were the unexpected visitors, the lowly shepherds. I submit to you that Joseph and especially Mary did not ever imagine in their wildest dreams this setting. Yet all who attended had joy; pure, unabashed, abounding joy!!
You see it’s simple, not complicated but we insist on overcomplicating it. We want to display it only in perfection. Wrapped in coordinating, high-quality glossy paper that requires several video tutorials and 12 steps to accomplish, the package has sculpted velvety and sequined bows with curled ribbons. Do not forget the handmade tags quilled with organic ink in calligraphy that are free-range and made with sustainable materials. I’m tired just thinking about it! We try to increase the value and make it more appealing and in doing so forget that salvation is a free gift that came in a dirty, smelly stable and lay in an animal’s feeding trough that was first presented to the most ordinary of people. The arrival and delivery of the gift was the opposite of special and tidy, pretty or expensive—it was organic so I guess that’s something.
JOY is the same.
Simplify it and seek Jesus first all. the. time.