Last week, we started taking a look at this insane guy named Paul who wrote a letter about Joy while being in prison (You might want to go read that first, but that’s your call).
Today, we are going to take a look at 3 things we should take note of from this famous passage when it comes to joy. But first, we should probably define joy. We tend to equate joy with happiness and pleasure. But that sells the biblical idea short. Joy isn’t just happiness because happiness is circumstantial. John Piper defines joy as “A good feeling in the soul, produced in us by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”
I like his definition, and he’s way smarter than I am. I should probably leave it at that. But you know I’m not going to do that. What kind of American would I be if I didn’t question people who know more than I do?
As I have studied joy, I’ve come to think of it this way: Joy is the byproduct of a settled past and proper focus. If we have peace with God through Jesus Christ (settled past) and a proper focus (my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith…He who began a good work in me and will carry it on to completion…etc.) then joy is the byproduct.
Paul says to rejoice IN THE LORD. It’s not just random joy. It’s not just cracking jokes, putting on a fake smile, and pretending to be happy even though your world has come crashing down. In fact, joy is something the Christian experiences in times of mourning. It’s rejoicing in the Lord always. That’s the source of our joy. Jesus. Jesus was the source of Paul’s joy. Jesus is the only source for our real joy.
Why does joy seem to be an increasingly rare commodity in the church today? Could it be that we’ve forgotten what Christ has done for us? Maybe we just need to remember his grace. We too easily fall prey to the siren’s call to constantly seek joy in the pleasures of this life. But whatever “joy” these pleasures bring is only ever temporary. True and lasting joy is only found by focusing on Jesus.
There’s another kind of siren blaring that we ought to pay special attention to and that’s the level of anxiety that exists and is increasing among our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s off the charts. Well, it’s at least been a chart-topper for quite some time. And I don’t think Ariana Grande or Panic! at the Disco are going to be able to do anything about it. Why are we so anxious?
First, I think it has to do with focus. But next, I think it has to do with who we trust and who we thank. We don’t go to God with our needs, and if we do, they’re not really needs. They’re things we want, and we’re going to our big daddy vending machine to try to get them. We trust ourselves and our ability to provide for ourselves. And because we mistakenly believe we’ve provided for ourselves, we thank ourselves and celebrate ourselves (this is starting to sound like Jim Gaffigan’s “myself” bit) instead of thanking God who truly provides. I work for myself, and I provide for myself. I’m awesome by myself, and I worship myself. (Too far?)
Perhaps if we put our trust in the maker and sustainer and provider of all things, and if we were overwhelmed with gratitude for all the blessings He (not me) has provided, we’d be a little less anxious. But, as long as we’re dependent on ourselves to provide for ourselves, we probably ought to expect anxiety (and insecurity) to be our number one hit.
The last reason I think so few of us truly experience joy is because of the content of our thoughts. Paul tells us to think about some specific things. But our minds are consumed with things that run quite contrary to those things. Truth? Respect? Pure? Lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy? Could any of those words be used to describe our thoughts?
Or would anger, rage, hatred, malice, greed, sexuality, jealousy, envy, bitterness, strife, impurity, dissension, and factions more appropriately describe what we think about? No wonder so many of us don’t have any joy. How could we when this is what is in our minds?
How does it get there? We consume it. We mindlessly consume content through social media, mainstream media, news, and other sources—all of which have these elements in them. That’s probably how you found this post. And that just goes to show you that you can find anything online these days. If your diet is donuts and potato chips, it’s going to be hard to look like you CrossFit even if you CrossFit. “Guys, I’m eating junk and watching rubbish! You better come out and stop me!” We’re doing the same things with our minds. We’re Kevin in Home Alone filling our minds with ice cream and syrup while the bad guys are running around outside trying to destroy our house. It’s time for us to defend our house.
How can Paul command us to rejoice? When our focus is on Christ, when we trust Christ and thank Christ and think about Christ, the only logical response is joy, rejoicing. If Christ has settled our past and is the focus of our lives, well—boom! Joy! If we’re lacking in the joy department, could it possibly be that we’ve put joy on layaway and forgotten to make the payments because there were other things we wanted more? We want joy, but we’re making deposits in everything else at the moment, and we’ve completely neglected the joy we really need.
The funny thing is joy isn’t even the point. Jesus is the point. Focus on Jesus, and joy will come. I doubt you can be focused on Jesus and not have joy. But you can be focused on joy and not have joy. Using Jesus to get joy is like using a toaster to get warm. Sure, you can feel the heat, but that’s not the point. Toast is the point. Jesus is the point. Focus on Jesus, think about Jesus, trust Jesus, and joy will inevitably come.
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