An ode to joy

Danny Peters

“Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” -- Mother Theresa

Recently I’ve been thinking about joy.

And no, I’m not talking about sparking joy, Marie Kondo style, although she definitely has some excellent tips for decluttering your life which I may or may not have used that do indeed spark a form of joy but that’s another, very different article altogether.  

So yes, on the surface, I’ll admit thinking about joy might seem a tad counterintuitive given the general state of play in this weird old world of ours. We haven’t exactly had a litany of positive news stories of late, now have we? It has been the very definition of the opposite of joy unconfined around these parts.

But in many ways, thinking about joy in a Biblical context, is more important now than ever, even with light at the end of a depressing never-ending pandemic tunnel. I also want to be clear I’m not talking about happiness here either, a term often used interchangeably with joy.

Happiness tends to be the result of outward circumstance. An overly generous or unexpected gift, a taste-bud blitzing dining experience (remember when you’d have to scrape and claw for a good table on a Friday night? *sigh*) or Steph Curry doing magical unicorn Steph Curry things on the basketball court.  As a result, happiness is expressed externally.

Joy, on the other hand, is a stronger, more lasting, spiritual feeling -- an inward peace and contentment. Or as Pastor Rick Warren puts it: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” It’s a point Paul emphasizes in his epistle to the early church in Thessalonica:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

The sentiment expressed here has what a marketer might term a strong CTA (call to action) which to continue the business speak this shouldn’t be a “nice to have.” It’s something to live out each and every day.

All told, joy appears something in the region of 200 times in the Bible – the exact number varies according to the specific translation. Joy is very much a red-thread theme in the Good Book.

Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” and in Proverbs 10:28 we learn “the prospect of the righteous is joy” . Psalm 16:11 reminds us that in God’s presence “there is fullness of joy” while Philippians 4:4 urges us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice,” and in Psalm 126:5 we can take encouragement “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!”

When an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds to tell them of the birth of Jesus, the angel spoke not just of joy but “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10). And, at the other end of Jesus’s earthly existence, when Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary were the first to learn of the news of the resurrection of Jesus, they ran to tell the disciples with “great joy” (Matthew 28:1-10). Joy, importantly, is also a fruit of the spirit – against which “there is no law…”

Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Our ability to feel and show joy isn’t a result of a favorable circumstance in our humdrum daily existence -- lasting and Biblical joy comes solely from God.

And it’s important to remember that you can’t lose joy, it’s always yours to access, just like you can’t lose God. There’s a reason that I suspect you’re picking up on that the great CS Lewis describes joy as “the serious business of Heaven.”

The Bible is also clear we should choose joy in the hard times.

James 1:2 tells us to: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” while 1 Peter 4:13 encourages us to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Joy is also used in the context of Christ on the cross.

Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

For the joy that was set before him is a powerful phrase isn’t it? Wow.

Joy helped the Lord endure the great suffering of the cross. And in a famous chapter of the Bible (or every single chapter in the Bible if you’re Pastor Travis), as Jesus uses the metaphor of the True Vine with his disciples:

John 15:9-11 (NKJV)
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

If you don’t feel your joy is full today, I get it, absolutely I do. Life can feel like pushing water up a hill some days. Again, remember how Pastor Rick Warren describes joy… “a settled assurance that God is in control of all the details.” And simply put he is yesterday, today and forever. This story ends eternally well so we should, as Psalm 47:1 tells us “shout to God with cries of joy.”

When I decided on this topic, one of the first things that sprang to mind was a song from church life in my youth “I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy deep down in my heart.” So I googled a bit and found this beautiful “ad hoc” version sung by Jeremy Riddle of Bethel Church:  

So here’s your for Wednesday – your MWKD-FW? Take a quiet moment and let your soul enjoy this beautiful worship song. Regardless of your circumstance, and I humbly recognize it may be terrible, remind yourself of the joy that is freely given and freely available to us.