I've just come back from a packed comedy night at our local theatre. Over 1000 people, in our small city. On a Tuesday night. Why?
Because people are desperate for joy.
Desperate to be happy. The search for Joy, in a world of pain and sadness is not a small issue. It's massive.
Joy is a lot more than simply a luxury item, something we occasionally should experience. It's something that we are hard-wired to crave. And actually, it's something that really should mark the Church of Jesus.
A deep, consistent, robust joy seemed to mark the early church (e.g. 1 Peter 1:8)
It says of Jesus in Luke 10.21 that he "rejoiced in the Holy Spirit".
In the book of Nehemiah it promises "the joy of the Lord will be your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).
Joy brings glory to God: "Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name" (Psalm 66:1-2)
David, after he sinned big time was bothered about joy not just forgiveness: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Psalm 51:12)
I know in my life, joy makes a massive difference. When joy fills my heart I am:
A better husband
A better dad
A better neighbour
A better friend
When joy is my main internal emotion:
I'm more generous with my money
I'm more supportive and less critical
I'm more forgiving, and
More happy to not get the credit
I would even go so far as to say, the church's mission to show the reality of God depends on the presence of joy in the community's midst. Especially as leaders. Joy is something we need to pursue and lead others into.
The great preacher Martin Lloyd Jones famously said " (the) absence of joy...there is no question at all but that this is the MAIN reason why large numbers of people have ceased to be interested in Christianity!" (Spiritual Depression and Its Causes 1959)
Wow, what a huge claim!
Now, I know that many of you reading this will be affected by depression and mental health issues to some degree or another, and that this is a complicated matter. But I don't want you to miss the broad point I am trying to make.
What I want to simply say is that I do believe God wants to increasingly bring joy to His Bride, His Church, His People. I think I've become perhaps a little too serious myself!
Of course, there are many reasons to be serious in a world of pain. But I've felt for a while now that Jesus wants to restore a joy in my soul amidst a world of pain, and despite my fragility and brokenness. So how can we live with more joy?
There is so much that could be said, but one thing that I've found so helpful is
First exposing the emotions we often let rule us, other than joy.
The Christian counsellor Dick Keyes has identified 4 common 'idols' (good things that become God things). When we need them more than we need Jesus, we inevitably find our hearts filled NOT with joy but with exhausting and destructive emotions. He suggests the following:
The idol of Control often leads to anxiety (not joy)
The idol of Comfort often leads to boredom (not joy)
The idol of Approval often leads to fear (not joy)
The idol of Power/Winning often leads to anger (not joy)
Most of these consequences are intuitively fairly easy to see (for example, if we make winning/power our 'must have' in life, when we are denied it, we are not just sad or disappointed, but angry). For more details on this, see Exposing Idols
Ultimately, we experience joy as a GIFT! As Christians, through intimacy with Jesus who is so joyful, we get His joy! But, this side of heaven, we are all in a battle. And counterfeit gods lure us away so often.
So let me ask you.... Is joy current in your soul? Or do other emotions predominate? The first step, I've found, is to ruthlessly ask the Holy Spirit to help me 'see in my own soul'. Once any emotion that has sprung up because of idolatry is found, I can attempt to apply the gospel of joy.
Anxiety? "Lord, I'm sorry for trying to live as if I'm in control when really you are. I trust you. Help me to trust you more with all things. You're in control, not me".
Boredom? "Lord, I'm sorry for trying to live as if absence from pain or discomfort will bring me joy. It's a lie! Thank you that only in your presence is true joy!"
Fear? "Lord, I'm sorry for allowing the volume of human approval (or not) to be louder than yours. This only leads to exhausting fear. You've shown beyond all doubt your staggering love for me through the cross. Let me boast only in that great love".
Anger? "Lord, I'm sorry for making myself the centre when you are. The next life will be all about You! And I'm so foolish when I slip into making this life all about me. Praise God! You're the Hero! Not me! You're the King, not me! You're the Wise One, not me! You're the God who hung on a cross and gave absolutely everything to enable this relationship. Praise God I will never be able to even get close to competing with that!
Step One to enjoying joy is spotting the other emotions that we can easily let dominate us. There's so much more we need to say, but let's pause there for today. C.S. Lewis said "Joy is the serious business of heaven" (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer; 1964). So let's get ready for the atmosphere of the next life, and 'busy ourselves' partnering with God to give us a foretaste.