How to Find Christian Joy
By Grantley Morris
Despite the following covering the same territory as my longer webpage about Christian joy, this one is expressed differently, has much less detail and is stripped of supporting evidence such as Scriptures. My hope is that you will progress to the more detailed study but my original work grew so long that starting with this overview is strongly advised.
The Daunting Complexity of Biblical Truth
Nothing is more critically important to your current well-being and to your eternity than your understanding of spiritual truth. We all know part of the truth about Christian joy and we can easily learn more of the truth. The huge challenge, however, is to try to get our heads around the full truth – to say nothing of building those empowering discoveries into our everyday living.
If you had to dismantle a live bomb you would not want just a vague idea of how to do it. You would want your understanding to be as full and accurate as you could possibly attain. Few of us realize that obtaining a full understanding of Christian joy is not only exceedingly difficult but if our understanding were 90% accurate it could still blow up in our faces, devastating our entire lives, and if our understanding were even less, the chance of a disaster would be greater still. Sadly, I have seen played out in people’s lives the tragic consequences of having a significant but incomplete understanding of joy.
So I’m attempting what might be the humanly impossible task of discovering the full truth about both Christian joy and with just how much respect and tenderness we should treat human emotions.
My longing is not merely to take you with me on this journey but for you to be inspired to go further than I have managed to go. For this, it is critical that you keep seeking God and praying for an ever-increasing understanding of biblical revelation.
Often our beef with God boils down to the reality that his agenda is almost incomprehensibly loftier than ours. For too many of us, our goal is to remain self-obsessed, tantrum-throwing two-year-olds, while God’s longing is to train us to be like him so that we can rule the universe with him.
What we want is not God but a fairy who waves a wand, granting us our every wish, while we remain so unlike God that we have no idea our wishes are as ridiculously pathetic as King Midas who wanted everything he touched to turn to gold, without having the human intelligence – let alone divine intelligence – to realize the long-term consequences.
We call him Lord but have no intention of anything but lip service. In reality, we expect to be God’s master, with him as our slave, pandering day and night to our greed, lust and laziness.
We need a radical change of heart. We either die to self and live for Christ, or our chance of lasting joy is no greater than that of the slimy demons who delight in toying with self-serving humans.
Excited about God
Being in love with God is the fire that keeps Christian joy burning no matter how dark and cold things get. Life’s greatest adventure is to keep discovering more and more and more about God. The real God is so astounding and so in love with you and his heart is so captivatingly beautiful that if you have not yet fallen in love with him, it must be because there are so many wonderful things that you have yet to discover about him. My longer webpage guides you to links to help you deepen your awareness of how thrilling and lovable God really is.
Who’s in Control: You or Your Emotions?
People in other eras and cultures have been wiser, but the current worldly notion is that we should marry or divorce or even commit adultery according to whether we are overcome by strong emotions that it calls “being in love.” Our Creator has an entirely different view. His Word reveals that feelings should be subservient to us, and it commands us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Our emotions must be included somewhere in that exhaustive list but it remains a command – something we must do. We are to take charge of our emotions and use them in our love for God; not sit around helplessly waiting for emotions to kick in and start driving us.
This applies as much to joy as to any of the other fruit of the Spirit, such as patience and self-control, all of which are virtues – praiseworthy acts of Christlikeness – not some spiritual equivalent of a drug-induced high. We manifest them not by being swept along by emotion but by a dogged resolve to act godly.
Loving the Giver versus Loving His Gifts
We might do lip service to the Lord of creation but anything we would not willingly sacrifice for him is our real God. To serve a thing, letting it rule your life and determine your destiny, or to turn a fallible human into your God is appallingly pathetic.
We have seen that being in love with God is not only the most important commandment but the greatest source of joy.
For him, loving everyone, no matter how they treat us, is next in importance. It is also the next greatest source of joy, even though, as exemplified by the cross, it can be mixed with pain.
Last, and by all means least, comes the rest of God’s creation and his gifts. This inferior source of joy is better called happiness, if we accept someone’s definition of “Happiness depends on happenings but joy depends on Jesus.” It is unbiblical to despise this source of joy, but neither must it be allowed to displace the greater. As someone wisely noted, Jesus first, Others next and Yourself last spells JOY.
We should take to heart the Bible’s emphasis on our joy being not in material blessings but in the Lord. Yes, there is gratefulness when things go well, because these are blessings from God. Nevertheless, he, not his gifts, must remain our primary source of joy.
Such acts of devotion as fasting and sacrificial giving can honor and delight God. Nevertheless, it is biblical both to be grateful for God’s gifts and to enjoy them, precisely because they are from God.
We each have certain vulnerabilities. What they are differs from person to person but there are some things that might possibly be safe for certain people but not for us. Unless we avoid them entirely they could end up depraving and enslaving us.
As always, however, it is easy to see part of biblical revelation so clearly that another part slides out of focus exposing us to a new danger. The full truth is that we have not only weaknesses but strengths. Even if it is just sunsets and wildflowers, there are things we can safely delight in as tokens of God’s love without risking slavery to them. It is both scriptural and honoring to the divine Giver of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17) to enjoy these things.
Nevertheless, whereas God’s love is eternal, various tokens of that love are but temporary trinkets that could vanish at any moment. And, in his mercy God, is likely to let them vanish at times, lest we join the throngs who slip from realizing the harrowing truth of “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). To fall in love with the gift rather than the infinitely superior Giver is as humiliatingly foolish as tossing a priceless gift into the trash and treasuring the paper it was wrapped in.
The Role of Faith
We cannot maintain continual joy without learning to live by raw faith. For this, we must master the art of recognizing the existence of feelings and circumstances while continually rejecting them as indicators of spiritual reality. No matter how overpowering feelings can get, we must keep obstinately refusing to be swayed by feelings that contract God’s promises.
As you progress through any training session that will end up making you physically stronger, you will feel increasingly weak and exhausted. If we did not understand, we would think it ridiculous anyone suggesting that what makes us feel weaker will actually make us stronger. We could be receiving the best possible training and give up in disgust, believing it is doing more harm than good. Likewise, be become spiritually stronger we must endure trials that at the time make us feel spiritually weaker. To grow stronger in faith, for example, what we need is not times when faith is a breeze but times when circumstances and/or feelings make faith such a hard slog that we are sorely tempted to surrender to doubt, just like when we are most tempted to stop exerting ourselves is our chance to achieve the most in physical training. In the same way, to grow in joy, we need times that seem to drain us of joy.
Things that Threaten our Joy
Obviously, a negative attitude to life can swamp us with serious depression. Defeatism, hating oneself, believing life is not worth living are just a few examples. Anyone smugly imaging he can help people by simply telling them to change their attitude is a simpleton. I have devoted a large number of webpages to addressing many of these matters because such attitudes can become as much a part of one’s being as cancer and overcoming them can be a difficult as breaking a life-controlling addiction.
Despite there being a huge range of attitudes and beliefs, any one of which could send us into depression, there is another huge and entirely different category of things that can cause depression that is basically medical. Just as a jet cannot be expected to soar as the maker intended if its fuel is deficient or adulterated, neither can we, if there is some deficiency or abnormality in our body chemistry, and any of a number of such possibilities can push us into depression. As a pilot’s positive attitude cannot compensate for inadequate fuel, neither can a positive attitude – as important as that is – totally counteract the impact of a serious imbalance in in the levels of one’s vitamins, minerals, hormones and so on in one’s body chemistry.
The “Impossible” Mix
God’s Word speaks of being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” and gives other indications that joy does not always dispel depression/grief but that the two can sometimes remain together in the same person. That might seem incomprehensible but consider this: heroism is not the absence of fear; victory is not the absence of pain; and forgiving others is not the absence of hurt. Neither is joy the absence of grief, nor the absence of depression but an heroic refusal to surrender to them.
The secret of Spirit-filled joy is not some one-off spiritual experience but an on-going resolve that we will never allow anything – no matter how devastating – lessen our determination to keep on rejoicing in God.
To “rejoice in the Lord always” is to revel in the reality that. for all who love God, every single thing that impacts them – no matter how evil and catastrophic it starts off – ends up divinely transformed into such a blessing that they will forever be grateful (Romans 8:28). Continual rejoicing in the Lord is a stubborn refusal to believe the lie that for anyone devoted to Christ there could ever be such a thing as a disaster or defeat. Things we feel like complaining about are nothing less than victories and advances cleverly disguised to maximize the wonder and thrill of the surprise.
Those who by faith see through the disguise not only get to significantly extend the celebrations by partying ahead of time, their faith wins them special honor that will endure for all eternity.
Real Joy is Not Buried So Deep that It’s Virtually Invisible
It is tempting to conclude that joy can be so deeply buried as to be almost invisible to observers. The biblical pattern, however, suggests the divine intention is for spiritual joy, like a wedding ring, to usually be visible, just as the other fruit of the Spirit – love, kindness, patience and so on – should not be hidden. In Scripture it involves outward expression – shouting, cheering, clapping, jumping, dancing, singing, music, giving presents, and so on. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned, their rejoicing is so externalized that all the other prisoners heard them.
We Must Take the Initiative
Joy is like the most expensive bicycle. It cost Jesus enormously for you to have it. So use it. Life has the occasional downhill stretch where you can coast, but you must on the flat sections or you will fall off, the hills are a hard slog. Having to exert yourself does not indicate anything wrong with you or with the gift. It is normal. The effort gives you a sense of achievement and keeps you strong and healthy.
Waiting for joy to pounce on you is like a normal person waiting for someone to life him out of bed each morning. Seize the initiative. Be joyful!
Biblical love is not an emotion that grabs us. It is choosing to act with God-like compassion, even if the object of our love turns our stomach. Likewise, biblical joy is a stubborn refusal to be dominated by natural feelings. It is choosing to see things from the triumphant perspective of Almighty God and acting accordingly.
To go into greater depth with the all of the above, please see Christian Joy: The Secret Revealed