By Jerry White
First published April 1992
What is joy? Where can you find it? Is it hope deferred, like enjoyment of eternal life after enduring pain and sorrow here on earth? Is it the emotional highs we experience in our walk with Christ? Search with me for that joy that some so blithely promise to prospective believers in Christ.
I have wrestled with this paradox for some time and am still wrestling with it. So I cannot present here any finished solution or set of rules, or even sound logic. Joy is too elusive for that. Would be comforters (ask Job!) give us short, simple and sure answers. But real life doesn’t fit their prescriptions. In difficult or troubling experiences, we desperately need God’s joy.
Here are some of my current discoveries about joy. Joy begins with God’s promise. “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). God promises joy. Christ provides it. I must trust that He has not lied to me or introduced a false hope.
Life is punctuated with experiences wherein I taste the gain or loss of happiness. But happiness is not joy. Even God-given happiness is not joy. It is the foretaste, the appetizer. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
God-planted joy looks beyond the emotional highs of temporal happiness. In fact, it looks beyond the present lows of sorrow and despair. The Holy Spirit opens my eyes to a deeper satisfaction than I can ever experience through succeeding in a job, using my spiritual gifts, or seeing our children born and grow to maturity. This new vision allows me to see and taste a deeper purpose and joy that God promises and wants me to experience to the full . . . “that my joy might remain in you” (KJV).
When this joy invades my life, it settles in the inner citadel of the soul. It is there regardless of circumstances. It is boundless. It will not displace the emotional highs but will delight in them. It will not disappear with emotional lows but will live above them—while not excluding expressions of grief or sadness. This quality of joy is a safety net that allows me to fall and not get hurt. “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Joy actually grows through trials and suffering.
Finally, fullness of joy coincides with being in the very presence of God. “Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; in Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). Only as I learn to walk in intimate relationship with God through Christ does this joy take root in my soul.
Thank you for walking with me on the road to understanding and experiencing true joy. I’m not there yet. I am a pilgrim walking where I have never walked before.