My local church is doing a series of sermons this Christmas season on Joy. As in “Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth receive her King!”
That is something that we hear every year which probably just moves us for a moment and then passes by. Others hearing those words may be drawn into deeper despair. Especially those dealing with chronic physical pain, deep depression or any number of problems that just don’t seem to subside.
There is little point in brow-beating people over their depression. As when people say, “Why are you depressed? Stop it! You are a Christian and should be joyful.” Which always works amazingly when people say that stuff to us.
Forgetting Those Things That are Behind
The thing is, life is tough. Yes, there have been great exhilarating moments; but they seem to come less frequently than in the past. And sometimes it can be difficult to remember just when we last felt real joy.
Being a melancholy personality, myself, I can relate to periods of depression and those “dark nights of the soul”. Especially when I go back and dwell on past mistakes.
However, to go back and dwell on the past is not a really wise thing to do. I am increasingly reminded of the passage, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before…” (Philippians 3:13).
Have you ever wondered about that passage? We are so prone to go back and double check what we have done in the past. Mostly to polish our old trophies.
But when the light of maturity shines upon those old days, they don’t gleam as they once did.
And the reason is, God does not want us to dwell on ourselves. He wants us to look to Him. This also applies to our pain, our suffering, our financial worries and any of our problems.
No matter how severe or hopeless.
Because, the object of our focus is everything.
And that brings me back to Joy.
The Lord, Himself, is Our Joy
As it says in Psalm 43:4, “I will go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God…”
So, you can see, in this verse, that God, Himself, is my joy. Joy is not a thing.It is a Person. That does not mean that God is the personification of joy. He is not the personification of anything.
Instead, He is the definition and the source of all that joy is.
It reminds me of something from Genesis 15:1, “After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”
God was not only the helper for Abraham to get through life — The Shield; God was also The Reward that Abraham was to receive during this life and in that life which is to come.
In other words, just as Jesus said, ” …I am the way, the truth, and the life…”, He is, in the most real sense, the way to live, the truth that guides us and our very life itself.
And when it comes to joy, we are faced with the same reality. That joy is not something that comes in a bag or box that God gives us once in a while. Measured out like sugar or chocolate and given to us for a fleeting moment. As if God just dispenses out joy in a random way.
Joy is not a result of circumstances (as with happiness); but is something more certain and solid and enduring. Something that is able to stick around long after the clouds come back and rain on our parade.
The Lord wants us to be joyful. Not to have a fake joy or something that we try to manufacture out of the shabby material of ourselves. Out of the illusion of our best Christian self.
The Lord wants us to be focused on Him and not on our past. Not our victories. Not on our accomplishments. Not on our regrets. Not on our failures.
In other words, not on ourselves.
That I Might Know Him
We need to pull away from the busy-ness of life. The busy-ness of the church. The programs. The work. And all that may be very good and necessary but which is not real life.
I can hear people screaming over that! Because we are so addicted to Do-ing things to feel good. Do-ing things in order to feel that God is pleased with us.
And pretending that we don’t feel that the work often has a coldness to it. That there is something dead in it. Even in the best things that we can do.
We fail to see that LIFE is Christ. All else is NOT life. All the stuff and activity is not life. It is often a counterfeit. And the churches are great at substituting the Spirit of God with activity.
If the Holy Spirit would walk out the door one day, it would probably take months before anyone much would notice. Because we have it all planned out. We can now live the Christian life without Him.
Or so we think.
We must see that all that we need, including Joy, comes from our dependence on Christ alone. And a quiet, inner walk with Him moment by moment.
And to see all that the LORD wants to be for us. Our Wisdom, our Righteousness, our Sanctification, our Redemption . . .
As someone once said, “Someday all that we will have will be Christ; all this other stuff will be gone. We will have only Christ. So we’d better get to know Him while we have the chance.”
When we continue to grasp for joy, it’s a mistake to believe that God is going to dispense this wonderful thing to us because of what we have done. As if we have to live a life that merits joy. Or that our obedience will bring God’s blessings.
Walking in Eternal Life Now
Most all Christians suffer from this incorrect thinking. Forgetting that every breath they take is now an eternal breath.
They are really walking in a new world governed by new spiritual laws. In a new, everlasting reality that will continue forever despite the condition and feelings of these decaying bodies.
In this new reality, Christ is the Shepherd and Guide to get us through this life. He is the God of all Comfort to cheer and relieve us in all our sorrows and pain . He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. He is the Master that commands our obedience and the Spirit who works in us to fulfill that obedience.
And then, on top of it all, He is our Exceeding Great Reward who is abundantly above all that we can ever think or imagine.
In this Christmas season and beyond, for whatever burdens you may have, allow “the joy of the LORD” to be your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)