The Discipline of Joy

July 2020

This last month I was asked to speak about joy. My talk was to be a theology of joy and its practical application. For those who know theologians, the theology side is easy, but the practical side is not. In studying the various uses of the term joy in the Old and New Testaments I came to understand a few key points. First is that joy is a gift from God (Ecc. 2:26). It is tied intimately to His person, thus for us Christians, Jesus is the giver of joy (Jn. 15:11) and it is part of the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in us (Gal. 5:22-23). Second, our joy is based on the hope that God has given us and is future-oriented (Rom 14:7; 15:13; Col. 1:11-12; Heb. 12:2). Third, joy is a stronghold that will protect us (Neh. 8:10; see esp. the HCSB, which renders the Hebrew word properly).

While for the world joy is an emotion that can come and go, for us Christians it is more than that: it is both an emotion and a command. We are to choose joy (2Co. 13:11; Php. 3:1; 4:4). We are to rejoice continuously (1Th. 5:16) and we are to do so in the face of difficulty, pain, suffering and trials (Mt. 5:11-12; Jas. 1:2; 1Pe. 4:12-13). We must discipline ourselves to be joyful, to focus on the One who is our joy (Heb. 12:3). This means actively remembering God, remembering that He is good, in character and in His intentions towards us, regardless of whether or not we can see it at the moment. This means setting aside time to think about Him and to talk to Him, to focus on Him, what He has done, what He is doing and what He will do. It means meditating on the joy set before us: eternity with Him, on New Earth, doing the tasks He has given us, without sin and selfishness constantly marring our work and worship.

One key thing in all of this is that in the Bible joy is a corporate thing. There are a few passages where it is individual, but by and large the joy is focused on togetherness with the people of God. Our Christian brothers and sisters can and ought to be a joy to us as Paul repeatedly says in 2 Corinthians and Philippians. We cannot build up this joy in ourselves individually: it is meant to be shared so it abounds. When my joy flags, it is up to my brothers and sisters to help me regain it. We need each other. The joy of the Lord is our stronghold corporately. So the question comes: how am I working to maintain the Body of Christ and so increase its corporate joy, especially in times of enforced distancing? What the enemy means for evil, God turns to good and so to joy, if we stand together as a body, our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Now it is your turn to think: how will you put this into practice in your Christian community?

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