Choose Joy

C.S. Lewis is always quick to speak of joy throughout his writings. His autobiographical account of his conversion to Christ is called “Surprised By Joy” and it recalls the overwhelming sense of joy that he felt in surrendering his heart to Jesus. Before becoming a Christian, he delved deeply into other world religions and thought processes circulating (humanistic evolution, Hinduism, Islam, etc.), but what surprised him during his encounters with Christianity was that joy overcame all those who let go of themselves in order to let God move in their lives. They did not have to work for it through merit, meditation, or pursuing knowledge. It simply became who they were. Lewis wanted so hard to be able to earn something for himself, but in the end he wanted joy more and he became complete by letting go and giving his life to the Creator of the universe. And if you ask me, I’d say he turned out to be a pretty amazing man.

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This idea has been haunting me lately. Because if Christ’s work has been finished and there is nothing that we can do to add to it or take away from it, why not experience joy? If the Author and Perfector of the universe can know the wickedness of our hearts and still choose to love us as His own, how could we ever not rejoice in that?

The Gospel speaks of joy all the time and how it is a fundamental component of the Christian walk. The Psalms alone use the word “joy” (or “joyful”) over fifty times in the ESV translation. In 2 Samuel 6, David is charged with bringing the Ark of God back to Jerusalem. During this journey, David was so overcome with joy in his duty that he stopped the men carrying the ark every six steps (vs. 13) in order to sacrifice to the Lord. Similarly, when they arrived in Jerusalem David began dancing “with all his might” (vs. 14) because he was overcome with joy to partake in the Lord’s charge. The book of Ecclesiastes is also a great source on where we should find joy. It tells us over and over through each chapter that every desire we have and every work we do that is outside of God’s purpose for us is vanity and means nothing. However, we are told that our response to this should not be depression and self-loathing, but joy. Instead of trying to do everything, we should recognize what God has given us and eat, drink, dress up, love your significant other, and work with joy (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10). It is saying that God has given these things so that we might find joy in Him though them.

The New Testament is also persistent in speaking about joy.

– Zacchaeus received Christ with joy (Luke 19:6)
– Childbirth is an act that brings joy (John 16:21)
– Sharing the Gospel makes us experience joy (Acts 15:3)
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)
– We find joy in sufferings and trials knowing that Christ is perfecting us (James 1:2)
– Jesus’ words are to be joy in our hearts (John 15:11)
– The Kingdom of God is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17)
– The heavens erupt in joy over the repentance of a single sinner (Luke 15:10)

These are only a few of the many references to joy in the New Testament, but I think the point is clear – joy is important. As I was thinking about joy this morning, I realized how often I overlook it for my own circumstances. Whether it is a difficult test, an annoying relationship, lack of money, or sickness I can easily miss out on having joy in Christ. Even when I am searching spiritually. Lately, I have been struggling to identify my entire value in Christ and not compartmentalize Him in my life to where I am defined by grades at school, productivity at work, and Christ at church. I want to be defined by Christ at school, work, church, and everywhere else. But what I realized is that even in my spiritual pursuit of finding complete value in Christ (which is definitely a good thing), I have cast aside joy for frustration and defeat. I was feeling very convicted of that this morning as I was walking to class and in that moment, I was also overwhelmed with joy. It just happened upon me. I had to walk all the way across campus in the rain without an umbrella, but thinking about the finished work of Christ on the cross filled me with so much joy that there was no room for frustration or despair.

These glimpses of full satisfaction in Christ are what have always affirmed the fact that the Gospel is living and active in me. When I think about joy and how I tend to miss it, I go back to Ecclesiastes. I think the point that is trying to be made throughout that book is this: God has given you this life and everything in it so find joy in Him through it. For me, this means that I have to learn to be rather than do. What I mean is that I try so hard to pad a resume, to impress others, to gain knowledge so that I can win debates, blah blah blah…but the Bible says, “Eat good food.” “Drink good wine.” “Engage in community with others.” “Fall in love.” These create joy in us because that is what God created them to do. If we abuse them or convince ourselves that they are our own to do what we want with them, we miss the joy God is trying to give to us.

I think we make life too difficult sometimes. I also think we make the Gospel too difficult. If our focus is on Christ and nothing else, all of the other aspects of the Gospel fall into place. If we surrender ourselves completely to Christ, He perfects us. Christ alone. We tend to choose judgment or comparison or self-maintenance or works righteousness in order to build ourselves up. Let’s stop that. Let’s choose joy and let Christ do the rest.

“You said there was nothing left down here. Well I roamed around the wasteland and I swear I found something. I found hope. I found God. I found the dreams of the believers. Oh, God! Save us all…”

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