The search for joy and happiness has been called one of the great universal mankind desires by pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards. It’s this craving for joy that leads some to dangerous, adrenaline junky activities. For others it sets a bar so high in relationships that they burn through marriages to find the “perfect one.” Some seek this seemingly elusive state of being through drugs, alcohol, or the accumulation of stuff. “If I only I had that car or house, I’d be happy,” the poor man speaks. “If I had a husband or children then I’d be happy,” says the single woman. As God so often does, however, He turns the world’s understanding of this simple three-letter word, joy, inside out.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
When I first read these verses a few years ago I had to laugh. It reminded me of a scene from an old movie, National Lampoon’s Animal House. In it, young men are pledging to be members of a college fraternity. In one scene they are being given the paddle and are required to yell out, “Thank you, Sir! May I have another?!” In other words, they are to act like they are enjoying the painful beating.
The disciple James admonishes the scattered Jewish Christians to rejoice in the persecution and difficulties they face. And so many of us read that, scrunch up our face and say, “What?” Prior to studying the Bible and taking my faith seriously I thought joy or happiness meant smooth sailing. When I wasn’t in that state of joy, I surmised I just wasn’t trying hard enough. When trials came, as they always do, I despaired over my lack of joy.
I spent an entire year announcing to anyone that I was seeking “sparkliness.” Yes, that’s a word I made up. But you probably know what I mean. I wanted to exude joy whenever I walked into a room. To be shiny and happy and light in my demeanor. To be free of sadness and negativity. Sounds beautiful, right? So, I put on a happy face wherever I went. I worked hard at not saying anything negative. I told myself to shake off being mad or sad. Friends, I’ve got to tell you, I failed miserably. Because if we are “faking it,” it will show up in our fruit.
“It is evident, both by Scripture and reason, that God is infinitely, eternally, unchangeably, and independently glorious and happy.”Jonathan Edwards
So, why couldn’t I be gloriously happy as well? Which brought me running headfirst in to the book of James. My worldly version of joy was completely upended. I learned what makes God truly, gloriously happy – when we place our trust, our love, our worship in Him and Him alone.
You see, while I was striving so hard to find joy, I hadn’t realized what can truly give me a life of joy. A life where I allowed the Holy Spirit to burn away my joy-killers – discord, gossip, neediness, conceit, and envy. A life that worships and gives glory to the giver of all beautiful gifts, Jesus. The difference between those young men trying to get into a fraternity and receiving their “dues” is as a Christian we can find joy in knowing any persecution or affliction we face can be experienced in Jesus’ name. Can be turned over to our loving God for help and comfort.
The Holy Spirit and I, we started off with little tests along the way. Helping me to see the bits of goodness when things didn’t go as planned. The process of rebirth led me to one of the most difficult experiences I’ve had to date. Through terrible sadness and mountains of tears I found joy. I found it by leaning heavily on the Lord.
John Calvin was right when he said, “We can experience joy in adverse circumstances by holding God’s benefits in such esteem that the recognition of them and the meditation upon them shall overcome all sorrow.”
This week our look at the Fruit of the Spirit, joy, may feel like one of the hardest to understand to some. If, however, we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, we must also look to Him for the truth of what lies beyond this world. An eternity with our gloriously happy God who loves us so much He longs to be with us in the New Eden.
Coming Up: Obedience vs. Joy or Obedience=Joy?
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