Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Pursuit of Pure Joy

This article will not satisfy the one who sees only morbidity and cruelty and irony and pain in the Christian walk – nor will it pacify the soul that denies the reality of all suffering and sees only prosperity, giddiness, laughter, and good health as the sole sign of God’s favor. And so before I go on, I ask the reader to critique my thoughts here with some balance, grace, and common sense.

I believe that in Christ there are pleasures forevermore and infinite joy and promises of goodness and provision and kindness. God is kind. God is generous. And God is an immeasurably happy God.

I also believe that this world is full of toils and snares and tragedies and suffering and that the Christian is often not spared from such realities.

This brings to mind the lyrics to the great old Swedish hymn, “Day by Day”:

Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment,
I've no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best
Lovingly, it's part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and with rest.

Pain and pleasure…toil and rest. Not simply one or the other.

I have, believe it or not, spoken with several Christians over the course of the last couple of weeks who have all taken issue with the subject of joy. You would assume this is something we could all agree on. After all, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit – something we are required to seek and obtain. It is not forbidden fruit.

And yet, these particular individuals who I have spoken with have argued that if we seek joy in God, we are no longer seeking God, but joy. And so in seeking joy, we become idolaters.

I disagree with this logic. Mainly, I disagree with it because it exposes blasphemy at its very core. To say that seeking joy is seeking something other than God is to say that joy lies outside of God. Or that joy can be found in things other than God. I completely disagree.

Joy – pure and real, biblical joy – can be found nowhere but in Jesus Christ.

You cannot have joy independent of Christ, nor can you have Christ independent of joy. You either have both or you have neither. If you cannot agree with this statement, you may have incorrectly defined what it means to have a relationship with Christ, or more probably, you have failed to correctly define joy.

Do not confuse joy with euphoria. True joy incorporates contentment and satisfaction. Feeling pleasure and having joy are two completely different things. Joy. among other things, includes an understanding of the sovereignty of God and requires faith and discernment.

Pleasure is something all human beings have the capacity to feel repeatedly over the course of their life time in temporary, limited spurts. Our brain releases something called Dopamine and depending upon the amount of Dopamine released, we will feel bursts of physical pleasure. Dopamine can be released while watching sports, eating a donut, or by cashing a paycheck. Drug highs occur when a drug tricks the brain into releasing more Dopamine than it is supposed to, resulting in an overwhelming sense of momentary physical pleasure.

This all, however, has nothing to do with joy. A person completed depleted of all Dopamine can still experience joy in the Lord, because biblical joy has nothing to do with physical feelings of pleasure, it has to do with faith and a correct understanding of the character of God.

James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you meet trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

Here we see the Bible redefine two common human emotions for something much deeper. It takes our word for “trials” and redefines it in the next phrase as “the testing of your faith.” Because trials equate to sanctification, the Bible tells us that the proper response during “trials” is not to pout, whine, or get angry, but to consider it joy!

I am also intrigued by the word “consider.” The word “consider” has many definitions in the English language: think, ponder, heed, regard, judge, and believe are a few of them.

Interesting. When we “consider” something, we are testing something that isn’t instinctively apparent. James doesn’t say our trials are joy – but he tells us to “consider” them to be; to ponder our trials and judge them against our Biblical discernment, and believe that they are. Belief is indicative of having faith. There isn’t a word in this verse about enjoying the trial or having fun during the trial or wanting the trial to be prolonged – but only an exhortation to beat against the goads of human logic and to consider that something much deeper than a trial is really going on.

Scripture tells us that “because of the joy set before him, Christ endured the cross.”

Here is where we are forced to realize that “joy” may be defined biblically a bit differently than we traditionally have defined it.

The cross was agonizing and painful. Christ suffered physical pain, verbal abuse, the betrayal of friends, and the shame and humiliation of hanging on the cross naked. I don’t think “joy” in this context means that he was delighting in his present circumstances.

Christ’s joy was an act of faith – setting his mind on what was to come and what was to be accomplished through his suffering. Knowing that the sting of death would be removed, sinners would be saved, the serpent’s head would be crushed, and God’s name would be glorified as the result of his suffering -- and caring far more about these things than he did about his own body or physical comfort.

I think this is where most of us go wrong. Our own bodies are used as a thermometer to determine whether or not joy is being accomplished. Nothing could be more deceptive.

It all comes down to how you define joy.

If joy is wrapped up in prosperity, riches, money, vacations, good-looking friends, physical beauty, new cars, health, an impressive job title….then yes, pursuing joy will make you an idolater. However, there is a difference between pursuing joy and pursuing things that you perceive will result in your acquiring of joy.

But if you understand that biblical joy has in mind -- not feelings -- but a posture of unshakeable trust and faith during times of crisis and trial – you will find that joy can be found nowhere outside of Christ and the one who pursues Christ cannot be an idolater.

Labels: , ,


Blogger Rob Wilkerson said...


What a timely and incredibly helpful post in light of John's illness. I'm deeply encouraged by this as I heard just today of his news.

You know, my wife just discovered the post about it earlier today. I was having lunch with a business friend and my heart sank with grief. I told her, "Babe, I just corresponded with John by email not more than two days ago and he spoke nothing of it. I wonder why that was?" Do you know what her response was? "Well honey, would you honestly expect him to? He has too much joy to let it worry him!"

She's so right. And so are you in this post! Thanks so much.

2:44 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home