I don’t believe we emphasize joy as much as God does in His word. The word “joy” and its synonyms occur over a thousand times in Scripture. There’s not a book in the Bible that doesn’t carry this winsome theme. It is clear that God made us to experience joy and wants us to know joy fully and continually.
Our Lord Jesus came so we can have joy. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). The apostle Paul described the kingdom of God as a people characterized by joy and in whom the Spirit of God produces the fruit of joy (Rom. 14:17; Gal. 5:22). Joy is to be the trademark of the people of God!
Yet, an abiding joy is often missing among believers. We have a way of seeing the clouds in every silver lining. We can be more comfortable with gloom than with gladness. We are more familiar with depression than delight. One reason joy is so scarce is because we look for joy in things that can’t deliver. Oh, they produce little moments of pleasure, but the joy they spark is quickly gone. Life becomes like the sky at night with little flashes of brightness separated by vast caverns of darkness.
The way most people pursue joy reminds me of building model rockets when I was a boy. It used to be popular to build model rockets from cardboard and plastic. You would design the shape of the rocket and the fins to achieve a certain flight and paint it with vibrant colors. In the base of the rocket you placed the rocket engine, which was a solid propellant about the size of your finger.
I remember the first time I lit the fuse and watched the rocket take off. It blasted into the sky amid a fury of sound, wind and fire. My head snapped back to watch it rise. After a momentary blaze the rocket quickly ran out of fuel, turned upside down, deployed the chute, and drifted down to earth. I thought, “Hours of planning and painting, and it’s over in 30 seconds!” I tried bigger engines with more power, but the result was always the same: a rush of smoke and speed after which the rocket turned upside down and drifted back to earth.
I believe that is a parable of how most people pursue joy. They find something they think will give them a thrill. And it does, for a moment. Then they turn upside down and drift back down to a mundane existence on earth. They try bigger and bigger bangs, but the result is the same.
The problem with our culture is that we have so much money, time, and opportunities that we can keep a barrage of pleasures going which dull the sense that we are never truly happy. At some point the fireworks stop and the silence is that much more noticeable.
God offers us a more sustainable source of joy—rejoicing in the Lord. This kind of joy never runs out of fuel and it’s vital to a vibrant faith. Paul famously wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). He repeats himself as if to say, “Yes, you heard me right. Find your joy in the Lord Jesus every moment of your life.” This is one of those expansive life-changing verses.
Joy Is A Command
Did you notice that “rejoice in the Lord” is a command? That means rejoicing in the Lord is not primarily a feeling, but a choice we make by faith. It is a choice to find our joy in the Lord and not in the things of this world. There are going to be times when you don’t feel like rejoicing, or when you forget to rejoice, or when you simply refuse to rejoice, and by faith you have to make a decision—“I’m going to find my joy, my delight, my pleasure in the Lord!” Being faithful means being joyful.
Paul reveals the reason for the command to rejoice when he says, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe” (Phil. 3:1). God commands us to rejoice in the Lord, because it’s good for us. Some of us are flailing about emotionally, spiritually and even physically because we are not obeying this command to “rejoice in the Lord.” No pleasure or possession can satisfy the longing of our lives like finding our joy solely in the Lord.
Joy Is A Comprehensive Command
The command to “rejoice” is intensified by how comprehensive it is! “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). Ouch! I wish he had written, “Rejoice in the Lord most of the time.” Yet, if he had I would have used his ambiguity to justify my own self-centeredness and deny the sufficiency of the Lord. “Always” is a big word that touches the horizons of our lives.
This doesn’t mean we will never feel sad or depressed. It is interesting that the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament is “Rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16-TR), while the shortest verse in the English New Testament is “Jesus wept.” They do not contradict. Our Savior could weep and yet be full of joy even as He faced the cross (Heb. 12:2). We are commanded to “weep with those who weep” and yet “rejoice always” (Rom. 12:15). Jesus said His followers would be marked by “mourning” and yet possess an irrepressible joy (Matt. 5:4; 1 Pet. 1:8).
Sadness visits every human heart, but even in those moments we can reach out by faith and take hold of someone who will give us joy. The Psalms wonderfully illustrate this truth. The psalmist is often overwhelmed with despair and sadness and pours it out before the Lord. Then, by faith, he reaches out and takes hold of the character, works and promises of God, and by the end of the psalm his mood has changed, although his circumstances have not. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you will be removed from problems, but it does mean you can have joy in the midst of them.
Joy Is A Focused Command
The most significant aspect of this command to “rejoice” is its source—“Rejoice in the Lord.” All other sources of joy are temporary and inadequate. The only kind of joy that is always present is in a Lord who is always sufficient. That is why we cannot have joy unless we are rightly related to and devoted to the Lord Jesus.
I read about how Lawrence of Arabia visited Paris with his men after World War I. They toured the grand city and saw many of its magnificent sights, but what excited them most were the faucets on the bathtubs in their hotel room. They could just turn the handle and water poured out. They spent hours just turning them on and off. When they were preparing to leave, Lawrence found his men in the bathroom trying to detach the faucets. He said, “What are you doing?” They replied, “Arabia is a dry place; we need these faucets so we can have all the water we want!” Lawrence explained to his men that the effectiveness of the faucets depended on the immense water supply to which they were attached. (Living Joyfully, Brian Harbour [Broadman Press], p. 108)
We are like that about joy. We want the faucets, but we miss the connection. Joy comes from the Lord. Pursing joy is not so much a pursuit of a feeling, but rather a relentless pursuit to know and to please the Lord Jesus! Joy is the wonderful by-product of that relationship.
The night before His crucifixion Jesus made His friends a promise. He said, “You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you” (John 16:22). They did sorrow, but they saw Him again! Jesus rose from the grave. Because He lives, our sins are forgiven and the grave has been conquered, and we have a joy that no one can take from us. Let’s live like it.