Where does true joy come from?
Many in the world pursue joy through pleasure, excess, mind-altering substances, material possessions or a narcissistic focus on self above all others. This despite the many evidences that such pursuits seldom lead to lasting happiness, let alone joy.
God teaches us in His word that true joy comes from loving relationships, and that the best and highest of joys comes from having a right relationship with our Creator. This is true not only of our joy, but God’s joy as well. A key aspect to this joy is the salvation that God supplies. Without such salvation there is no permanency to our celebrations, all is transitory and destined to come to a sad end. But in salvation, joy is eternal.
In the Psalms, David teaches us to pray for others, saying “May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the Lord fulfill all your petitions! (Psalm 19:4-5; ESV)”
The exuberance and excitement of the prayer comes not through the exaltation of self, but through the anticipation of good things on behalf of another. The beautiful prayer, “may we shout for joy over your salvation,” reminds the saints of God of the happiness that is felt when another enters into a right relationship with God and has all the cares and worries of the world washed away by God’s grace. Just as the Ethiopian could go on his way rejoicing, having found Christ, so too could those who loved him and his soul rejoice in the same (cf. Acts 8:39)
In the New Testament, the apostle John wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 1:4).” He rejoiced that they were saved, but he rejoiced even more to know that their faith was constant and true, and that he need have no fear for their spiritual security.
Now are men the only ones to rejoice when a soul finds salvation. Jesus taught, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10; ESV).”
This verse is often misquoted so as to infer that it is the angels who are doing the rejoicing, but while the angels may have joy, let us note that the angels are the ones observing the joy. The joy being felt is that of the Father, and the angels, who behold the face of God, see the Creator rejoice every time a sinner repents. In the same chapter (Luke 15), Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son who returns to the father’s home, and it is the father who rejoices the most and insists everyone else rejoice as well (cf. Luke 15:22-24).
As Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit, produced by those who walk according to the Spirit, he says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… (Galatians 5:22-23a).” Joy makes its way near to the top of the list of those things one should expect in a life lived according to God’s plan.
The joy God gives is not a fleeting passing feeling of the moment, but is an eternal treasure. It comes not from a focus on self, but through a love for others: both God and man. It is found therefore, not in selfish pursuits, but in giving. The child of God who gives love and obedience to God, who gives generously and cheerfully to those around him,… such a one will have true joy.
If you wish to have joy in your life, don’t seek for it in worldly diversions and pursuits. Seek for it in a right relationship with God, and in promoting that same relationship in the lives of others. Seek after the things of God, those spiritual treasures that cannot be taken away, and you will discover the joy that comes from knowing the love of God. Pray, with the Psalmist that you will have the opportunity to rejoice in the salvation of others, and be willing to work towards that goal. Do those things which will give joy, not just to yourself, but to God above.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.