“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
Friendship, marriage, children- marvelous sources, and biblically approved sources, of joy. Invest life here! But human relationships, fraught with such high potential for joy, often bring sorrow instead. To be sure, a son who turns out to be wise, in the biblical sense, brings great joy as Solomon said. But should he turn out to be a spiritual fool, is there a greater pain? Perhaps the most painful contrast on earth is the joy of a wedding and the agony of a divorce court.
Like things and activity, human relationships can go either way. It is altogether appropriate that when Scripture speaks of joy it emphasizes another relationship – our relationship with God.
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God…God my joy and my delight.” He himself is the joy. In fact, says Nehemiah, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Why? David tells us clearly: “Let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.” So it is from God, his strength extended in our behalf, his protection covering us that brings joy.
In fact, God does many things to give joy. In the Old Testament a major joy theme was the celebration of military victory and this carries on through to the joyous celebration at the final conquest of evil forces at the end of time. “The ransomed shall return with songs and everlasting joy on their heads; Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” So sang Isaiah the prophet.
In the NT the joy theme clusters around two great events: Advent, the invasion of planet earth by God in baby form, and the resurrection when God vanquished the last great enemy. In fact, when Jesus came the celestial beings sang and a fetus in the womb of Elizabeth leaped for joy. At the resurrection folks were so filled with joy they lost the power of speech! Joy, joy, joy! No wonder Christmas and Easter are the joyous times.
But God does things today to give us joy as well: he answers our prayers– “ask and you will receive that your joy may be full,” There’s a marvelous purpose for prayer! The greatest joy he gives is, no doubt, salvation: “God is my salvation; therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Our salvation is a well-spring of continuing joy. But there is the more down-to-earth joy of giving and receiving gifts. Paul’s heart leaped for joy when he received gifts and in both the Old Testament and the New Testament God’s people were filled with joy when they emptied their pockets!
Even greater joy, of course, comes when God gives us spiritual fruit- it brings joy in heaven, too, but we rightly are filled with joy when sinners are converted. And when they grow, too. In fact, for John there is no greater joy than to find his children walking in truth.
But actually, more than all the good he sends our way to give us joy, it is his very presence that brings the greatest joy: “you fill me with pleasure with your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand,” David assures us in Psalm 16:11.
God the Holy Spirit is the one who gives joy. Not only is joy the natural result of the Spirit’s indwelling reign, the “fruit,” He Himself is constantly linked with the experience of joy. How often the disciples are said to have been filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy. Perhaps that is why those who emphasize the fullness of the Holy Spirit are noted for their exuberance in worship and in life. Perhaps today you don’t feel joy. There is a hole where joy used to exist. Hold tight to Jesus. Joy will return. Perhaps your feel full of joy! Rest deeply in this well-spring of continuing in His presence.