The theme this week is a beautiful one. I’m excited to explore the ways that Jesus brings joy. If for whatever reason you missed last week’s posts about peace, I have archived them here. However, writing this post about joy has been difficult! Perhaps that means that I struggle with joy a lot. Actually, I can vouch for that. I have a few sermons in iTunes that are the most played and they are passages about joy. I hope you see this week’s posts, and all other posts for that matter as gospel reminders first to myself, then to you. I write about what I’m learning and what is striking me in the moment. If any of you ever think that writing something means that I never struggle with it later, that is so far from the truth. I write most of all to remind myself of what is true and to sort through thoughts.
Joy is a difficult concept for me, yet it is mentioned throughout all of scripture. Scripture says that the world—the rocks and the trees rejoice in the glory of God. Christmas carols are full of the idea of joy. If Doug would let me (He’s not keen on the name as a first name, but maybe a middle name), I’d name a daughter Joy, because I love it so much. But what does it mean?
When I was younger, I thought that joy was being happy all the time. It seems that the quest for happiness is one of the most important quests of our age. Movies echo the sentiment; the Declaration of Independence defends our right to the pursuit of happiness. I knew that joy couldn’t simply mean happiness, because happiness is elusive and fleeting. Jesus is said to have been the most joyful person who has ever lived, but he grieved and got angry. He wasn’t happy all of the time, yet he was joyful. Joy, then, is deeper than happiness. Joy isn’t divorced from feeling, though.
C.S. Lewis often speaks of “joy” in connection with a deep longing that is looking for an object. He compares it to a weary traveler longing for the feeling of home. He compares it to the longing that lovers feel for each other. Joy and longing go hand in hand, but the longing that all humans feel is greater than any lover can provide. That feeling when fulfilled, while beautiful does not sustain. Lewis says that these longings are signposts or foretastes of what joys lie in wait for all of mankind. (If you want to check out more of what Lewis thought of joy this video, by C.S. Lewis scholar Dr. Jerry Root is really interesting and helpful)
Perhaps then, we all long for the joy of Jesus, the joy of being in perfect communion with God. In other words, we all long for the joy of Heaven–of God dwelling with man and enlivening our hearts. Joy, then as I can understand it, is the fulfillment of the deepest longing of all of our hearts, that longing that makes us feel like strangers in our own skin. That longing that even in the happiest of circumstances whispers to our souls, “Could you dare to want more?” That longing is a desire for joy fulfilled and it is an important part of the human experience. That longing fulfilled- that joy, is only found in Jesus.
In John, Jesus explains to his disciples about how He is the source of joy:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 5: 1-11)
Jesus says abide in me. He says, “All of the deepest longings of your heart, I know them, so abide in me, and in doing so, I will give you my joy and my joy will be made full.”
That is beautiful news and I look forward to exploring how Jesus is our joy this week.