Feed Your Joy
Are you ever tempted to think that joy in the heart of a Christian just happens naturally, and that it grows inevitably as the years go on? Or have you come to see that the Christian’s joy is something that must be continually and consciously sought and pursued and fought for and won? Joyful Christians – Christians who are joyful not just in times of overt blessing and abundance but also in times of want and hardship and trial – have not just “fallen into” joy in the way that a stream descends over a waterfall into a pool beneath. They have much more in common with a salmon swimming upstream, against the current on a journey fraught with danger and difficulty, and undertaken with single-minded intention.
We are in a battle for joy. Every day. This will not be true forever – one day our destination will be reached and eternal joy in all its fullness will be our constant experience in God, through Christ. But for now we are in this battle, and every day we are at risk of being overtaken and subverted by lies that bring disillusionment and disappointment and by imposters – things that make us feel good for a moment, but when the rush passes, leave us emptier than before. All day long the world, the flesh and the devil are seeking to draw us into affections for things other than God, who alone is the true Source of joy. Every day they tempt us with idols that are all dressed up and seem so attractive – so perfectly suited to appeal to the “lust of the eyes” and our ambition and pride. As a wise man once said, our hearts are idol factories. That is why Scripture tells us to “put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). That is violent, decisive language, and it represents action from which there is no retreat. But putting our earthly passions to death – killing them, executing them, crucifying them – is not enough. That will only leave a void that is going to be filled by something.
So let’s move out of the realm of the abstract and into the realm of the practical and concrete. What exactly are we to do to fill the void? How can we hope to have victory in this daily battle? Well, here is one thing – not the only thing, but a crucial thing. God has given us a sword with which to fight. That sword is His word. We must use it every day with the pursuit of joy in our minds. But here’s a problem. And I suppose that every honest Christian who has been reading the Bible for any length of time will grant that this is true. We may have read the Bible through many times. We may have much biblical truth in our heads. But in the moment of temptation or trial, what good does it do? It is often all a muddle unless we have disciplined ourselves to be able to call to mind specific truths from the Bible reminding us that we must find our joy in God. That there is no joy apart from God. That seeking alternative sources of joy will only end in disaster. In other words, we must constantly be feeding our joy in God so that the alternatives lose their power to draw us away.
Here’s an example. If I am reading in the book of Joshua, I will quickly encounter God’s promise that he will be with Joshua and will never leave or forsake him. This is a joy-producing, joy-inspiring promise that God repeats over and over again in Scripture. It carried Joshua through great battles, and it can do the same for us. But we must consciously lock it into our minds so that it is there for us on a moment’s notice. We can then preach it to ourselves all day long. We can tell God that we believe it and trust in Him to make good on it. We can tell our souls to be strengthened by it. We can tell the enemy that he has nothing to offer that can match this. And as we do this all day long, through the ups and downs and the temptations and challenges, we will be pursuing joy, fighting for joy, feeding joy.
Let’s learn to discipline ourselves this way. Let’s actually wield the sword that God has given us. We are living in challenging times, and it is going to be all too easy to let the enemy of our souls have the upper hand. But God has given us a sword with which to fight. Let’s use it to full effect.