I remember that as a new Christian, about 20 years ago, there seemed to be a lot of rules for me to learn. I had to learn how to talk, dress and act as a Christian woman, but it never really felt right. My pastor helped me to realize that those “rules” were simply guidelines to help me until the change that God was working inside me starting to show on the outside. As I continued to pray and read the Scriptures, it started to happen. For example, I didn’t need to worry about cleaning up my language because I didn’t want to curse anymore. Old habits are hard to break and I still slip up, but now it actually hurts my ears to hear such words. Strange, I’d always thought those goody two-shoes types were following rules but I came to find that the rules only exist within the limits of the judgmental and not in God.
I still remember the day I found this verse:
“I tell you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” John 15:11
The idea of a joyful life in Christ had not occurred to me. In fact, I had the impression that the only joy in Christianity was found in glory after this earthly trial was over. I have since come to realize that joy is a natural state for a Christian. Maybe not sunshine and roses, maybe not even happiness, but joy coming from the love of God that will trump superficial “happiness” every time.
As I was mulling over the way my views on so many things have changed over the years, I decided to revisit Scripture on some words starting with “joy”.
In the Old Testament, joy was inextricably linked to obedience. God’s instructions to his people included a promise that in celebrating the Feast of the Tabernacle, God would “bless you in all your harvest, in all the works of your hands and your joy will be complete.” (Duet.16:15). When Jesus repeated these words in John 15 during his final instructions to his disciples, he was reminding them of that promise.
The Psalmists had a handle on the joyful life. Here are just some verses to consider:
“Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.” Psalm 43:4
“Restore to my the joy of your salvation…” Psalm 51:12
“Your statutes are my heritage forever, they are the joy of my heart.” Psalm 119:111
“Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.” Psalm 107:22
It’s even more incredible to think that all of creation feels this joyfulness.
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; and the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you.” Isaiah 55:12
“All the trees of the forest will sing for joy.” Psalm 96:12
We know that this earthly life will be difficult because we have separated ourselves from God due to our sinfulness. Yet in things like God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness there is great joy. That, I believe, is the state that God wants us to live in – a state of joyfulness. Not simply denying the gruffness of our world but the gift of being able to rise above it. On the other hand, you can wallow in self-pity (which is so easy and feels frighteningly natural) or strive for that fullness of life that can only by reached through Christ. And in that, is a life of great joy wrapped up in grace.
Jesus said “I have come that you may have life and live it to the full.” John 10:10
So live fully, live joyfully, live to spread joyfulness.
“Live a life of love” (Eph. 5:1) and “live it to the full” (John 10:10) and you will find that in celebrating and serving God “your joy will be complete” (Duet. 16:15, John 15:11).
In the Old Testament we find joy entwined with obeying God. Jesus preached about joy springing from an acceptance of God’s love and a life thereby given over to God’s service. So joy is found in an obedient life and obedience is a natural response to a loving God.
I’ll say it again, life fully, live joyfully, live to spread joyfulness.