by Jesse Jost
“Always be joyful.” (1 Thess. 5:16 NLT)
The rain beat down on the husband and wife who wept softly as they watched the casket being slowly lowered into the black hole. The wooden box contained the physical remains of their twelve-year-old daughter who had passed away in a tragic accident. The girl’s mother turned to her husband, Dr. R. A. Torrey, and quietly said, “I’m so glad Elizabeth is with the Lord and not in that box.” But even knowing this to be true did not remove the terrible sting of the moment. The next day as Dr. Torrey thought of their loneliness without her presence, he was again overwhelmed by the horrible pain of his daughter’s death.
When I read about such intense pain and heartache, and when I see the sorrow and hollow look in the eyes of suffering friends, I wonder how the apostle Paul could have brought himself to write those divinely inspired words, “Always be joyful.” What could be meant by such an admonition? I know he didn’t mean for you to ignore the pain you are going through, put a plastic smile on your face and just be happy, happy, happy! At the same time, we can’t solve the dilemma by redefining joy until the word is stripped of all connotations of mirth and gladness. How can we be always joyful, and yet weep with those who weep?
Scripture is very clear that God is the wellspring of joy. Everything that brings joy does so because it bears traces of the Creator’s original stamp. Joy is the language of Heaven. When we believers finally shed the last remnants of this sin-torn, fallen world, and enter the presence of God, the rest of our eternity will be one of overflowing, exceedingly abundant joy!
God is the source of all joy, because He Himself is supremely joyful! You know the all-too-true saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” If this is true with our precious mothers, just imagine how much more this would apply to the Master of the Universe! Thankfully, God is never in a bad mood, He is never frustrated because He is completely sovereign – no purpose of His can be thwarted. He is completely satisfied; He has no needs.
Since these things are true, they beg the question, if God is always in a “good mood,” is He oblivious to our pain and emotional battles? Is He unaffected by our grief? John Piper says that God, in His infinite complexity, has the ability to look at the world through two lenses, a wide-angle lens and a narrow lens. When God looks at the world through the narrow lens, He sees life from our perspective. He sees the sorrow and anguish and the agony each “tragic” event brings. He is not oblivious to your pain; He weeps with you and “collects all your tears in a bottle.”
However, when God looks at the world through the wide-angle lens, He sees the complete picture. He sees all the beauty that He brings from tragedy, and how He uses every event to accomplish His magnificent eternal plan. He admires how He has orchestrated all things into a work of breathtaking brilliance.
On the one hand, we acknowledge God’s eternal plan by faith. While we focus on life from an eternal perspective, nothing can shake our joy. We rejoice, knowing that our heavenly Father will bring great beauty from the rubble. Yet at the same time, we recognize that we see life through a very narrow lens. The grief and sorrows we experience are real and need to be dealt with in an appropriate manner. Glib “be happy” sermons to a heavy heart can do great damage. As long as we live in this time-bound, sin-marred world there will be times we hurt, and hurt badly. Having this perspective allows us to offer a shoulder to cry on instead of a heartless pep talk about “sucking it up because everything will turn out right.” Even Jesus, with the knowledge that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead in mere minutes, still wept and was deeply troubled.
Ironically though, it is during our most difficult times down here that we are instructed to rejoice and be exceedingly glad for it is these very troubles, “which are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever.” (1 Cor. 4:17 NLT) However, we cannot make ourselves joyful with a mere mental equation. The joy the Scripture speaks of is a supernatural joy. This joy can’t be conjured up at will, it is found only in God. We need to take our every emotion, be it grief, anger, or ecstasy, to God. No matter how bleak or frustrating a situation appears, there is a Source of joy you can turn to that is greater than any problem.
Christians have so much to be joyful about! The first word Jesus spoke to the women after He rose was, “Rejoice!” The entire Bible sparkles with splashes of joy! We easily lose sight of the fact that Christianity is good news! Yes, there’s a cross, and yes there’s suffering and self-denial, but these are never to be ends in themselves. We must die, but this is so we can live. We must go through hardships but this is so we can experience something even more wonderful!
We believers have no right to stay down in the dumps. Matthew Henry said, “Joy in God is a duty of great consequence in the Christian life; and Christians need to be again and again called to it. If good men have not a continual feast, it is their own fault!” There are many joy robbers, but almost all of them are based on deception. Since God is the ultimate reality, and He is supremely good and joyful, truth will ultimately lead to joy. Conversely, lies will lead away from joy to despair. Of the many lies that rob us of joy, those ones attacking the character of God do the most damage. But, these joy-robbing illusions soon dissipate when time is spent worshipping in the presence of our Creator. In His presence there is fullness of joy! His sovereignty and goodness are the basis for abundant joy at any moment or in any circumstance.
God is the source of all joy and He created you to be a container of that joy. He became a Man and paid an immeasurable price so that His joy might be made complete in you. He has marvelous things in store for those who love Him. We let trivial news produce great emotional highs; how much more should meditating on the reality of God’s redemption and an eternity spent with Him and loved ones continually stir us to great joy!
Pursue joy for its own sake and it will elude you (lasting joy can only be found on God’s terms.) Seek God and His glory and eventually His joy, which goes so much deeper than artificial highs, will become a visible reality in you. Choose to be grateful for all God has done and will do and you will find an eternal Source of supernatural joy.
In closing, let me take you back to Dr. Torrey as he keenly felt the agony of loss. Burdened by grief, he turned to God for help. He relates what happened, “And just then, the Holy Spirit I had in my heart, broke forth with such power as I think I had never experienced before, and it was the most joyful moment I had ever known in my life! Oh, how wonderful is the Joy of the Holy Ghost! It is an unspeakably glorious thing to have your joy, not in things about you, not even in your most dearly loved friends, but to have within you a fountain ever springing up, always springing up three hundred and sixty-five days a year, springing up under all circumstances, unto everlasting life!”