Joy – Where to find it
John 15: 9-11
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. “So that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”
To enjoy special things we go to special places. To enjoy a good breakfast we go to a good baker and buy rolls. To enjoy riding in a new car we go to a car dealer. To get a good education we go to a good school or university. To enjoy a good vocation we get hired by a good employer.
Now, if you were to set out to find joy, where would you go? You would not go to the baker, the car dealer, the educator, or the employer to find joy. The Bible tells us that the place to find joy is God. Jesus wanted his followers to be people of joy. That is why he wanted them to come to him. Why? Because when we find God or Jesus, we find joy. The most joy-filled being in the universe is God himself.
Jesus states his vision for his disciples, for people who follow him, for people like you and me: So that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
I find here three implications, two warnings, and one invitation.
1. Three implications
1. God is full of joy
The Apostel Paul writes in the epistle to the churches in Galatia that the fruit of the Spirit of God is Love, joy and seven other attributes. God is love, and God is joy.
We see the joy of God operative at the baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:9.11).
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Before Jesus performed good deeds, he was lifted in his spirit by the assurance of the Father’s delight in him. The heavens were literally ripped apart and the voice of the Father was heard, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
What makes the God of the Bible so attractive is His joy. Jesus felt it. Jesus had it. You were meant to have it too.
2. God’s love is the context of joy
What is joy? Joy is the sense of delight that arises within us in the presence of someone we love. This was certainly true of the Father at the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry: “You are my Son, whom I love – with whom I am well pleased. This is agape-love – love that sacrifices for the good of the one loved. What do you get when you encounter such love? You get joy – a deep sense of delight in the presence of the Lover.
3. God longs to share His joy with us
The third implication in Jesus’ statement is that the joy he and the Father have, is meant to be shared with us: “so that my joy might be in you”. You were meant for joy. You were meant to experience the delight of living in the love of God.
Last week I spent time with a former Muslim Imam. He told me miraculous story upon miraculous story of how he entered into new life in Jesus Christ. One of the things he said that caught my attention was how he discovered the God of the Bible to be love. He told me that this was foreign to Islam. In Islam God is angry. In Bible, however, we discover a God of love who is angered by sin, but who overflows with joy, a joy He wants to share with us.
2. Two Warnings
This leads me to two warnings.
1. We often content ourselves with happiness (when joy is what we really want)
In wanting to be happy we settle for less than what God wants for us. There is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness occurs when something good happens to us: that raise, brokering a big deal, buying a new house.
Happiness is the German “Glücklich”. Glück and luck are related to one another. The word “Glück” is related to “Luke” from which we derive the English term “luck”. A “Luke” is an opening, a fortuitous occurrence that makes us happy.
Joy is different than happiness. How so? Happiness results from a changed condition, but joy is our delight in responding to love. One writer put it this way “Happiness possesses; joy appreciates. Happiness grasps, joy beholds.” (Paul Thigpen, “Where’s the Joy?” Discipleship Journal, 1.05.1996).
You were made for more than good things happening to you that make you happy. You were made for joy – responding to a God who loves you to the point of dying for you. Think on that for ten minutes and your heart will well up with delight.
2. Our joy is too weak
The problem with our pursuit of delight is that it is too weak. The Oxford Don, and writer of the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, states is this way: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” ( C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses).
If you live for pleasure you will be left behind by that pleasure. Except for God Himself, all joys come with an expiration date attached to them. They will one day all fade because they are too weak to sustain you. The Bible states that God has placed eternity in our hearts, meaning that longing for intimacy, pleasure, joy and delight are ultimately to be found in God who is eternal. Your desires are not too strong – they are inherently too weak!
Thomas Aquinas wrote, “No one can live without delight and that is why a man deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures.” G.K. Chesterton has said that the brothel is the place on earth that is closest to heaven. Carnal pleasures are a weak attempt to find transcendence – the entrance into a world that we do not know but were made to experience. The brothel is the aping of heaven. It will leave the patron poor, cold, full of shame, remorse, and self-loathing – but aching for a greater joy.
3. One invitation: “Abide in my love” (and you’ll experience complete joy!)
That leads ua with one invitation, given to us by Jesus: Abide in my love! Why is it important to abide or dwell in the love of God in Christ? Because it makes joy complete or full. In the love of God, by giving yourself to it and reveling in it, you will grow in amazement of it. There is no expiration date. Joy does not abate; it only grows stronger.
Alan Jackson has written the hymn entitled “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”.
“O soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
In 1425 a Russian Christian and artist by the name Andrei Rublev painted an icon with the title the three visitors. The scene takes us back to Genesis chapter 18 where we read of Abram being visited by three visitors. He has just received word from God that he and Sara would have a son and that his progeny would one day be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and the grains of sand on the sea shore.
One day Abram is visited by three men who reiterate this promise to him. It is so incredulous that Sara, who is ninety years old laughs. Rublev painted the three visitors who had a meal with Abram. We later learn that these visitors were angels. But when you look at the icon you see something else quite amazing. These are not three angels, they are the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit rejoicing in each other. It is a depiction of the Joy of God. But they’re joy is a response to the cup of wine on the table that is the middle of the picture: the chalice has the lamb that was slain on it. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are delighting in one another over their plan to save humanity by the sacrifice of the Son.
But when you look at the three images, you see an opening in the front. There is an empty space at the table. Who is it for? It is for you! It is an invitation. The invitation is to enter into the joy and delight of the God-head.
Remember that delight that the Father had over his Son at his baptism? It is that joy that God is offering you. He invites you to enter into His love and delight.
No, you’re desires are not too strong. They are much too weak. You are far too easily pleased, Stop making mud pies in a slum. Start living what it feels like to be on a holiday by the Sea. Give your heart to that One who has given His all for you. Trust in Jesus. Take hold of His love. And by doing so, enter into the fullness of His joy. Amen.
Prayer (for every day for the next several weeks)
Lord Jesus Christ, along with the Father and the Spirit, you are the fullness of joy. You joyfully love me unconditionally, despite my sin. Yet your love has its price. It cost you your life given over to death on the cross. Such great love leaves me speechless! You have done everything for me. I gladly give my life to you this day anew. I choose to make you my home. Where you are there is love. And where love is, there is joy – unspeakable. Amen.
Illustration: Andrei Rublev (the Trinity, 1425)