Does joy come and go in your life? Do you experience joy and it’s gone moments later? A friend recently said to me, “I didn’t know I was supposed to do anything with my joy.”
How should we experience joy?
Let me explain how I experienced joy as a non-Christian and then as a Christian. As a non-believer, I sought joy through things like money, power, fame, drugs, and alcohol. When I wanted joy I looked to friends and drinking — but that wasn’t a lasting joy. Baseball gave me joy, but it drifted. My joy was often driven by money — but I realized in the end that it was short lived. Joy came from fame — but that didn’t last. Joy came from the power and notoriety — but like the rest, I found it was fleeting. Once I got to the big leagues, I sought joy from an incredibly sin-filled lifestyle — but in the end, the joy I experienced was actually self-destructive. I pitched for the Yankees, and we won the World Series. Undoubtedly, the pinnacle of my profession would satisfy my need for joy. Instead, I hit the wall after seeking joy here and there and everywhere. I’d had enough. I wanted to die the night we won the Series because I realized I was chasing a ghost. My joy was fleeting, and it couldn’t be fulfilled — not even at the top of my profession and with a life filled with money, fame, prestige, and power. My joyless life was a hopeless life. Go here to listen to my story.
Now as a Christian, the pendulum swung — I experience a lot of joy. Getting married, having two great boys, church, a huge number of Christian friends, the truth of God’s Word, worship, the sanctification of my sin, and the list goes on and on. It’s an incredible blessing to have experienced it and continue to experience it. But the reality is that the joy I experience only lasts for a short time. While the breadth of my joy is incredible, it still comes and goes. It still only lasts as long as it takes me to get to that second stoplight on my way home from my joyful experience.
Hear me very clearly. I’m not saying the joy that I receive as a Christian is bad. In fact just the opposite — the joy is a gift from God. I treasure the joy God’s provided me. But the reality is that it’s fleeting. Joy as a non-Christian was totally fleeting and dissatisfying. I would jump from here to there trying to fill that emptiness. As a Christian, my joy did an 180. I now experience joy at levels I’d never experienced before. Now joy is satisfying, but it’s short lived. What I want is a more satisfying joy.
A big reason why I became a Christian was that I wanted a joy that lasts, that satisfies. Something just opposite of what I experienced as a non-Christian. Am I experiencing Christian joy here on earth in its most satisfying capacity just because I’m experiencing it in many more areas of life than my unsaved life? I don’t think so. Am I being unfair to expect more? I don’t think so. Do I have unrealistic expectations? I don’t think so. God’s got a good plan.
I think we can all agree that the entire Christian life is supposed to be radically different than that of the non-Christian life. That includes joy. If that’s true, the way I experience joy and the way you experience joy should be counter-cultural. It should be totally different than the way I described my unsaved life, experiencing a fleeting joy that didn’t satisfy. So, is the way I’m experiencing Christian joy the best it’s going to be here on earth? I don’t think so.
I realize that I can’t have a fulfilled, complete joy this side of heaven. But I would like something a bit more satisfying. Something that doesn’t parallel that fleeting element of my unsaved life. As a non-Christian, I just kept trying to fill that emptiness with another joyful experience, thinking at some point I would fill the emptiness. I was then faced with this truth — the joy I gained through money, celebrity, power and drugs was not going to fill my emptiness. I was chasing after a mirage, and I was ready to jump from the George Washington Bridge. Should I keep experiencing Christian joy in my current fleeting way until I’m ready to quit on it because I’m tired of searching for a joy that won’t satisfy me? I don’t think so.
So how should we think of joy so it will satisfy? How should we react to joy so that it doesn’t disappear by the time we get to that second stoplight? How should we experience joy so it will be something that satisfies us and stops rivaling God’s plan?
*Joy is not the end in itself — it points to something beyond itself. If we don’t recognize God’s plan for joy in the midst of a fallen world, we will make it a rival to God’s plan. The joy we experience on earth anticipates something much greater. Joy points to things to come. Joy must be interpreted through this lens; otherwise, it will remain fleeting.
Joy is something that we experience at our fellowship meals, Bible studies, interactions with one another, a biblical truth that has penetrated our lives. We should use these experiences to point us to something greater. Joy is pointing to something that is ultimately fulfilling. The great poet William Wordsworth, said, “Experiences which we have on earth can thus be seen as hints of something greater which is yet to come.” The theologian Alister McGrath says,
If we begin to think that our desire is really for a transient object or earthly experience, we shall be disappointed and frustrated. What really satisfies and fulfills is not those objects for experiences, but what they point to. They are images or reflections of what we desire and long for — but they are not in themselves that fulfillment. They are like wisps of smoke from a fire, curling upwards before being dispersed into nothingness by the wind. They are flickering shadows on the wall of a dark cave. Our desires have become attached to things that are little more than shadows, when they are meant to be attached to something which cannot decay or disappoint.
Joy points to something grander. It’s like a peek behind the curtain. With God’s secret will we’re not supposed to peek behind the curtain. God has revealed all we are to know in His revealed will in sacred Scripture (Deut. 29:29). But our joy does allow us a little peek. A peek into something much grander, much greater.
We will at some point no longer live in anticipation, and our joy will be fulfilled. Our joy anticipates that grand time. God has not left us with fleeting episodes of joy. We are supposed to use our experiences of joy to look beyond, to something that will not decay or disappoint. There we can rest in the joy of God who fulfills. He is a God that brings a joy that will not decay. He is a God that will bring a joy that does not disappoint.
When we leave that fellowship meal, that Bible study, that edifying conversation, we should be thankful that we experienced a joyful moment — most of us do that now. But we can’t let our joy disintegrate ten minutes later. Let us take the counsel of Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest thinkers of the medieval period. We know that joy is a blessing from God. It’s a work from God. We don’t have joy without God. But we live in anticipation, not fulfillment. Joy has not been fulfilled and thus we should see these episodes of joy as an opportunity to incite “human souls to the love of God’s goodness. If the goodness, beauty and wonder of creatures are so delightful to the human mind, the fountainhead of God’s own goodness will draw excited human minds entirely to God.”
Joy is pointing to something much more grand, much more satisfying for us. We are to experience our joy and rejoice in the fact that we have joy in our lives, but it can’t stop there. We must recognize *Joy is not the end in itself — it points to something beyond itself. It points to the goodness of God in Jesus Christ. When we reflect on God’s goodness, we will further admire God’s incredible power which leads us to revere God. All that from a single episode of joy. How joyful will we be if we do this all time?
The woman giving birth can endure the pain of childbirth because she anticipates the joy that comes with the newborn baby (John 16:21). Our experience of joy even in the midst of a painful and fallen world should anticipate the fulfillment of our joy (John 16:22-24). Jesus overcame the world so that we would have an opportunity to see beyond (John 16:33). To see something grander. To see something greater.
Allow all the joy that God’s brought into your life to point to something much more grand, much greater — don’t let it be fleeting! Allow your joy to point to God’s goodness in Jesus Christ because in him and through him our joy anticipates a time when it will be completely fulfilled.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve allowed the millions of joyful experiences to go by without a second thought. If we continue to do this, joy will continue to be fleeting and rival God’s plan for it. God’s plan: *Joy is not the end in itself — it points to something beyond itself. God’s plan is so much better — so much grander. We now just have to do it. Use every opportunity of joy to look beyond to a time where your joy will be fulfilled in the goodness of Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we regularly being encouraged to look heavenward in the midst of this fallen world.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. I’ve often wondered as a Christian how to be better at seeking the things above (Col. 3:1-4).
Practicing eschatological joy…practicing heavenly joy will allow us to seek the things above through our daily experiences of joy. We must use our joyful experiences not as an end in themselves but as an opportunity to look beyond. Allow your joy to point you to God’s goodness in Jesus Christ because in him and through him our joy anticipates a time when it will be completely fulfilled.
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