If I were to be asked for a working definition of joy, I would say this:
Joy is a feeling of great satisfaction and pleasure that is supernaturally durable.
I think we all know what it is to feel satisfied and pleased, it comes and goes with the high's and low's of life. But what separates joy from general happiness, is its durability. Joy does not rise and fall with the high's and low's of life. Instead, it's more like a solid constant that keeps us from idolizing the high's and despairing from the low's. When we think about joy in this way, we find that it is impossible to find true joy apart from God, because he is the only one who does not change.
How do we pursue joy? I've spent some time working through the book of Philippians, which is a strangely joyful book, and would like to propose 5 ways to pursue joy in God.
Phil 1:3-5 - I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
Phil 4:10 - I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.
The first area where Paul finds joy is in his relationships. In these verses and in the book in general, he writes about his great love for the people of God. He is benefitted greatly by their friendship, and the fact that his life matters to them. They think of him, and don’t forget about him, they are concerned about his faith, and care deeply about what’s going on in his life.
Many in the modern church believe that this kind of relationship can only be found in marriage and family. Let’s be reminded that Paul was unmarried, and the relational bonds that brought such joy into his life were the bonds of Christian friendship.
God strengthens our joy through our relationships. Do we have relationships with other Christians where we really know what is going on in the other’s life? And do we regularly talk about faith and encourage one another?
Phil 1:18 - What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Phil 1:18-19 - Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance
Phil 2:17-18 - Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
In these verses Paul is writing with a keen understanding that he is in prison and he is powerless to do anything about some troublesome things happening on the outside. He is wrestling with the reality that he is in prison for unjust reasons and there is the chance that he will not make it out alive. In difficult realities like these, Paul finds joy in knowing that the big God he serves is doing a work that is bigger than any person’s agenda; bigger than even his own life, and that work is really good.
Where do we get security that life, the future, everything, will ultimately be good? Of course the day to day will be filled with many up's and down's, but the security to say that the great arc of the universe bends towards goodness and not disaster and chaos.
Surely our bank accounts can't do that. Market trends can't do that. The government can't do that. This kind of security is only found in God, who raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus' resurrection is the final word. Trusting in God's final word brings joy. We have a word for this, the word is conviction.
Speaking practically, the way we deepen our convictions is by studying God's word and thinking about it deeply. Read it with friends, discuss what it says when you are with one another, sign up for a Bible study!
Phil 2:28 - I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.
Phil 2:29 - So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men for he nearly died for the work of Christ
In these passages, Paul is referencing an incident with one of his partners in ministry, Epaphroditus. He was a friend to the church in Philippi, and they received word that he had gotten seriously sick. They were very concerned and were praying fervently for his recovery. Paul is pleased to report that he recovered, and he's really eager to send Epaphroditus to them so they can rejoice over seeing him well.
What relief and elation the Philippian must have felt to see Epaphroditus alive and well! What does this tell us about cultivating joy in our lives? Our joy as Christians is increased and strengthened when we see God answer our prayers.
A lot more to say about this, but a rich prayer life, where you are regularly praying for others, is a major way in which the Holy Spirit strengthens our joy.
Do we have regular prayer lives, where we are praying for the needs of others? Including and beyond your immediate family? Are we regularly rallying others to pray for our needs?
Phil 1:25 - Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith
Phil 2:2 - complete my joy by being of the same mind
Phil 4:1 - Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
These verses are interesting because they point to an area of life that Paul doesn’t necessarily have at the moment of his writing. In these verses, Paul is explaining how there are things he longs to see happen in the lives of his readers. He longs to see his readers unified, of one heart and mind shaped by the life of Jesus. He longs to see his people established in their faith, doing really well. Standing firm in the Lord. He doesn’t necessarily see this right now, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s the vision of this happening in the future that gives Paul joy.
Do we have a sense of mission in life? A grand goal that God is using us to accomplish? A sense of mission is sorely lacking in our day. And so we settle for the American dream of the nuclear family, a life filled with consumer goods and free of discomfort. We lack joy because our mission is often too small, or centered around things that ultimately don’t satisfy.
The mission of our church is to save the lost and make them disciples of Christ. May this mission take root in the hearts of all of RCC's members and provide guidance and direction to our lives!
What practical step can I take in growing in mission? Begin to reflect on this question:
Are there people in your life (including and beyond your immediate family) where you feel a sense of ownership and responsibility toward helping them to know God better? Who are they? And what steps can you take to begin to invest in your relationship with them?
Phil 3:1 - Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.
Phil 4:4 - Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
Aren’t these passages remarkable? Paul instructs his readers and us, to find joy in the Lord himself. That this source of joy is not about the things God does for you, it’s not about what you do for God. It is the joy found in simply being with the Lord. To know Him, and be known by him. To be known by Him for who we really are, and yet loved anyways!
One of the greatest expressions of this relationship is the practice of worship. The act of giving praise and honor to God in a variety of heartfelt forms. We worship individually and we especially worship when we gather together as a church on Sundays.
Are we worshipping the Lord on a regular basis with a sincere attitude? What prevents us from doing so?
A survey of Philippians presents us with 5 areas of life where the Holy Spirit is working to bring about joy in our lives. 5 areas to pursue that will result in us being more connected with the abiding joy that is ours in Jesus. Friendship, conviction, prayer, mission, and worship. May the Lord cause our joy to abound as we pursue him in these areas!