“There is no blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” – John Calvin (1509-1564)
“Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.” – “Orthodoxy” (1909) – G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
“Joy…is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” – “Orthodoxy” (1909) – G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
“He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.” – “Tremendous Trifles” (1909) – G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
“The truth about life is that joy and sorrow are mingled in an almost rhythmical alternation like day and night.” – “Charles Dickens” (1903) – G.K. Chesterton & F.G. Kitton
Let’s talk about ‘joy’. Jack probably does not feel anything so profound in his canine heart, though he sometimes seems to be on the verge of speech. Except…in the sense that “all the trees of the field will clap their hands”, “even the stones would cry out” and “the young lions seek their food” from God. So there is an appropriate potential level of response to God for all his creatures. But of God’s earthly creatures, only humans, homo adorens, experience in this time, joy, as I will use the word.
Joy is deeper and more profound than what we typically call ‘happiness’. Switchfoot sang “happiness is a yuppie word.” We all want to be ‘happy’ in some sense, but one can be quite shallow and be ‘happy’. Typically we are happy or miserable depending on circumstances. If we lose the relationship, the job, the financial security, the good reputation, the good food and drink, the health, the sense of accomplishment, the sense of being valued by others, the cool posture in life or whatever we hang our happiness on, we are unhappy, at a minimum stressed or even overwhelmed (see the post, “Overwhelmed”). Another way to say this is, that one cannot be happy and sad at the same time or hold tragedy and happiness in one’s heart at the same time.
However, joy is something deeper. It is a deep river that runs through the soul, while emotions related to circumstances come and go. One can hold joy and tragedy in one’s heart at the same. The word ‘joy’ can be used in several valid ways, but I will derive a definition of ‘joy’ for our purposes from a Bible text. St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians was written from a prison cell. I have visited an ancient prison cell in Rome that may be the cell that St. Paul wrote from. My advice to you is don’t go in there if you are very claustrophobic, especially if the air is hot and muggy, you are trying to film a short spot and a group of school girls come in speaking another language which you understand. Just saying… Philippians is filled with the theme of joy even though St.Paul is in prison and writes that his imminent death is a real possibility. Here is the Bible text:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:4-6, ESV)
And here is my definition based on the above text: Joy is an attitude, action and experience that responds to an awareness that the Lord is present (“The Lord is at hand”) combined with an expectation of good from him (“…with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”). I remember a few words from a song used in the early Charismatic Movement in the mainline churches: “Joy is the flag flown high over the castle of my heart when the King is in residence there.” Exactly. I almost want to say that joy is the infallible sign of the presence of the Lord. It continues “always” despite challenges, needs, suffering or tragedy. It does not depend on circumstances; it comes from within.
Allow me to make two observations about the joy of the Christian. 1) It is not a “Positive Mental Attitude”, positive thinking, mere optimism, a sunny disposition or anything we might try to work up. All these are focused on us and are influenced by our genetic inheritance. Christian joy is focused on God – Father, Son & Holy Spirit – his presence, his work in our lives and his awesome power and goodness. 2) Joy from the awareness of God in our lives leads to trust (“do not be anxious”) in God for what we and others (“supplication”) need. Also, our confident expectation of good gifts from God and of answers to prayer results in “thanksgiving”.
Disciples of Jesus, those who follow him and learn from him how to live, find that a subterranean river of joy flows through Jesus. He “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” as he thanked the Father that things hidden from the wise have been revealed “to little children” (Luke 10:21, ESV). Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus must exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, which includes joy: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Gal. 5:22-23a, ESV) If you are filled with the Spirit, you also may have these virtues and qualities growing in your life like a fruit. Approaching his own death and going to the Father, Jesus leaves his joy with his disciples: “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13, ESV) And again: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full.” (John 15:11) The joy is a response to the content of the words that Jesus has spoken; it is not worked up by a technique. It is not based on my attempts to be positive or optimistic, but on my “reasonable” response to the realities of my life of following and learning from the Lord Jesus.
May you be filled with joy and may joy and praise be the permanent pulsation of your soul!
This post was powered by the Waterdeep albums, “Live At The New Earth” (1999), “Everyone’s Beautiful” (1999) and “Sink Or Swim” (1999).