Joy is the sweetest, most piercing emotion. To me, the existence and experience of joy puts everything in perspective. It makes everything hang together; it explains many things about truth, reality, life and death, love and loss and heaven and everlasting life and the goodness of God and just about any other mysterious thing you can name.
If you haven’t read C.S. Lewis, I encourage you to read “Surprised by Joy,” which is his autobiography, detailing his youth and conversion to Christianity. In the book, Lewis describes joy as incorporating stabs of almost unbearable pleasure, and intense desire, yearning or longing. Can you identify with this? He says, "It was when I was happiest that I longed most...The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing...to find the place where all the beauty came from." He didn’t know what he was longing for before he met Christ. He experienced rare stabs of joy from nature, literature, and music. He later realized these were glimpses of God’s glory and beauty.
Having died in 1963, our brother C.S. Lewis is now living in complete joy in the presence of Jesus. We believers long for that. We want Jesus, heaven, peace and wholeness. It’s interesting, then, that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Abiding in Christ, and being indwelled with the Holy Spirit simultaneously gives us pleasure and yearning, satisfaction and intense desire. Peter gives us an example in 1 Peter 1:8-9. “You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” We have “inexpressible and glorious joy,” (to me that seems like stabs of almost unbearable pleasure) because we love our Savior, whom we haven’t yet met, and because we’re being saved, which process is not yet complete and won’t be until we die. Pleasure and yearning, satisfaction and intense desire.
The word joy, chara in Greek, occurs 58 times in the New Testament. In many of the passages, the reason for joy is obvious, such as the announcement of Jesus’ birth, or seeing the risen Jesus, hearing His word or receiving answers to prayer. But many other passages relate to circumstances or events that certainly don’t shout “JOY!” to me. Here’s an especially obvious one from Luke 6: 22. “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!” This is counterintuitive. Why leap for joy when people hate you? This is what I mean by joy making everything hang together. We can leap for joy when suffering for Christ, because our reward will be great in heaven. Paul says, “our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.” Our joy now, even in the midst of suffering, anticipates the complete satisfaction and pleasure of that day, when there will be no more tears forever.
Jesus lived this more completely than any of us can hope to in His life and death for us. “… Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
Contemplate the pleasure and the yearning implicit in these verses, and cultivate an awareness of the fruit of joy in your life.
- John 16:22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I (Jesus) will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
- Acts 20:24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
- Romans 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Philippians 2:2 Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
- Colossians 1:11 …strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.
- 1 Thessalonians 1:6 And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.
- Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
- James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials…
- 1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy!