The Joy of the Lord

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 9
When man thinks of joy, he generally thinks of himself and his own experience, for fallen man is by nature self-centered. The prevalence of secular humanism today only augments this kind of thinking, for its basic premise is that the endpoint of everything is the happiness of man. When man takes this view, he always dishonors God and ultimately shortchanges himself too. True joy can be found only in the Lord, and to experience the superlatives of joy, we must take a view of joy from God’s side. When man gives God His rightful place and starts with Him, God is glorified, and man is far more blessed.
A Gift From God
First of all, we must recognize that all joy is really a gift from God, for God desired man’s blessing, right from the beginning. In keeping with this desire, there are natural joys in our human lives — joys that come from the enjoyment of God’s creation, joys that come from human relationships, and joys that come from happy experiences in this world. All of these are ultimately a gift from God, for it is He who gave us both the sources of these joys and the senses to be able to enjoy them; all are the product of God’s goodness to man. However, there is much more than this in the heart of God, for He purposed in a past eternity to exalt His beloved Son and to associate His own with His Son in a coming eternity. His love went out to us in a past eternity, and His joy originated there, as He considered the glory of His Son and the joy of having us both with Him and like Him. To share in God’s joy brings a supreme happiness, not only down here in this world, but also for all eternity.
Thus we find that the Lord Jesus, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:22Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)). It was His joy to do the Father’s will, even if it meant going to the cross, for the glory lay before Him and also the joy of having us with Him as the reward of His sufferings. More than this, when the Lord Jesus was taking leave of His own, so to speak, just before going to the cross, He could pray to the Father that His own “might have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:1313And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (John 17:13)). He could also say to them, “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:1111These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. (John 15:11)). It is His joy alone that can fill our hearts. God has created us in His image and has “set the world [or eternity] in their heart” (Eccl. 3:1111He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)), so that nothing less than this in the world is able to satisfy the heart of man. God created that heart, and only He can fill it. For the believer, the Apostle Paul’s wish was that the God of hope might fill them “with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom. 15:1313Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. (Romans 15:13)). The joy that man seeks is often elusive, but the joy that God gives to His own is full, and it lasts.
The Impact of His Joy
The experience of tasting the Lord’s joy has a tremendous impact on our lives in this world. Nehemiah could remind the people in his day that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:1010Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)), and the reference is not to our joy in the Lord, but rather to His joy in us. His joy far exceeds ours, and a sense of His joy in our hearts is what gives us strength to go on in our Christian pathway, just as it encouraged those godly Jews in a difficult day. As the hymn says, “Our joy still ebbs and flows,” and we all can testify to the truth of this. Our joy in the Lord is indeed wonderful, but as our state of soul varies, so does our joy. But His joy in us never wavers, and it is our experiencing of His joy that gives us our strength.
As we have already remarked, the joy that the Lord gives is not merely temporary; it lasts. So we read, “Your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16:2222And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. (John 16:22)). The joy that we have in natural things or the joy that this world offers can never last. Natural things bear the stamp of sin and ultimately disappoint. The joy of this world also lasts only for a time, and then it gives us the sting that is always connected with it. Much of the art man produces, whether in painting, sculpture, music, or poetry, reflects his heartache at the loss of what his inner being longs for. Although the believer does not yet have the “fullness of joy” that will be found in the Lord’s presence in a coming day (Psa. 16:1111Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:11)), yet he is able even now to “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). By faith we lay hold of what Christ has done for us and the joy that will fill heaven’s courts when He has us there with Him.
The Witness of Joy
But it is not God’s intention that we should keep this joy all to ourselves. As another has most aptly remarked, “Our testimony to this world is our joy in God.” We do “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [or reconciliation]” (Rom. 5:1111And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:11)). Because we live and walk in the sense of God’s joy in us, we are able to help others to see this too, whether it be first of all in coming to Christ for salvation, or in promoting God’s joy in the life of a fellow believer. Thus Paul could say to the Corinthians that he, and others with him, were “helpers of your joy” (2 Cor. 1:24). By their ministry, they brought Christ before others and enabled them to know Him better.
The joy that the Lord gives promotes giving in us, for that joy is not self-centered; it loves to communicate to others. God is a giving God, and we who are called to display His character in this world have a new life that delights to give. Thus Paul could call attention to those of Macedonia, who in “the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty” were energized to give “beyond their power” (2 Cor. 8:2-3).
Our occupation with the joy of the Lord always seeks to dwell on that joy and on that which is positive. There are times when we must dwell on that which is negative, but we notice that when Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem to consider a question that had the potential to cause a serious rift in the early church, they “passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren” (Acts 15:33And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. (Acts 15:3)). There would be plenty of time to be occupied with the question at hand when they got to Jerusalem, but along the way their conversation brought only great joy.
Finally, the Spirit of God would take our hearts on to coming glory, when all will be according to God’s mind. Jude looks on to that day, to Him who will “present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). What joy will be in that day, when His joy and our joy will both be full! He would have us to experience something of that joy now.
W. J. Prost