“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
1 Peter 1:8–9
Maybe it’s because the whole idea has been captured by the world of retail marketing. The images of frosty lanes and manger scenes are now inextricably linked to sentimental snippets like, “May the joy of the season be yours throughout the year.” And sadly, the cards and the sentiments are usually long gone before Groundhog Day. “Joy to the world” is overwhelmed by “Back to the world,” and our notion of a deep, abiding joy is relegated more to wishful thinking than reality. The Joy of the Lord seems an idea just as out of place in our everyday lives as receiving a Christmas card in the baking midsummer heat.
But in the pages of Scripture, the Joy of the Lord runs like a deep, constant river that carries God’s people along through history. The remarkably broken heroes of the Bible know of this joy in all manner of life’s victories and defeats. And on the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Himself said plainly to the disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Is it? Is the very joy of Jesus in you? Is your joy full? Or do you too often pursue and settle for circumstantial happiness instead of the eternal, promised joy of God’s salvation? In the ordinariness of our lives, we would probably all confess, “I just don’t really see it, this joy the Bible talks about.”
The joy of the Christian is many things, but three deserve particular focus. First, the Joy of the Lord is just that—joy that grows out of knowing God. As we meditate on His character, as we learn of His attributes, as we pray for our scaly eyes to be opened, we begin to say with the catechism that truly the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. “But let all who take refuge in You rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may exult in you” (Ps 4:11).
Secondly, joy is also a growing reality as we experience forgiveness in salvation. When we ponder the amazing, breathtaking truth that the God of the universe has made a way for us to be restored, to be truly alive and unencumbered by fear and shame, we rejoice in thankfulness and praise. David longed for that forgiveness and expressed it very poignantly, “Return to me the joy of Your salvation.” We have been rescued from the bondage to sin, and in that we rejoice.
Finally, and most importantly, joy is a byproduct. Think of it this way. In the dim light of dusk you always see something clearer with your peripheral vision. It’s the way our eyes are made. If you look straight at the object in the road, it seems to disappear. But focus off to the side, and what you thought was a cat is really a clump of grass. It’s the same with the Joy of the Lord. We will know joy not because we stare and chase after it like windblown notes just out of reach, but we know the joy of the Lord in the presence of Jesus. As we abide in Christ, as we learn to love Him more, as we “look full in his wonderful face,” our anger and hurt and sin-stained lives begin to heal in the Joy that comes from knowing Christ Jesus and abiding in His presence. The joy comes from Him as we draw nearer to Him.
Christian, the eternal joy of your salvation is dwelling in the presence of the Lord. And that eternal reality has begun already. The same Spirit that Jesus promised His disciples that night in the upper room has been poured out into your heart. That spirit bears witness to Christ, and it is in abiding in Jesus that we are filled with joy.