We settle for too little. It is so easy to set the bar at mere obedience. Do right. Do right in the midst of temptations. Do right in suffering. These are certainly good, but when we know Jesus, we know there is more—we know there is joy.
Joy lives in public
Joy is our animated response to the breakthrough of heaven into earth, and heaven breaks through a lot. I was at a conference where a female singer led us in worship. She sang by herself, without accompaniment, and she had one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. The lyrics she sang were her voice’s equal. Heaven broke through. I responded immediately: I cried, and I turned to the person next to me, who I didn’t know, and said, “Have you ever heard anything so beautiful?!”
Joy, it seems, cannot be contained. It prefers being shared, and it leans toward the boisterous.
For its secular expression, think about a sports team that wins a championship. The joy is public and communal. Teammates raise their hands in fist pumps, yell and scream, run around hug each other, and sometimes form a human pileup. It may look a little silly to a bystander who doesn’t know what all the commotion is about, but that is joy’s usual signature throughout the world.
Here is the psalmist’s way:
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy. (Ps. 5:11)
Let those who delight in my righteousness
shout for joy and be glad and say evermore,
“Great is the LORD, who delights in the
welfare of his servant!” (Ps. 35:7)
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on
the strings, with loud shouts. (Ps. 33:3)
Godly joy is singing, shouting and gladness. It’s similar to the secular expression, but a championship is fleeting, the Lord is not. If the psalmist expressed joy long before the Lord more fully revealed himself in Jesus Christ, then we can be certain that every follower of Christ will be able to tell some personal stories of joy on this side of heaven.
Public expression of joy is hard for some people
At this point, it gets challenging for me. I like the idea of joy, but I don’t quite do it like the psalms. I have been on a winning sports team and I never raised my hands in victory, even though many of my teammates did. Occasionally I will, when I win a game of Scrabble from my wife, but trash-talk is not real joy. I am more subdued by nature, so I lower the bar of joy and reduce it to a passing smile or the occasional tears. No doubt, those who struggle with depression or anxiety lower the bar too.
Let’s raise the bar
This is my prayer to raise the bar on joy:
Lord, I don’t really know what my more sanctified version of joy will look like, but it will look like more than it does right now. I want to grow. I want to approach heaven’s joy before I enter heaven. I see the potential for joy in so many details of daily life. (I see the potential for tears too, but that is another story). Please sanctify me in joy in such a way that I honor you.