The following is an edited transcript of my interview with Tony Reinke, who invited me to be a guest on Desiring God’s “Ask Pastor John” podcast. You can also listen to the audio of this interview.
Randy, today I want to talk about two of the sworn enemies of our joy—sin and anxiety. Let’s start with sin. How does sin poison our joy?
Martin Luther said, “Sin is pure unhappiness. Forgiveness is pure happiness”, which is a pretty succinct way to put it. And again Psalm 32:1–2 says, “Happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity.” William Whitaker, who was a Puritan and a Cambridge University professor in the 16th century, spoke of “sinning away that happiness wherein we were created.” And that is a very graphic picture not only of what Adam and Eve did, but also what we who are conceived as sinners and have a sin nature do, realizing that Christ became sin for us—he “who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
But we still are capable of sinning away happiness in this life, in this world, under the curse. And I think this is such a graphic portrayal of humanity’s God-granted happiness. Likewise, He grants to us in Christ an eternal source of happiness. The God who created the universe, who went to the cross receptively for me, indwells me, and intercedes for me. “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Yet we still have this capacity and even inclination to sin away happiness.
And I think one of the things we’ve got to do, Tony, is to stop making this distinction between: If you want holiness, come to the church and to Jesus. But we give people the impression, and sometimes we virtually state it directly, that to get happiness, you’re going to have to find that out in the world. And sometimes we even end up preaching messages that are negative toward happiness.
We get happiness at the barbecue. We get happiness when we go swimming or surfing. We get happiness when we hang out with friends or go to a ball game. But we don’t associate happiness with the church, the body of Christ, the ways that we should. We don’t associate happiness as David does in the Psalms. Take Psalm 119 alone. Numerous verses associate time spent in God’s Word and delighting in God through His Word with these words of happiness and joy. They are just countless.
Amen. We can sin our happiness away. Tragic. Talk to me about anxiety. How does worry poison our joy?
Worry is something which involves high stakes and low control. That’s one way to put it. And I think what happens is that in the process of worrying, we’re failing to recognize that even though we’re not in control, the fact is, something better is true: God is in control. And the way sin results in worry is that it cuts us off from the very One whom we are to trust and it makes us think we’re in control of our life or must take control of our lives. And of course we’re supposed to do certain things. But we’re to remind ourselves, for instance, that we fantasize so many of our worries and troubles, like the French philosopher who said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” And that’s what happens in worry.
The Greek word for worry means to divide the mind—and our mind gets divided. And the most striking characteristic of worry and the way that it kills joy is through its absolute impotence. Because no tornado has ever been stopped, no drought has ever been averted, no plane crash has ever been prevented by worry. And so what happens is we pour our time and energy into it, and then if it really did something of any benefit whatsoever, we could at least say, “It was worth all the good that came out of my worry”—except no good ever comes out of it. And so Jesus assures us that if we put God and His kingdom first, in His sovereignty He will take care of us (Matthew 6:33). In the next verse He says, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
However, I would say this: In the context of Matthew 6 He has just called upon the people He is addressing to be sure they store up their treasures in Heaven, not on earth—to be sure they adopt the right perspective, not the wrong one, the good eye versus the bad eye (verses 19–23). And then He tells them no one can serve two masters. You can’t serve both God and money (verse 24).
So if you’re investing your life in the right treasury, if you’re adopting the right perspective, the eternal perspective, and if you’re serving the right master, then He says, “Therefore, do not worry” (verse 25). In other words, if we don’t have those things true in our lives, we have a great deal to worry about. What we need to do then is to repent, turn to God, and say, “Help me to focus on you, the Source of my joy.”