Longing for Joy

I wrote first about the longings of our heart, then last week about longing pictured in Scripture as hunger and thirst for God, righteousness and Heaven.

This week I want to talk about our Longing for Joy, something that isn’t selfish in the bad sense, but something God made us for. In fact, some great theologians said in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, written nearly 400 years ago, “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” There is biblical support for that bold declaration.

Psalm 16:11 says, “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

God offers us joy. But it’s a joy to be found in Him. It’s a joy that comes to us only when we are in His presence. If we know Christ we will be in His presence forever. But the wonderful news is we don’t have to wait until Heaven to find joy. We are in His presence right now, since Jesus promised “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” He indwells us, as Scripture says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” He has sent His Holy Spirit to live within us too.

After commanding the Philippians to rejoice twice earlier in his letter, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). When he repeats a command that often, I suspect he thinks we may tend to overlook or neglect it.

Notice our rejoicing has an object: rejoice in the Lord. Living here in a sin-stained world we can nevertheless get a real foretaste of Heaven, of living without sin and curse and death. How? By going to Christ, calling upon Him, reflecting on His grace. By recognizing and taking pleasure in our God. By repeatedly coming into his presence, where we are always welcome. By meditating on His Word and praying and seeking His face, as we meet with Him. We can rejoice when we join with His people to say thanks to our amazing God.

If we see God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—as He really is, if we contemplate what the Godhead has done for us, what else can we do but rejoice?

“What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul asks in Romans 8. When we face death itself, what awaits us on the other side? The ultimate cause for rejoicing: God.

Scripture promises, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will grant you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

We all delight in something. What makes us most excited? Family? Friends? Sports? Hobbies? Work? Travel? Books? Movies?

How about God himself? What are you and I doing today to delight ourselves in Him? Of course, if we delight in God, that will transform the desires of our hearts. As we draw near to Him we will become more like him. We will want what he wants. We will want His closeness and the desire of our hearts will be to please Him. We will want to hear Him say to us “Well done.” And when that day comes He will flood us with more joy that we can imagine. He will say, “Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:21, 23).

Notice that God is said to be happy. He has a happiness within Himself, enjoyed within His triune being from an eternity before the creation of the universe. He doesn’t create happiness out of nothing and export it to us. Rather, He invites us to enter into a happiness He already enjoys.

The Pleasures of GodJohn Piper speaks of God’s eternal happiness within His three-person-self in his book The Pleasures of God. Theologian John Owen spoke of it centuries ago, and you can enjoy his writings in a recently assembled book called Communion with the Triune God, edited by Justin Taylor and Kelly M. Kapic.

There are many things we think we want that won’t be good for us. God wants us to experience true joy—not only for our good but for His glory. We tend to look in the wrong places for that joy, but God tells us to find it in Him.

Jesus spoke to his disciples of God’s love, then said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). So Jesus tells us about God’s grace toward us so that Christ’s own joy may be in us, and that our joy may be complete, that is, full and penetrating and abiding.

If you imagine God doesn’t really care whether we find such joy, consider these words of Jesus:

“Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, that your joy will be complete” (John 16:24).

It might seem selfish to ask God for greater joy. But Jesus commands us to seek Him and ask of Him, for the purpose of finding a completeness of joy in Him. Why would we settle for anything less?

pulpitOn June 8, 1941, C.S. Lewis preached a great sermon from the high-perched pulpit of the University Church of Saint Mary in Oxford, England. When Nanci and I spent four days in Oxford two years ago, I took this picture of that pulpit where he preached it.

The sermon was called “The Weight of Glory,” and it’s in a book of essays and messages by the same name, which I highly recommend. In it Lewis said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Today, regardless of our circumstances, let’s not be content with anything less than what Jesus offers us: Joy. And let’s not try to find it except in Him. May we learn to see the smallest pleasures of life as gifts from His nail-scarred hands. And may we see that the greatest difficulties of life are temporary obstacles that are small to Him, and He intends to use them to draw us closer to Himself, the Source of all Joy.

Photo: Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries