In my last two posts, I reflected a bit upon the prominence that Scripture gives to joy in the Christian life, as well as the nature and character of this joy that we are commanded to have. We learned from Scripture that joy is not merely a decision of our will, but an affection of our heart. We also learned that joy is a gift and fruit of the Spirit of God, something we can’t just work up in ourselves. But we also saw clearly that it is our “bounden duty,” as Spurgeon said, to pursue our joy.
How is that possible? How are we supposed to obey the command to rejoice in the Lord always if true Christian joy is a gift of God?
I love the way the Scottish Puritan Henry Scougal answers this question. He says,
“All the art and industry of man cannot form the smallest herb, or make a stalk of corn to grow in the field; it is the energy of nature, and the influences of heaven, which produce this effect; it is God ‘who causeth the grass to grow, and the herb for the service of man’ (Ps 104:14); and yet nobody will say that the labours of the [farmer] are useless or unnecessary….” (The Life of God in the Soul of Man, 78–79).
You see, man can’t make grass grow. We can’t make the land sprout fruit and vegetables. Those are blessings that come to us as the gift of God. But God has ordained that the earth yield its produce by means of the farmer’s labors. In the same way, we can’t fabricate or manufacture joy by seeking to manipulate our feelings, or by whipping ourselves up into an emotional frenzy. Spirit-wrought, God-exalting joy is a gift that He gives. But God has ordained that we bear this fruit of the Spirit through means. And so when Paul commands us to, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he is commanding us to make diligent use of the means the Spirit employs in working genuine joy in us.