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.
True Christian joy is a result of flooding the mind with the truth of God and Christ and the Gospel—the result of saturating the eyes of your heart with the glory of God revealed in the face of Christ. The inevitable result of beholding that all-satisfying sight is affections of love, delight, satisfaction, and joy. The fight for joy, the unyielding pursuit of our joy in the Lord, is a fight first of all to see. If seeing the glory of God in the face of Christ is the fuel of all true joy—and it is!—then I must avail myself of every means by which His glory is revealed.
What are those means, you ask? Consider five of them.
1. & 2. Scripture Reading and Prayer
The first two of these means are so inseparable that they have to be considered together. And they are Scripture reading and prayer. God is supremely revealed in His Word, and so we must prayerfully meditate on Scripture with a view to seeing and savoring Christ’s glory. It’s so simple. Read and pray. You hear it commended to you so much that it seems commonplace. But if there’s one place where we can’t allow familiarity to breed contempt, it’s on these foundational spiritual disciplines. Communion with God through Scripture reading and prayer is the freshest source of the sight of His glory.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it so well:
“We must maintain contact with Christ by prayer and communion. … What fools we are in this Christian life! We depend on so many other things, but the secret of the saints has always been the time they spend in conversation and communion with the Lord and in meditation upon him. We must maintain that contact; we must go to the source and fount of joy and go there readily and frequently” (Life of Peace, 150).
We must also pursue the spiritual sight of Christ’s glory in fellowship with other believers. In 1 Thessalonians 3:9, Paul exclaims, “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account!” Because of the progress the Thessalonians had made in sanctification—because they had been becoming increasingly conformed to the image of Christ, being made to reflect more and more of Christ’s glory—Paul could see the glory of Christ in them, and that caused him to rejoice in the Lord.
This is why the body of Christ represented in the local church is so important. This is why it’s so essential for believers to be thoroughly involved and active in relationships with our brothers and sisters. True fellowship is a vital means by which we see and treasure the glory of Christ in one another, albeit reflected imperfectly.
4. Creation & Providence
Fourth, we need to open our eyes to the glory of God revealed in creation and providence. The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim His handiwork (Ps 19:1). So look up, and look around once and a while, and learn to see the beauty behind all beauty. Behold this glorious creation that God has provided for us to enjoy, and in all the gifts that we enjoy in this life, trace the joy you find in them up to the Giver, and rejoice in Him.
Further, remember that all the circumstances of your life are the providences of a sovereign, loving, and good God who is unwaveringly committed to His glory and your joy. Recognize times of suffering for Christ’s sake as opportunities of unique fellowship with Him (Phil 3:10), and to the degree that you share His sufferings, keep on rejoicing (1 Pet 4:13).
And finally, fight to see the glory of Christ in the path of obedience. In John 14:21, Jesus says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” So, keeping Christ’s commandments results in greater disclosure of the Savior to the eyes of our hearts. He promises that when I forsake sin and obediently follow Him, I get to see and enjoy more of Him!
So fight sin like that! When you’re tempted to sin, and you don’t feel like obeying, reason with yourself! Tell yourself that all sinning will get you is a fleeting, false pleasure that destroys joy rather than satisfies; and that obedience will bring you a greater vision of the glory of your Savior, who is the greatest satisfaction your heart can experience and only source of true and abiding joy.
Dear reader, if it is your desire to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Phil 1:27), if you long for the kind of spiritual stability and resolute steadfastness that characterizes faithful followers of Christ (Phil 4:1), then you must relentlessly pursue your joy in the Lord. I pray these posts have spurred you on in that pursuit.
I’ll leave you with the words of Spurgeon, because, as is so often, I doubt they can be improved upon. He says,
“So may you feed and so may you drink until you come unto the mount of God; where you shall see his face unveiled, and standing in his exceeding brightness, shall know his glory, being glorified with the saved. Till then, be happy. … If the present be dreary, it will soon be over. Oh, but a little while, and we shall be transferred from these seats below to the thrones above! We shall go from the place of aching brows to the place where they all wear crowns, from the place of weary hands to where they bear the palm branch of victory, from the place of mistake and error and sin, and consequent grief, to the place where they are without fault before the throne of God, for they have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Rejoice in the Lord always, friends. Again I will say, Rejoice.