Real Joy: In a Package or a Presence (Image Vol 9, No 6 – Nov-Dec 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

By Rich Atchley
Fort Worth, TX

The famed Philosopher Lucy was telling Charlie Brown that life was like a deck chair. “Some like to set it to see where they’ve been, some set it to see where they’re going, and other like to place it to see where they are at the moment.” Charlie thought about this for a moment and then said, “I can’t even get mine unfolded.”

Does that sound like a lot of people you know? For many, life seems dull at best, and at worst, filled with anxiety and turmoil. Our nation’s constitution guarantees the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right but it does not guarantee our ability to find it. Most people are in great need of a joy transfusion, but they don’t know where to get one.

Christians should be dynamic witnesses of the kind of joy people long for. I am persuaded that no method or program would attract unbelievers to our churches like the message that real happiness can be pursued and gained in Jesus Christ. But here comes a great irony: most nonbelievers do not associate the concept of joy with church. Indeed some think it strange that Christians would know anything about the subject. And isn’t it true that they have some reason to think that way? Haven’t we all been to church services where the assembly looked like they had gathered to mourn a defeat? Don’t you know Christians who give the impression that following Christ means accepting a life of grimness in exchange for the faith hope of a home in heaven. Too many Christians look like they were baptized in freshly squeezed lemon juice.

I confronted this perception of believers with my first boss. I was a salesman in a department store during my high school years, and my manager and I became friends. She asked me what I planned to do after graduation. I told her I intended to attend a Christian college and train to become a minister. She seemed startled by my plans. Finally she said, “Rick I just can’t see you as a minister. You seem like such a happy person!”

Are you one of those Christians who subconsciously believes that grimness is a biblical virtue? Perhaps as a young Christian, I too held that idea to a degree. But I did something that profoundly changed my mind – I opened my Bible! Let me share with you some of the things I learned.

I learned that God intends Christians to live a joy-filled life. Did you know that Jesus talks more about happiness than about heaven. He told us, “My purpose is to give you life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). God does not consider joy a luxury that only a few ever get to enjoy. He designed life in Christ to be joyful. Paul said, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).

I saw how appropriate it is to approach God with joy. Psalms is full of calls to come before the Lord with gladness. “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs” (Ps. 100:1-2). I challenge the idea that reverence and humility before God precludes smiling in church. Our assemblies need to celebrate the goodness and faithfulness of our God. Grimness is not a Christian virtue.

I remembered that joy characterized the early Christians. Joy runs through the New Testament as if quite ordinary, as something to be expected. Read again Acts 2 how gladness was one of the characteristics of the very first church. In fact, Paul knew the Galatians had been exposed to a false gospel because their joy was missing (Gal. 4:15). (A side note – legalism is always a joy-killer.) To read the New Testament is to understand that a joyless Christian is an oxymoron.

I realized that God was the author and source of true joy. Paul lists joy as one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). This means hat joy is not optional for those believers whose temperaments happen not to be conducive to it. Joy is the natural result of the presence of God in your life. Indeed, if partaking of God’s nature produces joy in our lives, then that means joylessness is a contradiction of the nature of God!

So where should all those people in need of a joy transfusion look? To the nearest community of New Testament Christians – that’s where. Christians should be reservoirs of much-needed joy wherever they are, because they understand the crucial truth that real joy does not come in a package, but in a presence.

In a season when people will spend billions of dollars trying to buy gifts that will bring cheer to others, we should be singing the answer to their search for happiness: “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”

Wasn’t that the message the angel brought the shepherds the night Jesus was born: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

This is where the joy of the Lord and earthly happiness part company. The angel said God’s joy was for all people, but that could never be true of happiness came from a package. There simply aren’t enough packages to go around. The problem with earthly happiness is that it is directly related to happenings. The joy of the world is profoundly affected by the latest thing to happen, by circumstances that are often beyond the individual’s control. People who continually depend on things and others for their happiness will find it a constant pursuit, never a perpetual reality. But the Christian’s joy springs from God’s presence in his life, a presence unaffected by circumstances. As the well-known missionary, E. Stanly Jones, put it, “I’m a happy man because my happiness is not dependent on happenings, but upon the joy of belonging to Him, whatever happens.”

You know, there’s at least one other song I am aware of titles “Joy to the World.” It’s lyrics say, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog. He was a good friend of mind. I never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine.” The words may seem silly, but they sum up the predominant view of the world: that joy is “out there,” and one just needs to find the right “bottle.”

But the Bible says joy does not come from a package, but from a presence. Joy is not “out there” but is an internal reality that results from a relationship with Christ. The real joy to the world is found in the words, “The Lord has come!”

Which song are you singing?

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1594 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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