Joy in the Knowing

Pops of joy. Bursts of light. A rush of excitement that travels up and down my spine. Moments of hope. Reminders of redeeming grace.

Moments of complete satisfaction come, accompanied by joy. Moments of pure light. Moments of the precious presence of the Father. But they are only moments. They quickly fade like the evening sun.

What does stick around, however, is the cold, hard, reality of life.

If our joy is honest joy, it must somehow be congruous with human tragedy. This is the test of joy’s integrity: is it compatible with pain? . . . Only the heart that hurts has a right to joy.  ~Lewis Smedes

Joy was the topic in a sermon series about the fruit of the spirit at my church.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  Galatians 5:22-23

Everything about the Gospel is about love. And we are instructed to love above all else. Of course it is first. Love is central to our faith.

I find it interesting that joy is listed second. Why would joy be put in such an important position? I pondered the thought.

Recently in a conversation, I found myself saying that I wasn’t sure if I was capable of joy anymore. My life has been complicated and messy and I have experienced numerous losses. . . like most people have.

And, I don’t do joy very well. I never have.

So, I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to study joy.

We all know that we are supposed to rejoice in our suffering.

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope  Romans 5:3,4

And always be joyful.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Knowing my current state of joylessness led me to feeling guilty. I wasn’t feeling joyful. I wasn’t rejoicing in suffering. I wasn’t being obedient. Or, so I thought.

Not only was I not joyful, but I was in more turmoil because of the guilt. So, in the spirit of Yoda from Star Wars, study joy, I did.

What is joy anyway? How do I know that I am not being joyful?

What if most of us have a wrong understanding of joy? What if joy and happiness are not the same thing?

Happiness comes from the root word, “happening.” Therefore, happiness is based on what happens to us. Any number of things can make us happy. At least temporarily.

  • getting married
  • having a baby
  • fulfilling your calling in life
  • being successful

If I get a lot of likes on Facebook or Twitter, it makes me happy. Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks make me happy. Meeting a friend for coffee makes me happy. And, finishing writing my book will definitely make me happy!

Joy, on the other hand, is not the same as happiness. According to author Tim Hansel in his book, You Gotta Keep Dancin’,”happiness is a feeling, joy is an attitude.”

He goes on to say, “(joy is) . . . A posture. A position. A place.”

Wow. That hit me like a ton of bricks.

If joy is an attitude, what is my posture? What is my position? What is my place?

Joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control of every area of my life. ~Paul Sailhamer

Like love, joy is not simply a feeling or an emotion. It is so much more. It is a choice.

In the Greek, joy is translated more specifically as gladness or delight.

And, according to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, delight means, a high degree of gratification of mind. In other words, satisfaction.

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4

Then there is this curious verse in Hebrews.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2

How could enduring the cross be considered joy?

One commentary I read said the word joy in this context is referring to the joy of Christ’s accomplished purpose and the glory with which He was crowned.

The joy that Christ is talking about could be His knowing. Knowing that He created a way for salvation; knowing that this one event offered hope to the world; knowing that God’s purposes were being fulfilled.

He wasn’t looking forward to the insults and mobs crying out for His death. He wasn’t looking forward to the flogging and the crown of thorns. He wasn’t looking forward to being hung on a cross.

But, it was the joy set before Him.

Could my joy be in the knowing? Could my joy be knowing that I have been given life when I deserve death? Could my joy be knowing that Christ has made a way for me? Could my joy be knowing that He is preparing a place for me in glory?

Joy is simple (not to be confused with easy). At any moment in life we have at least two options, and one of them is to choose an attitude of gratitude, a posture of grace, a commitment to joy.  ~You Gotta Keep Dancin’

Could it be that I am joyful? Could it be that I can take that off the list of things to beat myself up about?

I am filled with gladness and I do delight in the Lord. I am overwhelmed  with the magnitude of what was accomplished on the cross. I am immensely grateful for the redeeming power of grace that I have been freely given. And I feel the Holy Spirit working in me.

I know Him who saved me. Therefore, I have joy.

Do I feel happy and wonderful most of the time? No. Life is hard. God makes it clear in scripture that it will be. But, do I have joy? Maybe I do.

As a follower of Christ, I can see the big picture. God has given it to us in His Holy Word. And I know the joy that awaits me.

So maybe God put joy second on the list of the fruit of the spirit on purpose. Love and joy are the greatest gifts from the Father. Because if we know Him, we will have joy.

Joy is in the knowing.

Tension With A Good God

If I had to describe my relationship with God in two words, they would be love and tension.

God gives unfathomable love, grace, compassion, guidance, wisdom, and joy generously to those who love Him. He is beautiful, tender, and an awesome Father. All of which fall under the umbrella of His great love.

But, human as I am, I cannot deny the tension. My Father and I have such different natures. How can there not be tension?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  Isaiah 55:8

I was listening to the radio and a caller was talking about her son nearly missing a car accident because he forgot his keys. The few minutes it took to run back inside his house caused him to miss a car accident in his path. If he had left a few minutes earlier, he would have been right smack in the middle of it.

“God saved my son!” she said.

The radio host got excited and reciprocated with a story about someone she knew that escaped a tragedy by mere minutes. “God is good!” she said.

There is no doubt that God is good.

However, these types of statements make me uneasy. When people assert that God saved them from this or that, I start to squirm. Do we claim to know the will of God? How do we know what is good or bad?

We have to be careful about proclaiming blessings in anything and everything that happens. How would the statement that God saved this caller’s son sit with the parent of someone who was killed in that accident?

Also, there are near misses every day. In any given car accident, there are a handful of people involved. Yet, there are many more that are not.

Let’s say that there is a 5% chance that you will get in a car accident every time you get in your car. That would mean that there is a 95% chance that you won’t. Is God’s hand in each of the 95%? Or, does the world just run its course, and sometimes accidents happen?

Did God save all of those 95% because that was His will? Or, is it just that statistically, some people get in a car accident and some don’t?

Obviously God can do whatever He wants at any time. However, to say that His hand saves every single person that does not get in a car accident is a little presumptuous. Again, do we claim to know the will of God?

If you asked my kids they would tell you that when I say goodbye I am not really leaving. They know I will come back in at least once because I forgot something. It’s just one of the many joys of getting older! So when someone calls that a miracle, something I do daily, I squirm a little.

Tension.

At the same time I am very thankful every time I pass a car accident that I was not involved in. But, do I think that God orchestrates who is in every car accident and who isn’t? He certainly can. And, I think at times He does. But, I wouldn’t say that every time I avoid an accident, it’s because of God’s hand.

It’s entirely possible that more good could come out of it if I was in that car accident.

We cannot begin to understand the ripple effects of things happening in life. We cannot know what is ultimately good or bad. What we see as tragedy could trigger a set of events that could lead an entire nation to Christ. We don’t know.

Only God knows.

Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.  Psalm 139:4-6

A friend of mine’s daughter was in the middle of the attacks in Nice, France this past summer. She was not hurt and quickly got a flight home before they closed the airport.

Was I rejoicing with this relieved mother when her plane landed in the U.S.? Was I thanking God for protecting this precious child? I absolutely was! And if it were my child, I would have been on my knees praising God and thanking Him for keeping her safe.

But . . . 

What about those whose loved ones were not safe or protected?attacks-in-nice

At least eighty four people, many of them children, were killed on that fateful day in France.

How could God let children die so horrifically?

Tension.

As a Christian, one cannot ‘square’ everything to complete satisfaction. My pastor once said, “Life with God is about sitting in the tension of unanswered questions.”

Do I feel settled or ‘squared’ with my understanding of everything in scripture or in the world?
Am I OK with the suffering of children in the world?
Am I content with the scripture about women not being permitted to pastor/lead in the church?

No, I’m not. I am not squared. Not with a lot of things.

To be human is to experience tension with the world, AND tension with God.

We experience tension when our will conflicts with His. We feel tension when we can’t square certain things in our limited minds. We experience tension when our nature rubs up against the perfect nature of God.

Tension.

But we have a patient God. A God who is full of love and mercy. A God that goes above and beyond. And a God who gives life when we deserve death.

God is OK with my tension and with yours. In fact, I think God delights in the wrestling. As long as it moves us toward Him.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.  Psalm 136:1