“These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!
Doesn’t that sound absolutely wonderful? Even in reading the words you probably can “hear” that melody. Henry Van Dyke wrote the lyrics in 1907 especially for the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Words and music are glorious and uplifting. The tune matches the text.
We don’t hear a great deal about joy today in our apocalyptic culture where fear, anger, and resentment reign. Perhaps we never have, or it’s been a very long time. The good news is it’s never too late to recover joy.
Joy after all is Jesus’ goal for us. He said He came that His joy might be in us and our joy might be complete. The Greek word also means perfected. God’s goal through His Son is for our perfect joy.
Joy also is second in Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit, right after love. It’s a part of our birthright, not something we seek, but something we apparently are given. For this reason, Paul also exhorted us to be joyful always, and in all situations. He seemed quite sure that this constant experience of joy was not merely a goal, but a gift.
In fact, when look closely at the Greek word for grace we find that gift is inherent in it. Greek is a highly inflected language, meaning that you take a root word, add various prefixes and suffixes and come up with a whole host of related words and nuances.
The root word for joy is from the Greek XAP (char- in English). We derive some very beautiful and important words from this root: grace, gratitude, gift, forgiveness, and joy are all derived from the same root. Joy, fundamentally, is a product of grace. God gives grace. When we open up to it (hearts unfold!) our natural response is joy. We are tuned to God’s grace, and when our minds resonate with grace, joy is inevitable. We feel powerfully connected, accepted, and approved by God. Joy is the laughter of the soul, security in the Father’s love, delight in the fellowship of Christ, and the sweet energy of the Spirit.
How many souls laugh today? It seems we’ve forgotten joy. I simply don’t hear too much about joy.
I hear a lot about happiness. I think that’s because happiness is much more measureable. If my health is good, my bills paid, my family reasonably happy, if my UK Wildcats win 6 games and go to the Poulan Weedeater Bowl, then I’m happy. Happiness is a checklist, and that’s not a bad thing at all, nor is it superficial and unimportant. Happiness has to do with the avoidance of pain and the creation of pleasant circumstances.
But this definition does point to an important difference between happiness and joy. The former is temporal. The latter, eternal. It’s so obviously possible to have all the necessities for happiness but no joy whatsoever. That may be the quintessential American experience. We have it all and nothing at the same time.
Joy is so notoriously hard to pin down that it appears to be simply ignored or forgotten even by some of the most careful thinkers of human nature. I read recently that in the 24 volumes of Freud’s works there is not a single mention of the word joy, which is ironic since his name means joy (George Valiant, Spiritual Evolution). I wonder if that set a standard unwittingly followed by others today.
Whatever the reason, joy does not appear to be a common experience. I believe this is due to a grinding sense of inadequacy people have in their personal theology. Too many people simply do not feel accepted by God. They’re keeping score in their souls and that always results in a loss. A sense of aloneness follows. Joy seems impossible.
The recovery of joy, or its initial experience, simply relies on the frank acceptance of the fact that God has accepted you. That is the first axiom of grace. Any voice that tells you that God is either displeased with you or rejecting you is imply not from God. God is love, pure and simple. And grace is love in action.
Joy, then, is the intersection of God’s nature and our openness. We receive gifts. We don’t earn them. Freed of the soul burden of trying to earn God’s favor we can relax in the rhythms of His grace and truly take it easy. Not that we’re relieved of the activities of a higher life, but instead of obligations they simply become expressions of who we are, and of our resonance with God. We act because we are loved, not the other way around.
Good religion is never about trying to change God’s opinion of you. His opinion is settled. The challenge always is to change your opinion of God. Accepting grace fully quiets fears, doubts, anger, frustration, and a whole host of caustic emotions. And it awakens something truly miraculous.
Wherever you are in life, whatever your past may be, the God who created you loves you and delights in you. When you accept that, and often that will need to happen many times a day, your soul will soar, and sing, and begin to laugh.
Dr. Terry Ellis
October 16, 2016