Confession of the day—I tend to be a natural cynic and a pessimist. Okay, that’s really not a confession to those who know me. Once when I worked as an administrator at a private school I ate a Dove chocolate and found an “inspirational” message I actually enjoyed—“A pessimist is simply an optimist with experience.” If you ask the question, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” I respond by drinking what’s left in the glass and tell you to stop asking silly questions.
And again: this is my natural tendency—my fleshly one… so that means it’s not good. It also means that I tend to have a problem with the concept of joy. I have a hard time being joyful.
Come Sunday, I’ll be preaching on joy. I recently started a series on the fruit of the Spirit, and joy is next in line. Studying the fruit is a convicting thing as I realize just how far short I fall in my own life, but something about joy just stood out…
Part of it was that I couldn’t find a good definition. I have hundreds of books in my library and as I prepared for this message I scoured titles, looked through notes, and pondered what I had read sometimes weeks before sometimes years. Very little said anything about joy. Granted this could be the fault not of the books but of the buyer—I just haven’t bought that speaks of joy. Maybe? But it still strikes me how much I have spent on these works of Christian life and theology and so little speaks of an essential fruit.
Nonetheless, I am not easily deterred so I pressed on with preparation. Isaiah 12 sits as my text. I will talk about how true joy flows from our recognition of the forgiveness of our sins (12:1) and the strength of God in our salvation (12:2). I will expound how joy manifests itself in the songs of praise we lift to God (12:2, 6), our prayers of thanksgiving (12:3-4), and our proclamations of his glory (12:5). All good stuff (I hope)…
And along the way I shall preach to myself.
I mean, I get the Gospel—I understand it. I know the depths and wickedness of my sin, I am well aware of my corruption, I am humbled by the reality that I was saved by grace alone, and I am thankful that I have the righteousness of Jesus imputed so I may stand before God. But sometimes I don’t get the application to my life…with things like joy.
Saying Christians should be the most joyful people around is a bit cliché, but it’s true. At least it is true so long as we understand joy stands distinct from the world’s concept of happiness. Jesus took joy in the shame of the cross because of what it accomplished for his glory and his people. We are to rejoice in our sufferings, rejoice in our trials, and rejoice in all things—good or bad.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me… it’s a cause for us to rejoice with a joy inexpressible and filled with glory. Behold! Jesus is making all things new… it’s a cause for us to rejoice in the Lord always (“and again I will say rejoice”).
Will I face times of sorrow? Yes—pain and hurt still exists, and even if it’s not personal pain I must grieve a world that refuses Jesus. Will I face difficulties of trials? Yes—but nothing like the One who took the sins of his people and the wrath of God upon the cross.
I have faced and will face a multitude of things that steal away happiness. Yet Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the one who saved me. Nothing can separate me from his love. He works all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
Even if I must face the rebuke of others and the disappointment over my own sins, there is still joy because Jesus has overcome my sins and granted me forgiveness. And I can rejoice because I have a Father who loves me enough to discipline me to make me a better man—a glorified, Christ-like man.
I might not always be happy, but if I truly grasp the greatness of salvation then I must be joyful. I have zero right to be cynical and pessimistic—of such I must repent and continue to repent as the Spirit makes joy a greater part of me.
A pessimist might be an optimist with experience, but if we have experienced Jesus then we will neither be a pessimist or an optimist in the world—but a person who seeks for and radiates joy in all circumstances.
And what would that do to my witness if I constantly show the world there is something greater to live for—someone who causes joy to transcend the darkness and depression we see? And what would it do for my church if I showed great joy in all that is right with God instead of frustration and scorn for all that is wrong with people and church?
It will be a struggle for a cynic like me, but that’s part of the reason we have our brothers and sisters in Christ—to have a family to encourage us in our struggles and spur us on to greater joy!