Spiritual Formation

How Joyful Are You? The Secret to a Contented Life

May 5, 2017

On a scale from one to ten, how joyful are you?  I would like for you to really give an answer.  Go ahead; assign a numerical value to the question.  Ponder it for a few moments.  Make an honest assessment of the joy in your life, and place the number somewhere in your heart.

I am not really interested in what it is as much as why it is.  Why is it a 7, or a 4, or a 10?  How is joy constituted in your life?  Is your joy the result of money, security, friends, or position?  Are you joyful because of popularity, promotion, or possessions?  Are you less joyful because of the absence of those things in particular?  Whatever your number may be, the bigger, deeper question is: Why is it that number?

Joy is an unusual beast.  Unlike happiness or pleasure, it doesn’t need worldly sustenance or acceptance to stay alive.  It has eternity pumping through its veins.  It is birthed through the union of grace and devotion: Grace being God’s commitment to us; devotion being our commitment to God.  When joy is measured by anything other than our relationship with Christ, it will inevitably gasp for breath.  It was Zig Ziglar who said, “Grateful people are happy people, but the happiest people are those who have the joy that comes only as a result of an intimate relationship with God.”

Intimacy…the heartbeat of joy.  Without it, you may exist, but with it, you are guaranteed to live.

 

Joyless in Jesus

For many believers, joyless living is the status quo of their spirituality.  They have surrounded themselves with things that are reportedly designed to make them happy, yet the reality of those things is hapless, to say the least.  Many Christians drudgingly plod through the motions of apathy believing that the idea of having joy is an unobtainable notion.  They accept joyless living, because they have learned to live without divine communion.

It is hard to imagine a child of God living this way, but it is possible.  And to say that joyless living only happens to spiritual amateurs is not accurate.  King David was the giant-slaying, warrior-king of Israel.  He was the psalm-writing, reflective poet of God.  He was a man after God’s own heart; a spiritual hero in the pages of history and Scripture.  However, there came a time in his life when he lost the joy of devotion.

In Psalm 51, David gave a gut-wrenchingly honest report of his relationship with God, and it wasn’t pretty.  Slowly read his confession, and listen to these agonizing words:

“Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.”

Now bear in mind, when David penned down this painful admission, he had possessions, he had position, he had popularity, he even captured the woman of his lustful pleasure, but he didn’t have joy. This proves the point: Broken intimacy with God will produce brokenness in every other area of life.  It doesn’t matter how rich, famous, funny, or likeable you are, if there is no connection with the Lord, those attributes are merely shallow substitutes for true contentment.

A.W. Tozer said, “If Christians do not enjoy the wine of the Spirit, they will turn to the wine of the flesh for enjoyment.”  The problem, however, is that the wine of the flesh produces a miserable hangover that lingers for years, perhaps all of life.  Granted, there is pleasure in carnal pursuits, but there is never joy.  David drank from that bottle and discovered the dreaded aftertaste: A broken life. With a heart of repentance, he turned his face toward a different Fountain–one which promised to cleanse his soul.

 

Connected in Christ

David, the shepherd king, had been a joyless sheep, but he came back to the flock of God looking for intimacy.  Joy in salvation was his thirst.  He pleaded with God, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation!” He needed a holy connection.  This was hard to begin with, but confession and repentance is never easy.  However, as Bill Hull declares, “What starts out as hard doesn’t remain hard when joy enters the process.”  David was ready for devotion.

Devotion: This is the secret to the joy-filled life.  This is the teaching of Christ Himself.  During those last hours of His life, Jesus intimately gave His disciples instruction on how to go on without Him.  He illustrated the relationship this way: “I am the Vine, ye are the branches.”  Although He was physically leaving, they would need to stay connected with Him more than ever before.  Through that connection they would produce fruit, but perhaps more importantly, they would experience joy.  Consider the words of Christ in John 15:5-11:

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”

There it is.  Not just joy, but the fullness of joy.  This is what Christ wanted for His disciples.  This is what Christ wants for you and me.

Read over John 15 again and notice the frequent use of the word “abide.” It means to stay, dwell, linger, to be connected.  It is the prerequisite for joy.  Without fellowship there is no fruitfulness. You do not have to be talented, gifted, skilled, or charismatic to have joy; you only have to “abide.”  Joy is not the result of accomplishment, accolades, or achievement; no, it is the result of abiding in Christ.

On a scale of one to ten, Christ wants your joy to be fully overflowing, complete, and whole. But He will never allow such joy to exist without Him being a part of it. Such joy is only made possible through communion with Him.  The sad truth is that most of us want to spend eternity with Christ, but we are not excited about spending the morning, afternoon, or evening with Him.

In his book, True Community, Jerry Bridges said, “Most of us do not experience the continual communion and corresponding delight in God that the Bible talks about. Worse yet, we do not even long for it. We are content to use God–to seek His help in our jobs, our studies, our marriages, and yes, even our ministries. Because they are the legitimate needs, we surely do need God’s help in all of them, but God is pleased when we find our delight in Him alone.”

True joy is rooted in Christ the same way a branch is rooted in the vine: It is connected, it is inseparable.  Is this missing in your life?  Are you disconnected with things divine? Are you living without joy? David MacIntyre perhaps said it best, “Communion with God is the condition of spiritual growth.  It is the soil in which all the graces of the divine life root themselves.”

Without devotion you may be able to sleep an extra hour, but it is certain, you will awake to a cold, hapless, joyless world.

*Excerpt from The Joy of Devotion (Chapter 2, The Great Disconnect of Devotion)
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