Joy that Lasts

The concept of Christian joy became real to me when I was running track & field for Liberty University. Running NCAA Division I track at a university was quite different than running for a small Christian School team in high school (we did not even have a track at my high school!). The stakes were raised. It was more like a part-time job and athletes were expected to work-out hours a day, take care of their bodies, and take their competition seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed every minute of it, but the serious nature of a higher level of athletic competition along with the element of an athletic scholarship heightened the pressure. Instead of running against the boys from Lancaster Christian School, I was lining up against athletes from Tennessee, Kent State, and Princeton.

Different athletes handled this pressure in different ways. Many suffered from extreme anxiety before and during competition. Some athletes in particular would carry the weight of competition around like their best friend had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness! I wanted to say, “Dude! You are just running around in circles! Relax!” If they had a successful run, jump, or throw, which in their mind meant winning or at least having a personal best, they would be walking around like the happiest person in the world. If they performed poorly, or even just average, you would see them moping around or sitting in a corner with a shirt over their head. Is this circumstantial, emotional and attitudinal morphing what should mark a Christian athlete? Or any Christian at all for that matter?

Every year at the end of the season the team held a Track & Field banquet. Every senior was invited to share wisdom, memories, and encouragement to the rest of the team. My senior year this lack of consistent joy in many of my teammates was on my heart. I chose to share this and I pray that it is meaningful for you in your search for joy.

Scripture speaks volumes concerning the importance of a follower of God being characterized by joy. It is listed as the second fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). James commands his Christian audience to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Nehemiah encouraged the people of God during their return from exile with the words, “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

The Psalmist could not stop speaking of joy.

“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:8-11 ESV)

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:1-8 ESV)

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed. To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: “What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.” You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever. (Psalm 30:4-12)

The follower of God is to be marked by joy. 

But what is this attitude? What is its source?

The best definition of joy I have come across was in John MacArthur’s study bible where he defines joy as “a spiritual happiness based upon the eternal reality that all is well between you and God." Let’s break this down.

Joy is a spiritual happiness or gladness. Though different than the emotion of happiness, there is some overlap. Joy should still create an outflow of emotional gladness but one that is not based upon feelings. Instead of rooted in feelings and circumstances it should be distinctly spiritual. It should be Spirit-driven, Spirit-strengthened, and Spirit-derived. When we are walking by the Spirit joy becomes the outflow. It is not from the flesh, not carnal or worldly; it is a spiritual work of God. With this, joy must be genuine. God is not asking for or commanding us to be fake. He does not want us to be disingenuous. It is a matter of fruitfulness, a matter of fullness. Towards the end of Jesus’ teaching on abiding in Him in John 15 He says, “ I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (v.11). Joy should spring out from within, it is not “putting a smile on your face.” Do you have a spiritual outflow of gladness in your life? This should mark us as followers of God. But from where does this fountain flow?

Based upon the eternal reality that all is well between you and God. The foundation of Christian joy is the gospel. That “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). It is not based upon our circumstances. This is why Paul goes on to say in this text that we can have hope in suffering (v.3-5)! This is why James said that we can count it all joy in the midst of trials knowing that all is well between us and God and He is at work in spite of and even through difficulty. How amazing that our Christian joy is based upon the objective reality of our standing before God and not our feelings or circumstances. It is rooted in faith, believing what God has promised that “all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

There is no greater example of this situation-defying joy than our Lord Jesus Himself.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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 has set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)

Christ endured the most painful death imaginable and rejection from the people He came to save. And for what? For the joy set before Him. The joy of right relationship with His bride, the Church! This same motivation, though now a present reality for all who have received Christ, is the source of Christian joy: all is well between you and God.

Do you have this kind of deep, spiritual gladness? Do you rejoice in the midst of hardship and trial knowing that in Christ we have a joy set before us?

John Piper illustrates this truth so movingly:
“I’ll tell you what makes Jesus look beautiful: It’s when you smash your car and your little girl goes flying through the windshield and lands...dead on the street. And you say, through the deepest possible pain…

“God is enough, God is enough. He is good. He will take care of us. He will satisfy us. He will get us through this. He is our treasure. Whom have I in heaven but you? And on Earth there is nothing that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart and my little girl may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

THAT makes God look glorious, as GOD, not as the giver of cars or safety or health.

God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him in the midst of loss, not prosperity.”
Peter writes, “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:8-9‬ ‭NIV). ‬‬Our salvation is the source of our joy. When we have taken our focus off of our right standing before God, our joy fades. How paradoxical that, for the follower of Jesus, gazing at the cross, a Roman device designed for excruciating torture and execution, is the source of joy? And Why? Because that instrument of pain became our instrument of reconciliation.

Let us fix our eyes on the eternal reality that all is well between us and God, and one day we will be with Christ, our reward. When Christ is our highest treasure and our relationship with Him is the meditation of our hearts we experience joy. Let us choose to abide in Him and be filled with His Spirit, and then watch in amazement as we experience an overflow of the fullness of joy in Jesus Christ.

With Grace,



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