In the middle of this year, I had several major decisions to make and many issues to deal with including leadership, management, ministry, work and people issues. Difficult decisions had to be made in the marketplace arena which would impact the direction of my life. It was getting me flustered, anxious, torn, uncertain, … you get the drift. Maybe mid-life crisis?
I knew I needed to get away and thankfully I had the opportunity to pull myself away from the endless demands of my daily life and landed on the island of Koh Samui for a time of some self-imposed “exile” – a few days to rest, relax, reflect and realign myself with God and His purposes for me.
I brought with me 3 books, a notebook, my Bible and a heart filled with excitement and a desperate need of rest in Him. One of the books is a short book entitled “The Dangerous Duty of Delight – Daring to Make God Your Greatest Desire” by John Piper.
As I meditated on God’s Word, read this and the other books I had with me, rested in His presence, soaked in and enjoyed the splendor of God’s creation, reflected on the beauty and majesty of our Lord Jesus; and as I kept my mind and heart on God and His purposes – an indescribable joy came flooding into my heart.
The numerous issues and difficult decisions I had to deal with did not change, but my approach to these matters and my countenance changed. New perspectives surfaced and a peace amidst challenging circumstances found me. I was happy.
I learned much in those few days but in this letter, I will share just one lesson on joy that struck me from this delightful book by John Piper. First, a statement. We all long for and constantly seek happiness and joy; this is without exception. And we seek and satisfy this longing in various ways: relationships, possessions, achievements, applause, vacations, gadgets, sports etc… but our longing will never be satisfied until we see the beauty and splendour of God, receive the love and grace of Christ and experience the presence of Holy Spirit in our lives.
Second, a question. Is joy the spin-off of obedience? Some of you may think the answer is “Yes” – joy is the result of obedience. Refreshingly, John Piper takes the view that the answer is “No”: Joy is part of obedience. It is not a by-product of obedience. It is a part of obedience. Allow me to make this clear before I go further, when I say joy or happiness here, we are talking always about joy and happiness in God.
Many Christians feel uncomfortable to say we are duty bound to pursue joy. They would say – don’t pursue joy, pursue obedience. It’s like saying don’t eat apples, eat fruit. I have heard this said many times, “it’s holiness not happiness that matters”. John Piper disagrees with this. I too have reached that same conclusion. Both holiness and happiness matter, I think that you cannot have holiness without happiness and neither can you have happiness without holiness.
C.S. Lewis wrote to a friend saying, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” John Piper, quoting C.S. Lewis then adds, “Yes, it is risky and controversial. But it is strictly true. Maximum happiness, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is precisely what we are duty-bound to pursue.”
Let’s look at God’s Word. In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you …. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven...” In John 15:11, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” In James 1:2, James, the brother of Jesus said, “Consider it all joy… when you encounter various trials.” Paul the apostle was “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” and who described his ministry of his team as being “workers with you for your joy (2 Corinthians 6:10)” and who commanded Christians to “Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4).”
Let’s take a look at the psalmists: Psalm 16:11, “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 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” Psalm 32:11, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” Psalm 67:4, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy...” Psalm 43:4, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy...” Psalm 100:2, “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!”
Both the Old Testament and New Testament echo the command for us to always be rejoicing and to be filled with joy. Not just ‘lip service joy” but joy overflowing in all its fullness in our lives. God desires us to be happy, to be joyful. Happiness and joy in the Lord is part of what it means to be a believer.
Perhaps the image of a “stiff-necked, serious, no-nonsense person who thinks desire for our own good and enjoyment of it is a bad thing” is our picture of a holy and ‘obedient’ Christian. This is certainly not the case and runs contrary to what is clearly taught in the Bible.
In this time of uncertainty, challenging economy, insecurity, evil, hostility, stress and confusion, joy expressed and lived out in our lives because of the hope we have in Christ is what the world needs to see and hear. We who know and have experienced the immeasurable love and grace of God, seen His splendor and power, tasted His goodness and received His mercy must explode and overflow with joy and must share the source of our joy to others.
And joy in the Lord arms us against the assault of the enemy – whatever the world and the enemy throws at us, we can stand against it because the joy of the Lord is our strength.
May I encourage all of us to pursue God and make Him our greatest desire and delight! Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord!