Joy is a very strange thing. It comes out of a sense of fulfillment. Although dictionaries define it as great happiness, I feel that it is different from happiness. I’ve heard it defined that happiness is based on circumstances, whereas joy is not. That makes it an elusive topic to define. As best as I can describe, it’s a feeling of peace and fulfillment, even in the midst of turmoil or difficult situations.
The topic came up since I just finished reading Philippians to start off the inductive Bible study on Philippians and Colossians. As I pondered the purpose of the letter and the main message, joy was what came up. You see, it’s mainly a letter of encouragement to the Philippian church, written by Paul, and in it he describes what gives him joy. Here was Paul, thrown into prison for what he believed. I highly doubt that prisons back then were anything near what they are like now, with three meals a day and cable TV. They were more like a concrete room, dank and smelly, where you sat chained to a Roman soldier just in case you had any intentions of trying to get away. And he was in this prison for what he believed – it wasn’t because he did anything illegal or immoral, but rather because he didn’t worship the Roman emperor. That’s it. They threw him in there because he wouldn’t worship a person that would likely die in a few years anyway. Yet this letter he writes is about joy.
You see, Paul was content with what he had. Even when he had nothing, he still had everything in Christ. That alone kept him satisfied. At one point in the letter he says that for him, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” or in other words, he couldn’t decide between living and dying. This was not a pessimistic comment; not at all. Rather, it was about as optimistic a comment as they come. He was saying that if he lived, he got to see and be a part of advancing the Gospel and Christ’s love, and if he died, he would be in the presence of Christ. What kept him alive was the love he had for his brothers and sisters in Christ. But in all this, he knew that no matter which option occurred, he would gain from it. It was a win-win situation for him. And thus he had joy, satisfaction and contentment mixed with the peace that comes in Christ.
I’m convinced that a lot of Christians today have no joy because they just aren’t living the Christian life. For the longest time I’ve struggled with this fact: Christianity grows when it is persecuted. It’s been proven in history over and over again. As people try to tear us away from our faith, we just cling harder to it. I’ve almost considered praying for God to bring persecution on North American Christianity. Sure, those who are just clinging to Christianity when it’s useful to them would fall away, but it would certainly separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Then again, it’s not my place to decide where persecution should fall, so I have never actually prayed that prayer. I just think that we could likely use some. When we are forced to make a decision between being branded as a Christian and forced to live the Christian life, or turning away from it completely, we make a choice between unfulfillment and fulfillment. Right now, most people are caught between the two, being fulfilled some of the time as we have a more “spiritual encounter” and then getting into a rut and falling away a little bit. And fulfillment in Christ is the only thing that gives us joy.
As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the Word of God, I’ve just had so much joy. For the past few days, I’ve gotten comments like, “Are you hyper or something?” The truth is, I’m just happy. I have so much more joy now that I’m getting closer to God, and the amazing thing is that I’m so far away from Him. I mean, this is just a small taste of what I could be having, and I must say that it’s almost addictive. I just want more. It’s amazing what happens, and to have something that everyone in this world wants is a pretty awesome feeling – although it’s sad that so few people have joy. But everyone’s searching for fulfillment, and we Christians have it – or can have it if we pursue it. We just have to let ourselves go and let Christ control our lives. It’s such a better way to live, because it frees you from worry, it frees you from a miserable existence, and it frees you from the sin nature that entangles us. As we become dependent on God, He shows us that He will never let us down, and He starts working through us to produce wonderful things. It’s when that happens that we experience satisfaction that lasts, fulfillment that can only be found through that pathway. All other things satisfy for a while, but they fade away eventually.
And so I hope that more of these truths will be revealed to me as I study Philippians and Colossians in the upcoming weeks. I’ve been unfulfilled for so long, and all this time, the answer was right in front of my nose. All I had to was put it into practice. So if you’ve got Christ, rejoice!