Lack of joy is a serious problem for many Christians, families, and churches. We have every reason in the world to be overflowing with joy on the basis of what Christ has done for us and the hope that we have for the future but for some reason genuine and lasting joy seems quite elusive.
Dallas Willard, in his classic book Renovation of the Heart, makes some excellent points about joy. First, joy is “our first line of defense against weakness, failure, and disease of mind and body” (pg. 133). Have you ever thought about joy as “defense”? When we lack joy we are wide open to a wide variety of problems and are particularly prone to addictive activities, whether the obviously harmful addictions such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, and pornography, or the more run-of-the-mill (and often ignored to our peril) addictions to media: t.v., video-games, social media, etc. When we lack joy we quickly turn to other things to fill or distract us from the lack.
Second, Willard notes that genuine and lasting joy can only be produced by the Holy Spirit. True joy is divinely produced and sustained. “The kingdom of God is . . . righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). The fact, however, that joy is dependent upon the Holy Spirit does not lead us to passivity. Passivity is the death of spiritual formation. I am not saying here that we are solely responsible: we can no more do enough right things to “deserve” joy than we can do enough things to “deserve” salvation.
Willard states it well: “But here again we must not be passive. We may allow joy to dissipate through looking backward at our sins and failures, or forward at what might happen to us, or inward at our struggles with work, responsibilities, temptations, or deficiencies. But this means we have placed our hopes in the wrong thing, namely ourselves, and we do not have to do this. It is our option to look to the greatness and goodness of God and what he will do in our lives. Therefore Paul, in jail, speaks to the Philippians of his own contentment ‘in whatever circumstances’ (4:11) and urges them to ‘rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!’ (4:4). We will be empowered by the Spirit of God to do this if we choose it and fix our minds on the good that God is and will certainly bring to pass” (pg. 133).
We make the choice to set our minds either on the failures and hurts of the past, the difficulties and unfairness of the present, or the uncertainty and fear of the future, or to set our minds on what God has done and will do. We choose what to think about. God’s Spirit enables and empowers us to set our minds on the right things and fills us with joy as we set our minds on the right things.
We need God’s supernatural joy. Our families desperately need God’s joy. Our churches must have the joy produced by the Holy Spirit. This is not optional! May God lead us into renewed joy this new year as we fix our hearts and minds upon Him.