Joy in the Life of the Believer

Mike Yarborough

Principal Rainy, of whom a child once remarked that she believed he went to Heaven every night because he was so happy every day, once used a fine metaphor about a Christian’s joy. “Joy,” he said, “is the flag which is flown from the castle of the heart when the King is in residence there.”

Sources of Joy

Men have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy cannot be found:

  • Not in Unbelief—Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.”
  • Not in Pleasure—Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.”
  • Not in Money—Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
  • Not in Position and Fame—Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.”
  • Not in Military Glory—Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent, before he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.”

Where then is real joy found? The answer is simple: in Christ alone.

The triune God is the source of our joy. We read in Romans 15:13 that God the Father gives joy: “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” Isaiah 61:3 tells us that the Lord Jesus was appointed to give joy, “to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness.” Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 that the believers at Thessalonica were “followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.”

Robert Murray McCheyne, the great Scottish preacher wrote: “The truest, purest joy flows from a discovery of Jesus Christ. He is the hidden treasure that gives such joy to the finder (Matt. 13:44). Do you think you have found that treasure? Touching question! For if not, you are poor indeed. But how much joy may you have in Christ? ‘The God of hope fill you with all joy.’ You need not be afraid to take the full joy that Jesus gives. If you really come unto Christ, you come unto the love of Jehovah, and that is a filling love. The love of the creature does not fill the heart; but God’s love coming full upon the soul gives fullness of joy (1 John 1:4). It is holy love, sovereign love. I have been interrupted several times in writing this little note. I will not be long in writing you again. Do decide the question of your eternity. One thing is needful: have you closed with the great Mediator? Have you a saving knowledge of Jesus? Then only will death lose its power, and the grave become the bed of peaceful rest.”

The gospel of Jesus Christ is also a source of great joy. In announcing the birth of the Lord Jesus, the angel said in Luke 2:10–11, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

The Word of God is a source of great joy to those who read and heed it. In Nehemiah 8:12, we are told that “the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.” Jeremiah the prophet wrote in the fifteenth chapter of his book, verse 16: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.”

Joy comes in the path of duty. William Barclay[1] said: “WE ARE CHOSEN FOR JOY. However hard the Christian way, it is both in the travelling and in the goal, the way of joy. There is always a joy in doing the right thing. When we evade some duty or some task, when at last we set our hand to it, joy comes to us. The Christian is the man of joy. The Christian is the laughing cavalier of Christ. A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms, and nothing in all religious history has done Christianity more harm than its connection with black clothes and long face.”

Basis for Joy

God promises to joy to those who know and love Him. The Lord said Psalm 132:16: “I will also clothe her priests with salvation: and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.” Psalm 105:3–5 makes clear that the ability to experience joy comes as we seek the Lord and His strength: “Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD. Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore.” Psalm 70:4 enjoins, “Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified.” Psalm 16:11 reminds us that there is joy in the presence of the Lord: “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

Jonathan Edwards once said: “The unparalleled joy that many of them speak of, is what they find when they are lowest in the dust, emptied most of themselves, and as it were annihilating themselves before God; when they are nothing, and God is all; seeing their own unworthiness, depending not at all on themselves, but alone on Christ, and ascribing all glory to God. Then their souls are most in the enjoyment of satisfying rest; excepting that, at such times, they apprehend themselves to be not sufficiently self-abased; for then above all times do they long to be lower. Some speak much of the exquisite sweetness, and rest of soul, that is to be found in the exercise of resignation to God, and humble submission to His will. Many express earnest longings of soul to praise God; but at the same time complain that they cannot praise Him as they would, and they want to have others help them in praising Him. They want to have every one praise God, and are ready to call upon every thing to praise Him. They express a longing desire to live to God’s glory, and to do something to His honor; but at the same time complain of their insufficiency and barrenness; that they are poor and impotent creatures, can do nothing of themselves, and are utterly insufficient to glorify their Creator and Redeemer.”

Joy comes as we worship and praise the Lord. The Lord commands His people in Psalm 32:11 to “be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.”We are told in Psalm 89:16 “in thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.” Luke 24:52 tells us that “…they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”

As a third-century man was anticipating death, he penned these last words to a friend: “It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians—and I am one of them.”

Contrast that description with the words of the noted agnostic Robert Ingersoll. When he died, the printed funeral notices said, “There will be no singing.” Look not for hymns, anthems, oratorios, carols, and spiritual songs among infidels, agnostics, or skeptics. Without God, without Christ, without redemption, without a divine revelation and without hope, what have they to sing about?

Blessings of Joy

A Christian leader tells this story about his mother and their “misery dinner.” It was the night after his father came home and said it looked as if he would have to go into bankruptcy because his partner had absconded with their firm’s funds. His mother went out and sold some jewelry to buy food for a sumptuous feast. Other members of the family scolded her for it. But she told them that “the time for joy is now, when we need it most, not next week.” Her courageous act rallied the family.

God often brings joy in and through adversity. Great suffering for righteousness’ sake gives birth to great joy. Job 41:22 tells us that God can work joy out of life’s greatest heartaches: “sorrow is turned into joy before him.” Psalm 30:5 makes clear that joy comes after a period of affliction and darkness: “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

Someone said, “The brook would lose its song if we removed the rocks.” Another observed: “The triumph song of life would lose its melody without its minor keys.” Seneca once remarked: “Difficulties strengthen the mind as labour does the body.”

John D. Rockefeller Sr. was strong and husky when small. He early determined to earn money and drove himself to the limit. At age 33, he earned his first million dollars. At age 43, he controlled the biggest company in the world. At age 53, he was the richest man on earth and the world’s only billionaire.

Then he developed a sickness called “alopecia,” where the hair of his head dropped off, his eyelashes and eyebrows disappeared, and he was shrunken like a mummy. His weekly income was one million dollars, but he digested only milk and crackers. He was so hated in Pennsylvania that he had to have bodyguards day and night. He could not sleep, stopped smiling long since, and enjoyed nothing in life.

The doctors predicted he would not live over one year. The newspaper had gleefully written his obituary in advance—for convenience in sudden use. Those sleepless nights set him thinking. He realized with a new light that he “could not take one dime into the next world.” Money was not everything.

The next morning found him a new man. He began to help churches with his amassed wealth; the poor and needy were not overlooked. He established the Rockefeller Foundation whose funding of medical researches led to the discovery of penicillin and other wonder drugs. John D. began to sleep well, eat and enjoy life.

The doctors had predicted he would not live past his 54th year. He died at the age of 98.

Of all the blessings of joy, the greatest is the salvation of the lost. Dr. Luke tells us in Acts 15:3: “And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.” Our Lord said in Luke 15:3, “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

Mike Yarborough serves on the board of the FBFI.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Note: Barclay sometimes says good things, but his orthodoxy is questionable. – Ed. []