I’ll never forget the year 2005. Not only was it the year I started Bible College, but it was also the year I learned about biblical joy.
One evening I was sitting in my bed reading John Piper’s book The Dangerous Duty of Delight, and I felt a surge of energy within me. I thought to myself, “God is serious about my joy.” I wished someone had told me about this sooner! Through John Piper I learned about Jonathan Edwards, and through Edwards I learned (to quote Piper), “that God is glorified most not merely by being known, nor by merely being dutifully obeyed, but being enjoyed in the knowing and the obeying.”
Notice why God indicts his people through Moses: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart . . .” (Deut. 28:47).
David referred to God as his exceeding joy (Ps. 43:4), and in another Psalm he calls God’s people to worship and to “Serve the LORD with gladness” (Ps. 100:2). Psalm 37:4 enjoins us to “Delight yourself in the LORD.” Like Moses in Psalm 90:14 we should pray, “Satisfy us in the morning with your lovingkindness, that we may . . . be glad all our days.” And finally, one of my favorite verses in the Bible (and the words my wife has been instructed to place on my tombstone): “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).
Of course, the idea of joy isn’t limited to the Old Testament. Jesus taught this as well. Counterintuitively, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad” (Matt. 5:11-12a). On another occasion, he tells us why he instructs us: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” And why did he go to the cross? The writer to the Hebrews tells us: “. . . for the joy set before him” (12:2). Unbelievable.
Are you getting the hint yet that God is serious about joy? God doesn’t just want obedience; he want us to delight in obedience.
Take a few more examples–all of which indicate that we’re not only to act in a certain way, but to feel a certain way. When someone sins against us, Jesus says you must “forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:35). As Piper notes, Jesus does not say, “Make a mere decision to drop the grievance.” No. Jesus says, “Experience a change of heart.”
The apostles fall right in line. Peter commands us, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” Paul, in Romans 12:10 also commands, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” This is the same apostle who said he was “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10), hence his call to the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4).
I always wanted joy. And so do you. Our problem, according to C. S. Lewis, is that “we are far too easily pleased.” We settle for “scenic vacations, accomplishments of creativity, stunning cinematic productions, sexual exploits, sports extravaganzas, hallucinogenic drugs, ascetic rigors, managerial excellence, etc. But the longing remains” (Piper).
Speaking personally, it wasn’t until God saved me that the longing was satisfied. To be sure, the ache for fullness of joy remains, but I experience the foretaste now. The best is yet to come.