I started praying this back in December, hesitantly at first, the same way I pray for near impossible things. God, could you heal? God, could you save? God, could you just give me more joy? Obviously, these things aren’t impossible. God heals, he saves, and as elusive as joy may feel sometimes, he loves to give it (John 15:11, 16:24). But joy has never come easy to me.
Before I became a believer, I suffered from major bouts of depression, a rare occasion today. But I still get melancholy, and my emotional life often feels flat. I had joy when I first came to know Jesus Christ, and it was deep and raw and thrilling. It carried me through some of those initial sufferings as a brand new Christian. I had Jesus and he was more than enough. I could walk through anything with him by my side.
I still believe that today, more than anything. But I also have hindsight. The last ten years have not been characterized by joy, but sorrow. And much of it has been worldly sorrow. I have been captivated by things over the years that have stolen my affection for Jesus. They are not bad things in themselves (well, some of them were), but I started to believe the lie that if I could have x, then I would be truly happy, content, and complete. A husband, more money, a nicer car, a better body, a bigger family, a college degree, a career-the wants of my heart just multiplied and Jesus alone was no longer enough. I would never have said that, but I felt it. I lived in that tension for a long time, the object of my desire no longer just Jesus, but Jesus and __________.
As a Christian, there will always be a battle against the flesh (earthly desires). And sometimes it really feels like the flesh is winning. Nothing will ever satisfy our longing for more in this life, but so often we try to slake our thirst with material goods or relationships or status, rather than drinking from the river of delights that God invites us to (Psalm 36:8). What God offers is real and lasting, and humans can be satisfied with nothing less than the God they were created to worship.
But oh how we try, becoming joyless, unhappy Christians in the process, forgetting who we are and who we were meant for.
I’m coming back to myself now. I finally believe that what David writes in Psalm 16 is for me, and that I have access to God in the same way.
“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure…..You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalms 16:8-9, 11).
We as believers can partake. This is the way to joyful living. It is the good life that we long for, and it’s available to us right now. As John Mark Comer puts it, “…the life you’ve always wanted is fully available to you right where you are through Jesus. Through him you have access to the Father’s loving presence. Nothing-not your income level or stage of life or health or relational status-nothing is standing between you and the ‘life that is truly life’”.
Whatever it is you’re chasing after, the thing you think will finally make you happy and complete your joy, it will let you down hard. Does that mean we abandon all desire and never enjoy anything? Nope. Instead, we remember that enjoyment is a gift from God (Ecc. 5:19-20), and all good things come from his hand. It’s why we pray before mealtime, because food is not only necessary to life, it’s also something we enjoy. We owe him thanks for bodily provision and taste buds and butter and salt.
God wants us to have a happy heart, one that is grounded in his joy. I am by no means basking in perfect joy today, but I’m asking and he’s changing me. Sure, there will always be a time for weeping, but even then we have reason to rejoice because we always have Christ. Whenever we want we can just be with him, and he is full of joy, always.
Reference: John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (2019), 99.