Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ramblings on Joy

I'm spending some time in Pinedale, Wyoming at the moment. This morning I had the privilege of attending an early morning men's Bible study. The discussion has gotten me thinking a lot about the nature of joy. Generally when we discuss joy it seems like we spend most of our time talking about what it is not: Joy is not an emotion, joy is not based on circumstances, joy is different from happiness. We tend to run out of words however when we try to pin down what is in fact the true essence of this "thing" or "experience" that we describe as joy. Here are some of my thoughts from this morning.
True joy is experienced when we see the world, ourselves, our circumstances and, most importantly of all, God through eyes not of the flesh but of the spirit. In Galatians chapter 5 Paul lists joy as one of the fruits of the Spirit. It is tempting for me to say therefore that true joy can only be attained by the believer (i.e. after salvation) but this is obviously not so for it is those brief, intense pinpricks of joy that play such a key part in leading us to our Saviour in the first place. I believe I can say quite concretely however that true joy never takes place without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. True joy comes from delighting in that which God delights in. When our dead human spirits are awakened by the Spirit of the Living God and we are allowed, however briefly, to see things from His perspective then we experience either joy or terror. Perhaps sometimes both at once. This leads me to ask, what part of us has been saved? For if our entire being has been saved then why do we not experience joy in it's entirety all the time, basking in the presence of God. (Psalm 16:11 comes to mind.) One of the speakers on my DTS explained this to me very well when he pointed out very simply that if we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour then our spirits ARE saved, our souls (mind, heart and will) are BEING saved (through the process of sanctification) and our physical bodies WILL BE saved (redeemed, glorified, made new at the resurrection). As the writer of Hebrews says: "For by a single offering he (Jesus) has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified". This makes sense to me then when I consider my reaction to the presence of God in my life. My spirit (which has been saved and "made perfect forever") experiences unspeakable joy at being able to fellowship with the uncreated giver of all life. My soul, on the other hand (which is undergoing the process of sanctification and is still subject to my sinful nature) becomes very uncomfortable in the presence of God as it contemplates the reality of daily "being crucified" and being brought into submission to the Spirit of God which dwells within me. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he said to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling". To take the salvation that is in my spirit and "work it out" to my will, my mind and my heart.
This stuff is no longer just hypothetical for me. God is teaching me what it means to dwell in my spirit and not in my soul. (I confess that I am a very slow learner. This week is evidence of that.) The more I dwell in my spirit the more I am able to experience joy. It is then that I am able to look at things from an eternal perspective. I delight in what God delights in. I look at creation and agree with God in saying, "it is good". I look at God's work of sanctification in my life and agree with God in saying, "it is very good". I look at Jesus on the cross and agree with God in saying, "you are very, VERY good". Temporal circumstances become less important each day that I choose to retreat into my spirit and "dwell in the secret place of the Most High" (Psalm 91).
Well, those are a few of the thoughts running through my head this morning. Hopefully it gets you thinking a bit, if nothing else. In conclusion I agree with C.S. Lewis in saying that if you go out in pursuit of joy you will never find it. Even in examining it too closely you will lose it. It is through forgetting about ourselves, and our petty problems, and focusing on the Living God that true joy is found.