Aug 27, 2013
Recently I wrote that we did not need to fear trials, because God would only bring us trials in order to give us even more joy in Christ (2Cor 4:16-18).
A reader responded with a crucial question. I’ll summarize it like this —
How can this encourage me if I’ve never experienced joy in Christ? No trial has ever brought me joy in Christ. In fact, never in my Christian life have I known this joy. My longing for joy in Christ has only resulted in disappointment. So what can you say to someone like me?
I am sure others struggle with this same question. So I thought I’d respond to his question here —
Thank you for being so honest, and for raising such an important question.
My heart goes out to you as I think of your disappointment. At the same time, I want to encourage you that God does promise heart-satisfying joy to all who trust Christ.
Take Jesus’ words in John 7:37-38, for example —
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”
Jesus is talking about heart-thirsts — for joy, pleasure, and satisfaction. And He promises that whoever believes in Him will have his heart-thirsts overflowingly satisfied with joy.
So there it is. A black-and-white promise. But you have never experienced this joy. So why might that be?
Here are seven questions I ask myself when I’m not experiencing joy in Christ. I’ll go over the first couple today, and the rest in my next blog post —
- Am I seeking joy in who Jesus is, or in what Jesus gives?
- Am I seeking joy in Christ as an undeserved gift from God, or as something God owes me?
- Am I seeking joy in Christ with a heart of repentance, or am I holding on to sin?
- Am I seeking joy in Christ with humble trust in God’s will?
- Am I seeking joy in Christ with prayer?
- Am I seeking joy in Christ through the Scriptures?
- Am I seeking joy in Christ persistently?
Am I seeking joy in who Jesus is, or in what Jesus gives?
Many people think the joy God promises has to do with blessings like health, wealth, or friends.
But God does not promise any of these. What God promises is an infinitely greater joy, the joy of beholding Jesus Christ Himself.
That’s what Paul says in Philippians 3:8 —
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Paul’s joy was knowing Christ. Not Christ’s blessings; but Christ Himself. And the joy of knowing Christ was so great that he counted everything else as loss.
We can have tastes of this joy now, as the Holy Spirit helps us see and feel the glory of Christ as revealed in God’s Word (2Cor 3:18; 2Cor 4:6; Eph 1:18-19). And we will know this fully in heaven, when we see Jesus face to face (1Cor 13:12; 1Pet 1:13). [Put your cursor over the references and the verses will appear.]
But if we seek our joy in earthly blessings, and not in Jesus Himself, we will always be disappointed. Either because we will get the earthly blessings, and they won’t satisfy us, or because we will not get the earthly blessings, and we’ll think God hasn’t been faithful to us.
So the only way to gain the heart-satisfying joy of Christ is to stop seeking earthly joys and seek Christ Himself.
What helps me do this is pray over a Scripture like the one I just mentioned — Philippians 3:8. What I mean by “pray over a Scripture” is to —
- ask God to open my eyes to the truth of His Word;
- think deeply about what the verse is saying;
- pray over the truth of the verse until the Holy Spirit helps me see and feel it deeply.
So I might pray something like this —
Father, help me understand what Paul is saying in this verse. Paul counted everything as loss compared to the joy of knowing Jesus Christ. I’m not feeling this now, Father. Forgive me. Help me. Open my eyes to see the majesty of Jesus Christ. Help me feel the truth of Jesus’ mercy in becoming a man, Jesus’ justice in cleansing the temple, Jesus’ compassion in weeping over Jerusalem, Jesus’ love in bearing my sins in His body, Jesus’ power in rising from the dead. Help me see and feel that Your Holy Son is infinitely more satisfying than a wife, children, ministry success, money — anything.
I’ve also found these Scriptures helpful — Psalm 73:25-26; Hab 3:17-18; Matt 13:44; Heb 11:26; 1Pet 1:8; 2Cor 4:6; Eph 3:19; Col 1:27; Heb 1:3; Rev 21:23.
Am I seeking joy in Christ as an undeserved gift from God, or as something God owes me?
Because of our sin, we deserve only punishment from God. But because of Jesus’ death, God can lavish undeserved grace on those who trust Him.
So we must seek Christ humbly. We must admit that we have no righteousness of our own to make us worthy of Him. We must rely, not on any goodness in ourselves, but only on Christ’s death to forgive our guilt and His righteousness to cover our sin (Luke 18:13-14).
This is crucial, because if we seek joy in Christ as something God owes us, we will receive nothing. Because joy in Christ is a grace, and God only gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
But often I find myself coming to God as if He owed me something. So I regularly need to pray over the truths of God’s holiness, my sinfulness, and Christ’s suffering on the Cross until I see and feel that anything God gives me is a blood-bought gift, and nothing I deserve.
It’s often at this point that I start to see and feel the glory of Christ, and taste the all-satisfying joy of beholding Him.
Here are Scriptures that help me with this — Psa 51; Luke 7:47; 2Cor 5:21; Isa 53:4-6; Rev 1:5; Mark 10:45.
That’s enough for today. Lord willing, I’ll cover the rest of the questions in my next blog post.
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