Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!(Psalm 95:1-2)
In preaching through the Bible, the theme of joy comes up regularly. It is abundantly clear that God is after our joy and delight. That the kind of relationship he has for us is one full of joy and delight in him. That who he is to us, and what he has done for us, and what he calls us to, and has planned for us all are intended to inspire such things as joy, singing, thanksgiving.
And yet as I think over my experience in various churches, my conversations and observations with Christians, and consider my own heart, it seems that joy in the Lord is something the church today finds particularly difficult. I’m not sure why that is, but some possible reasons come to mind:
Perhaps we think that being in submission to God and his overarching authority is incompatible with joy. We’ve come to think of joy as something stemming from personal freedom and autonomy, being untethered from all authority and responsibility and obedience.
Perhaps we approach God as merely a means to get something else, and not good and joy-inducing in himself. We don’t consider that there is joy in giving ourselves to him, but only that maybe he can help us find joy elsewhere (and then we can get on with our life!)
Perhaps it’s easier to go through the motions of religion and not engage the heart and its joy. It’s easier to just check off the list of church, Bible reading, prayer, doing some good deeds, supporting good causes, etc., and never consider the state of our heart and motivations. Again, we have no expectations of finding joy in these things, but only accomplishing them so we can move on to joy somewhere else.
Perhaps we think that all that matters is that we are saved for eternity, and so things like joy, worship, and thanksgiving are optional, and not that important. We trusted in Christ as our Savior; good to go. That’s all we’re looking for, and apparently all God really cares about.
Perhaps some of us feel that life is just too difficult, too busy, too messy, too stressful, too guilt-ridden for joy in the Lord.
My purpose here is not to respond to each of these “excuses,” but to point out that, whatever the reason, we tend to ignore or downplay the biblical picture of the Christian life as full of joy, or at least a never-ending pursuit of joy, in the Lord. We tend to think that glumness, half-hearted obedience, or begrudging devotion is the best we can hope for, and all that God desires.
Of course, we desire joy (who doesn’t!), but we assume that is a separate issue from knowing God, and up to us to find in other ways, other sources.
But God is calling us, inviting us, commanding us even to see and know him in such a way that we “…sing to the Lord…make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation… come into his presence with thanksgiving…”
Now, there’s another temptation we may feel in hearing this call to have joy in the Lord. And that is that we feel that we ourselves must produce excitement and happiness and exuberance and pretend that it is joy in the Lord.
As churches, we can fall into this trap: feel that we need to find new and creative ways to get people excited and energized, coming back, and getting involved, and assume that is the Spirit working.
We think we need to use loud music, and bright lights, and lots of movement, and an excitable leader to get everyone pumped up.
But we don’t produce or create or manipulate the joy of the Lord. You can go to Vegas and get bright lights and loud music and the most impressive creativity in the world, and get crowds amped up and excited. And the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with it.
No. Joy in the Lord is not something we have to produce or pretend.
So what do we do, then? We come to behold God more, know God more, trust God more, and love God more, especially in his Son Jesus, and let his Spirit in us do his work.
The greater we behold who God is, and what he’s done, the more joyful our singing will be! In other words, the ultimate cause behind all our excuses for lack of joy is that we don’t behold and know God enough. We haven’t beheld his goodness, grace, glory and worth enough.
And so this is what we aim to do as a church: on Sundays as we gather together, in ROOTSKids, during the week as we meet in homes and studies, in one-on-one conversations, and in many other ways, our aim is to behold ever more clearly and accurately the God who inspires our joy, satisfaction and thanksgiving.