Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
—Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV
If anyone were to ask me the one quality Christians routinely claim to have, but which is actually in short supply, I’d have to say it’s joy.
Ask a non-Christian what the most prevalent Christian trait is and you’re likely hear the word “indignation.” To them, Christians seem to be the perpetually put off, mad about one thing or another, but certainly not joyful.
From within the ranks of church people, some would note that fear is the trait shared by more Christians than anything else. For most of my Christian life the bestseller shelf at Christian bookstores have been packed with apocalyptic works that claim to know who the antichrist is or when the world will end, selling fear and worry. For all our talk of heaven, we sure worry an awful lot.
Some other Christians may say that love is the most common Christian trait, but then the folks answering that question treat love differently. The “tough love” people are those who like to use love like a crowbar, to influence others or even give them a rap on the noggin should they not conform to the Christian ideal. The other love camp consists of those who turn love into acceptance, never asking for more than blue skies, unicorns, and rainbows. Set those two groups of lovers against each other and see how well love holds up in the midst of their sparring over what love truly is.
But I don’t hear too many people offering joy as the end state of true Christian living. Too few Christians actually manifesting real joy may be the reason for joy being left out in the cold, and that is more than just a sad state of affairs; it’s an outright tragedy.
Jesus said to His disciples after they returned from their glorious time of ministry in their Master’s name:
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
—Luke 10:19-20 ESV
Do we rejoice that our names are written in heaven? Or does our rejoicing come from accumulating money, sex, power, or the adulation of men?
I’ve heard many Christians say that the reason the Church in America is powerless is that too many Christians are satisfied with being saved and leave discipleship at that. We have a church geared to fire insurance only. But if this were the case, why the lack of Christians rejoicing that their names are written in heaven? Why so little talk of heaven at all? Does heaven hold no joy for us now?
From the pits of his heart, David speaks:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
—Psalms 51:10-12 ESV
David asks for nothing more be restored to him than the joy of salvation and a willingness to obey God. In the wallow of sin he created for himself, he desires the joy of his salvation over all other things. His humiliation was public, but he did not ask for his reputation back. Nor did he ask for the resurrection of his dead child. He wanted a deeper joy.
The sad truth of American Christianity is that our joy is found in the wrong things. Our material possessions count for more and create more joy in us than possessing Christ. Yet the prophet Habakkuk might stare at desolate fields, dead livestock, the slow wasting of his friends and family, and the loss of all he holds dear and say, “I am filled with the joy of the Lord. His joy makes me carry on.”
Joy has been relegated to a low position today in the hearts of too many Christians. We’ve confused it for happiness, one of the reasons we chase after things—for the temporary happiness they bring. But joy does not burn up in house fires, nor on the pyres that claimed more than one martyr for Jesus Christ. You can’t manufacture it or pretend you have it. It’s either present or it’s not.
In the midst of the fear that many are feeling today, do you have joy? Do you know the joy of your salvation? Does that joy trump all worry, fear, and anxiety?
We have to have the right priorities now. How well we will function in the days that are coming is a measure of the joy that is within us. It should be infectious. It should draw people to Jesus. It should strengthen us. If that’s not you, what better time than now to ask the Lord for an irrepressible joy in your life that cannot be altered by shifting circumstances out of your control?
Lord Jesus, make my joy full today, no matter my circumstance, that people may see your joy in my life and ask me about its source. Make me the fount of joy that pours Your joy into the life of others, that my joy be full and overflowing. When barrenness surrounds me, Jesus, let there be your abundant joy. Let me continue to look to eternity and see my name written in your Book of Life, the reason for my joy today. When all around me are filled with worry, may my joy be complete in you. For your glory always, I pray this in your name. Amen.