This is a slightly edited outline of an exhortation I gave at our Elder/Deacon Retreat this last weekend:
As we consider the year before us and all the real challenges we face, it can be easy to feel tired, exhausted, and overwhelmed. And it’s pretty striking that there really aren’t that many passages in the Bible that speak about fatigue. Even Jesus who clearly was sometimes tired doesn’t concern himself much with better organizational methods or slicker administrative practices (not to dismiss the need for wisdom in those areas) – rather, as I read the Bible, when things are thick and challenging and the nights are shorter and days are fuller and more is demanded of us, the Bible seems to say a whole lot about the need for joy. It is not a sin to be tired, but the temptations that often accompany fatigue arise from lack of joy.
Joy is the Result of Trust
Christians sometimes lose their joy because they are not trusting God. “Let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; let them ever shout for joy, because you defend them; let those also who love Your name be joyful in You” (Ps. 5:11). Or Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is my strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? … Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident. One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes I will sing praises to the Lord” (Ps. 27:1-6). Joy arises from deep confidence in the safety of our God.
Joy is the Result of Forgiveness
Christians sometimes lose their joy because they are not confessing their sins and receiving forgiveness. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice… Restore to me the of your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Ps. 51:7-8, 12). “Blessed [Happy] is he whose transgression is forgiven…” (Ps. 32:1ff). “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full… If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:4, 7-9). Full joy flows out of confession and forgiveness.
Joy is the Result of Humility
Christians sometimes lose their joy because they are proud and too caught up in self-importance. The ability to rejoice in the vanity of life, daily toil, apparent lack of progress along with the gift of tasting a bit of the fruit of this labor is a huge blessing. But this necessarily means not dwelling too much on the significance or importance of your life: “He will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart” (Eccl. 5:19-20). Know that you are just a man like billions of others alive now and long gone, and yet your works are already accepted by God through faith (Eccl. 9:7-10). Jesus teaches that the only way to find our lives (and find joy in them) is by joyfully losing them and giving them away (Mt. 16:25).
Joy is the Result of Knowing Jesus
Sometimes Christians lack joy because they have only gone along with the crowd and have not met Jesus for themselves. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (Mt. 2:10). “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (Lk. 1:44, cf. 2:10). Everywhere the gospel went in Acts so did joy and gladness: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46, cf. 2:41, 8:8, 13:32-48, 15:3, 21:17). And this joy and gladness flows from the heart of the One who is in heaven rejoicing at the right hand of the Father (Lk. 15:7, 10, Heb. 12:2). “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn. 15:11, cf. Jn. 15:5-6). Jesus is the most joyful man in the universe. If sanctification is growing nearer to Christ and becoming more like Him, then sanctification is growing more and more joyful.
Joy is not merely the result of these things; joy is also something that God requires of us. It was the fact that Israel refused to serve the Lord with joy and gladness in their hearts that God drove them out of the land and judged them (Dt. 28:47). This means that God loves to bless Christians that have joy. So God commands us to rejoice so He can bless us for it. This command was wound through the feasts of Israel, but is now front and center in the gospel: “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord… Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 3:1, 3, 4:4, cf. 1 Thess. 5:16). “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).
And if we suffer hardships, the command is clear: “Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:13, cf. Mt. 5:12, 2 Cor. 8:2). “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials…” (Js. 1:2). These trials include being misunderstood, sin in our lives, sin in our children, pain, sickness, and even death. We are practicing now for eternity, and eternity is joy in His presence. This joy of the Lord is not a contradiction to our duty to mourn with those who mourn (e.g. 2 Cor. 6:10). But compared to the eternal weight of glory, these are all light afflictions and last but for a moment (2 Cor. 4:17).
Lastly, we must not underestimate the power of our joy (or lack of joy) in our church. Paul models a joyful leader by how frequently he tells the congregation he’s addressing of his joy in them: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:19-20, cf. 2 Cor. 6:16, Phil. 4:1, Col. 2:5, 2 Jn. 4, 3 Jn. 3). And so likewise our joy and crown is our people.