Joy - How Do You Keep It?
We who are children of God can remember the first days of our being brought to know Him, through that blessed One whose very Name filled our hearts with rapturous delight. How relieving, and how sweet to the soul to confess that Name before men; how marvelous to realize that His blood was shed for me, that His sacrifice for me was a sweet smelling savor to God, and because of it nothing could separate me from "the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom.8:39). With fond remembrance we recall the sparkling freshness and joy of heart that issued forth in adoration for our Lord, when like the leaves of the trees stirred gently by the wind, our very being seemed alive with praise to Him.
But in so reflecting, not a few of us have sorrowed as we see that those affections have sorrowed as we see that those affections have grown cold with time: the ardor of delight that once was there seems lost forever, and we wonder why, despite our efforts, it can not be regained. Here many stumble and are led astray.
A Wrong Thought
Some have claimed that to answer the question, it requires a wonderful and mysterious experience that they call "sanctification." By this they profess to attain a higher level than Christians who are not (as they say) "sanctified." However the honest inquirer into Scripture will find that we are not sanctified by an experience, but by the truth, the Word of God. (John 17:17). Moreover, when we look for, and find, some experience that stirs us to excitement, we may be stimulated for a time, but always shall drop back again into a still deeper dissatisfaction, the same effect that is left through drinking too much wine. In Scripture, joy is typified by wine; it may exhilarate, but I do not, could not, feed on it: that would leave me a total wreck.
True Joy Found Only in the Lord
Is the Christian, then, denied joy? Indeed he is not, for true spiritual joy is of God, both exceedingly precious and important. But let me ask, What gave you the joy at conversion? Was it through thinking of that joy? "Certainly not," you will say, "It resulted from the knowledge of the Lord Jesus as my own Savior, and of His very near presence always with me. I was feeding on real substance food, and rejoiced in doing so."
Yet think, have you so greatly treasured that joy as to lose sight of the need of feeding? Depending largely on the joy, have you forgotten how dependent you are on the Lord? Surely this is the true answer to the coldness and lack of growth in more than a few cases. The eye is on self, and on what is going on within, instead of being fixed steadily on the One who only can give real gladness of heart.
Christ, not Joy, Feeds the Soul and Satisfies
I believe the condition of soul that many of us have experienced is aptly described in Psalm 107:4,5,
"They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them."
These were the children of Israel, sometime after singing the glorious song of deliverance from their enemies, by the passage of the Red Sea. There was a longing not satisfied, a desire not filled: the joy that had been theirs before could not sustain them now. What then?
"Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses. And He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfieth the longing soul, and filled the hung soul with goodness" (vs.6‑9).
Let this sink deeply, dear reader, into your heart and mine; joy does not satisfy, does not feed the soul, but He, our Lord does. Nor could it be otherwise, for has He not said, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven"? (John 6:5 1).
The Scripture the Only Source
Now, where did I learn of Him at first? What gave me my first taste of the bread of sweetness? Only Scripture: without that I had been in darkness still. How then can I neglect that precious Book, and expect my thoughts to be of Christ? Impossible! and yet how many think to keep their joy while heeding not the only place from which true spiritual joy can come.
"It is hard to understand," someone is bound to say, "and I seem to get so little from it." Well we rejoice to know that the most profound students of Scripture have marveled at its depths of wisdom and its beauty of perfection. So although our first impulse is to wish we knew it all, we are steadied by the thought that there is food here for many years to come, and too much at once will give indigestion. You would not think of refusing a meal simply because you were denied a year's supply of food at once! Take a meal at a time and be sure you digest it well.
Little by Little... Steadily Learning
Once a start has been made in searching the Scripture, Satan will employ many means of discouraging you. Perhaps it will seem difficult and wearisome, and doubts arise as to whether there will be any fruit from it at all. This is a "trial of faith," and faith is simply implicit trust in God. Then ask yourself this question, "Is God not able to carry me through this test?" and go to God about it.
Then remember that faith acts! "The hand of the diligent maketh rich." "He that gathereth by labor shall increase." "In all labor there is profit. " "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but honor of kings is to search out a matter" (Prov. 10:4; 13:11; 14:23; 25:2). "Let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal.6:9). With time and diligence, you will learn little by little, and each lesson will be truly learned in the heart. Moreover, when the heart has learned something for itself a joy will result much calmer and deeper than was known before. But guard against relying on the joy. Go on steadily, learning more of Christ: only thus is the soul kept fresh and alive.
Read with Reverence, Seek to Learn of Christ In both the Old and New Testaments.
If you have real joy in reading, always remember never to open that precious Book except in a spirit of reverence and lowliness. And then in every word you read, listen to the voice of "The High and Lofty One who inhabiteth eternity," as speaking directly to your soul.
Further, do not go to the Scriptures with a selfish motive - not merely to get something for yourself - but with Christ as the Object of your heart. This is the only key that will open them to you. When walking with the two on the way to Emmaus, the Lord Jesus "expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself' (Luke 24:27). How sweet their consequent testimony: "Did not our hearts bum within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?" Nothing can preserve the beauty and freshness of the Word to the soul like a mind alert to find something of Christ everywhere.
It may be, as in the Gospels, a direct contact with Him, or in the Epistles, doctrine concerning His Person, His Work, His Glory, or His interests on earth in the Gospel going to the unsaved, and in His Body, which is the church.
The Old Testament we shall find abounding with types of Christ in His various characteristics; as Son of God, as Son of Man, as Prophet, Priest, King, Servant, Shepherd, the Lamb of God, and others. Also types of His birth, spotless life, suffering on earth, rejection by men, substitution for the sinner, bearing God's judgment, voluntary "obedience unto death", resurrection, exaltation, coming for His saints, coming in judgment, and reigning over the earth are to be found. In the Psalms, too, and the prophets, He is supremely preeminent. Everywhere it is so.
Let us then be the more earnest in finding this precious "hid treasure," ever keeping in remembrance that if Christ is really the Object, the heart will lack nothing. Then truly we may say, "His joys our deepest joys afford," and with the prophet Jeremiah, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart" (Jer.15:16).