If you have seen the inspiring film Chariots of Fire, based on the life of Scottish missionary and Olympic runner Eric Liddell, you will probably remember these wonderful words that he spoke: “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” He spoke those words as a response to being criticized for pursuing his interests in track and field before going to the mission field.
I believe we could easily substitute the word “joy” for “pleasure” in Liddell’s statement without changing the meaning at all, for God takes joy and pleasure when His creation manifests its God-given purpose. And if God finds pleasure and joy when we excel in desires that honor Him, shouldn’t we feel the same pleasure and joy? Of course, we should.
I believe we have the right to rejoice! And I say that because I believe God created us with the potential for great pleasure and joy. I believe the experience most missing from the average Christian’s life today is joy. I don’t mean just laughter and hilarity, although there is plenty of room for more of that in the body of Christ. I mean that deeper dimension of happiness—what we really mean when we talk about joy: that deep-seated conviction that God is in control, God is good, and therefore I have nothing to be downcast about.
If I could see you in action when you’re pursuing your heartfelt desires, I imagine I would see your pleasure and joy in full form. And I would be right there, high-fiving you the whole time. It’s a wonderful thing to see people rejoicing, isn’t it?
We know how to do that part of rejoicing. But it’s the other kind—rejoicing when we feel like crying or shouting—that we need to talk about. Remember: If God has built joy into His creation, then it’s your right, as His child, to rejoice even when it doesn’t seem natural.
Joy in Jail
Think for a moment about these two opposite conditions: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the apostle Paul in prison in Rome. Though the Bible tells us very little about Adam and Eve’s life in Eden, I’m going to assume it was a happy, joyful place to be.
But what about Paul in prison? The New Testament letter that talks more about joy than any other was written by Paul while he was under arrest. His house arrest, during which he wrote Philippians and three other letters, offered no happy ending so far as Paul knew. Even though he had food and clothing, he didn’t know the outcome of his imprisonment. He could have been martyred any day. And yet he wrote over and over about joy.
So—joy in Eden is easy to understand. But joy in prison where one’s life was in the hands of a pagan Roman emperor? That’s the kind of joy we need to cultivate.
Paul’s perspective on joy was not something he discovered while in prison. Instead, it was a settled conviction. Around A.D. 51, Paul wrote these two profound words to the Christians at Thessalonica who were experiencing persecution: “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). It wasn’t until 10 years later, in A.D. 61, that he wrote his letter to the Philippians in which joy is mentioned 14 times. In fact, he repeated to the Philippians, his ten-year-old admonition to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Joy was Paul’s lifestyle.
How do we “rejoice always”? It requires both an attitude and an action.
•Attitude: We know from Galatians 5:22 that joy is a supernatural manifestation of Christ’s life in us—part of the fruit of the Spirit. But it is up to us to be filled with the Spirit, to embrace the Spirit’s work in every situation.
•Action: Part of walking by faith is . . . walking! Our responsibility is to act on what God has promised to provide. We need to act joyfully—giving testimony (both verbally and nonverbally) to our conviction that God is good, God is in control, and God will bring good out of every situation for His glory (Romans 8:28).
I encourage you, with the apostle Paul, to “rejoice always.” The circumstances of life may change our reasons for rejoicing, but they don’t change our ability to rejoice in Christ.
David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God, and serves as
Senior Pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California.
For more information about Turning Point, go to www.DavidJeremiah.org.