Finding Joy in a Good Shepherd

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All of this material first appeared on Desiring God. 

Please enjoy part 1 and 2 of this 6 part series on what it means to find true joy that lasts.

Defining Joy Part 1


Jesus and the Journey to Joy // How Do You Define Joy? from Desiring God

As we begin this series on joy in the letter of Paul to the Philippians, it seemed good to me that we should probably begin with a definition of joy. Definitions are simply descriptions of the way people use words. Words don’t have intrinsic definitions. They are given definitions by the way people use them. When I say I want to define joy for you, I am asking, Whose joy are we talking about, or what use of the word are we talking about?
I mean joy as the apostle Paul uses it in his letters, and particularly in the book of Philippians. I am not just asking about the meaning of joy in general. I am talking about Christian joy, as Paul the apostle describes it. So let me give you my definition and then take it apart one piece at a time:
Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the Word and in the world.

A Good Feeling

Christian joy is a good feeling. By that, I mean it is not an idea. It is not a conviction. It is not a persuasion or a decision. It is a feeling. Or — I use the words interchangeably here — an emotion. One of the marks of the difference between an idea and an emotion or feeling is that you don’t have immediate control over your feelings or your emotions. You can’t snap your finger and decide to feel something.
For example, say you are going camping. You wake up, and there is this gigantic silhouette of a bear outside your tent, a grizzly bear. He seems hungry. You don’t say, “Now, let me think about this. There is a bear. Bears are big. Bears are dangerous. Conclusion: I should feel fear here so I will now decide to be afraid.” Emotions don’t work like that. Thinking works like that, but emotions doesn’t. It happens to you, which means that the Bible is filled with commands that we do things that are immediately outside our control to do — commands to rejoice, to fear, to be grateful, to be tender-hearted.
One of the reasons I am the kind of Christian I am, with the theology that I have, is that I know as I read the Bible it requires of me things that I cannot myself immediately produce by my own power. I am fallen. I am sinful. And yet I know I should be feeling the emotions that the Bible expects me to feel. I know myself guilty. This is huge.
Saint Augustine said, “Father, command what you will and grant what you command.” He knew God commanded certain emotions of him that he couldn’t make happen on his own. So he prayed, Oh God, if you are going to command me these things, grant that you would give them when you command them.

So, the first part of this definition is that joy is a good feeling.

In the Soul

The second part of my definition is that the good feeling is in the soul. By that, I am drawing attention to the fact that it is not in the body. The soul, the immaterial part of my personhood, experiences joy. The body may feel the effects of that. I may get butterflies in the stomach. I may have a spring in my step. There may be tears of joy rolling down my face. None of those effects in my body, though, is itself joy. They are all distinct from joy.
The body is chemicals, muscles, and nerves. It’s made up of electrons, atoms, and molecules. And when those molecules move, that is not a moral event. The body doesn’t have right and wrong. A movement of my arm back and forth has no moral significance, until I tell it by my will or my emotion to punch somebody. Then it becomes bad. Or hug somebody in need. Then it becomes good. My soul imparts virtue, right or wrong, to the physical parts of my life. And the Bible clearly says it is right to feel joy in God. Or, it is wrong to be anxious about the situation. There is a rightness and a wrongness to these emotions, and these emotions precede the bodily movements that follow. The feelings are movements of the soul.

Produced by the Spirit

The third part of the definition is these movements of the soul are produced by the Holy Spirit, which is clear because I cannot make these things happen. They are called the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). Therefore, the joy in my soul overflowing towards God is coming from the work of the Holy Spirit.

A Sight of Jesus

The fourth piece is that the Holy Spirit does this work, not magically without my mind being engaged, but by causing me to see the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:1 says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” How do you rejoice in the Lord if you don’t know anything about the Lord? How do you rejoice in the Lord if you are not seeing things about the Lord that cause joy to rise up in your heart? That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
He doesn’t just flip a switch, and you rejoice with no mental content whatsoever. The Holy Spirit is given, according to John 16:14, to glorify Jesus Christ, which means the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of my heart to see the beauty of Christ. When I see Christ in all that he is doing, and all that he is, then my heart is drawn out in joy towards him.
The Holy Spirit bears this fruit by causing us to see the beauty of Jesus Christ.

In the Word and the World

The last piece is that we see him in his word and in the world. It is obvious that the most authoritative and clearest place where we see the beauty of Christ is in his word, the Bible. That is why the Holy Spirit inspired the word, so that we could read the word, and know Christ. The Spirit gives us eyes to see the beauties of Jesus that call joy up out of our hearts.
It is not just in the word that we see Christ. We see him in his gifts and in people. We see him in his gifts of nature. We see him in his gifts of food and in all of the good things that our Father in heaven gives to us. Every gift of Christ to us is intended to be a communication of something of himself. So we see Christ not only — we taste Christ not only — in his word, but also in his works.
As we take up joy in Philippians now in the next five videos, the definition that I am working with is that joy is a good feeling in the soul produced by the Holy Spirit as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in his word and in his work.

Joy in Suffering?   Part 2


Jesus and the Journey to Joy // How Do You Define Joy? from Desiring God

Over the years the name that I have given to my understanding of the massive role joy plays not only in the Christian life, but in all of creation and God’s purposes in it — is Christian Hedonism. And the shortest description of Christian Hedonism is God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
My pathway into this understanding over the last thirty years or so is mainly affected by Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis, and the apostle Paul, but it does reach back to my father. My father was probably the happiest man I have ever known, and yet he was filled and consumed with the glory of God. So there was this both-and in my father’s life that had to have a resolution or explanation some day. Abundant joy and total commitment to the glory of God had to go together in some way.

Small Desires for Big Things

After my dad, C. S. Lewis came into the picture with his amazing statement that our problem as human beings is not that our desires are too strong, but that our desires are too weak. I thought my desires were the problem. Lewis says, No, your desires aren’t the problem. The weakness of your desires are the problem. You are like a child fooling about in slums with your mud pies because you can’t imagine what a holiday at the sea is like. In other words, your desires for the great things that God is offering you are way too small. Your problem is not big desires, but small desires for big things.

Jonathan Edwards was the biggest influence of all. He says that God almighty in his trinitarian form is God the Father having an idea of himself which stands forth in God the Son, and having delight in himself, which stands forth in God the Holy Spirit surging back and forth as a person between the Father and the Son. Then, when God creates human beings, they are in his image so that we glorify God both by having a right idea of him — true doctrine — and by having appropriate, passionate emotions toward him. So I have these two great surging faculties in me: a thinking faculty that glorifies God by thinking rightly about him, and a feeling faculty that glorifies God by feeling rightly about him.

And under all of that was the Bible, which tells us again and again to glorify God, and also tells us again and again to delight in God. So how do those two commands come together?
That question led me to the Westminster Catechism, and its first question: What is man’s chief end? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And I ponder: Is it just and? What does “and” mean? Isn’t the chief end of man to glorify God by enjoying him forever? That’s what Edwards said. That’s what Lewis implied. That seemed to be what was surging in my father’s life. But is it biblical?

Why Death Is Gain

That brings us to Philippians. Philippians 1:20–21 was the key text that settled for me that God is most glorified in us — or Christ is most magnified in us — when we are most satisfied in him. “My eager expectation is that Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death, for . . .” and that little word became all-important. “ . . . for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” With that little word Paul grounds the certainty of his expectation that Christ will be magnified in his body when he lives and when he dies. Why? Because for him to live is Christ and to die is gain.
How does that work? How does the logic work here? It became clearer for me when I dropped out the life pair, and focused on the death pair. Let’s say it like that: It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not at all be ashamed, but that Christ will be magnified in my body through my death, for to me to die is gain.

Does that make sense? The confidence that Christ will be magnified when I die is based on the fact that for me to die is gain. If Christ is gain in my dying, Christ will look magnificent in my dying. But there is still a missing piece to the argument. Verse 23, “I want to go and be with Christ for that is far better.” So the gain that he is talking about in verse 21 is Christ. If I go to be with Christ, if I die and go to be with Christ, that is far better. That’s my gain.

So now let’s go back and see if the logic makes sense. My eager expectation is that Christ will be magnified in my death because I am going to experience death as gain — as more satisfying than anything this life could offer, and that gain is Jesus Christ.

Let’s see if we can put it together. I am confident that Christ will be magnified in my dying, and the basis of that expectation that Christ will be shown to be magnificent in my dying is that I am going to experience my dying as gain; namely, as Christ being more satisfying to me than everything that life has to offer. I stake my belief in Christian Hedonism on the logic of Philippians 1:20–23.

An Illustration from Marriage

So, as an illustration: It’s my anniversary. I say to Noel, “I am going to take you out tonight, because it is our 47th anniversary, and spending the night with you would make me really happy.”
No wife has ever said, nor would Noel ever say, “You are so selfish. All you think about is yourself. It makes you happy taking me out and spending the evening with me.” No wife ever complains that is selfish. Why? Because if I pursue my full satisfaction in my wife, she is honored. So it is with God. If we are drawn to God because we want to spend time with God, if God is our treasure and our satisfaction, God is honored.

This truth — God is most glorified in us, or Christ is most magnified in us, when we are most satisfied him — is not peripheral. This is not peripheral to the Christian life or peripheral to the book of Philippians. This is right at the heart of what it means to be a believer, what it means to belong to Jesus Christ, what it means to treasure and trust Jesus Christ. This is not icing on the cake of Christianity. This is at the heart of Christianity.