Friday, May 22, 2015

All Joy and Peace in Believing (Pt. 1)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)

If there’s a biblical quality that has eluded me this quarter century of walking with God, it has been joy. It has not seemed in my melancholic nature to be consistently joyful. Biblical commands to rejoice feel like indictments. I have craved after joy, or what I believed it to be, and always it has evaded my grasp. “The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.” Certainly, salvation is good and satisfying. Why has it not been sufficient to keep me in a state of happiness? Instead, more often than not, I find myself battling a low-level uneasiness of mind, a strength-sapping weariness.

I’ve been on a slow journey to joy recently, and it has begun with correcting long-held notions of what it is and how it’s achieved and sustained. Though the concepts of joy and rejoicing are mentioned numerous times in the Old and New Testaments, there is no concise definition given in Scripture. I would imagine that many, as I did, rely on a secular understanding: Joy = happiness. Therefore as a Christian, I’ve felt obligated to manufacture and sustain a happy disposition and bright mental attitude in order to honor the Lord and encourage fellow believers. However, that has only proven to reduce joy to tiresome performance. 

Scripture does offer a path to joy, and for me, Romans 15:13 most succinctly captures it. Joy and peace are linked with hope, and the source of both joy and hope is the God of Hope himself. The key for me to understanding joy has been in understanding biblical hope. Hope is not wishing, it is knowing: Hope is trusting that the Gospel and the Lord of the Gospel are true. Hope is in knowing that our future life with Christ is more real and secure than our day-to-day struggles. Hope looks forward to what the Apostle Peter describes as our, “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us], who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1Peter 1:4-5).” And it is in this we rejoice, Peter says. My understanding of joy then becomes so much richer than a fleeting feeling. It is unshakable confidence in a settled hope, and the spiritual and emotional wellbeing that results.

The joy and peace of believers arise chiefly from their hopes. What is laid out upon them is but little, compared with what is laid up for them; therefore the more hope they have the more joy and peace they have. … The same almighty power that works grace begets and strengthens this hope. Our own power will never reach it; and therefore where this hope is, and is abounding, the blessed Spirit must have all the glory. (Matthew Henry*)

The path to true joy, as Matthew Henry puts it, is in desiring and laboring after an abundance of hope. That works itself out practically not in manufacturing an emotion, but in knowing and meditating on truth. The passage itself is a prayer, and reminds us that God gives hope by the Holy Spirit. It is grace, and so we pray for stronger faith to believe. Joy and peace can easily be pursued as ends in themselves, and I’ve been guilty of that. Charles Spurgeon puts it this way: “I like joy and peace, but I like better still that sacred faith which looks to Christ and brings me joy and peace as a consequence.” The end of joy is Jesus. He is the source and the object of our joy, and our hope rests in him.

What of those, who as I do, battle with our moods and even depression? For us there is this comfort:
Joy and peace are the elements of a Christian, but he is sometimes out of his element—joy and peace are his usual state, but there are times when, with fights within and wars without, his joy departs, and his peace is broken. The leaves on the tree prove that the tree is alive, but the absence of leaves will not prove that the tree is dead. True joy and peace may be very satisfactory evidences, but the absence of joy and peace, during certain seasons, can often be accounted for on some other hypothesis than that of there being no faith within. (C.H. Spurgeon**)    

I’ll pick up the topic of the Life of Joy in next month’s post.

*Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991. 2237-8. Print.
**Spurgeon, Charles. "Joy and Peace in Believing." Spurgeon Gems. Web. 22 May 2015.

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