Why We Lack Joy
The great theologian Jonathan Edwards has famously said, “The nature of true religion consists in holy affections.” This idea actually fueled his theology and was is the backbone to what John Piper has now developed called Christian Hedonism. It’s the idea that we glorify God when our affections, our joy, are in him alone. This echoes Psalm 32:11: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”
In John’s Gospel account, he actually spends three chapters, 15-17, addressing the subject of joy. For our purposes here, let’s hone in on chapters 15-16. Here will see a glimpse of the kind of joy God desires for us, along with a sense of why we might be either missing or resisting joy.
Jesus’ focus in John 15:1-16:4a is to cultivate joy in us. To understand what Jesus is telling us, we have to consider a few things.
First, what keeps us from joy? Notice 16:1, “I’ve said all these things to keep you from falling away.” Falling away from God keeps us experiencing joy.
The next question is, what are we falling away from? 15:1 and following indicate that we are falling away from bearing fruit. We are chosen branches of the vine, Jesus, that are meant to bear fruit.
Finally, what is the fruit? 15:16-27 imply that making disciples is the fruit of being united with Christ. He says, “You will be my witnesses.”
Now that we’ve seen his argument here, we can identify exactly how to cultivate joy and gladness in our hearts. Then, we can determine why it is that we might not be living in the joy and gladness that should be ours in the gospel.
Living in Joy
This is great joy in living out our purpose of bearing fruit, of being fruitful and multiplying disciples. But some of us simply don’t feel that way about it. Why?
First, we lack joy because we simply aren’t participating in disciple-making. Here’s an illustration of someone who is living in the joy of the gospel. One of our missionaries, Felicia, wrote this letter to us:
“I am constantly amazed at the ways God uses us in his work. We are so unnecessary for him to accomplish his will, but he is constantly opening doors and providing opportunities for us to join him. I don’t understand it, but it is such a joy! The fact that we get to be a part of how God draws someone to himself, and to see how he changes a person’s heart of stone into one that lives and beats for him is incredible.”
Felicia is overwhelmed with joy because she’s in the game. She’s on the frontlines. For some of us, we simply aren’t feeling joy because we aren’t in the game. You can’t feel the thrill of catching a touchdown or hitting a home run if you aren’t on the field.
Second, we lack joy because we’re in the game, but relying on our own power to make disciples rather than being dependent upon the Spirit. In John 15:16, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, my Father will give it to you.” Later in verse 26, he says, “The Spirit will testify about me.” When we testify about Jesus, the Spirit testifies with us! But there is no testimony without the Spirit.
Finally, we lack joy because we feel the wrong pressure, or don’t react to right pressure in the right way. The pressure we feel should be theological, not sociological. If it’s sociological, it’s because you’re being cruel or a jerk; if it’s theological, it’s because they cannot stand the fact that Jesus is the only way to God. We will always be outcasts in some ways because there will always be opposition to the gospel. We should have joy in sharing truth even if it’s misunderstood or rejected, but we will lack joy when we’re railing on those far from God and damaging the gospel testimony.
Finding Joy and Peace
John 16:4b-33 wraps this up for us. We lack joy because we lack peace (v. 33). Our peace is being robbed because we either deny that we need the Spirit, because we’re trying to justify ourselves instead of repenting, or because we think we have all the answers (v. 8-11). In other words, we create new answers for questions that already have an answer in the gospel.
Of course we will feel sorrow and frustration at times, but it will be turned to joy if we rest in Christ. Our peace is found in God’s relentless love for sinners found in the cross of Christ (vv. 25-27). Joy is found in proclaiming this gospel, this good news, to ourselves over and over again. If we ever “get over” the gospel, we will always be frustrated because we’re chasing more than what is already available to us.