Real joy

Like many families, we enjoyed a great Thanksgiving dinner last night.

We laughed and talked and ate delicious food. We were happy together.

But what about people who ache because they have no family? Or, because they are at war with parents or brothers and sisters? They may look on Thanksgiving with dread.

Our pastor put his finger on what really matters – our joy in Jesus Christ.

As he said, happiness depends on happenings – joy depends on a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Happiness may rise and fall from day to day, but joy in the Lord is deeper and long-lasting.

One of my favourite scripture passages is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

The apostle Paul is telling me here that joy is not an option. I must be joyful always. I may be under attack by enemies as Paul often was. Or, I may be starving – as Paul often was. But I still must be joyful.

On the surface, this seems impossible. I am not going to be joyful simply by telling myself to smile and be happy.

So what is real joy?

I remember reading Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s story in Tortured for Christ. He was imprisoned first under the Nazis in the Second World War and then later under the Communists. While he was being tortured, he remembers being aware of the joy of Jesus’ presence. He was filled with God’s joy.

This is not happiness because things are going well. This is joy because of intimacy with Jesus Christ. This is the joy that the apostle Paul is speaking about in 1 Thessalonians 5:16.

In the 1 Thessalonian 5 passage, Paul links joy with praying continually and being thankful. Paul said we should take everything to God in prayer rather than worrying. And a thankful heart is one that notices the good things God is giving us and praising him for them.

As Nehemiah told exiled Jews rebuilding Jerusalem: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

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