Our little bodies bounced back and forth in the church pews as we belted in unison, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart.” Turning toward one another, we would loudly yell, “where?” as a silly break before the song continued…” “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart… down in my heart to stay…” We sang it loudly because we believed it! “And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart…” We sang it passionately because we felt it! Later phrases would reference “the peace that passes understanding” and remind us that “there is therefore now no condemnation,” for those in Christ Jesus. As I sit here and reflect on simpler times in younger shoes, I’m taken aback by the incredible promises that dwell in that familiar Sunday School song, but the truths infused in its verses date back long before I ever uttered the tune. The lyrics from “Joy in My Heart” (George William Cooke- 1884-1951) have been casting light on the gospel since their inception, and I can only imagine the countless other hearts that fondly recall singing them in their own childhood days.
There’s a marvelous purity in adolescence; something special in the younger chapters of life. While no one will refute that children often lack wisdom, insight and understanding, the “little ones” around us are true masters of one particular trait that “maturity” can cause many of us to abandon. Life experience may be the ingredient that bakes us into adulthood and cultivates our ability to thrive in self-sufficiency, but the wonderful gift of joy can be lost somewhere in the process. Children, untainted by the inevitable burdens of this world are astoundingly adept at expressing a joyful heart. Why? Because joy is something they still know how to feel. They recognize it’s presence, then harness and share it. They perceive where it’s lacking, then muster it up and dish it out by the truckload. Like a flame being passed from one candle to the next, the impact of a child’s joy is exponential.
Have you ever watched a group of children sing in church? Their little eyes bright with wonder- bouncing, dancing, shouting lyrics with conviction and raising hands with expressive (sometimes erratic) motions. They erupt with a particular passion that’s quite contagious to even the most stone-hearted bystander. Watch them as they yell out of tune, like a bad audition for American Idol- at least until something distracts them- like a dog that just noticed a squirrel. Still, for a few brief moments, we find ourselves engrossed, smiling at their innocence, snap-shotting their joy for our memory banks and perhaps (even slightly) remembering what it felt like to stand in their shoes. I was that child once. Perhaps you were too. And while we unfortunately can’t jump back into our younger bodies, we can find our way back to a purer soul- a heart unhindered by the cumbersome weight of bills and bad diagnoses, obligations and expectations. The heart of a child does not pulsate with oblivious wonder as we often perceive it to, it’s fueled with the supernatural joy created by (and perfected for) God’s own creation. You and I, my friend, the Lord’s crowning achievement, were created to be joyful beings, or did we forget that we’re God’s workmanship?
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2: 10
By grace, through faith in Christ Jesus, we are made alive to do good works, but how can we possibly aspire to do these works without the joy of the Lord at the helm? I have regrettably headed (and witnessed) joyless endeavors that only yield insincere, ineffective results. We reveal the new life inside of us by exemplifying joy and gratitude to the giver of every good and perfect thing (see James 1:7). Our joy is evidence of the Spirit at work within us and that joy carries the power to draw others into God’s wonderful presence.
What does a joyful Christian look like? Are you picturing someone in particular? Do you lump them into the same category with the little children? Oblivious? Lost in wonderment? Blind to the things of “real life,” or even a bit naive? We all possess the potential to be quite cold, cynical and condescending. We turn up our noses at the joyful Christian; not because they’re in the wrong, but because we struggle to feel the same; fighting to harness it or yearning to understand it. The joyful Christian is not “foolishly spiritual,” or uninformed, they’re in tune, and they can fully relate to the joy of the Lord as their strength. (Nehemiah 8:10b). A life vacant of joy is not the inevitable result of growing up, or the sad consequence of logging into this cold, cruel world; it’s the product of a life that has chosen self before the things of God, closed off to the awe of His presence and power.
”And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18: 2-4
Sure, we can recall, even repeat back these words of Christ, but do we pray for a change to take place within us? Are we willing to cast our burdens on the altar of praise to recapture the heart of a child in wonder of God’s holiness? Children are not blind to the pains and stresses that darkly cloud our world, they just choose to shine through the clouds. This is a picture of joy, as strength, but we won’t understand it until we grasp its importance. Even professing followers of Christ can treat joy as an afterthought. “I don’t have time to be joyful,” we mumble (or even just think to ourselves), because the reality of what stands in front of us is all we tend to see. We forget the example of our joyful Savior, in that, even under the shadow of a looming cross, He still clung to joy.
“...the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12: 2
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15: 11
Yes, Jesus Christ was joyful! I’d assume it was part of His appeal. He laughed, joked, and welcomed children in. His promises and purposes were directed by love and His joy is made complete in us when we follow that example. The joy of the Lord isn’t conveying false, fluffy happiness. It’s bold faith that clings to what’s true about our God. We may find ourselves fighting for it for from time to time, but that’s an element of living in this broken world; we just can’t let joy be the first thing we sacrifice at any sign of struggle. It’s not an accessory we can get by without and when it gets robbed, our spirit suffers. We give power to fear and doubt when they rear their ugly heads, but we forget that there’s a greater power in joy. It becomes a part of us when we stand in a posture of praise and learn what it means to rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Philippians 4: 4
To rejoice is to delight; to desire- to take pleasure in something. Our delight will typically gain our full attention. Is yours in the things of God, or are they just safeguards in a pinch? Do you credit every moment as a blessing willed by heaven, or just wave off the “little things” as circumstantial happenings? True strength in the joy of the Lord is found in constant, reverent delight in His persistent, powerful involvement in our lives. Where does your rejoicing begin?
Do you rejoice in your Maker? Do you acknowledge and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation? Do you stand in amazement at the works of His hands? The flame of joy can be lit simply by humble amazement at God’s size, power and desire to reveal His beauty to us.
“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” Psalm 32: 11
“May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.” Psalm 104: 31-34
Do you rejoice in your reward? Do you find yourself numb or unmoved by Christ's amazing love and awesome sacrifice? Then you aren't rejoicing in the eternal reward that is offered through it. Seek perspective and pray for passion. Fight the urge to limit the eyes of your heart to “here and now,” and embrace the compelling reminder that Christ’s death paid our way so we could live forever, free of charge, in the boundless glory of God the Father.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1: 8-9
“rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10: 20
Do you rejoice in your trials? This is when the fight for joy truly begins- when pain, discomfort and struggle blow in like a tempest and our reasons to rejoice seem to fly out the window. The condition of our faith will determine our ability to cling to joy; not just in the midst of trials, but in spite of them, and they will pale in comparison when weighed against our countless reasons we rejoice. God’s steadfastness offers hope and our trials are an opportunity to emulate that character trait. Clinging to His spoken promises will leave our joy unshakeable.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15: 13
Does the joy of the Lord evade you today? Are you seeking strength in the bliss of your heavenly Father? Pray with me, would you? Lord, grant me the heart of a child. In humility and wonder, draw my eyes to your glory. May You alone be my reason to rejoice, at all times, in all circumstances, and reignite the flame that calls my soul to sing… “I’ve got the joy... down in my heart… to stay.”