I made a surprising discovery recently – about joy!
For a long time, I’ve been wanting more joy in my life. I’m sure I’m not the only one; we Brits are not exactly famous for our happy and care-free attitude to life, are we? But we know that joy of the Lord is our strength, and we could all do with a bit more of that! (See Nehemiah 8:10.)
Early last year, I was really inspired by a couple I saw ministering at a conference. They both radiated happiness when they spoke. The wife, in particular, seemed to be almost intoxicated for about half the time – but she was not taking anything illicit! What I saw was ‘out of the box’ of my normal experience, but deep down I knew it was good. As I reflected on this afterwards, I realised God was showing me an intensity of joy that’s available for me too, if I want it. I decided I did!
Nearly a year went by, and I must admit that I had almost forgotten the whole thing. But even though we are sometimes forgetful, it’s good to know that there is One who remembers.
Last month, a group of us went to an event in Cardiff called ‘Love Fest’. This is the amazing name for what is essentially an extended time of non-stop worship. There were a couple of preaching slots in the mix, and one of the speakers was Justin Abraham. Over the last decade, Justin has been a pioneer in the UK of an extravagantly happy and joy-filled approach to life in Christ.
Hearing Justin share his heart was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. It helped me realise that pursuing the joy of the Lord is not a trivial or frivolous thing. Justin described some of the opposition and resistance he has faced. He has lost friends and endured harsh criticism; someone even tried to kill him on one occasion!
I had always assumed that some people were naturally joyful (or even bonkers!) and that I just wasn’t one of those people. But as Justin spoke, it dawned on me that if I want a life full of joy, I shouldn’t expect it to be easy or plain sailing. I am going to have to fight for it! C.S. Lewis must have found this out too. He put it like this: ‘Joy is the serious business of heaven.’
At the end of the event, I spoke with Justin. I mentioned that he had helped me to see that joy is something you have to contend for. He replied that the key is to find what brings you joy in the Lord and, whatever it is, to do it regularly. For example, Eric Liddell famously said, ‘God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.’ (1) We all need to find what it is that we do, that causes us to say, ‘This is why I’m alive!’ Justin said, for him, it’s time alone with God in the secret place, with no agenda other than to be with Him and enjoy Him.
So, that weekend, a penny dropped in my understanding. I’m no longer one of those people for whom joy is out of reach. That’s a myth! And somehow, knowing that I’ll have to fight for joy is reassuring. It actually makes perfect sense in the context of my life thus far.
Inexpressible and full of glory
The Bible talks about a joy that’s ‘inexpressible and full of glory.’ When I looked up this passage, I found the same sentiments expressed there too. It says that, even if we are in the midst of various trials, causing our faith to be tested like gold in the fire, there is a joy that can be accessed through faith. But we have to make a conscious choice – to focus on the blessings of the living hope and eternal inheritance that are ours. By doing this, we are able to enter into the indescribable joy of the Lord, rather than dwell in the place of sorrow. (See 1 Peter 1:3-9)
Oh, and I discovered another key to experiencing more joy – to honour the pioneers of joy in our lives. For me, these are people like Justin Abraham, and Georgian and Winnie Banov (the couple I mentioned earlier), who have blazed a trail and demonstrated what’s possible. As Justin himself says, a posture of love, value and honour is ‘the kind of approach that attracts Heaven.’ (2)
1 Eric Liddell was a missionary and an Olympic athlete, whose story is told in the film Chariots of Fire.
2 Justin Paul Abraham, Beyond Human (2016, Seraph Creative)