A Path to Joy


Joy is next after love in the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes.  I tend to think of his list being in order of importance, so joy is something very important to God.  Despite that, somehow I can’t recall much about joy in sermons or Bible studies over the years.   There was an enthusiastic sermon some thirty years ago about “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), but nothing comes to mind about how to have God’s joy so I could have that strength.

Joy doesn’t come easily to my personality.  In fact, some of my younger friends call me Eeyore, the stuffed donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories.  A little rain cloud hangs over him as he suffers life’s vicissitudes with resignation.  I can be like that.  When problems strike, I tend to think it is enough to grimly soldier on.  But now I’m confronted: this is not what Scripture teaches.

As I started looking into the Bible, I was also looking within myself to find where the joy was.  Did I have nothing of God’s joy?  Well, when I’ve found something that I find unique or rare or just incredible, a sense of wonder wells up in me.  I usually babble about my find to anyone who will listen to me.  Wonder or awe about things on earth is not the Lord’s spiritual joy that I felt I lacked.  But I took it as a starting point.

One such moment came when I was thirteen, sitting in a music lesson.  My teacher’s “hourly” lessons were very flexible because he would have us try new music or he’d be telling us anecdotes about music.  At this lesson, he took out an etude that was a bit above my skills.  “Listen to this,” he said.  “This is so beautiful.”   He played it for me, and it was more than beautiful.  It made the sound of my instrument, the clarinet, go right to my heart.  It became clear to me in that moment that the beauty of the clarinet, combined with the beauty of the music, could say things no words could ever say.  I went back home afterwards not only in awe, but knowing what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to play the clarinet.

Another moment of awe and joy came a few years ago when I read an article about a Frenchman, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, who had been making sound etchings far earlier than the cylindrical wax recordings everyone thinks of as the first recorded sound.  His technique had to do with tracing the sound on paper with the smoke from an oil lamp.  It is hard to believe this really worked, but a museum in France still had these papers, and you could actually play them as recordings.   One that you can year on YouTube is a woman singing the French folk tune “Au clair de la lune”.  In 1860.

I listened, dumbfounded.  1860 was, to me, a silent year of the past.  No one’s voice had ever been literally heard from that year – their spoken thoughts and feelings had gone with them to the grave.  Anything you might like to have heard – President Lincoln’s oath of office and inaugural address, perhaps? – was left to our 21st century imaginations.  And yet here was this voice from 1860.  This woman had left for us her voice and her song, literally written in the dust.  I still can’t get over it!

But where were my spiritual joys, my “Joy in the Lord”?  The last few years had been difficult ones.  I had allowed moments of God’s joy to become too few and far between.  I needed to take the advice of Psalm 77:11 when Asaph was discouraged:  I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

Then a spiritual joy came to mind.     After years of trying to be a witness to my father, he asked me how to be at peace with God a year before he died at age 86.  It was my privilege to lead my father to the Lord.  The joy of bringing him to know that Jesus loved and accepted him has never faded, still bringing tears to my eyes.  I do have a great joy inside me, I thought, relieved.

And there have been those times when God has especially let me see how much He loves me.  His love came with a complete, beautiful sense of joy at those times.   Those were not times of conviction or instruction.  He was giving me His deep love and joy.  It was unforgettable.

The joy from all these examples has never faded over the years.  I still feel the excitement I felt from the beginning.  Joy endures.

Now I had a spiritual starting point to understand joy.  In the book of Philippians, Paul rejoiced in truths that I believe God wants me to learn to rejoice in, too.  If joy is a fruit of the Spirit, you should see in me those enduring joys.  Now that I see that I have had joy in my life I’m ready to learn more.

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