The Tuning Fork of the Soul

The Tuning Fork of the Soul

Successful Christian living is very much about steadiness and consistency, about firm resolve and steadfast endurance. There’s more to the Christian life, but these remain certain marks of God’s Spirit at work. And yet we feel the circumstances of life trying to swing us from despair to delight. When circumstances grow dark and we take our eyes off the Savior, we lose our balance and swing toward despair. When life seems to be going well and we take our eyes off Christ, we swing towards blissful God-forgetfulness certain to end in sorrow.

Contemplating this swinging, wobbly, fallen but redeemed heart is what led the Puritans to talk about a joy in the all-satisfying Christ as the unchanging tuning fork hum for the Christian life.

The heart, let’s say, is a violin — a beautiful and delicate instrument made to make beautiful pleasing notes in the ear of its Maker. Previously stringless and useless, now refurbished in Christ, the violin fluctuates daily, finds itself so often out of tune, expands and contracts by the humidity or dryness of the seasons and the situation. Every day, several times throughout the day, the soul must be re-tuned again.

Joy in God is the pitch for our lives. Every day, several times throughout the day, the soul must be re-tuned again. But joy is the aim.

Always Rejoicing

This metaphor is especially striking when we assume our screeching, scratching tuneless heart-conditions cannot be justified by our circumstances. Rejoicing in God is a 24/7 command. The pitchfork hum is the sound of Philippians 4:4 — “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”

This means joy transcends circumstances, and prepares us for what’s to come our way in life, writes Puritan Richard Sibbes. Here’s how he said it in a sermon:

What is our life without joy? Without joy we can do nothing. We are like an instrument out of tune. An instrument out of tune it yields but harsh music. Without joy we are out of joint. We can do nothing well without joy, and a good conscience, which is the ground of joy. Without joy we cannot suffer afflictions. We cannot die well without it. Without joy, and the ground of joy, we can neither do, nor suffer, anything.1

This is why joy is the pitchfork hum we aspire to live in without ceasing. Joy is how we gauge the spiritual condition of our souls. Joy is the aim. Joy is the goal. Joy in God is the tuning fork for our hearts, and our shared joy is a mutual symphony to our Maker’s glory. Joy is not the frosting over the highlights of our lives, it’s the tune God intends for our 24/7 lives.

The Marrow

Another Puritan, Stephen Charnock, notes that the command to rejoice precedes the command to pray, indicating in his mind that God expects us to address him with a certain joy (see 1 Thessalonians 5:16–17). Of course God also wants us to draw near to him when we desire joy and don't feel it. But Charnock’s point is well taken. If God wants us to rejoice first, then draw near to him — if joy is the ideal condition God wants to be addressed — then of course, “delight is the marrow of religion.”2

It is. Joy in God is at the center of the Christian experience now, and will be for all eternity. Joy in God is at the heart of the gospel. Joy in God drives us to evangelism and missions. Joy in God makes enduring trials and pain possible. Joy in God is the expulsive power of a new affection that drives out the loving affections we naturally have for sin. Joy in God is the mutual aim of our fellowship. The Christian life, from start to finish, centers on joy in God, it’s the marrow of religion, it is the note we tune our souls to every day and every hour.

And that’s what Desiring God is all about. Don't imagine Desiring God is a group of people who live in permanent perfect pitch harmony with joy in God. We're not. Think of Desiring God (the blog, the sermon archive, the free books, the thousands of articles, and everything else here), as a Scripture-centered tuning fork, always here and available for you in this one great and glorious end — your greatest satisfaction and God’s greatest glory.


1 Richard Sibbes, Works, 3:223.

2 Stephen Charnock, Works, 5:371.


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Tony Reinke (@tonyreinke) is a content strategist and staff writer for Desiring God and the author of Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (2011) and John Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (2015). He hosts the Ask Pastor John and Authors on the Line podcasts, and lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and their three children.