Podcast listener Zach Howell writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, is it okay to come to the Lord weary, beaten, broken down, and without joy? Will he take you in without joy?”
Here’s what Jesus says: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Or in another place, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I think that is exactly the situation that Zach is describing. Or again, “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger” (John 6:35).
We Get Joy, He Gets Glory
Jesus is honored when we come to him for help. In Zach’s case, the help he needs is help to have joy again — help not to be weary, broken down, and without joy. This is crucial: our joy does not happen away from Jesus so that it can function as a ticket to Jesus. So the question is kind of posed like, “If I don’t have it, can I go get it?” Well, our joy happens with Jesus. The reason any of us comes to Jesus is because he is the joy we seek. We don’t get it somewhere else and then come and say, “I have got it, Jesus. Can I come now?” No, we come to get it because he is it.
“I have need. He has fullness. I will glorify his fullness by coming to him for joy.”
So the psalmist prays like this: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:12). He is coming to God saying clearly, “I have lost my joy, and I know you are the only true source of it, so I am coming to you. Please restore it as I come.”
Here is Psalm 85:6: “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” So we are like dead men and need reviving. We need life, and the effect of this life will be joy. What kind of joy? “In you” — “rejoice in you.” “We come to you lifeless and joyless so that you will give life, and that life will spring up with joy.”
And one more. “Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul” (Psalm 86:4). So he is seeking gladness. He lifts up his soul to God. It is like lifting up the empty cup from Psalm 116:13: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” “My cup is empty, Lord. I have poured it out. I have done all I can do. I need gladness. So I come to you and lift up my soul for refreshment.”
We Have Need, He Has Fullness
So my answer is yes, Zach. It is OK to come to God without any perceived affection of joy, not because joylessness is good and not because joylessness is acceptable. What is good and acceptable is the glory that God gets when we declare that we are done with all the failing pleasures of the slums of sin and acknowledge that God is the fountain of life, and when we come to him for joy and rest no matter what it costs.
So the motive for coming is not based on prior experiences of joy in God. The motive for coming is that he is the fountain of life. I have need. He has fullness. I will glorify his fullness by coming to him for joy.