How Active Should We Be in the Pursuit of Joy?
Pastor John, how much of joy in God is willed by the Christian, and how much of it is just given as a gift from God? And how do you balance that distinction between willing the joy and receiving the joy as a gift from God?
I think we err on both sides of this fence. That is, we become will-power people, and we become passive, waiting people. There is no doubt that authentic joy cannot be immediately willed. In other words, if you are feeling rotten, you can’t say, “Not a problem. I will just decide to be happy,” and immediately become happy. That doesn't happen.
And from that, some people draw the inference that you don’t ever try to will joy, but that is not true. You should do the kinds of things you can do to put yourself in the way of joy. I think when Paul says, “Sow to the Spirit” (Galatians 6:8), he means taking steps to put yourself in the way of the Spirit’s activity and praying for joy.
“Realize how helpless you are to secure your own spiritual joy. Then do everything you can to pursue it.”
So when the psalmist says, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18), and then he prays, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love” (Psalm 90:14), clearly, he is willing that something happen which isn’t now happening. He doesn't see wonderful things in the Word of God, so he is asking God to show him. He doesn't feel satisfaction, so he is asking God to give it. And in that sense he wills to pursue the satisfaction.
So there are remarkable things you can do with your brain to reject things that are self-defeating and put in your mind things that are joy-producing, but in the end, joy is a gift. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. I want to encourage everybody to realize how helpless we are to have true spiritual joy, and therefore, expect it to be a spontaneous work of the Spirit. That is one side. And I am going to encourage everybody to do everything you can by using the means of grace in order to awaken, kindle, quicken, and pursue that joy.