Monday, January 21, 2013

Cultivating a Heart of Joy

As I was recently reading through the book of Psalms in my personal devotions, I found it very interesting how often the theme of joy kept coming up, and so I decided to make a list of every reference to joy or delight in the book and then look for common threads.  I found that there are over 110 references of this kind in the book of Psalms!  That, in and of itself, reveals to me that joy was truly characteristic of the human writers of this book, but I also found it to be very instructive as to the secret of true joy, not only for these writers, but for us as well!

As I began to examine these many references to joy or delight, I found that the overwhelming majority of these verses express the joy of the psalmist in God Himself and in spending time in His presence (4:7; 9:2; 16:11; 17:15; 21:6; 32:11; 33:1; 33:12; 34:2; 34:5; 34:8; 37:4; 40:4; 40:16; 43:4; 63:5, 11; 64:10; 65:4; 66:6; 70:4; 84:4; 85:6; 97:12; 73:25-26; 104:34; 105:3; 144:15; 145:16, 19). David declares that he had found joy in God’s presence (16:11) and calls God’s people to rejoice in Him, too (33:1). Truly, all who will seek God will find Him to be completely satisfying, and thus they will discover in Him the truest joy possible to man (34:5; 40:16)!

Before a person can have a right relationship with God and live in His presence, however, it is necessary that their sins be forgiven by God, and thus Psalm 32:1 expresses the joy of being forgiven by a holy God.  This is possible only through faith in the blood of Jesus, which completely paid the price for our sin and provided for those who place their trust in Him to have a restored relationship with God (Rom. 3:23; 1 John 1:9). 

Once we have entered into a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, it is necessary that we walk in obedience to Him in order to experience the blessing and joy of fellowship with Him (Ps. 1:11-12; 40:8; 112:1; 119:1-2; 128:1).  So important is this that the psalmist can even say that “happy is the man You discipline and teach from Your law” (94:12).  When we are walking in disobedience to God, this can bring nothing but grief, and God lovingly disciplines His wayward children in order to bring them to repentance and back into fellowship with Him, the place of greatest joy!
Another thing that stood out to me is how many times the idea of joy is linked to praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for Who He is and what He has done. In Psalm 71:23, the psalmist writes, "my lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You." in 92:4, we read "You have made me rejoice, Lord, by what You have done; I will shout for joy because of the works of Your hands." Again, in 103:2-5, he says, "My soul, praise the Lord and do not forget all His benefits," then goes on to list several specific ones, including that "He satisfies you with goodness." In Psalm 9:14; 13:5; and 35:9, David praises God specifically for His salvation and deliverance; in Ps. 31:7 and 59:16, he praises God and rejoices in His faithful love. In all of these examples, the psalmist's joy is directly linked to his praise of God.  When our hearts are full of praise to our great God, they will naturally overflow with joy in all that He is and has done for us!

In Psalm 119, we see something else that brought great joy to the heart of David – the Word of God!  In fact, nearly every verse of this psalm mentions God’s Word, though David uses many different terms for it (translated decrees, commands, precepts, statutes, instruction, etc.).  David found immense joy, not just in reading, but in constant meditation upon God’s Word, which he had memorized extensively and continually brought to mind.  In the book Living the Psalms, which I quoted from in my last post, I found an interesting insight on the word "enthusiasm" that I thought was really neat! Swindoll entitles his study of Psalm 119 "The Grind of Low Enthusiasm," and he points out that the word "enthusiasm" comes from two Greek words meaning "in" and "God," and thus we see the idea that "enthusiasm" is found in God and comes from being "in God," or spending time in His Word.

Psalm 119 is not the only place where we find mention of rejoicing in God’s Word, though.  Psalm 112:1 tells us, “Happy is the man who fears the Lord, taking great delight in His commandments.”  To take great delight in something implies spending much time engaged in it and making it a priority.  When God’s Word truly becomes our delight, and we are spending time daily filling our minds with it, our hearts will surely be filled with the joy of learning more about the God Who speaks to us through its pages, and we will find ourselves often throughout the day bringing to mind and rejoicing in the truths we discover therein - eternal, life-changing truths!
Finally, I was struck by the words “I will rejoice” found several times (9:2, 14; 31:7; 35:9; 63:7; 104:34)! Those who penned these words realized an important truth that can transform the life of a Christian who is struggling to find joy in life – joy is a choice!  We have abundant reasons to be thankful - God’s presence with us, forgiveness of sins and a right relationship with Him, His character and goodness to us, His strength and help in trouble, His mighty works, and the list goes on - but we can choose instead to focus on whatever seems to be going wrong in our lives and develop a complaining spirit rather than a joyful spirit!  A joyful heart must be cultivated, as we daily make a choice to focus on and rejoice in God, His Word, and His countless blessings to us!

I came away from this study of Psalms with a renewed perspective of where true joy comes from and how I can be cultivating a heart of joy, regardless of what my circumstances may be!  I belong to a God Who has forgiven me, Who dwells with me and will never leave me, Who never changes, Who is my comfort and strength in affliction, Who chastens me in love and draws me back when I stray from Him, and Who has given me His Word so that I might learn more about Him and His will for my life!  Those are some pretty amazing reasons to be joyful, and I want to choose to focus my thoughts on these things and find true and lasting joy every day in the source of all joy Himself!

No comments:

Post a Comment