Introduction to Joy

We were made for joy. And joy is found in relationship. As Marcus Warner and Dr. Jim Wilder says (“Rare Leadership“), when we can be our authentic selves we live from joy. Conversely, when we’re trying to live up to other people’s expectations, or from our own wounded soul, we’re operating from our counterfeit self. This is living from fear or anxiety. 

By the way, Dr. Wilder gives a fascinating presentation on the brain science behind joy here that you might find interesting. He explains it in laymen’s terms so it’s not not hard to follow.

Joy satisfies the two heart questions that haunts us in the deepest part of our soul: “Am I alone?” and “Do I matter?” God answers these deepest longings loud and clear with the incarnation of Christ!

Joy Comes To the World!

We all know this passage very well because we usually read it during Christmas, but try reading it this time with fresh eyes. Imagine the following scene taking place.

8-12 There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendour of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day, in David’s town, a Saviour has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12 PHILLIPS)

What the angel was declaring is that this infinite invisible God was coming down to them.

Joy has come into the world!

Throughout all human history, God was often interpreted as angry, distant, and demanding—someone you had to appease to stay his wrath. Other than through periodic divine revelation, one could only speculate on what God was actually like. After all, to use C.S. Lewis’s analogy, it would be a bit like Hamlet trying to know Shakespeare.

This groping in the dark was the impetus of religion (Acts 17:22-28).

But now God Himself was coming to us to make Himself known (John 1:14; 18), and humankind was about to find out that God is love, which means that He is about other-centered, self-giving love demonstrated by Jesus’ life and teachings.

Jesus was the announcement of the end of religion (Acts 17:30-31).

The Good News!

The word “gospel” means “The good news that brings great joy.”

What is this great joy? As I shared last time, joy is not the same thing as happiness, which is circumstantially driven. You can be happy by yourself but joy requires relationship.

Joy is the feeling of pleasure or elation experienced when we’re with people who are very glad to be with us. We usually experience it when we’re with people we deeply love. Being in love is a profound form of joy.

We were wired this way because the ultimate source of joy and pleasure is found in God’s presence (Psalm 16:11), and God has pulled out all the stops to make sure we will always be with Him so our lives could be filled with joy.

Notice what the angels also declare on that glorious night:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14 NKJV)

Unfortunately, a lot of modern translations make His “goodwill” sound conditional. But there is no condition in the original Greek. For you Greek geeks….

δοξα εν υψιστοις θεω και επι γης ειρηνη εν ανθρωποις ευδοκιας (Strongs)

 “Glory to God in highest. And peace on earth among people good-will.” (Literal rendering)

When we strip away the inserted words added to the text for clarity (but often biased), it simply says that God has determined to arbitrarily make peace and demonstrate His desire for our highest good. He showed us this by sending His Son into the world to reconcile us to Himself (1 Cor.5:19 – notice that God is not the one who needs reconciling!)

He did this because He’s a good Father who wants His alienated kids back (Eph.1:4-7; Gal.4:4-6).

God has declared His intentions toward us. With the incarnation of Christ, and then by giving us His indwelling Spirit, He has determined we will never be alone again!

“for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] “(Heb.13:5b AMP)

Good-will is God’s kind of love

The word for “good-will” is εὐδοκία (eudokia), which means:  favor, good pleasure, purpose, intention, desire to do good. This is very similar to the Greek word for God’s love which is ἀγάπη (agapē) and means: good will, favor, benevolence. Joy is found in this other-centered good-will because God is love.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 NIV)

So when we talk about joy we’re really talking about the pleasure we derive from this other-centered, self-giving love experienced in relationship. This is why selfish people can be happy but they rarely experience true joy. But when we open our hearts and let go of our fear-based insecurities and distrust and begin to appreciate and even love others as they truly are in God’s estimation, relationships can be built from joy.

More on that next time…

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 38 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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8 Responses to Introduction to Joy

  1. Oh amen, Mel! Now that’s the whole essence of the gospel, “I bring you glorious news of great joy.” I enjoyed Dr. Wilder’s presentation, too.

    Oh but trigger alert too, because I live in an area of rugged individualists, dedicated to isolation and separation, and we have the social issues to prove it. People really only heal in community. That is simply biology and psychology, it is a fact of human nature. If you have issues, it is quite likely you have relationship fractures, both as individuals and as a community. Not long ago I showed a clip of a lioness who got separated from her pride. So she laid down in the grass, cried frequently, and did all the things cats do when they are loosing their minds. Fortunately the other lionesses returned and although she was shell shocked, she soon began to heal. Watch how wolves hunt, they are always seeking the one who is alone, weakened and separated from the herd.

    The joy of the Lord is our strength, and there is also strength in our numbers. The urge to withdraw when we are wounded, depressed, whatever, can be powerful, but it is the wrong course of action.

    • Mel Wild says:

      People really only heal in community.

      This is both true and ignored by most people! Like you said later in your comments, we withdraw when we’re wounded and depressed, which is the very opposite thing we should do. Sadly, I don’t think our culture has been more relationally dysfunctional than it is now…at least in my lifetime. And social media and the Internet has only isolated us further because words on a screen won’t bring joy. It’s actual smiles on faces and hugs that bring joy. Of course, our main source and supply of joy is in an intimate relationship with the Lover of our soul.

  2. Lily Pierce says:

    I hadn’t considered the idea that joy comes from relationship, but good point! That’s why we have “unspeakable joy” as children of the loving King. I appreciated the different Bible verses included throughout.

  3. sklyjd says:

    I have to comment on your American Christian interpretations of the English language.

    “What is this great joy? As I shared last time, joy is not the same thing as happiness, which is circumstantially driven. You can be happy by yourself but joy requires relationship.”

    This is serious nonsense, you are trying to hijack a word for an ideological view. The word is the same as happy contentment, pleasure, satisfaction, cheerfulness, gaiety, joyfulness, joyousness, enjoyment etc. according to all the dictionaries, even the Merriam Webster says joy is “a state of happiness or felicity,” but nothing to do with having to have a relationship.

    Dr. Wilder is not a neuroscientist. He is a theological Psychologist and an apologetic. One web site claims: “We link brain science with the Bible to create simple, practical tools for churches to build authentic community and transform lives.” To do this he contorts some of the reality of neuroscience to make it fit with God and Christianity into the same box. He has not however mentioned that discoveries found in neuroscience brain scans equally apply to us all.

    This You Tube video explains the reality of joy or happiness as an enlightened state if you are interested: “Finding our enlightened state | Andrew Newberg | TEDxPenn” I will not send a linked address as I do not want to try and force anything on you, but this guy is not your enemy, he is not discussing any beliefs, but he is a real neuroscientist who has done the brain scans.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I’m allowing this one comment from you skyljd, even though it’s pretentious and combative. I’m allowing it because you bring up a common misconception about joy and happiness here that I didn’t clarify in the post. And, by the way, dictionary definitions usually reflect how the word is used in popular culture, which changes from time to time, in some cases to have it mean quite the opposite of how it was originally used.

      This is serious nonsense, you are trying to hijack a word for an ideological view. The word is the same as happy contentment, pleasure, satisfaction, cheerfulness, gaiety….

      Your comment is pretentious nonsense. Are you a theologian? A linguist? So, your refutation is Merriam Webster? LOL! First and foremost, we are using the word how Scripture uses the word, and also how these words were used for centuries. Happy and joy have been conflated to meaningless distinction because of misuse, not because they mean the same thing. Here’s some etymology on both words, including the Greek definitions (which are the biblical definitions):

      happy (adj.)
      late 14c., “lucky, favored by fortune, being in advantageous circumstances, prosperous;” of events, “turning out well,” from hap (n.) “chance, fortune” Old English bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.”

      Greek (happy)
      μακάριος (makarios)
      Fortunate, blessed, as a noun it can depict someone who receives divine favor, Mt. 5:3, 4, 5, 7; Lk. 1:45; Acts 26:2; Rom.14:2

      Joy
      c. 1200, “feeling of pleasure and delight;” c. 1300, “source of pleasure or happiness,”

      Greek (joy)
      χαρά (chara): joy, gladness, rejoicing, Mt. 2:10; 13:20,44; 28:8; meton, joy, cause of joy, occasion of rejoicing, Lk. 2:10; Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19, 20; bliss, Mt. 25:21, 23.

      Dr. Wilder is not a neuroscientist. He is a theological Psychologist and an apologetic.

      Nice dismissal. No one said he was a neuroscientist. But unless your particular qualifications are more than just looking up stuff on Google and Wikipedia, he’s eminently more qualified that you to talk about how joy affects the brain and theology.

      Sklyjd, you are free to have your own opinion about God and these things. But you’re not free to come here with your pretentions and think you can correct our theology because you have Google and YouTube. Have a nice day.

      • Citizen Tom says:

        @Mel

        Well done rebuttal. I was kind of curious about the way you were using the words happiness and joy. So in spite of the fact he was being unnecessarily combative I of appreciated that part of sklyjd comment.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Thanks Tom. I defined the difference in my response, from the etymology. The Bible uses a different word for each. While joy can lead to feeling happy, joy does not depend on circumstances. You can have joy in the most miserable of conditions, but you won’t be happy about it. And, in Scripture, joy is found in relationship, also in bonding, which I outlined in the next post (“Living from Joy”).

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