I find it very significant that on the last night of His life Jesus talked a lot about joy. Not exactly the topic you would expect from somebody about to be tortured and killed. Is that what I would talk about in those circumstances? I really doubt it. I find that when I am facing difficulties and challenges I have a tendency to be consumed by them and tend not to find relief until they are over. I also find that I easily become self-focused and do not think very much about the people around me. I look more like a guy terrified of flying that is "white-knuckling" it until the plane lands. However, consider the following quotes from Jesus on that very night:
John 15:11-"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."
John 17:13-"...but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy."
John 16:22-"...no one will take away your joy"
There are other examples we could provide. However, it is clear that Jesus is emphasizing the topic of joy to His disciples on the night of his death. The stated goal for Jesus's teaching on this night was that His disciples would have joy. Why would He do this? What a strange topic to be discussing on this most horrific of nights. The simple answer is that Jesus knew that joy in the life of His disciples was essential if their mission was to be carried out. Any mission without joy will fizzle out. In their book "Joy Fueled: Catalyzing a Revolution of Joy" authors Kent Smith, Toni Daniels and John White describe joy as the the "high grade fuel" that God intends our "Christian engine" to run on. Ironically, our default "fuel" is often duty, guilt, and even vision, not in line with God's vision, which will not see us through the difficulties that life will bring our way.
I have seen this play out in my own life. I remember the first days of my Christian life as a 21 year old college student in 1981. Joy was the primary fuel that spurred me on to share with others, to attend church activities and to pray. As time went on, somehow I began to operate on the "lower grade fuel" of vision. I was now motivated by overly lofty thoughts of all of the lives that would be changed, by the churches that would be built, and the countries that would be evangelized etc. This motivation certainly has its place, however, it is not as "high octane" as joy. As more time went on I found myself settling for the the even lower grade motivational fuels of duty, guilt and obligation. Well-intentioned people in my life described in eloquent detail how far I was falling short and how much I needed to change. While they were correct in their analysis of my life, they did not provide me with the proper tools to sustain change. Unfortunately, I propagated the same techniques in my own leadership. My recent walk with God has been a quest to re-discover the "joy of the Lord" as the primary motivation in my life. This has given me great hope!
In Nehemiah 8:10 the Bible says "the joy of the Lord is your strength". For many years I read this passage as if it were saying that my joy about knowing God would be my strength. However, this is not what it says. The passage says that "the joy of the Lord" - that is, "the Lord's joy" is my strength. What is meant by "the Lord's joy"? What is God taking joy in? The paradigm shift for me was to realize that God takes joy in His children. In fact, God takes joy in me! In other words, my perception and belief that God takes joy in me is my strength. My motivation. This belief will make me get up and do something!
I have not historically pictured God as taking joy in me. However, this is exactly what the Bible says here and in other places. Isaiah 62:5-..."so will your God rejoice over you." Zephaniah 3:17-"...he will rejoice over you with singing". Even more significant is the fact that when these verses were first declared, God's children were having all sorts of spiritual challenges. How comforting to realize that God continues to have vision for us and delight in us even when we are struggling. And how significant to realize that Jesus had vision for his disciples even though he knew they would abandon him that very night!
Those of us who are parents know the power of this concept. Parents who express great delight in their children motivate them. On the other hand, parents who constantly criticize discourage their children. While it is relatively easy to take great delight in a cute baby, a rebellious teenager will prove to be much more challenging. However, the rebellious teenager, perhaps even more, needs to see the parent taking great delight in him as much as the baby does. So much of what scientists and doctors are discovering is how important it is to realize that joy is relational. Our view of God and our relationship with Him are at the heart of our strength and motivation to do His will. God designed us to picture Him delighting in us.
Not surprisingly, God also designed us to thrive within a group of people who take great delight in us. This is called the church! Do we define the church as a fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters taking great delight in us? Many people come from physical families who did not take great delight in them. Unfortunately, these individuals will take this negative view of themselves and mistakenly believe that God feels this way as well. God designed the church to be a place where those of us who are too weak to see God taking great delight in us can begin to see God's love through the delight of other people. This is of utmost importance and our church gatherings should be designed in such a way where this love can be expressed. I believe this is even more important than powerful sermons, wonderful singing and beautiful buildings. I also believe that most of our energy should go towards learning how to take great delight in each other and how we express this delight. We must not take this for granted. Transformation occurs when we realize that God takes great delight in us. Jesus knew that the joy of the Lord is our strength and made sure that he emphasized this with His disciples even on the eve of his death. The amazing result of this was that the "joy-fueled disciples" took this knowledge and carried this message to the ends of the earth! May we all experience the great joy God takes in His children!