John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
You can’t be around a two-year-old very long and not learn a little bit about joy.
Two-year-olds have gotten a bad rap throughout the ages. Yes, they develop some strong wills. Yes, they are full of sin. Yes, they can throw a tantrum on the spot. But there is a whole other side to the coin that isn’t talked about nearly as much. My two-year-olds could look up mid-tantrum, see a sheet of sparkly stickers, and immediately go from crying to laughing with glee. Their world gets rocked for a moment when they don’t get their way or when they can’t process what’s going on, but as soon as they see a reminder that God is still on His throne, then all is sunshine again. I can see little tiny glimmers of what life must have been like before the Fall, when I watch the unwavering joy of my little children. I don’t know how many times we’ve said as parents, “It sure doesn’t take much to make them happy, does it?” You’ve seen it at Christmas. You spend a month’s paycheck on the latest must-have toy and ten minutes after opening it they’re having a blast playing dodge ball with wadded up wrapping paper and making forts out of the empty boxes. Kids have this underlying spirit of joy. I think of the stories I have heard of children overseas who have next to nothing, materially speaking, and then received a shoebox from Operation Christmas Child and were overwhelmed that the whole box was for them, and their faces shone with joy.
I have learned so much about joy and contentment from watching my kids.
Sure, they have problems. Sure, they have moments when they are the picture-perfect display of selfishness. They throw their little tantrums because, well, we aren’t living life before the Fall. We’re living life after the Fall. But children revert back to their state of joy much faster than many adults do, possibly because they are less encumbered by the effects of the Fall than we are. They do not carry as much baggage. They haven’t sinned as much or experienced as much heartache, generally speaking. Whatever the reason, they are a beautiful illustration of Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Sadness will come, even deep deep grief. But when our roots are firmly planted in the true Vine, the fruit of joy will still shine even through times of grief and hardship. And their joy is contagious. If you don’t believe me, go on a puddle-walk with some preschoolers right after a rain and see if some joy-fruit doesn’t start to ripen in your heart.
So watch the children that God has placed in your life. Watch how easily their world is made right again after a disappointment or a hurt. Watch how they dance with glee, without a care for who may be looking at them. Go to a children’s movie at the theater and listen to them during the funny parts. They don’t try to stifle their joy. They laugh out loud with great big belly laughs. As we grow, many of us adopt the unfortunate habit of becoming harder and harder to please. Maybe it takes a lot to make us laugh out loud. Maybe it takes many more dollars spent on our gift under the tree for our faces to shine with joy. Maybe we would never dare to dance for joy for fear of someone seeing us. We need to learn much from watching these little children who live life with joy, because we are commanded to live in joy. Over and over in the Scriptures, believers are called to express joy and rejoice.
Deuteronomy 26:11 “And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.”
Psalm 32:11 “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.”
Psalm 98:4 “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”
2 Corinthians 13:11 “Finally, brothers, rejoice.”
Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16 “Rejoice always.“
Then there are those verses that we really would rather skip over. The ones that talk about the hard times. Those times when the felt desire to sing and laugh and dance is nowhere to be found. These verses show us that even then, when we feel like weeping, we are called to rejoice.
Romans 5:3 “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings”
Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”
James 1:2 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds”
1 Peter 1:6 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials”
1 Peter 4:13 “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
I think the simple statement at the end of Luke 10:20 best sums up the reason for all this rejoicing: “…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
As Christians, Jesus is the source of our joy.
We are loved by Him, with an everlasting love. Our sins are covered by His blood. He has paid the price to make us His own and present us to the Father dressed in His own righteousness. We are loved and accepted by the Holy Creator of the Universe. Joy that flows from that knowledge is the joy that withstands persecution, trials, sadness, grief, disappointment, and hurt. I believe that a little child, sobbing with the indignation of a boo-boo until it is instantly healed by Mommy’s kiss, is a temporary picture of this everlasting joy. Just like her joy that bounces back so easily is really rooted in the fact that she is well-loved, the fruit of joy in our lives is rooted in the fact that we are well-loved when we know we deserve wrath. How can we not live in joy when we understand that?
So the fruit of joy can be cultivated in us by watching from a distance and emulating the joy in the children around us. But there is a different form of joy, also mentioned in Scripture, that can be cultivated only as we love those children, as we get close to them and personally invest in their lives. In many passages, especially in the epistles, we see Paul and the other authors sharing the joy they have for the people they have grown to love. Their ultimate joy is in Christ, of course, but they also say that their brothers and sisters are their joy.
2 Corinthians 7:16 “I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.”
Philippians 4:1 “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and our joy.”
2 Timothy 1:4 “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.”
Philemon 1:7 “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”
3 John 1:4 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
Paul and John unashamedly share that their brothers and sisters bring them great joy. They have poured out their lives for these believers. And now they find joy in watching them grow and mature and walk with the Lord. They invested all they had into the ones they loved, giving of themselves in the way we talked about earlier. And the return on their investment of love was joy.
To hold a baby feels very good. But to hold my own baby—there are no words to describe that joy. To watch a little gymnast or swimmer come in first in their event brings a smile to my face, but when that gymnast or swimmer is my own precious girl, my heart almost bursts. When I hear about the salvation of the child of an acquaintance, I am glad. But when I hear my own child profess that Jesus has rescued her from her sins, I rejoice in an exponentially deeper way. When you hear that revival has broken out in a youth group across the state, you rejoice. But when revival breaks out among the teenagers in your own church, the ones you have loved and helped raise and prayed for specifically, there are no words for your joy. Anyone who has spent time investing in these kids feels a parental joy, like Paul and John express, in their accomplishments and blessings.
Yes, it costs us much to really love and invest in a child. But we will reap joy that is grown in no other way.
It’s a cold-hearted grownup who can watch the joy of a child without smiling at least a little. That smile is a tiny spark of joy. But there is no way to measure the joy that children bring us when we have loved them deeply, invested in them, taken the risk to open our heart to them, laid down our own desires in order to meet their needs.
The sweetest verses in Scripture that mention joy are the ones that tell us that God rejoices when He sees us. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Can you imagine that? The Creator of the universe looks at all that He has made and sings with joy over us. How amazing is His love for us. How amazing is the grace that covers our sin so that His rejoicing is possible. And how incredible His goodness that allows us the gift of experiencing a tiny glimmer of the joy He has over us when we find joy in the children He places around us.