The Path to True Joy – And It’s Not About You

by W. Choong

Many Christians (myself included) are like 5-year olds. We read the Word and pick out the nice bits, and conveniently ignore the difficult bits. How does that apply? Take John 15:7, where Jesus says:

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

Many of us would take to heart the second part of the verse that says that God will give us all we desire – and forget that we have to abide in Him! We want what we desire, and not what our Father in heaven wants for us. This is the perfect recipe for frustration. We yearn for more money, influence, a fulfilling career, and for Christians, even “spiritual” things such as ministry and outreach. All these things are good, and God does desire to bless us with them, but if we ask for such things when they are not part of His will, we will never be truly be satisfied.

God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. ~ John Piper

Let’s think about the context of John 15. In the five chapters running from John 13 to 17, Jesus is having a private time with his disciples at the Last Supper. What Jesus said to them was His last will and testament before He went on to the pain (and joy) of the Cross. And boy, did Jesus pour out all of Himself into those 5 chapters! In Chapter 13, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, and “loved them to the end” (v1). In Chapter 14, he promised to “prepare a place” (v1) in His Father”s house (which was mind-blowing to the Jewish disciples, because the distinct imagery was that of a Jewish man preparing a house for his betrothed, and as such, Jesus was offering a marriage proposal – to the soon-to-be birthed Church!). In Chapter 16, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will guide the disciples into “all truth” (v33). In Chapter 17, Jesus says something truly staggering – God the Father loves us the same way He loves the Son (v23)!

But if Chapters 13, 14, 16 and 17 constitute the “cake” that Jesus was offering, Chapter 15 would be the icing. Embedded in this chapter is the answer to the question that philosophers have wrestled with through the ages – how and where does man get joy?

What does Jesus say? We will get what we want, and the true joy that we desire, when we abide or remain in Him.

What does “abiding” mean in practical terms? Three things. To abide in Jesus means to talk to Him as a man talks to his friend. More than that, it means using the Word of God as “conversational material” to talk back to God. For example, Song of Songs 1:2 declares that His (God’s) love is “better than wine.” When we use this to talk to Him, we simply ask: “God, thank you that Your love is better than wine, better than all the finest things in the world. Please show me what this means.” And lastly, abiding involves obeying His commandments.

How then do we get true joy by doing these things? As we do them, our will and His will become indistinguishable – one and the same. If one is into Venn diagrams, we take His will to be one big circle, and our will a small circle. The area in which the two circles meet is life’s “divine intersection” – where joy is realised. By abiding more and more in Him – that is, when the smaller circle moves deeper into the big circle – the scope and depth of joy is maximised. Conversely, anywhere in the small circle (man’s will) which is not part of the “divine intersection” results in what the writer of Ecclesiastes refers to as the “vanity of vanities” (1:1).

Abiding in Him involves the simple “formula” of speaking to Him, using the Word to converse with Him and obeying His commandments.

John 15:7 is not some diabolical device for God to be a killjoy – taking away the things that we want and replacing them with things He wants. Rather, true joy stems not from getting what we want, but from asking God what He wants for us. This is the statistical equivalent of the “sure thing” – you will always get what you ask for, when your wants become His wants!

Therein lies Jesus’ promise of joy. Joy lies in the fact that the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are deeply committed to making us “ornaments of gold” (Songs 1:11) – that is, the Trinity will see that we grow in godly character. In John 15, Jesus shows how we can cooperate with God’s nurturing – we abide in Him. To abide in Him, we talk to Him, use the Word to interact with the Living Word and obey His commands, Jesus promises that His joy will remain in us, and that our “joy will be full” (15:11)! Unlike happiness, which is from without and based on external circumstances, true joy is from within. As John Piper writes, God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. C. S. Lewis called joy an “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” “Joy,” he said, “must be sharply distinguished both from happiness and from pleasure” [1] Lewis found joy because he had found God as its source.

Abiding in Him sounds simple, but consistent application of this principle is the path to true joy.

In On War, one of the classics in the study of war, Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote that “everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult.” This powerful axiom applies to our quest for joy. Abiding in Him involves the simple “formula” of speaking to Him, using the Word to converse with Him and obeying His commandments. But these “simple things,” however, can be difficult because it requires consistency, discipline and determination – even in the mundane, and even when He doesn’t seem to respond. But Jesus is worth all our effort! Press in to seek out the “true vine” (Jn 15:1) and source of all joy! He is the true source of all life, vibrancy in the Spirit and the fount that will satisfy the thirst of the human heart!

References [1] Leland Ryken, James C. Wilholt, Tremper Longman III (eds.), Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

Venn Diagram