The ultimate source of joy

In my study of joy, I have made a discovery. The Psalms are a wealth of information about what causes joy, what steals joy, and what is joy. And this morning, I am struck by two different thoughts from two different psalms. Let’s get right to it.

The first comes from Psalm 47:1. This verse calls all people, “Clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy” (ESV)! Other translations render “loud songs of joy” as “joyful praise” (NLT), “cries of joy” (NIV1984, NIV2011), “a jubilant cry” (HCSB), and “the voice of triumph” (KJV). Each of these introduces a slightly different nuance to the idea of joy. But what really interests me is why we’re supposed to shout to God with joy. That reasoning is explained in the rest of the psalm, which starts in verse 2 with this revelation: “For Yahweh, the Most High, is awe-inspiring, a great King over all the earth” (HCSB) The psalmist then goes on to detail several things that God alone does, and several things that God alone is, to justify this call for shouts of joy and triumph.

The point is this: we find joy in the person of God. But so that we don’t miss anything, notice what is all included here.

We should find joy in the identity of God: He is “Yahweh,” “the Most High,” “a great King” (v2); “the Lord” (v5); “our King” (v6); “King of all the earth” (v8); “the God of Abraham” (v9). Each of these names is important. Yahweh is the name which God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3. It means “I am who I am” and implies self-existence and transcendence. In other words, God’s existence does not depend on anything or anyone else, very much unlike ours. He is the Creator, not part of any creation. And none of that will ever change. “The Most High” tells us of His greatness and glory compared to everything else. “A great King” establishes Him not only as sovereign, but good at being sovereign. “The Lord” recognizes His deity and power. “Our King” owns Him as personal, choosing to have a real relationship with those who choose Him as their God. “King of all the earth” places Him over the whole of creation, rather than just a small portion or region of it. And “the God of Abraham” recognizes that He has been at work, relating with mankind, throughout the centuries.

We should also find joy in the attributes of God. To this end, the psalmist proclaimed that God is “Most High” (v2), “awe-inspiring” (v2), “great” (v2), “exalted” (v9). In addition to these explicit terms, we see implicit concepts: He’s mighty (v3), sovereign (vv4, 8), worthy (v5-6), wise (v7), and exceedingly noble (v9). In short, He doesn’t just have a bunch of titles; He is the epitome of everything good.

And we should find joy in the actions of God. “He subdues people… and nations” (v2). “He chooses for us our inheritance” (v3). He “reigns over the nations” and “is seated on His holy throne” (v8). So not only does He have titles and attributes, but He backs up all this stuff with action! And what’s maybe even better is the fact that He does most of this stuff on OUR behalf!

So we should take joy in God Himself. He is worthy and able in and of Himself to be a source of joy for us. In fact, I would probably submit that He is the only source of real, enduring joy that there is. But if that’s the case, then the question must be, how do we get joy from a person or God?

The answer to that was hinted in Psalm 43:4, where we read, “Then I will come to the altar of God, to God, my greatest joy” (HCSB). Now, Psalm 43 is more of a lament, filled with feelings of despair and desperation, but this one verse gives us a hint of what it’s going to take to find joy in God Himself: we must “come to the altar.”

Now, as you are probably aware, I am a pastor. So I have a rather vested interest in people coming to church. But let’s set that aside for a moment and consider just what the writer is saying here. The altar was located in the temple. In fact, once the tabernacle and temple were established, that was the only place the Jews were allowed to have altars. The fact that they did otherwise became a huge issue on a number of occasions! And the tabernacle or temple was to be the God’s dwelling place on earth. In short, the presence of the Lord was at the temple, which is where the altar was.

What, then, must we do to get joy from God Himself? Simply put, we must spend time in His presence.

I guess it makes sense. I mean, how can you possibly get anything from anyone if you don’t spend time with them. But how do we do that? Well, I think the answer lies in what was supposed to happen at the altar: Scripture reading, prayer, and worship. We can enter into God’s presence through any of these gateways, but I would suggest that the surest way to enter it is through all of them, simultaneously and consistently. And then never leaving.

What do I mean? Well, what if you memorized Scripture? Then, all day long you could be reciting verse(s) in your mind; you would be constantly in Scripture. And what if you adopted prayer not as an act, but as an attitude? 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us, “Pray constantly” (HCSB). For that to be possible, we must redefine prayer so that it is no longer just an action – though it should still be an action – but a manner in which we conduct life. As in, everything we say, think, and do, we do it as though God is standing there, and we’re in a conversation with Him. We talk with our friends as though God is standing there too. We play with our kids as though God is laughing alongside. We work as though God is hanging out in our cubicle. Because the truth is, He is. And what if everything that you said, thought, and did was done as an act of worship? In other words, what if you didn’t confine worship to that hour on Sunday morning when you sing songs and listen to the preacher drone on and on and on and on? Romans 12:1 calls believers to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.” If you are striving for holiness and pleasing God, and you live your entire life given entirely to that singular objective, then everything you do, from raising your hands in the service to clipping your toenails, becomes an act of worship.

And so you can live life in the presence of the Lord. Which opens the door for Him to shower you with His love and joy. Which enables you to know and have those things – love and joy – for yourself.

So, you want real, lasting joy? Get in the presence of the Lord and stay there.

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