“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross...” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV).
For the past year or so, the Lord has been stirring my heart around the idea of joy. Where is your joy? We’re supposed to enjoy life, right? If I, as a Christian, am always angry, always stressed, always filled with anxiety about life, never happy… well, what kind of life is that? Why would anyone who sees that (especially my kids) want to follow Jesus? “Follow Jesus, and you can be a hot mess, too!” God has been bringing my thoughts back to joy time and again, showing me in his Word that joy is fundamental to the Christian life.
A couple of weeks ago, I started reading The Other Half of Church by Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks. In it, they talk about how God created our brains to function. To my surprise, they had a chapter devoted to the topic of—you guessed it—joy. Wilder, who has a PhD in clinical psychology, talks about how God created our brains to run on joy the way a car engine runs on gas. When the gas tank is empty, the engine stops running. When our joy runs out, our brains stop developing, especially into the image of Christ. Joy is fundamental to the Christian life.
Now, most people hear that we’re supposed to live joy-filled lives and assume that means more hobbies, more fun, less hours in the office. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, right? Not exactly. Getting the work-rest rhythm out of balance does dampen joy. But one thing we’ve seen in American society is that more hobbies and more entertainment don’t necessarily equate to increased joy. Never before in human history have people enjoyed so much on-demand entertainment and access to any hobby imaginable. And never before in human history has there been such widespread boredom, depression, and anxiety.
Wilder and Hendricks point out that joy is mediated through the face. When God turns his face toward us and makes his face to shine on us, we experience joy in his presence. When we turn our faces toward each other with smiles on our lips and love in our eyes, our joy tanks are refilled. We don’t need more entertainment, and we may not need more hobbies. We need face to face relationships with God and others. So, let’s put our devices down, turn our screens off, and make space in our lives for just that!