True Joy: What It Is and Where to Find It

Blog pictures.001.jpeg

Common ground

Everyone longs to be happy.

In fact, one could make the case that the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate authority of our culture today. “Do what makes you happy. You owe it to yourself to be happy. Find your joy.” All people want happiness.

And yet, even with that pursuit so emphasized and celebrated, and even with all the resources we have available to us today to make it happen, many are not happy—at least not to the extent they’d like and with the consistency they’d desire. Instead, many lives around us are marked by confusion, frustration, purposelessness, anxiety, self-loathing, and depression. Their smiles on social media often disguise the sadness off camera. 

I’m convinced this is one of the most powerful evangelistic tools Christians have today. The world may laugh at our commitment to the Bible, scoff at the claim of resurrection, and shake their heads at the notion of objective truth, but they will be irresistibly drawn to single-minded, unwavering joy. And we, as the people of God, can show them where to find it.

At least, in theory we can.

What happens when joylessness comes to church on Sunday? What happens when the pews are filled with sad clowns—smiling on the outside, but frowning on the inside?

Obviously, if God’s people aren’t truly and consistently joyful, it’s going to be difficult to share that joy with others. Instead, we want to be familiar with both the type of joy we’re invited to have as well as how we can build it into our lives.

And that’s what Psalm 100 gives us. In it we’re given a description of biblical joy as well as the foundation for that joy.

A description of joy

The psalmist begins by, not only commanding joy from God’s people but also by describing the joy we are invited to have.

Contagious excitement

First, the psalmist describes the joy as contagious excitement. He writes:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth (v. 1).

This shouting is a victory cry. It’s the same shout as Israel’s armies gave right before the walls of Jericho came down. It’s the same shout as God’s people gave after Goliath hit the dirt and the Philistines turned tail. It’s the same shout the remnant gave when they had finally re-laid the foundation of the temple in Jerusalem after returning from exile. These are excited cheers of success.

That’s what the psalmist is calling for: “Shout to the Lord!” God’s people are invited, encouraged, and even commanded to proclaim victory in one voice with a contagious excitement.

I say “contagious” because it’s “all the earth!” It’s almost a mob-mentality. You’re familiar with this type of contagious excitement if you’ve even been to a well-attended sporting event in which the home team is winning! The psalmist is calling for a contagious excitement. 

Enthusiastic submission

Second, the psalmist describes the joy as enthusiastic submission.

Worship the Lord with gladness (v. 2a).

“Worship” here can also be rendered “serve.” The idea is that we’re being called to gladly subject ourselves to a Power that is worthy of that surrender. 

In fact, that’s really what worship is all about: Declaring the worthiness of God to receive our service and submission. This has always been the call for God’s people.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12).

What does the Lord require of his people? Everything! And, the psalmists adds, put a smile on your face while you do it! Our joy in the Lord involves an enthusiastic submission to God’s character, his will, and his ways.

Audible adoration

Third, we find our joy described in terms of an audible adoration. Verse one assumed this, but look at verse 2:

Come before him with joyful songs (v. 2b)

The author isn’t encouraging subtle foot-tapping or undetectable singing in our heads. (Which is too bad, because I have perfect pitch in my own head!) No! He’s calling for God’s people to experience such excitement and joy in the presence of our God that we can’t keep the song inside. It bubbles out of our mouths like a sanctified flu! We can’t keep it in!

Speaking of vomit (!):

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18–19).

Instead of drinking until something comes out involuntarily, how about being so filled with the Spirit that the good stuff comes out! The author of Psalm 100 is calling God’s people to audible expressions of adoration. Speak up! Sing loud! Be heard! 

Grateful praise

Finally, dropping to verse 4, we find that the psalmist describes true joy as grateful praise.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name (v. 4).

During the time in which this was written, the temple was where God’s presence dwelled on earth. He literally was there in a special way. So, for the psalmist to invite God’s people to enter its gates and walk its courts was to invite them to approach God himself. 

And, as you come, he writes, come with gratitude in your heart because of to whose presence you’re drawing near for worship; a thanksgiving no doubt rooted in who he is and what he’s done.

The psalmist here describes the joy that God’s people are invited to participate in, a joy characterized by contagious excitement, enthusiastic submission, audible adoration, and grateful praise.

Does that sound like you? Ask yourself these question: When I think about my relationship with God, do I get excited? Is my life characterized by glad submission to his Word? Are there times I get so overwhelmed by him I can’t keep my mouth shut? Do I approach him with gratitude? Do I experience the joy the psalmist describes? If not, why not?

The foundation of joy

We find potential answers as we move on in the psalm. While we’ve been given a description of joy, now we’re shown the foundation of that joy. 

And as we examine its biblical foundation we can understand why so many people lack true joy, including Christians. When we don’t understand the foundation of true joy, we try and build our happiness on just about anything, including things that are unable to support the weight of our expectations—a great marriage, perfect children, material possessions, reputation, passport stamps, experiences, or pleasure. 

These are good things, but building our joy upon any of those is like building a house on a foundation of jello. 

So, what is the foundation supposed to be? Psalm 100 gives us two pillars upon which joy is built: A right understanding of God and a right understanding of ourselves.

Pillar #1: Who God is

The psalmist opens verse three with a call to recognize God:

Know that the Lord is God (v. 3a).

True joy like that described in this psalm stems from the understanding that this God is the God and there is no other. He has no equal and no rival.

Verse 5 then lists three specific attributes of this joy-creating, joy-inspiring, joy-sustaining God. These are not exhaustive in length of scope; they’re snapshots the psalmist wants us to consider and whet our appetites and prick our memories.

He begins with God’s immeasurable goodness.

For the Lord is good (v. 5a).

He doesn’t do good things, he is good. And because he is good, James tells us that he is only able to give good things (1:17). His goodness is immeasurable.

Then comes his inexhaustible love [100:5B].

… and his love endures forever (v. 5b).

This word “love” carries the understanding of mercy, favour, blessing, and love all rolled into one. And, according to this psalm, it’s everlasting. Again, God does not love, he is love. Just as his goodness is immeasurable, so God’s lovingkindness is inexhaustible.

Finally, the psalm closes with a declaration of God’s unwavering faithfulness.

… his faithfulness continues through all generations (v. 5c).

God is totally trustworthy, unrelentingly honest, and completely steadfast. God is dependable and loyal. That’s why Paul could write to Titus, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Tit. 1:1–2).

Paul confidence in eternal life is rooted in God’s unwavering faithfulness.

Pillar #2: Who we are

That’s Pillar #1 of the foundation of joy: Knowing who God is. Pillar #2 is found in verse 3: Who we are.

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture (v. 3)

Feel the contrast! He’s the God with no equal or rival, immeasurably good, inexhaustibly loving, and unwaveringly faithful. We’re none of those things. Instead, we’re created and owned by God, and likened to sheep—simple, defenceless, needy animals who are absolutely dependant on their shepherd to survive. That’s who we are.

This isn’t a slight against humanity but an invitation to true enjoyment in life, absolute gladness and freedom from carrying burdens we are not capable of carrying.

A scrambling culture

Two pillars that make up the foundation upon which true joy is built: Right knowledge of God and of ourselves.

No wonder our world lacks joy. Our culture, if it acknowledges God at all, sees some unrecognizable version of him. They diminish him, shrink him, humanize him, and even get rid of him.

At the same time, we worship humanity. Sheep? No way. We’re gods and rulers. We answer to no authority but our own pleasures and preferences.

And, tragically, without the biblical foundation in place, there can be no true joy. The world will never find it. They will settle for some pseudo-joy that temporarily satiates their innate desire for worth, peace, and stability, but it will always be less than what God offers. 

Like I said: A joyful Christian is a powerful evangelistic tool.

But that assumes we’re joyful as believers. What happens when we’re not? Perhaps you’re reading this and you don’t feel you could point anyone toward joy. You haven’t felt joy, it seems, in a long time. All you see are dark clouds.

Or maybe you know joy, but it seems hard to keep. You find joy to be a slippery, evasive reality. 

If that’s your reality, then I would suggest that your foundation could use strengthening. Perhaps even without knowing it, your understanding of God and/or your understanding of yourself has slipped away from reality.

This isn’t uncommon for Christians today. As we’re inundated by a world’s sad understanding of happiness, sometimes we’re tempted to settle for what they’re chasing. 

And, when we do that, often we forget that suffering and lamenting are not antithetical to Christian joy, a joy built upon the foundation described in Psalm 100. Knowing who God is and who we are allows for true joy, peace, contentment, and trust in the midst of the deepest grief because neither of those pillars shift in any storm. (In fact, oftentimes it’s joy seen in the midst of suffering that is most noticeable and inexplicable to a watching world!)

We have more reason for joy!

And, as much as the psalmist knew about God and himself, today, as New Testament believers, we have so much more information to go on as revelation has progressed. You think he knew about God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness? He didn’t know about the cross!

He didn’t hear about goodness personified in Jesus. He couldn’t have predicted the love involved in God sending his Son to die. When he called God faithful, he was looking back at promises fulfilled and looking forward to a coming Redeemer. How much more do we do that today?

Who is God? With the psalmist we declare he is good, loving, and faithful.

And who are we in relationship to him? We’re forgiven, guiltless, justified, righteous, adopted, indwelled, gifted, sealed, seated in the heavenliness with Christ, and destined for glory. That’s who we are! 

With that foundation laid, life do your worst. I’ll grieve and mourn. I’ll wrestle and fight. But if I keep my eyes locked on who God is and who I am in relation to him, nothing can steal my joy. Nothing!

Donald W. McCullough once wrote, “We think we know what will secure greater happiness … the list is as long as humans are ingenious in imagining greener grass on the far side of the fence. But we don’t realize how hungry we really are. Small potatoes won’t satisfy. We need a banquet table only God can spread." 

And, as we saw in Psalm 100, God is inviting us to come and eat and experience a joy that is sure and deep and unrelenting. When we do that, we can with all sincerity, shout for joy to the Lord, and invite all the earth to join us.