Chapter 1: The Search for Durable JoyVerily, verily, I say unto you…your sorrow shall be turned into joy. John 16:20
Opening Prayer: Lord, I can't figure out why the world looks so crazy and cruel, and I'm not sure how you can give me joy in the midst of this turmoil. Please open my eyes and my mind to understand Your plan and grasp what's missing in my life.
Hidden in Plain Sight
The secret of joy isn't buried somewhere deep underground. It's hidden in plain sight, where any child can find it.
It's been sitting there for nearly 2,000 years, available to anybody willing to accept it. Some receive it, but most people walk right by, unwilling to believe that joy can be so simple.
True joy is strangely durable, able to withstand the hardships of real life. Unlike happiness, which depends on what happens to me, joy comes from a completely reliable source: God Himself. This truth is plainly stated in Psalm 16:11 Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
Despite the evidence that joy comes from God, joy was a mystery to me for nearly 30 years. I had passionately searched for happiness in sports, in relationships, in religion, in music and countless other places. There were moments of pleasure, but nothing that brought lasting joy.
Finally I decided to watch people who had joy and see how they got it. Their trail led me to Jesus and then disappeared.
Did Jesus have something to do with their joy?
Getting to joy
The joyful people told me how to solve the mystery, but I didn't get it right away. I was being too logical and too religious.
Eventually it dawned on me: God has nothing to say to religious people. His plan can only be understood by people humble enough to be taught and transformed by the Holy Spirit.
The joyful people told me that I could not obtain joy directly. They told me that joy was a character trait, like patience and gentleness. They said that joy would be produced in my heart by the working of the Holy Spirit. To prove this, they quoted from the fifth chapter of Paul's letter to the Galatians:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
By this time, my logical mind was getting impatient. If joy could only be produced by the Holy Spirit working in my heart, then what was He waiting for? Why didn't I already have 30 years worth of mature fruit as a result of His working?
The joyful people patiently explained that the Holy Spirit doesn't produce this fruit in every human being. He only cultivates hearts of people who have consciously dedicated their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
At this point, I began to get irritated at the joyful people. Were they implying that I was not a Christian? How could they say that? I had spent many years attending various Christian churches, and had put a lot of conscious effort into trying to be a good person. Didn't that make me a Christian?
The joyful people said I needed to give my heart to Jesus and be "born again." That was really offensive to my logical mind. Maybe some seven-year-old kid could accept that explanation, but not a 30-year-old college graduate. It was too simple. It was hidden in plain sight.
Only one fact kept me coming back: these people had the evidence of God's handiwork in their character. They had joy and I did not. These people knew the Bible well, and I did not.
So I asked for more detail about God's plan to give us joy. My logical mind needed more structure.
God's Mysterious PlanThe joyful people said that the key was to study Jesus and His teachings. They said that Jesus hid the truth in plain sight by teaching in parables. Most people who heard Him went home mystified. Even his disciples were confused at first, as we read in the fourth chapter of Mark's Gospel:10 And when He was alone, they who were about Him, with the Twelve, asked Him concerning the parable. 11 And He said to them, "To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God. But to those outside, all these things are given in parables 12 so that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them."
Eventually the disciples came to understand, but it took them awhile to grasp Jesus' plan for their lives.
The disciples struggled for the same reason that I struggled, because God's plan is based on His logic, not human logic. And His logic seems backwards until we get used to it.
For nearly 2,000 years, the Gospel message has puzzled people. The Apostle Paul predicted this in his first letter to the church at Corinth:For the preaching of the cross is foolishness to them that are perishing; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18
The Gospel message looks foolish because God designed it to be a mystery. In the second chapter of 1 Corinthians we read:7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, which God has hidden, predetermining it before the world for our glory; 8 which none of the rulers of this world knew (for if they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory). 9 But as it is written, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard," nor has it entered into the heart of man, "the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." 10 But God has revealed them to us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God. (MKJV)
The Holy Spirit wants to teach us and transform our lives. Until we have been transformed and taught in the ways of the Lord, the Gospel message looks very foolish to us. The very next verses of the same chapter say:
12 But we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit from God, so that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (MKJV)
For years, I had thought that "born-again" Christianity looked pretty foolish. These verses, however, suggested that I had misunderstood something along the way. So I decided to buy a Bible and research whether the Scriptures supported the plan described by the joyful people.
If you have thought that Christianity seems foolish, you've come to the right place. The remaining chapters of this book will help you understand God's peculiar plan as explained in the Bible.
If you're already a "born-again" believer but haven't experienced enough joy lately, keep reading. This book will help you be sure you aren't skipping any steps.Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, I don't pretend to understand Your wisdom or Your perfect plan. Help me to distinguish between the plan described in Your Scriptures and the religious nonsense proposed by everybody else. Guide me and protect me and lead me in Your truth, I pray. Amen.