With joy and gladness

by Tom Swanson

Been thinking, just wondering. What really is joy and where does it come from? Can we willfully manufacture joy on our own? Is joy available to everyone? Does joy come from active or passive behaviors? How unique is our Christian joy, and do I really understand the phrase “the joy of the Lord”?

Very gratefully, I grew up on joy. Experiencing and observing joy in so many followers of Jesus made me a curious seeker in pursuit of joy. Growing up in the Mission Covenant Church in Stambaugh, Michigan, I was fortunate to be planted in very favorable soil. Several of the hymns we sang are still alive in my memory. In particular, Nils Frykman provides a great resource in his song:

I sing with joy and gladness,
my soul has found release:
Now free from sin and sadness
with God I live in peace.
His everlasting mercy to me has been revealed;
His truth in my heart has been sealed.

Watching some church folks during my younger days was a significant educational experience. What made these people, who were facing challenging and difficult times, live their lives with “the joy of the Lord?” It didn’t appear that life was blessing them, but they lived it out “blessedly.” Their lives caught my attention and curiosity. I wanted what they had!

But where did that joyful spirit come from and how did they get it? Was it simply just happiness, pleasure and enjoyment of life, or was it something of a higher significance? Whatever it was, I wanted it and was determined to actively “go get it.”

My former resolutions to lead a better life
Were only vain illusions,
my soul was still at strife.

As a kid, I became hyper-competitive. Winning was determined by intensity, effort and execution. Daily life became a “last play of the game” mentality. I concluded that if I wanted the best of what Christianity had to offer: go get it! Don’t take “no” for an answer, and don’t settle for second best. One night as a college freshman, it dawned on me that competitive intensity and passionate effort was not the proper motivation for “followers” of Jesus. Leaders demonstrate industrious passion towards winning and accomplishments. Jesus simply invites us to follow. So now what?

When thoughts of guilt oppress
me, and I through weakness fail,
The Savior still will bless me,
His mercy does prevail;

The country western song title, “Looking for love in all the wrong places,” describes my search for joy. Becoming a follower of Jesus has been full of interesting moments of activity and passivity. One often benefits from simple observation. On my journey I have sensed my effort and intensity must become more passive as I live as a follower, and let the Holy Spirit empower my thinking and behaviors.

Jim Sundholm, in a reprinted homily from a recent Pietisten picnic, reminded us of the need for us to experience and understand “Sunday” before one cranks it up and gets busy doing “Monday.” My inclination leans toward the idea that the new life in Christ celebrated on Sunday is the proper motivation for joyful, compassionate living on Monday. Salvation and the new life in Christ must be the starting point. Self-centered efforts to do a great job on Monday are inadequate. The best of Christian behavior starts with learning our place as a follower of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The evil adversary may in his fury smite,
I fear not for I carry God’s armor in the fight.
The Word, divine and mighty,
shall victory obtain,
Its strength shall forever remain.

Joy is the second fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22), and John 15:1-4 makes the strong statement that fruit comes from, and is totally dependent on, the tree or vine. Joy is a gift given through our salvation experience. We need a Savior. Real joy starts by knowing our proper place as a sinner saved by grace. Grace is best understood as getting what we don’t deserve, while mercy is not getting what we do deserve. Our forgiving Savior has given us new life, and promised eternity. It really is the best “assurance policy” available. Our rejoicing in that truth is the source of our joy.

Thus marching on courageous,
with joy I see my goal;
The blessing of the ages, the haven of my soul;
And on the pilgrim journey,
my voice in song I raise,
My God and my Savior to praise.

We can rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Joy is the intellectual, emotional result of coming to appreciate and starting to understand what the Lord has provided. The apostle Paul encourages us to be rooted in God’s love: “May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love, and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep and how high his love really is: and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself.” [Eph. 3:17-19 Life Application Bible: The Living New Testament]

The Pietists’ roots went deep down into the love of Jesus. Through song, they have effectively passed on this joy that comes from the “good news of Jesus.”

Tom Swanson and his wife Donna both grew up in the Covenant Church of Stambaugh, Mich., attended North Park College and are retired teachers/coaches living in Lowman, Idaho. Tom has a new book published, Graduation: “So What Just Happened?”

See all articles by Tom Swanson