This morning we looked at Ps 126, a psalm which reminds us of God’s deliverance and the joy which He brings us. The psalm was probably written after the Jews returned to Israel after their exile to Babylon, a deliverance so mighty that it caused great rejoicing and almost dazed dreaming. Joy is the consequence of what God does: ‘The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy’ (Ps 126:3); it is not dependent on circumstances in the way that happiness is, but is rooted in God’s generous nature and in His acts on our behalf. Moreover, His deliverance is so great that even other people will acknowledge it: ‘Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”’ (Ps 126:2)
Joy can exist even in difficult circumstances (as Paul demonstrates, writing the exuberantly joyful letter to the Philippians whilst in jail and reminding the Corinthians that even though he faced such adverse circumstances that at times he and the other apostles despaired even of life itself, ‘He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.’ (2 Cor 1:10-11)) The fact of God’s deliverance in the past (as demonstrated on virtually every page of the Bible, such as in the exodus from Egypt, the fall of Jericho, Gideon’s victory against the Midianites, the defeat of Goliath, the victory won by Jehoshaphat, to name just a few examples) encourages us to hope as we wait for Him in present difficulties: ‘just as joy builds on the past, it borrows from the future.’ ( Eugene Peterson, ‘The Journey’, P 85) The psalmist knows that sowing seed may be done in tears: it is back-breaking, difficult work which looks as though it is impossible to result in harvest. Nonetheless, despite the sorrow and pain which certain seasons of life bring, we can have hope that ‘joy will paint the morning sky.’ (Matt Redman, ‘It Is Well’) As we learn to face suffering and grief and disappointment, we find that God’s sufficiency is enough for us, even in the difficult times: ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Cor 12:9)
Joy in the Christian life is all about perspective, not about circumstances. We can experience joy in suffering, for Christ shows us how: ‘For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Heb 12:2) We can experience joy in service (Phil 2:17-18) and in giving, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). We can experience joy in believing, for we do not have to count on our own righteousness through obeying the law but receive Christ’s righteousness through faith. (Phil 3:9) The joy which Jesus promised His followers is permanent and does not pretend; it is His gift to us (John 17:13), a fruit of the Holy Spirit which helps to keep us going in all circumstances and at all times.