For quite some time now, we have related to our daycare Littles through the mindset of returning children to joy. We can’t always protect children from getting hurt, and we can’t help addressing when they do something hurtful to their playmates. But we can do things that end each difficult situation with joyful attachment that leaves everyone with good memories of our time together.
Alongside our maturing in this lifestyle, I have been growing in my attachment to God as the Father who loves to return his children to joy. I did not grow up knowing him as a joyful person, let alone joyful when he looked at me.
However, I can now look back at a lifetime of lessons and realize that God has had joy in having me as his child that goes back to a decision made in eternity before time even began. He set about to create a world in which he would one day have me as a son even though it would cost him the life of his Son to purchase my adoption.
One of my major themes in life now is to join God in his work of returning people to joy. I am convinced that it does not matter one little bit how joyless someone is when they feel God awakening their hearts to him. His joyfulness is more than enough to return any of us to joy, and he is working in his children right now to lead us there.
The starting place in opening our hearts to God’s joy-returning work is to look at him as the joyful person he is. It may be difficult for us to appreciate that God is joyful in himself, and to such an extent that his joy overcomes our joylessness, but it is clearly revealed in his Book, and it is constantly offered to all who believe.
A central revelation in this regard is expressed like this:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
I will never tire of sharing this verse with God’s children. He is the one who makes known to us the path of life. The reason for so much joylessness among church-folk is because we want God to join us on our self-protective journeys instead of following him onto the path of life.
But what happens if we, “come into his presence,” as they say?
We will find that, “in your presence there is fullness of joy.”
Now, consider that God’s word invites us to, “come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” If in his presence there is fullness of joy, wouldn’t his children feel thanksgiving, joy and praise as we come into that presence?
Or, consider this invitation to, “Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” Are not the gladness and joyful singing expressions of children responding to the gladness and joy in their heavenly Father?
Even the way Jesus wept over Jerusalem was an expression of his sorrow that he had offered them the opportunity to return to joy in the Messiah God had promised, but, “you were not willing!”
Why did that grieve Jesus so much? Because he could have led them to, “believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” but they were unwilling to receive it.
He had already described this very scenario centuries earlier, “For thus said the LORD God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling…” God would have loved to save his people instead of discipline them, and strengthen them instead of leaving them helpless against their enemies. However, they simply were not willing to let him take care of them in that way, and so they experienced the fruit of their choices instead of the blessing of his joy.
The key to a relationship with God in which he constantly returns us to joy is something called, “abiding in Christ”. Jesus described this in the imagery of a branch abiding in a vine. It is easy to understand this whether we’re talking about a branch attached to a grape vine or a branch attached to a fruit tree. The life is in the vine, or the trunk, and when that life flows through the branches, the branches are enlivened to bear much fruit.
After explaining how this all works, Jesus gives this statement of his intent in the matter, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” What an unthinkable thing to a joyless person who can’t even imagine God loving them, let alone being joyful with them. And yet Jesus wants to send his own joy into us like sap flowing into a branch, and he wants his joy to bring our joy to the full so that we are just as joyful as he is.
Now remember that Jesus was teaching his disciples these things immediately before his arrest, kangaroo-court of a trial, flogging and crucifixion. For three days it would appear that he had failed, and yet he talked as though abiding in him would be an ongoing experience. Even before the most grief-causing experience of their lives, Jesus was already setting the stage to return them to joy.
At the end of this conversation, Jesus told them, “‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’” Our peace with God is the reason for our joy. As long as we are in the world, we will have tribulation because the world will hate us like it hates our Savior. But we are to take heart, or remain confident and filled with hope, because Jesus had already overcome the world by entering into it, and was about to establish his victory in space, time and matter with his impending crucifixion.
One of the biggest clues to this activity of God to return his children to joy was the way his angel announced the birth of his Son to some lowly shepherd. His Book records the event like this: “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”
The reason there is “good news of great joy” for us today is that a Savior has been born, and that Savior is Jesus Christ the Lord. Many people can’t see this joy because they misunderstand the call of the gospel as a command to be good Christians.
But the people who encountered Jesus and went away rejoicing were people who had no hope of ever being good enough for God, but believed that Jesus was good enough for them to get the help they longed for. When we see the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, and the deaf hear, and the dead raised, we see what God does for sinners to return us to joy when we come to him to be saved.
The good news of great joy that Jesus preached while he was here is the same good news of great joy that is offered to you today. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Nothing more needs to be done for God to have both the legal right and the personal delight to return us to joy. His kingdom of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” is at hand, nearby, ready to bless us.
All we need to do in response to this is repent, or change our minds, of whatever sinful, selfish and self-protective things we are presently doing to handle things in our own strength, and to believe in the good news that a Savior has already been given to us to return us to joy.
The right of every child of God is described like this: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
And, if that does not describe your experience of the good news, the Holy Spirit is standing by to return you to joy.
© 2020 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)
 Ephesians 1:3-10 makes clear how much God had settled before he even began creating the world.
 Psalm 16:11
 Psalm 95:2
 Psalm 100:2
 Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34; See also Luke 19:41-44
 I Peter 1:8
 Isaiah 30:15
 John 15:1-17
 John 15:11
 John 16:33
 Luke 2:10-11
 Mark 1:14-15
 Romans 14:17
 I Peter 1:8-9