Still on a quest for joy? Still finding joy elusive?
Perhaps you’ve run the checklist:
- Be a good person – check!
- Pray – check!
- Read my Bible – check!
- Attain Joy – [crickets]….
And perhaps you’ve heard that well intentioned advice: You need to obey God… obedience will lead to joy.
But does it?
A Case Study
A look at the Book of Jonah makes an interesting case study. As we look at his story (only four chapters long!), let’s ask if obedience = joy:
God asks Jonah to go deliver a message to the capital city of their enemy (Nineveh). Jonah quickly gets up and departs… in the opposite direction! Jonah is full up on the run!
And the results of Jonah’s disobedience? A life threatening storm that places others in danger. Not only that, Jonah tries to talk them into committing the equivalent of murder by throwing him overboard (Jonah 1:12). But they wouldn’t do it… not until there was no other choice but to die themselves. Apparently they had more compassion and integrity than the chosen prophet of God!
Funny how our disobedience casts a heavy burden on us… and on others.
Jonah’s disobedience now results in a one course meal… that is, Jonah IS the meal.
Jonah’s reaction? He prays the prayer of a lifetime, throwing together Psalms and snippets of Holy words with the dexterity of a Bible scholar. (Though it is interesting to note how many times the word “I” and “me” appear).
Apparently Jonah is all about prayer, as long as it’s about him… and obedience, when there’s no other option! There’s a recipe for joy!
Jonah gets a do-over… God asks him to go preach at Nineveh… again!
Finally… Jonah obeys! Well… sort of. He barely gets into the city, preaches the most lame sermon ever, and yet… the entire city repents!
So, if obedience = joy [cue music with swelling theme of joy], then this is where Jonah experiences joy beyond compare, right?
Actually… not so much. [music comes to crashing halt].
While obedience (even lame, half-effort obedience) may get great results, it doesn’t always bring great joy. Why not?
Jonah reacts with all the grace and maturity of a four-year-old. Jonah rails at God: “I knew you’d forgive them, that’s why I didn’t want to come here.”
And with all the flair of a teenage drama queen, Jonah says to God that it would be better if Jonah just died. And he does what any mature prophet of God would do: he goes off by himself to pout.
I think it’s safe to say: obedience does not always equal joy!
When it comes to joy, Jonah is missing one key ingredient: Love!
Being the brilliant Bible scholar, Jonah would surely have been familiar with this passage:
“And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Deut 6:5 NLT)
In my experience, when you love someone like that, you learn to love what they love. You rejoice when they rejoice.
I know it’s more complicated than all this, but if you’re still missing out on joy, ask yourself if these two key ingredients are present in your life with God:
Chances are, you’ll find one of them lacking. There’s something magic about that combination when they mix together. One without the other leaves you a little short in the joy department.
Think of it like this: Have you ever used a chemical light stick?
The light stick contains two ingredients that are kept separate from each other by a small glass vial within the plastic stick (let’s call these ingredients obedience and love!).
Separate from each other, there is no light… no reaction.
Think about it:
- Obedience without love leads to a sense of duty and drudgery.
- Love without obedience leads a self-centered and self-serving form of love
- Neither of these will produce true joy
But when the inner tube is broken and the two ingredients mix… voila! Energy is released and light happens. We’ll call that light “Joy!”
As you examine your life, see if this formula is true:
Obedience + Love = True Joy!
And if it’s not true, then let me… and Jonah… know what’s missing!
Be blessed… and be joyful!
What’s your formula for joy? What other advice would you pass along to others who are struggling to find joy?
You may also be interested in: How Do Love and Obedience Work in the New Testament.