I remember waking up in high school feeling overwhelming joy with the Lord! These days, I say “good morning” to him with a cringe, a painful awareness of my sin and the feeling that I fall so short in every measure. Where has my joy gone? How do I get it back?
In Galatians 4:15, Paul asks, “What has happened to all your joy?” The Galatians had become legalistic, falling back into trusting that keeping the law would save them instead of growing in Christ. He explains to them living in the Spirit: “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). He says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Sometimes, life makes me ask, “How? How do I live joy, even when I don’t feel it?”
It feels like I’m plodding along under the weight of sin, the burden of being here in the world. This reminds me of verse 3 of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear:
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing
The thing that gives me joy is the fact that God’s song over us is constant. Look at the hymn–the angels’ song is in every verse, speaking of the past, present, and future. He never gives up on us. I can feel weary and sit down on the side of life’s road and still hear from God that he loves me. This doesn’t change.
The fourth stanza speaks to his promise to come. Christ will return and he will restore everything…including me! I will have no more limits on my joy and I’ll be able to praise him freely with that ancient song the angels sing. He says he’ll do it, and that brings me so much hope.
Plodding along beneath life’s crushing load is like walking through Lent, too. My family fasts together during Lent. It’s hard. It doesn’t feel good. I spend the 40 days feeling a lack of something and focusing on Christ’s death on the cross every time (or nearly every time) I feel that “I’ve given something up” feeling. It all feels like I’m walking to a funeral dirge. I just want to get to the joy part!
I can’t wait for Easter, when we join that ancient song that the angels sing when we sing Christ the Lord Is Risen Today. We praise God for beating sin and death. We hear the heavens sing and then we reply. This hope that Easter is coming, that there’s an end in sight to the funeral dirge, brings me joy! I want to be able to reply to that heavenly song that is always being sung, whether I feel joyful or not. Even without the feeling of joy, I know hope. Hope seems to be a placeholder for joy. Romans 12:12 says to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”