Edited and Re-posted from March 2010:
Joy: the emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires: Delight. (Websters)
God has taught me so much about obedience, his will and joy. I'm learning how linked they are. Two passages highlight this truth well, Leviticus 9:22-24 and Hebrews 12:2. Both deal with pleasing sacrifices to God, first in the old testament Tabernacle and then on the cross.
Leviticus 9:22-24, “Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.”
Leviticus shows Israel's obedience in every way to God's command to build him a dwelling, and the joy his favor ignited as a result of their obedience. God's favorable response to our obedience is his presence and his presence always results in joy. We find joy when our hearts love the will of God. We rejoice when we see his plan unfold, because our hearts are in line with his; loving truth, righteousness, his glory.
So often, however, we choose our own way and exchange joy for sorrow. If we seek joy and wonder why it alludes us, it's wise to examine our obedience. Nothing kills joy like living for our own pleasure. On the surface we may not see our own pleasure as the evil it is. Sometimes it's disguised in self-righteousness or accomplishing things for God, but the motivation is the key. Is what I'm doing for God's glory or mine. Sorrow is always meant to drive us into the heart of the Father. The lack of joy is a warning sign to get our attention. Yet even sorrow can turn to joy in his hands. Here are some more verses on joy: Psalm 16:10-11, 19:7-9; Prov 10:28, John 15:10-12; Jude 1:24
Hebrews 12:2, says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
I had originally thought the joy set before Jesus in enduring the cross was the salvation of men. Salvation has been the Father's plan from the beginning, certainly Jesus came to earth to rescue the lost. But was Jesus fixing his eyes on us as "the prize" while on the cross? I'm not so sure, because man is never the focus, God's glory always is. I believe Jesus was fixing his eyes squarely on his Father, it's the way he could endure the sacrifice and likewise the only way we can. Love for us flowed out of Jesus death, but love for the Father was the source. Obedience brought him joy. The distinction is important because it sets the example for us. It shows us God is the priority, even the salvation of man isn't really about man, it's about God's glory. It also shows us the right reason for obedience is not for reward, it is a response of adoration. Nothing short of delighting in the Father's will can compel us to die to our own desires and live for his. Oh God, that our hearts would beat in tune to your will, delighting in obedience!
These are big thoughts, deeper than my mind could ever plumb. What do you think?