“Joy in the Lord” is a phrase Christians use with regularity. But I’m not sure this regular usage means we fully understand it, though. I’m not even referring to the puritanical, sourpuss, killjoy Christians—I don’t think they have any understanding of joy at all. I mean the Christians who titter nervously at jokes, unsure of whether they should be laughing and suffer angst at the thought of too much enjoyment of “worldly” pleasures. This sort of emotional turmoil in the name of “joy” is no joy at all.
God didn’t create the world for us not to enjoy it. He made it good, by His own claim, and gave it to man to cultivate and enjoy. And then sin happened and the world fell. But a fallen world is not a world of utter evil. That is, the world did not go from all good to all bad. It went from all good to tainted, but with all sorts of real goodness spread throughout. The good is so easy to see. Just look around at the beauty of art and nature, the richness of relationships and laughter, and the sensory pleasure of food and drink—these are genuinely good. So why are we so afraid to revel in these pleasures?
“Joy in the Lord” is but a farce if there is no joy in the gifts that God puts in front of us. The joy we think we have is divested of its meaning when we dismiss or shun the pleasures that God has given us for our enjoyment. If God has chosen to lavish us with pleasures deep and wide, what kind of ingrates are we to refuse on the basis of wanting to find joy in Him instead? What an absurd notion.
Christians should be jokesters and foodies and connoisseurs and artists and writers so we can be steeped in the wonder of words and the delight of the senses. We should be readers and watchers and listeners with a hunger for such things that cause enchantment and awe and inspiration. We should notice the weirdness and oddity of our world and laugh even as we give thought to it. And we should do the same at ourselves.
This sort of enjoyment is so far from sin and from idolatry that it is laughable. In fact, this sort of enjoyment is preparation for heaven, a faint specter of it. If our hearts are filled with gratefulness and every pleasure that point us back to God as the Giver of all good gifts, we will suffer no idolatry, no distraction from Him. And as we discover more of God through these gifts, our joy in Him will increase rather than be displaced, and the face we show the world will be that of true and infectious happiness.