It can be hard to grasp what “fullness of joy” really means for us in a nuts and bolts, rubber meets the road kind of way. If you have been following along in this series, you might understand the theory, but you might wonder, “When do I get to feel joy? Does that ever happen?” If I give you a great recipe for chocolate chip cookies, what good is that if you never taste one?
We might struggle with understanding what this fullness of joy means on a practical level.
So I can describe what joy looks like in this life, I want to first consider what joy will look like in the life that is to come. Here’s why: the joy we experience in eternity will be the fullest joy ever experienced. We might have reason to doubt that we are experiencing “fullness” of joy in this life, but we know that we will experience it in heaven. In this life, God continually elevates our joy to this ultimate experience of joy. By means of His providence – both pleasant providences and hard providences – God expands our capacity for joy and increases our experience of it until we reach eternity.
When we reach eternity, what will our joy be then? Revelation 21:4 tells us that all our sorrows will disappear.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
So, in heaven, we will share in God’s joy, as fully as is possible for a human being in that state. In heaven, we will have no disruptions to the joy we experience. We will not experience any competing or contrary emotions. Every disruption, every contradiction to our joy will evaporate in the face of such intense joy as we will have in that day. We could fill many hours with meditations on this thought. How wonderful! How marvelous! Unbridled joy, unfiltered joy, uninhibited joy; joy without mixture, without alloy, just pure joy: the very joy of God.
But the joy we experience in this life hardly resembles that joy. In fact, we can describe it in opposite terms. In this life, our joy is bridled. It is filtered. It is inhibited. It is mixed. It is alloyed. It is impure. It might resemble the joy of God, but barely. Can we have fullness of joy here, or is that something reserved for eternity?
I believe that we can have fullness of joy in this life, but I need to qualify what I mean. Fullness in this life is not the same thing as fullness in the life to come. Even our Lord Jesus Christ when He lived on this earth experienced joy mingled with sorrow. Isaiah described Him as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” and Jesus Himself said, “I am exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” Jesus said this in the Garden of Gethsemane as He prayed and sweat as it were great drops of blood.
Yet, the Bible also tells us that it was “for the joy that was set before Him” that Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2). In this, we learn something about the joy of Jesus Christ when He was a man. Because as a man, the joy of Jesus Christ was such a powerful thing that it overwhelmed the sorrows, the pain, the suffering He endured. Jesus was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, yet His joy overcame that sorrow so that He could approach the cross rejoicing as a strong man to run a race.
Jesus could overcome His sorrow in part because He was free from sin. We know from the Bible, especially from the Psalmist, that sin hinders our joy.
“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation…”
Sin hinders joy – my own sin, but also the sins of others. This is true whether the person wronged me directly or not; it is true whether I have forgiven them or not. If someone murders your friend, that sin will disrupt your joy. A few years ago, someone stole my son’s bike out of our driveway. Whether I forgive that person or not, my son still doesn’t have his bike. Sin hinders joy. We can’t get around that.
Pain also hinders joy. In fact, pain is such a powerful disrupter of joy that it even disrupted the joy of Jesus Christ.
Distraction also has the power to disrupt our joy. When the care of other things chokes out our joy, it leaves us empty and apathetic.
To experience “fullness of joy,” we must address these disruptions. For this reason, we should consider what restores our joy — repentance, barriers removed, and nearness to God.
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: (I Peter 1:8)
In the passage leading up to this verse, Peter speaks of being in “heaviness through manifold temptation.” He describes here the way this trial of your faith can be overcome, swallowed up by this “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Fullness of joy means overcoming everything else – sin and pain and disruption – by joy.
I found a nice little outline of the “fullness of joy” we experience in this life – I modified the list a little and put these descriptions in my own words, but the gist of it came from John Piper. As I have explained in previous posts, I appreciate very much Piper’s work on joy, even though there are some matters of serious disagreement between us. It can be difficult to find good material on this subject. Quite a few of these words are his words. Certainly the ideas are his. But they are worth repeating.
Joy overcomes all its detractors by overpowering them, outweighing them, and outlasting them; joy overcomes when it overflows out of our sorrows. Let’s consider each of these.
First, joy overpowers our sorrows and pain. Joy overpowers every other emotion that would seek to crush us. Joy crushes the opposition to it.
Next, joy outweighs those competing emotions. We can take this quite literally. Joy is heavier than sorrow and pain and disappointment and frustration. In the face of every disruption, we find that joy is more important, more significant, more prominent in our lives than any of the things that would rob us of our joy.
Sorrow can be heavy. Pain can be heavy. Affliction can be heavy. Opposition can be heavy. When you are bearing these kinds of burdens, they can really weigh you down. But to our surprise, we experience fullness of joy most often when we feel these kinds of heavy burdens. In fact, most Christians could testify that the times they have felt the most joy were in the times when they shouldn’t have. How can this be?
Somehow, joy is heavier than all of these things. Joy outweighs sorrow. My wife and I spent some hours touring the U.S.S. Midway, which is now a museum along the waterfront in San Diego. Aircraft carriers are pretty amazing. I have no idea how they can float, they are so extremely massive and heavy.
I don’t know how many airplanes a full-sized aircraft carrier can hold. I could look it up, but I am too lazy at the moment. Let’s guess that a full-sized aircraft carrier could hold 300 aircraft. The number could be more or less, but the point is the same. If you took even one aircraft off the carrier with a crane and set it on the average motorboat, both airplane and motorboat would sink to the bottom of the ocean. Any one of the hundreds of airplanes an aircraft carrier holds would be heavy enough to sink a smaller boat. An aircraft carrier holds more than one. In fact, it holds hundreds of thousands of items that alone would drag a man to the bottom of the ocean.
How can an aircraft carrier do this? Because it outweighs any of the items it carries. The weight of the ship enables it to carry such a heavy payload.
I hope that illustrates the way joy outweighs our sorrows and pain. Joy can carry heavy burdens, heart burdens, soul burdens, because joy is heavier than pain, than sorrow, than disappointment, than shame, than disgrace, than frustration. By the grace of God, my sorrows themselves are turned into joys, just as the payload becomes a part of the ship.
But what about this joy that outweighs our sorrows? In reality, it is our satisfaction in Christ that outweighs our sorrows and afflictions in this life. We can have fullness of joy in this life when we are so satisfied with Christ that we don’t want anything else, so that added afflictions only serve to add to our joy.
Listen to what Paul said to this end in Philippians 3…
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)
Now, isn’t that the voice of joy and satisfaction in Christ? What an example this is! This is what Jesus meant when He said this…
I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
Not only does joy overpower and outweigh our sorrows, but joy also outlasts our sorrows. As the Bible says, weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
Joy overflows out of the cup of our sorrows. Paul had this to say about the believers of Macedonia…
How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. (2 Corinthians 8:2)
Think about that phrase: “abounded unto the riches of their liberality…” The Macedonians were suffering unspeakably, and yet their joy in the Lord was so great that they couldn’t contain it. Their joy in the midst of suffering overflowed in the form of generosity — the riches of their liberality. They found that they had to pour out their love on someone else who was in need.
But I think “overflowing” goes beyond generosity. Joy overflows in songs and other expressions of gladness.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:18-19)
I hope you have tasted this yourself. Maybe in a time of trial you have been so overcome with joy that your heart broke out in singing. Maybe in the middle of a song service, you have found yourself so overwhelmed by the thought of Jesus Christ and the glory of God that you couldn’t contain yourself. You felt like your heart would burst, your song couldn’t come close to expressing what you were feeling at that moment. Maybe you couldn’t sing because the joy was so powerful. You were experiencing “fullness of joy” then.
You might experience this fullness of joy at home as well as at church, on a drive or a hike in the mountains or in your private time alone with God. But this is what fullness of joy comes to — that overpowering, overcoming, overflowing joy that turns your sorrows themselves into bliss.
Do you long for this kind of joy? I know that I do. I have experienced it in moments, but then it was gone, or so it seemed. I find myself longing to experience more of it. Maybe you do also. If so, please remember the Words of the Lord Jesus Christ…
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
If I truly hunger for this joy and satisfaction in the Lord Jesus Christ, then I must go to Him. I must feed on Him. And I must not leave until I am satisfied with Him alone, until I have lost my appetite for anything else but Him.
As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness. (Psalm 17:15)