“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation!” (Hab. 3:18). We often emphasize the need for our sorrow to be godly sorrow, but is it any less important for our joy to be godly joy? If it is dangerous for worldly thinking to infect our sorrow, is it any less of a problem when it jeopardizes our joy?
To begin with what is it about godly joy that makes it “godly?” The answer is not hard to find. Just as godly sorrow is focused on God, rather than self (it grieves what our sins have cost Him and not us), godly joy is also focused on God. It rejoices in whatever God rejoices about: the accomplishment of His purposes, the triumphs of His cause, the redemption of those who accepted His salvation, and yes, even the carrying out of His justice.
I believe one prominent feature of godly joy is that it rejoices in the life-path that God lays out before us. That is, it finds joy in following the path that God indicates rather than the one we might have chosen. It genuinely rejoices in the accomplishment of God’s will, whatever that might mean for us personally. As Evelyn Underhill put it, “This is the secret joy. We shall no longer strive for our own way, but commit ourselves, easily and simply, to God’s way, acquiesce in his will, and in so doing, find our peace.”
Jesus is obviously the great example here. He experienced no greater joy than being a part of the fulfillment of His Father’s purposes, even when the role required of Him was painful and difficult. On one occasion He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). He derived more joy from obedience than most people get from a great meal.
Without the focus that Jesus had on the Father’s glory, joy tends to degenerate. It becomes the product of nothing more than the selfish indulgence of our desires, with little or no regard for whether that indulgence helps or hinders the outworking of God’s purposes in the world. And in the end, that kind of “joy” (if it even can be called that) is a distinctly unsatisfying thing. It leaves a dry, dusty taste in our mouths. But GODLY joy, that is a different thing altogether! When our joy is the overflowing of GOD’s joy, well, that is what Eden was about. And our Father has not given up on it.
–Gary Henry (from the “Sound Words” Bulletin’s online collection, Tomlinson Run Church of Christ)