Excerpt from Champagne for the Soul
A few years ago I began a ninety-day experiment in joy. I made up my mind that for the next ninety days I would be joyful in the Lord. Because this was an experiment, it allowed room for failure. If at times I wasn’t joyful, I wouldn’t despair or beat myself up. Rather I would gently, persistently return as best I could to my focus on joy.
So began (and continues to this day) the happiest time of my life. My experiment was a phenomenal success and it produced a permanent change in me. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” exhorts the apostle Paul (Php 4:4). Is it really possible to be happy all the time? While life certainly has its ups and downs, I still want to answer, “Why not?” Why not accept the grand, stupendous gift of life like a big chunk of watermelon, letting the sweet pink flesh melt in your mouth, and as for the rest, spit it out? Why gnaw away dolefully on seeds and rind?
Today I believe more than ever that nothing essentially prevents a Christian from always rejoicing. We’re also exhorted to “always have hope” (Ps 71:14), to “pray continually” (1 Th 5:17), to be “always giving thanks” (Eph 5:20), and to “keep all God’s commands always” (Dt 5:29). Would Scripture set such high standards if they weren’t possible? Jesus even said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). The God of the Bible is a God of absolutes.
Consider the matter of love. Does anyone argue that we should love sometimes but not all the time? No, love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor 13:7).
Or what about freedom? According to Jesus, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn 8:36). Do you want a little bit of freedom, or do you want to be free indeed? The Christian graces are not for sometimes but for always.
The same holds true for joy. God wants us to be joyful indeed, rejoicing in Him always. The moment we hear this, we get stuck on that little word always, and our hearts sink. And so we overlook the key phrase in the Lord. Nowhere does the Bible exhort us to do anything in our own strength, but only in the Lord. It would be cruel to expect anyone to be always happy apart from God. But “in the Lord”—why not? Who wouldn’t be overjoyed with a God who “has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3)? In the words of a Christmas carol, “Why should men on earth be so sad / Since our Redeemer made us glad?” If you have Christ, why not rejoice? If you don’t have Christ, why not open your heart to Him?
Any happiness we think we’ve produced for ourselves will soon fade. The real thing comes from Beyond. Indeed it’s the essence of joy to know that the Beyond is somehow contained within us. Knowing this, we know too that there will be no end to our joy, for we’re connected to a Source that is limitless and eternal. Far from originating joy, humans are meant to be like an echo, reverberating God’s joy and sending it back to Him. The very word rejoice contains (in the prefix “re”) this idea of “over again” or “back.” The message of joy bears repeating, for in this dark world we need to hear about joy again and again. Paul obviously thought so when he wrote from a prison cell, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” True joy is tireless. It’s like a little child squealing, “Do it again, Daddy!” to which our heavenly Daddy replies heartily, “Yes, let’s do it again! And again and again!”