Finding Joy

“Our soul waits for the Lord;

he is our help and shield.

Our heart is glad in him,

because we trust in his holy name.

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,

even as we hope in you.”

—Psalm 33 (NRSV)

Hope and joy. Joy and hope. The two seem almost at odds with one another. Hope, as we know it in the rich biblical tradition, is a deep longing with eager expectation that what we are hoping for will one day come true. There is a confidence to hope, but there is also waiting, because if we are hoping for something, it means it has not yet happened. Unfulfilled desire. Joy, on the other hand, is a fulfilled desire. It’s finally here! So we celebrate — like the high school graduate throwing her cap in the air. Finally! It’s the excitement and satisfaction of finally getting what our hearts have always been longing for. Joy is gladness that takes the place of waiting.

Hope is waiting. Joy is celebrating the arrival of what we have been waiting for. Not quite at odds maybe, but at least two very different things.

But here’s the thing about Scripture: it doesn’t separate hope and joy like that. The two are not so easily differentiated. In fact, they often seem to go together, like peanut butter and jelly. Sure, it’s possible to have one without the other, but for most people, they are better together.

Here’s why I think hope and joy go together so well—why the Psalmist can sing “Our soul waits (hopes) for the Lord…our heart is glad (joy) in him”—true joy and gladness can only come from trusting in God. When we hope in God and God’s promises, we are putting our trust in God. When we expect God to come through for us, we are trusting God to do what we cannot do for ourselves. And in that dependence and trust, our hearts can truly know joy and gladness. It’s when we try to take matters in our own hands and to fill our hearts’ longing with the stuff of this world that joy eludes us.

The truth is, in a society with as much material blessing as ours, it is easy to find ways of satisfying (at least for a little while) some of our hearts longing. There are always new cars and new houses and new shoes and new toys and more friends to add on social media and more, more, more. But so often, after we’ve gotten that thing we thought we always wanted, we find the void in our hearts is still there. So we go searching for the next big thing.

C.S. Lewis has written, “What does not satisfy when we find it, was not the thing we were desiring.” Our hearts were made to find gladness from something more than this world can offer us. We were made to find our heart’s gladness in God. Hoping in and trusting in and waiting on God.  As we begin this new year together, resolve to pursue joy, but not just any joy. Pursue true joy, the joy that comes from trusting God more deeply everyday. There is gladness in God, if only we will trust God.



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