We will never truly understand life until we understand that every person in the world wants to be happy. Blaise Pascal summarized this tendency well when he said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they may employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
Every person wants real, genuine joy, but very few know where to find it. We look for joy in all the wrong places. We think we can find it in drink, sex, material attainments, ambition, and success, but we can’t. Scripture points us to the path to true joy and it is not found in the world, her allurements, or her so-called wisdom.
The Scriptures point us to true joy. This is not some passing joy that is here one day and gone tomorrow, but rather a deep joy that endures through all of life’s troubles and trials.
So, where can we find this genuine joy? In the first Psalm, the Psalmist points us to three sure sources that feed a life a genuine joy.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
We Find True Joy by Saturating Ourselves in God’s Word
The Psalmist uses one word to describe joy in this passage– “blessed.” He refers not to the fleeting joy that comes from the lusts of the flesh or by attainments and respect in this world. Instead, he points the reader to a solid and lasting joy that can only come from God.
He shows that joy first comes to those who separate themselves from the world and all that it values. It is unlikely that the Psalmist used the progression of “walk,” “stand,” “sit” haphazardly. Rather, here he points to how cozy we can get with the world when we are not thoughtful about how we approach the world around us.
The Psalmist does not leave us only with something to avoid. He also helps us understand how the joyful man grows. The blessed man delights in God’s word. It brings joy to him and from joy over it, he meditates day and night. Meditation here does not mean emptying the mind, but rather filling your mind with the truth of God’s word.
A major issue in our fight for joy is who is framing what the good life looks like. If we are listening to the world, we will think that joy comes from money, sex, or power. If we are getting what we want, we are satisfied with ourselves, but if we don’t get what we desire we fall into the depths of despair. However, when Scripture frames the way we understand life, we begin to develop real and lasting joy because we begin to value the things that truly matter.
We Find True Joy in a Life of Stable Fruitfulness
I love the image the Psalmist uses to describe the life produced by separation from the world and saturation with God’s word. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season.”
This image points us to three vital truths. First, the person grounded in God’s word has a life that is firm. He is not shaken and swayed by the curve balls that life tends to throw. Rather, he endures through trials with an enduring confidence in the God who loves him.
The person planted in God’s word also has access to a constant stream of refreshing truth. Think again about the tree planted by streams of water. That tree will never go thirsty. It will be consistently refreshed by its proximity to freshly-flowing water. In the same way, the Christian who hears and responds to God’s word receives constant grace, encouragement, hope, and instruction from her proximity to God’s word.
We Find True Joy Through Hope in a Glorious Future
Sometimes we find encouragement in the Scriptures by looking at what the Christian will avoid. The Psalmist said the wicked are not firmly planted but are blown away by every changing wind. Then he said that the wicked won’t stand in the judgment or in the congregation of the righteous. The way of the wicked leads to perishing.
What happens to the person who belongs to Jesus and follows him? We will stand in the judgment on that great day, clothed in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. We will be gathered in the congregation of the righteous, bowing with our brothers and sisters from all times and places around the throne in worship before the Lamb.
Future hope sustains our present joy. An obsession with creating a utopia here on earth will drive us mad, but keeping our eyes fixed on the prize set out before us will bring us joy. We endure painful trials here, knowing that they do not have the last word. Instead, we look confidently to the future, knowing that as Jesus was raised from the dead, so we too will be raised and joined together with him in eternal joy.
For Further Reading:
The Songs of Jesus by Tim and Kathy Keller
How to Read the Psalms by Tremper Longman III