This talk was given by Pastor Ryan Eagy at The Ambrose School—Upper School Exordium, April 3, 2019.
Good morning, Ambrose! Dean Brown, thank you for having me this morning. It is a privilege to get to talk with you all. I too was snuggled by a mom and dad in my footy pajamas when I was two, and I hope you were as well. I have a question this morning, and I’m wondering if someone can raise their hand and tell me what these three things have in common: an extra dessert after dinner, a snow day, and the perfect hair cut? They are all joyful! Someone gives you a large Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard when you only thought you were getting a small—amazing! Now the parents and teachers here may disagree, but it is a great thing as a student when you get a free day off school, and you aren’t the one responsible to figure out the ways that will mess up your work or weekly school schedule. And I’m not even going to let you gentlemen act like you don’t spend almost as much time, if not more time, making sure your hair looks great—even if it is the messy look! That perfect haircut keeps anyone happy for at least the day!
We are all hard-wired to pursue joy! None of us woke up this morning and said, “I hope today I get a bad grade on an assignment I worked really hard on” or “Wouldn’t it be great if someone makes fun of me and I feel horrible.” Of course not! You have all found things, people, and activities that you find joyful. Perhaps it is a sport, or a musical instrument, a great friend, or a location where you visit frequently. You have seen and tasted joy and you pursue it. Well, that is the goal of my talk this morning. I want to encourage and exhort you to Pursue Joy! In fact, I would even go so far as to say the point of your entire life is to Pursue Joy!
Now, it’s okay to whisper to each other and say, “Wait! Can he say that? He’s supposed to say that the point of our life is to know God!” Now it’s okay, I’m a trained pastoral professional, so I can say these things. In fact, I say it this way because I am worried for you. I think you have maybe inadvertently bought into a lie, or even worse, you have been encouraged to believe a lie.
You see, I think many Christians, young and old, have gotten the message that joy is bad. Now, admittedly joy is dangerous. In fact, there is a reason why joy scares so many people. If they haven’t told you already, sin is so enticing because it promises joy. Momentary, shallow, soul killing, incomplete joy. Drugs momentarily make your body feel good. Cheating on a test fulfills the immediate hope of a good grade. Yelling at someone lets your feelings out with little worry and effort. Yet, the drugs become addictive and fill you with excruciating need and pain. Cheating robs you, your future you, of a process that actually ends in learning. And yelling only demonstrates your concern for yourself over others.
What do we do then? Many end up saying, “Don’t pursue joy! Joy is bad!” Instead, they encourage us, they encourage you, to lay down your joy for duty. To exchange delight for diligent drudgery. Just do what you are supposed to do—don’t worry about how you feel. At least this way, we think we won’t accidentally wander into sin if we kill off all joy.
Perhaps this has been your experience or your picture of what it means to be a Christian. We just do what we should and expect it shouldn’t be joyful. We get together and “do church” with no thought of the joy it should bring us to be worshipping our God!
So—you might wonder—you are telling me to pursue one joy but not the other joy…really? How do I know if I have the right joy or the wrong joy? Maybe I am trusting the wrong thing? And what if someone else says they find something joyful but I’m not so sure? Isn’t this all very subjective this “Joy” thing? It sounds better to just be diligent and trudge along and not worry about joy.
It isn’t really that complicated. Not when you realize Joy is a person and a relationship. If I had a lunch appointment with Mr. Tucker I wouldn’t accidentally sit down and eat lunch with Dean Browne. This is because I know them. That is how I know Joy—it’s found in a person and a relationship.
This isn’t just me saying that Joy is a person and relationship, but Christianity for all of history. Some of you may know the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The first question is “What is the chief end of man?” Can anyone tell me the answer? “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Joy! We are to find joy in God. In fact, I would amend that answer to say “To glorify God BY enjoying him forever.” Our Joy is only found in a person, in a relationship with God. And we get to see that clearly in the person of Jesus.
This is exactly what Paul saw. Listen to what he says to us in Philippians 1:18–21:
“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:18–21 ESV)
Paul is in prison and he says that no matter what happens to him, whether he dies or is released, he will find JOY—he says he will “rejoice.” He has found a type of Joy that goes beyond both life and death. And here is how he says it:
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
In Jesus, Paul has found a Joy that is greater than both his life or his death. Joy is what motivates him!
You see Ambrose, you cannot fight the allure of incomplete joy in sin with drudgery. Rather, you fight an incomplete joy with Jesus-sized Joy! Joy that died for you on the cross, joy that has empowered you with the very Holy Spirit of God, and joy that promises you everlasting Joy in a new heaven and a new earth with your God!
So you buy it! You say, “Yes—Joy is what my life is all about, and I can see that Joy most clearly in Jesus. But what do I do? How do I pursue that Joy?” In my last minute, let me give you three suggestions:
Pursue Joy by becoming students of the Word. Jesus is the very Word of God drawn near to us, and if you want to know him in a way that finds your Joy in him, you have to know him well. Study the word well!
When you don’t see joy in this moment, Pursue Joy by holding on to the promise of future Joy! Joy in a new heaven and a new earth, where you are princes and princesses of the King of all creation and you have been promised an inheritance greater than gold! Look forward to that future promised Joy in Jesus!
Pursue Joy by enjoying the joys you see today. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzards, snow days, the perfect hair. Sunrises and sunsets. Beowulf and Brahm. Fireworks and fireflies. They all exist to point your affections towards a God who has loved you, and demonstrated it in the death of his Son, Jesus Christ!