But Christians often struggle to live the ideal life of joy. This is because they get caught up in the natural tendency of trying too hard to find joy or focusing on end results. Christians feel pressured to live the ideal Christian life of being “joyful always,” so there is a burden of accomplishing that joy. In his book Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis said that in his own endeavor to find joy, he often “frightened it away by my greedy impatience to ensnare it.”
We try to become good Christians by following all the rules in the Bible, rigidly performing spiritual activities, being involved in ministry, and hoping that God will reward our behavior with blessings and joy. But this is certainly a recipe for frustration, guilt, and defeat as we realize we cannot follow all the rules. The Christian life then becomes a burden. But doing God’s will should not be a burden – it should be a joyful experience. When Christ said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30), he meant that there is an inherent peace and joy that comes with following him. It is hardest to experience that peace and joy when you try hardest to get it. C. S. Lewis put it so succinctly: “Many things, such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly—are done worst when we try hardest to do them.”
So, Christians and non-Christians look for joy in all the wrong places. We think we have found joy in our achievements, material treasures, experiences, and future expectations, but instead they are merely proxies for true, lasting joy. The things that we thought made us joyful were just temporary fixes masquerading as objects of joy.
What we forget or fail to realize is that God is the source of all joy. Our joy rests in him, not in ourselves and our effort to achieve joy. Dan Buettner, in his book Thrive, says that,on average, 50 percent of individual difference in happiness is influenced by our genetic makeup, 10 percent is influenced by our life circumstances, and 40 percent is influenced by how we think and act every day. While there may be truth in that statement from an empirical point of view, we, as Christians, should not forget that God’s will and control supersede all of these factors.
We do have a responsibility to try to be joyful, but at the end of the day, God controls how hereditary factors play out in the life of a person. He controls life circumstances. Even how one thinks and acts is within God’s control. It is up to him whether he will reward you with the joy you seek.
Some of you will have a hard time accepting this statement because it seems to say that we cannot do anything to achieve joy, and everything depends on God. However, we actually can and should do something. It is our responsibility to create the conditions for receiving joy, and it has to do with our relationship with and commitment to God, the source of all joy. It is the same thing with our human relationships. We cannot find joy or happiness from our family or our friends if we do not nurture our relationships with them. Our relationship with God comes first, before any effort to achieve joy. As Christians, we have to realize that any pursuit of joy without God will not be successful and will not last.
We do not need to look far to find joy. It lies in our hearts, as we yearn for God and rely on him to care for us. Our goal should not be to pursue joy, but to pursue God. Then joy will result from that pursuit. Paul the apostle said, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4), and that is another way of saying that we should pursue God and not joy itself. God is not the “cosmic killjoy,” as some have called him, or as C. S. Lewis put it, the “transcendental Interferer.” He desires our lifelong happiness and our joy.