Lasting Joy in a Wandering World
By Cody Penland
“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 14:17
In March 2019, Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant walked into two New Zealand mosques and killed over fifty persons simply because they were Muslims. In July, multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein was accused of operating a child sex-trafficking ring, but he committed suicide before he could face trial. In November, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump amidst allegations that he abused his power in attempting to persuade Ukrainian officials to investigate potential Democratic opponents in the upcoming Presidential election. Today, we are seeing countless news reports on the COVID-19 Pandemic—an issue that has dominated the thoughts and minds of the world for the last several weeks. It is no secret that the everyday evil in our world and society dominates the headlines of the national news and your local newspaper. Is the news media is fixated on bad news, or is it inadvertently acknowledging that the Bible is right in saying that we live in a broken world that wanders around in search of something more? (1 John 5:19, for example)
The apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). One could look at this broken, wandering world that we live in, and stand in helplessness in their attempts to conjure up ways to find lasting “goodness and peace and joy.” Nevertheless, Paul’s words in the infallible Word of God apply to us today; the struggle to attain everlasting joy and contentment while living in this world is one that we are commanded to embrace.
What is joy? Instead of providing speculation or the dictionary definition, it is necessary to look in the Bible to find this answer. In 2 Samuel, David, while naked, “danced before the Lord with all his might,” because the Lord chose him (2 Samuel 6:15). When Michal challenged this in disgust, David said that “Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes!” (6:22a). In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father celebrated the return of his son, “for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found” (Luke 15:24). The wise men showed great joy when they saw the star that represented the birth of Christ, in fact, the Bible says that they were “filled with joy!” (Matthew 2:10).
Through these examples, the Bible tells us several key things about joy. For starters, joy is a state of intense happiness. It may be in the form of dancing, in the salvation of lost loved ones, in the eyewitness of the movement of Christ, or many others. David dancing naked and wildly shows us that biblical joy does not worry about how others view their happiness. The parable of the Prodigal Son proves that joy often does not result from worldly understanding. In fact, true biblical joy is centered in Christ Jesus, as displayed by the wise men. How does one attain lasting joy and contentment? While there may not be a “one size fits all” method, it seems that these five ways, optimally done together, will bring you victory over the struggle:
Be centered in Christ Jesus. Many teenagers and young adults engage in the existential struggle to “find themselves,” either not realizing or accepting the reality that the center of our identity is Christ himself! This reality, in turn, informs us of a Godly way of living, and a restructuring of our priorities. Joy is one of the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22), so how can one find true and lasting joy without Christ living in them?
Move on from the past. Paul regularly persecuted Christians before his indescribable conversion to Christ. To be able to serve Christ in the ways that he did, Paul had to not only be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, but he also needed to admit, confess, repent, and move on from his past. The past cannot be allowed to hold you back from the plan that Christ has for you, for in living for Christ and engaging in the journey of fulfilling His plan is where joy is found.
Let go of your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us plainly that we are to trust the Lord and not our own manmade understanding. It also says that we are to acknowledge him, and he will then make our paths according to His Perfect Will. The parable of the Prodigal Son informs us that God operates in ways that we cannot understand regardless! It is perfectly reasonable to look at the tragedies of this world and be sorrowful, but we must also remember to trust in the Lord. When we face any persecution for the faith, remember that Paul suffered greatly in the Bible but is receiving his reward in Heaven!
Always keep looking upward to the Lord. In a 1975 crusade in Lubbock, Texas, Billy Graham said that “no man ever turned away from God and found happiness and peace and joy that was permanent and lasting.” The wise men looked up, were reminded of the Lord’s Will and were filled with joy. David danced wildly without concern regarding his appearance, nor man’s reputation placed upon him; he was focused on dancing for the Lord. Staying in consistent, fervent prayer keeps us focused on Him and gives us “ears to hear” for the next steps we are to take in our walk. Most of all, regular prayer, worship, and study keeps our relationship with Christ fresh and active!
Rejoice in what the Lord is doing, has done, and will do for you! Although Easter celebrations are fun—having the children at church hunt for Easter eggs is a blast in itself—the true celebration of Easter should be done every day! I encourage you to look around and soak in the beauty of the creation. Think about what the Lord has helped you overcome, and the victory you have in Him. Prepare yourself for His return!
My prayer for you today is that you find the lasting joy and contentment that Christ desires for you to have. I pray that you make Christ the center of your identity, move on from the past, trust in the Lord, stay affixed to the Him, and rejoice in all that He was, is, and will continue to be! As we understand that the world will continue in its brokenness and despair, I pray that you stay focused on the mission that He has set before you and be joyful in the relationship you have with Our Heavenly Father.
Cody Penland is a youth leader at First Baptist Church of Nebo. He has a Bachelor of Science in History from Montreat College and currently attends Fruitland Baptist Bible College pursuing a call to pastoral ministry. Cody coaches boys’ basketball for the McDowell County Recreation Department.