Ezra 6:22 (ESV)
And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.“The LORD had made them joyful.” Pastor Steven Cole of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship preached a message on Ezra 6 in which he outlined what he called “five strands of the joy that God wants us to have as His people.” I am indebted to his message, and have combined his five strands into three sources of joy. Joy is something God intends us to experience, but to use C.S. Lewis’s concept in Surprised by Joy, when we seek for joy we seldom find it. When we stop looking for it we are often surprised by it.
Ezra 6 begins with opposition to the work of God, but ends with joy. Verses 16 and 22 mention the people of god experiencing joy. Psalm 100 says, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!” Philippians 4:4 instructs believers to, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Galatians 5:22 reminds us that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” God desires that we experience joy. John Piper writes in Desiring God, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." God takes pleasure in our taking pleasure in him.
So why is joy so seldom the experience of those who claim to follow Christ? We’ll think through that question over the next few days, but the short answer is that we too often have the answer backwards. We think that the pursuit of joy will produce joy, but it almost always produces disappointment and frustration. Joy is seldom found in the pursuit of joy. It is more often found in genuine worship, selfless service, and appreciating the un-deserved blessings of God. When we seek joy we are most often disappointed.
When we set our hearts on God and others we are most often surprised by joy. Selflessness is foundational to personal fulfillment and joy. I know it is backward to man’s way of thinking, but then God’s economy is almost always contrary to that of the world. “The LORD had made them joyful” (Ez 6:22). May that be the case with us today.