Currency, by definition, is a “medium of exchange” between two parties. It provides a common mechanism by which things are traded. At my local Starbucks, for example, I can exchange the currency of $5.00 for a cup of coffee. Just like the world, the Kingdom of God also has certain “mediums of exchange”. These currencies are the things of Heaven that specifically bring us beyond ourselves; they make us distinctly and obviously “Christian”. The currency of the Kingdom is the basis of our witness to the world.
That Thing Called Joy
Joy is a felt experience. It is a positive emotional state that people can experience completely within the realm of the natural world. People often experience joy at certain distinct moments; for example, children experience joy on Christmas morning as they open their presents. A husband and wife experience reuniting joy as one of them returns from a long tour of military duty.
Joy, though, also has a profoundly important supernatural dimension. This is the joy that expresses faith. It anticipates breakthrough, victory, and vindication, long before they come. Paul makes the heavenly value of joy indisputably clear in Hebrews 12:2 when he writes, “…For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the cross.” In other words, Jesus was willing to give up His rightful place in Heaven, take on the infirmity of mankind, endure the agony in the Garden, be scourged and crucified, all for the reward of joy!
The Importance of Joy
The Book of Nehemiah tells the story of the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, which has lain in ruins for decades. It is also an allegory for the rebuilding of one’s life. The story illuminates the importance of joy in the Christian life.
In chapter 8, the people rediscover the lost sacred scriptures as they build the wall. They called this marvelous discovery, “the Book of the Law.” As the high priest Ezra reads the Book of the Law aloud to all the people, their excitement quickly turns to depression. As they hear the standard set by the law, they realize how far short of that measure they live.
God’s response to the people’s mourning and weeping is breathtaking! In verse 9, God declares a holy day, “This day is holy, do not sorrow – for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This verse is vital to the Christian life. Joy is directly correlated to strength. The measure of a person’s strength is the measure of his joy.
Recounting the people’s response in verse 12, Nehemiah writes that the “people rejoiced because they understood.” The people understood that joy would give them the strength to measure up to God’s commands. Joy, as it turns out, is the proper response to facing sin.
Despite that vital information, many Christians respond to their own shortcomings and sin differently. While it is appropriate to experience sorrow, repentance, and contrition, God’s clear command is to move into joy. Joy’s expectant faith provides the very strength that will be required to overcome sin.
Any other response is a counterfeit. Ongoing depression, self-condemnation and sour attitudes that seem to “prove” that we are serious about sin are actually counterfeit responses. They oppose the movement of grace and resist the nature of God’s goodness. They actually rob the repentant person of the very strength to overcome his or her shortcomings. These responses are like the spiritual equivalent of “monopoly money”, providing no real value.
While joy is a felt experience, the experience of joy is within reach of the human will. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul writes, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.” St. Paul is connecting joy, prayer, and gratitude (thanksgiving). Indirectly, St. Paul is communicating the way to cultivate joy. If you practice gratitude in every circumstance, your life will be a “prayer”, and joy will be the outcome.
Dr. Brene Brown, a social scientist at the University of Houston, confirmed this in her quantitative research on joy. In those studies, she found, without exception, that joy follows gratitude. People who have the practice of gratitude experience joy, and those who do not practice gratitude have much lower experiences of joy.
Psalm 16:11 provides one final encouragement to cultivate joy. “In the presence of God is the fullness of joy.” Joy brings the Christian closer to the very heart of God.
In certain parts of Africa people greet each other with the statement, “I thank God for the air I breathe this morning!” The practice of gratitude is something that every person can do. Rather than requiring a certain level of holiness, its starting point is actually in smallness and weakness.
By the constant practice of gratitude, every Christian can experience, greater strength, increased faith, and that most precious Kingdom currency – joy!