(Image courtesy of http://www.ocarm.org.)
The Lord God blesses His children with unspeakable and irrevocable joy through Jesus Christ. There are times when the Christian does not see the joy of Christ, but it does not mean that the joy of Christ has disappeared or been removed from the believer. Around the dinner table, when the lights are on, you see your family clearly. When the lights are turned off, they do not disappear suddenly. They are still there, but you are unable to see them. Yet even in times of darkness and trial, the Christian has every cause for rejoicing because of the truth of Jesus Christ: “I will never leave those whom I have chosen, nor will I ever forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 paraphrase). The Lord Jesus is our joy in all things.

There are times when the Christian in the process of sanctification needs the joy of the Lord restored unto them. King David says it this way in Psalm 51:12: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and renew a right spirit within me.” There is a popular false teaching among the worldly today that claims our joy is found in our performance. Of course, this false teaching is not presented in this way. Instead, it is taught in more subtle ways. For example, a pastor will say to his congregation: “Here are seven ways to live a better Christian life.” It is so subtle that many times these false teachers are regarded as truth-sayers. The congregation leaves the service believing that they must go and perform well for God in order to earn the joy of the Lord. However, these teachings only demonstrate to the hearers that they need to look to themselves to do better things for God. So what happens in those times of darkness, when you have exhausted all your efforts and still end up falling short? Where do you turn then for joy? There is no hope in the efforts of man.

Since God is self-existent, He needs nothing from us. He needs not our good works or our human efforts. On the contrary, we need Him. This is why David asks God to restore to him the joy of His salvation and renew a right spirit within himself. There is a deeper idea here as well: when David asks God to restore and renew his spirit, he is also saying that God has already given him a new spirit - nothing earned by his efforts or strivings to get closer to God, but something given to him at surrender of his efforts. Just like David, the Christian who has new life is in need of God to constantly restore and renew him according to His salvation. He is our joy because He is our salvation - at justification and throughout sanctification, and He is our only hope on the day of glorification.

The Apostle Paul on Joy
The apostle Paul writes about the joy of the Lord in Philippians 2:12-18. Paul is exhorting the Church to stop complaining and instead trust the Lord in their difficulties, weaknesses, and hardships knowing that God is at work for their good and His glory. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing… for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (verses 13 and 14 in reverse order). Since it is God who is at work in all things, taking evil and pain, and goodness and pleasure, and working them according to His good will and pleasure - we have every reason to rejoice! We take joy not in our circumstance of suffering, but in the Lord who is at work for good. A Christian woman diagnosed with breast cancer does not rejoice that she has cancer, but she rejoices that the Lord God is at work in her spirit and soul for good - that by her life or death, she is being conformed into the image of the eternal God, being made holy just as He is holy. This is what the Christian rejoices in: the good work of God.

The Apostle James on Joy
This is why the apostle James can say in James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethern, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James teaches that the Christian should consider all things - “various trials” - worthy of rejoicing. But why? What is there to rejoice about when undergoing persecution, or losing your job for unjust reasons, or grieving the loss of your grandma due to illness? James says that the Christian has every reason to rejoice in these things - in all things. This is because James understood what the end-result of the Christian was (and still is): to be like Jesus Christ. It is through trials that God produces endurance for His saints. He is faithful to complete the work He began, and He will use all circumstances - both the pain and the pleasure - to conform us to the image of Christ, who is “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Romans 8:28-29 says:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be firstborn among many brethern….”
We know this from the Bible: that God is self-existent and eternal, and we are in constant need of His grace, His mercy, and His love. He has given us His Son, that He might receive glory at being the firstborn among many brothers (that is, Christians - those whom He has saved). Christians have the full joy of Christ in all circumstances, because in all things He is working for our good, which is that we might be made into the likeness of Him who is the firstborn among many, to God’s glory.

The Apostle John on Joy
Lastly, I John 1:9 says:
“If [Christians] confess their sins, God is faithful and right to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Writing to Christians, the apostle John makes three assertions: 1) that all believers will still sin, 2) that God will forgive those sins if we confess (which all true believers will), and 3) that God is right in forgiving our sins. The third assertion is possibly the most profound of all of them; namely, that God is justified in forgiving us our sins because of Jesus Christ. Since Jesus already atoned for our sins, God is therefore totally just in forgiving us our sins. There is joy for the believer at all times because of Jesus Christ, the gift of God to the world!

Whether in pain or pleasure, rain or shine, light or darkness, let us take joy in the Lord and in His providence to see all things to completeness according to His good pleasure and perfect will.

On a Personal Note
I am a complainer. I complain when things don’t go my way, when people are difficult, when drivers run red lights, etc. Yet in all these things, I have been convicted to take joy in the Lord, knowing that in all things, He is at work within me for good. I pray that I would be more surrendered to His good work, that I might not quench His glory.

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him” (Psalm 28:7).