“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11 ESV)
Flying in the face of many critics who call Christianity a straightjacket, Psalm 16:11 sets the record straight. Not only will you have joy–you’ll have fullness of joy! Forget about only some pleasures–think of pleasures forevermore!
How can we experience this fullness of joy? What are these pleasures that we get forevermore?
In this post, I’d like to discuss these two concepts and hash them out so we may marvel at our God who isn’t a kill-joy, but rather, we experience the deep, abiding joy and pleasure as His children.
Fullness of Joy
Joy is different than happiness. We understand this, don’t we? Joy abides; happiness fades. I am happy one day and bummed the next, but may have joy all the while.
With joy, I experience deep contentment and happiness in God at the fact of my salvation, despite my circumstances, whether good or bad. Happiness is wrapped up in joy, but is not joy.
This fullness of joy, it should be said, is something only Christians experience. This is quite obvious. Not everybody has this joy since this joy comes from our common salvation in Christ.
Let’s think of an example briefly of what joy does in the life of a believer.
How does a couple get through the heartache and sadness of losing a child? One simply doesn’t get through that on their own–even for unbelievers (God gives common grace). For believers, the abiding joy we have in Christ far outweighs any present suffering we are going through (Romans 8:18). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get sad — that’s natural — but it means you continue to trust the Lord is good in the midst of it all.
In Christ, we experience complete joy. There’s another realm of the Christian life that our joy is complete: unity.
In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Philippi and pens: “…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (v. 2). We should have joy in seeing the church be unified in Christ. In a time when unity is hard to come by even within the church, we should strive all the more to be unified.
The pleasures we receive from succumbing to our sinful desires pale in comparison to the pleasures we receive from obedience to God. It’s not even a contest. It’s like Charles Barkley vs. Tiger Woods on the golf course–Barkley has no shot of winning.
The world doesn’t get this, and the Lord tells us that. They think the cross is foolishness and it’ll restrict them.
But when you come to faith in Christ, you will see “restrictions” as freeing, as you won’t want to do those things you did in the past. God has changed your affections. He has given you a new heart.
Christianity is not, “I have been saved, but now I can’t do what I want to do anymore.”
Christianity is, “I have been saved, now I have new desires and my old temptations have faded away.”
We have to understand that the pleasures we receive from being in Christ are not physical, as compared to our sinful desires, but spiritual. When I know I am in right relationship with God and progressing well in sanctification, there’s a profound sense of pleasure in that because I know God is working in and through me.
There’s a popular saying that goes, “God doesn’t care about your happiness, only your holiness.” Although I get the sentiment, it’s simply not true. Ponder this from John Piper:
If you tried to describe for me what it means to be a holy person, leaving out happiness in God, you can’t do it. There is no such thing as holiness minus happiness in God. Happiness in God is — I will risk it — the essence of holiness.
Happiness — which is embedded in joy (remember our “fullness of joy”!) — is directly correlated with holiness. As a Christian, I will be my most happy when I am most holy. When holiness becomes a delight for the Christian, happiness follows when we are obeying God.
Happiness and holiness shouldn’t be pit against each other. God wants you to be holy–and happy. The error is thinking that for me to be happy, I must not be able to be holy. That’s false. In Christ, my happiness is my holiness.
In His Presence
Friends, what’s the sure fire way of experiencing this joy and pleasure? Be in His presence! Get to know the Lord–dig deep into Scripture and you will “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
If you struggle to be in the Word and commune with God in prayer, then don’t be surprised when you have a lack of joy, when you don’t experience these pleasures. The more you’re in the means of grace (reading, praying, fellowship, etc.), the more you’ll experience this fullness of joy.
God isn’t a stick in the mud. He wants you to experience deep and abiding joy, and it awaits those who turn to Him in repentance and faith.