If we are to rejoice in the Lord always, Scripture must be a key part of fueling that joy. George Müller used to say that he strove in his daily devotions never to leave off until his soul was happy in Jesus. Muller believed that a key purpose that God has in giving us the Word is to produce joy in Christ. He was right.
The Scripture is intended by God to have massive positive emotional impact on the lives of his children. It was given to encourage us. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). One of the main reasons the Spirit used John to write Scripture was to produce joy: “These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4). Jesus said “these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).
There seems to be no end of obstacles to a meaningful interaction with the Word. Sickness, fears about the future, our own poor prioritizing, work, stormy political times, media. We can be so caught up and distracted that we actually start doubting the reality of joy in the Word. Despair creeps in, and we face the troubles of life with a sigh and a grumble. Nevertheless, these obstacles can be met by resolving by God’s grace to keep coming back to the Scripture where God’s voice can be heard and where joy should be fueled. It is the Word of grace that builds us up and edifies us in Christ (Acts 20:32). I once heard a wise man say,
The trials of life are really God doing us a favor, showing us what’s in our hearts and how much we’re willing to give up to follow God.
This is so true. When you face obstacles to drawing near in the Word, recognize that God is doing you a favor. The obstacles build spiritual muscle, as long as you jump over them!
Once a person accepts that God wants them to fuel their joy by having a rich relationship with the Word of God, they encounter a difficulty which is found in the Bible itself, though the problem is not the Bible’s but rather our own. When we finally do get into the Bible, we discover it to be full of challenges—much of the Bible hardly seems joyful at all. It is full of threats, dooms, deaths, massive moral failures, and awful crimes.
Dooms and sins. God tells Adam and Eve that “The day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” An angel with a flaming sword cuts off the way to eternal life. Lot goes to live in Sodom, where his children are corrupted. Dinah is raped, and her brothers go on a revenge-spree and wipe out the Shechemites. Babies are thrown into rivers. God’s people desert him en masse on many occasions. God says he will not forgive his people’s sins. The ground opens up to swallow people. God commands Israel to wipe out a whole nation for its sins. Moses is barred from the promised land. Saul loses the Spirit and gets an evil spirit instead. David’s family is judged because he committed the terrible sins of adultery and murder. In the prophets God writes chapter upon chapter explaining all the ways he plans to destroy various nations. We’re told that there is a fiery Gehenna where the worm never dies.
Wow. That is a lot of doom. It’s clear why many people who read the Bible regularly stick to the Psalms and parts of the New Testament. But avoiding any part of Scripture is like leaving a letter from a friend unopened and unread. It simply won’t do to turn a deaf ear to what God has said to us. Besides, the Bible contains sobering things simply because it is telling the truth about the state of the world.
The question before us is this: once I finally get it into my head that true, lasting joy is found in the Word of God, how do I find regular joy by reading a book that frankly seems so dark? How can I fuel happiness in God when I read so many stories about him being offended by evil people and bringing judgment on them? Wouldn’t it be easier to turn to myths (2 Tim. 4:4) that offer a rosier view of things than to try to find joy in all that grim realism about sin and judgment? I think there are more people who are bothered by these questions than we, and perhaps even they, realize. The answer, as we’ll explore in the next letter, is always to keep in mind God’s primary purpose in giving us the Bible—to draw his sheep into his flock and nourish them there. Keeping in mind his primary purpose allows us to keep the darker portions in the right perspective, and even to profit from them and rejoice in God.