Journey of Joy: Week Fifteen — Homecoming

I love that you’ve stayed my faithful travel companion for nearly four months, exploring joy from many facets and at every phase of desiring, seeking, and living it. We’ve immersed ourselves in Scripture and story and self-discovery to unearth everything about God, joy, and ourselves so that we can learn to embrace and exude a life of true joy. All our preparations, packing, and purposeful explorations have enabled us to name what hinders us from a life of joy, what helps us stay anchored to God and His goodness, and what hastens us toward our hopes of living like Christ.  

We sense the selcouth ending of this particular journey — its rare yet marvelous conclusion — aware that we have learned important truths and have changed somewhere in the depths of ourselves. What we know about joy is both definable and nebulous, solid truth and fragile mystery. But one thing we can take away from this excursion is that joy is meant to be ours. Jesus wishes it. God promises it. The Holy Spirit unleashes it. In us. For us. 

So, as we wind down this incredible adventure of ours, let’s pull in for a quick chat about how we make the most of what we’ve learned and how to celebrate this great homecoming!

Hinders: Joy and Obedience

King David learned the hard way that the biggest hindrance of true joy is sin. This part of his prayer reveals what he hoped to regain:

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you.” 

Psalm 51:12, NLT

The NLT version makes it easy to see the relationship of joy and obedience — David’s joy had been lost because of his disobedience to God’s commands and expectations. 

Notice David qualifies his joy. In his deep grief and regret, his penitent prayer laments the joy he missed most — not momentary happiness but the joy of his salvation. John Wesley defines the joy David asks God for as “the comfortable sense of thy saving grace, promised and vouchsafed to me, both for my present and everlasting salvation.” 

We can over complicate our search for joy — that comfortable sense of saving grace. But the simple truth is joy follows obedience. Friends, nothing will hinder joy in our lives like our own disobedience

Helps: Trust and Marvel 

It seems only fitting that we should end where we began, with Paul’s blessing to the Roman believers — and to us:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

Smack dab in the middle of Romans 15’s lessons, Paul throws in this beautiful blessing of joy and peace — the hinge for joy and peace being trust in God. 

Over and over on this journey we’ve run into trust. When we trust who God is, our faith grows and fear takes a backseat. When we trust God’s goodness, we have confidence in His plans — even when we don’t understand. When we trust God’s timing and purposes, we are better able to surrender our plans, our control. The fruit of trust is peace and joy. And when we embrace God’s peace and joy, we’re living life open to the Holy Spirit’s power and the hope that overflows!

My husband and I have been rewatching all the Marvel movies in the order they were released. Despite my familiarity with each story, I can honestly say I’m enjoying them as much, if not more, this second time through. My eyes see more detail. My ears catch more of the quick one-liners and conversations that explain or foreshadow. Overall, my understanding is greater. And, because I know “the end of the story,” I better see how everything is connected and points toward that great ending. 

It dawns on me — that’s how Scripture is meant to work. The more we read and hear it, the more we grasp, comprehend, and appreciate it. The better we know how the “story” ends — the part where Jesus wins and we all get to be with Him — the more we’ll see how our story fits in and is supported. Knowing builds understanding. Understanding breeds trust. And trust — well, trust ushers in peace and JOY!

Photo by Jessica Delp on Unsplash

If we’re to live changed by this Journey of Joy, then trusting God has to be a priority, and as we’ve been experiencing, the best way to trust God is to keep spending time with Him. Not out of duty but with devotion and hope for how we can be loved and transformed by Him. 

Trusting God helps escort us into His joy.

Hastens: Presence and Habits

Speaking of the end of the story, Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of that reunion we’ll have with Jesus when we gather with Him in the New Jerusalem:

…and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah 35:10

The desire we have for joy is planted deep within us because it’s what we were made for. Everytime we feel beat down, discouraged, and overwhelmed, we can look to what is to come and find HOPE! We can remember that joy will be ours — everlasting joy will crown our heads; joy will overtake us to the point that all sorrow flees!

Isaiah gives us a promise to hold onto for the future, but let’s not forget that joy can be ours now. And the only place true joy can be found is in God’s presence. The intentional seeking of His presence needs to be at the core of all we are and do because it’s in God’s presence that we find all we seek, including joy.

Prayer is a vehicle for ushering us into God’s presence. God’s Word gives us the directions:

  • Seek His face
  • Fear His name with reverence and awe
  • Claim His name
  • Walk in the light of His presence
  • See God as our dwelling place 
  • Give God all the glory
Photo by Kentaro Toma on Unsplash

In one of her podcast episodes, Annie F Downs spoke a profound truth to all of this, “What we make space for is what we do, and what we do changes who we are” (That Sounds Fun, episode 13). 

If we’re not finding joy, we have to ask ourselves what are we making space for? 

If we’re not finding joy, we need to look at our habits and practices — are they Jesus-focused or self-focused? 

If we’re not finding joy, if we’re not experiencing the transforming power of the Spirit, then let’s make a change — let’s make space for God. Let’s do the work of seeking God’s face and claiming His name and walking with Him because pursuing God’s presence is making space for all that God has for us and wants to do in us. 

The holy habits we put into practice allow us to cultivate a culture of joy within ourselves — a culture that looks like rich soil ready to be planted with seeds from the Fruit of the Spirit, a culture that regularly weeds out the distractions and lies and fears, a culture that nurtures itself by the daily immersion of God’s love and truth and grace, and a culture that encourages sanctifying transformation. 

Healthy habits usher us into God’s presence, and His presence hastens our joy.

Joy: How We Can Choose It

We’ve established on this Journey of Joy that joy is, indeed, a choice. Not a conjuring of a fleeting feeling, but an intentional decision to trust, obey, and seek God. 

We know this. So, the question we must sincerely ask is if we know this truth, then why aren’t we living it out? Maybe there’s still a seed of doubt that questions God’s goodness? Maybe we are still living life by the “rules” other people have given us or by the critical voice in or heads? Maybe we’ve bought into the lie that we should be able to pick ourselves up and handle life on our own? 

If you feel that nudge from the Spirit saying, yes, to any of the above, I hope Aubrey’s confession brings hope and freedom to your heart today:

“Yet even though I know this fact—that everyone suffers—what’s become especially apparent throughout this season is that there’s some voice in my head, some combination of pastor/parent/professor/platitude that says I need to handle this suffering and handle it well. Learn whatever lesson God is trying to teach me so that I can graduate on to the next stage of spiritual maturity. Be brave. Be strong. Be an example to others. Keep that chin up. Pass the test. Choose joy. Fake it ’til you make it. Smile. 

So I try. I strive. 

The problem is that no matter how hard I try to stay positive, my best efforts at “perky” can’t mask the fact that what I really long for are answers, reasons, meaning. But even that longing is conflicted and complicated because I also want to pretend like none of this is happening. I want to tie up my pain in a pretty little package. I want to place my suffering in a vacuum-sealed container and hide it under the bed with my skinny jeans and old journals—things I’m desperate to ignore.” 

by Aubrey Sampson, Jun 1, 2021, from Redbud Writers Guild Monthly Newsletter

I love Aubrey’s honesty because she captures the flippancy of settling for less than joy. Friends, we are not going to settle for anything but God’s true joy.

I love how Aubrey captures the truth that “perky” isn’t what we’re after. We don’t have to wear masks with God — we will come to Him as honestly as possible. Which means getting honest with ourselves. Even in our pain or grief or confusion or shame or regret, God’s joy can be ours. 

I love that Aubrey reminds us how striving on our own isn’t what joy is about. We don’t make it through life in our own strength. The joy of knowing Jesus is that He walks with us through it all, helping us endure, persevere, and eventually find victory. 

I especially love how Aubrey reminds us that our desire to ignore the hard feelings removes the opportunity for true joy. To numb or hide or avoid the pain of life means missing the joys of it. So, we can choose to enter into the hard places with Jesus — and that leads us to the true joy we seek.

Choosing joy can be a catchy trend on t-shirts, and though there’s truth in it, the danger is thinking we can, in our own strength, choose to feel joy. The context of choosing joy, though, is grace. It is by God’s grace that we are saved, but it is also by God’s grace that we find strength to keep choosing to walk each day by faith. And that brings joy.

Crazy Cool Threads

Aimee Walker, in Counting It All Joy, ends her study with the encouragement that joy “is a gift of His grace that we choose to unwrap daily as we revel in His many blessings. It’s the fruit of His presence dwelling within us that grows and overflows as we choose to abide in and surrender to His grace” (page 76). So pick up that glittery, glowing package Jesus is handing you — right now. Open it. Receive His grace that pours over you and in you and through you, gifting you with the joy you seek.

And open it again tomorrow. And the next day, and everyday after. 

As the joy you’ve sought fills you to overflowing, allow your smile to bless all who cross your path. Allow your words to flow like honey on all who are blessed to hear your words. Allow your joy to spread!

Because every good gift is meant to be shared.

A Homecoming Benediction

While our eternal homecoming yet looms in our futures, today we can celebrate our homecoming after a long season of exploration and discovery. We can and should celebrate our endeavors and successes. We ought to raise high a string of Pinterest-worthy pennants in honor of all the ways we’ve been transformed by God’s power and grace. 

So, lift your heads and pray this ancient prayer with me — both as your hope and promise:

“Grant me, even me, my dearest Lord, to know Thee, and love Thee, and rejoice in Thee. And, if I cannot do these perfectly in this life, let me at least advance to higher degrees every day, till I can come to do them in perfection. Let the knowledge of Thee increase in me here, that it may be full hereafter. Let the love of Thee grow every day more and more here, that it may be perfect hereafter; that my joy may be great in itself, and full in Thee. I know, O God, that Thou art a God of truth, O make good Thy gracious promises to me, that my joy may be full. Amen.

—Augustine, in Prayers of the Early Church, page 38

May we choose to know God and love God and rejoice in God more and more every day. May we trust that God’s promises to make our joy full are true and right.

I chose the final song on our Journey of Joy playlist as our conclusion because I wanted you to hear its words and melody in your hearts for years to come — to be our parting words and God’s banner over you. 

May the joy of Jesus be with you
May the joy of Jesus be with you
May you know the joy of Jesus
And may the joy of Jesus be with you

Thank you for exploring joy with me! Thank you for allowing me the gift of processing all my learning with you. May the joy of Jesus be with you, Shelley

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • What’s next? Well, we’ll start spreading joy as we float into the summer of our Reentry after our year of isolation. If you haven’t followed me on Instagram or Facebook, I’d love for you to do so now because I’m doing a series of posts that allow me to hear from you. Your responses will shape our summer Reentry posts!
  • Today I mentioned the study, Counting It All Joy.* The Joyful Life* offers Bible studies in print or as a digital download. I have particularly come to love Aimee Walker, one of the key writers for The Joyful Life. And this is one of her studies.
  • I didn’t offer a journaling prompt this week, but I hope you’ll continue your daily practice of writing three things you’re grateful for. I’ll admit that I have turned this practice into a nightly prayer — so instead of writing what I’m grateful for, I end my day reviewing it in my head then thanking God for at least three things for which I’m grateful. Because gratitude is one of those attitudes that becomes a practice hastening us toward joy!
  • I hope our “Easter egg” hunts throughout this series have helped expand your vocabulary. Or at least intrigued you. 🙂
    • Last week’s travel word was sonder, French for the realization that each random passerby is living life as vivid and complex as your own.
    • And our final travel word was in today’s post: selcouth, English for unfamiliar, rare, strange, yet marvelous.
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify continues to encourage me as I seek Jesus and joy everyday. I hope this is another thing you can take from this journey that will continue to bless you.

*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured Photo by Emily Rudolph on Unsplash

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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