In this abiding series, each post will be framed as an email correspondence to a friend who is seeking to get ‘more’ out of his or her faith. My hope is that by exploring this topic as a conversation, you will resonate with the message as deeply as if it were a letter addressed to you.
To: Friend Seeking More from Faith
From: Doug Nuenke
Subject: Marked by Joy
In your last response, you posed an interesting question:
“What character traits should be most noticeable for those who abide?”
I’ve thought a lot about your question, pondering whether there is a “one-size-fits all” character profile for abiding Christians. Certainly, there isn’t a singular personality type for people who are finding their home in Christ— extroverted or introverted, silly or serious, whimsical or analytical, God delights in the diversity of his children. It exists by design!
However, as I have mulled over your question, I concluded that there is a character trait that should sustain every believer, a manifestation of hope that should set us apart. And that characteristic is JOY.
C.S. Lewis called joy “the serious business of heaven.” It’s a quality that can only be sincerely experienced through the pipeline of relationship with Christ.
I remember being frustrated by this particular topic in my early days as a Christ-follower. For many years, when I would journal about evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in my life (Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) I would bemoan the fact that joy seemed beyond my grasp. I didn’t know how to get it or how to find it.
It took me a long time to discover that the lack of joy was connected to my lack of abiding. Instead of pursuing Christ as my joy, I was often subtly pursing joy in circumstances or in successful pursuit of my personal desires. As we have said again and again throughout our correspondence, we can only experience the power and character of Christ through moment-by-moment dependence on Him.
The apostle John emphasized the connection between joy and abiding both in His gospel and the letter called First John.
First, when he speaks of the abiding relationship offered through the gospel, he relays the beautiful analogy of the Vine and the Branches, concluding with:
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11
Then, in his letter to believers who were experiencing doubt and difficult times, John says:
We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1:4
Joy is not like happiness. It’s not temperamental or derived from circumstance. Joy is the ability to have expectant hope no matter what ups and downs this world brings us. The humbling truth is that if we are not experiencing joy, we are not abiding in the one who provides it.
We access this joy by abiding hour-by-hour with the ever-present Jesus. He is the one who will produce springs of living water – joy that cannot be extinguished, a buoyancy in both seasons of prosperity and scarcity. Timothy Keller says, “There is a joy available that the deepest grief cannot put out. No circumstance or person can take away the joy God gives.”
There is only one well from which living waters flow. Jesus is ready and willing to source us with hope that lifts our eyes from our circumstances to the reliability of his love and care for us. Joy is the characteristic that will mark us as changed and vibrant ones, Christians who are undaunted because of the ever-present, all-powerful presence of Christ.