Inappropriate Joy!

One pastor shares the testimony that he heard from a Chistian lady concerning a fellow believer that had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. While undergoing the painful treatment, he radiated an inexplicable joy that was astounding and puzzling to the medical professionals at the treatment center. The nurse overseeing the treatment wrote in the margin of the medical report, “Inappropriate joy”. She had concluded that his response to such painful treatments was not natural or normal, and that it must be just a false front he was projecting rather than face the grim reality that his death was likely imminent.

But the Christian lady who saw the nurse’s handwritten remarks begin to pray daily, “Lord, give me that kind of “inappropriate joy!”

I saw that in the final days of my wife’s first husband who died at the age of thirty-three of leukemia. During his final 6 weeks stay in the hospital, suffering intensely under the radical chemotherapy treatments, he exuded such joy that it impacted everyone who came into his presence. In fact, on one occasion, one of the oncologists treating him came into his room, knelt by his bed, and exclaimed, “Man, what is wrong with you? How can you seem so joyous? Don’t you know you’re dying?” The doctor could have written on Ralph’s report, “Patient shows “inappropriate joy.”

The brilliant English author, C. S. Lewis, said, "Joy is the serious business of Heaven." Robert Lewis Stevenson said, "To miss the joy is to miss everything!" 

Many fail to realize that the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular offers the key that opens into a life of “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). The New Testament is the most joyful book in the world.  It opens with joy over the birth of Jesus, and it ends with the superb picture of a great multitude singing Heavenly Hallelujah Choruses.  No matter where you open it, amid fortunate or discouraging circumstances, you always hear the note of joy.  There is enough tragedy in the New Testament to make it the saddest book in the world, but instead, it is the most joyful.

Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie, former pastor and honorable chaplain of the United States Senate accurately diagnosed modern day Christianity’s greatest problem: “Joy is the missing ingredient in contemporary Christianity. The problem is our powerless piousness and grim religiosity.”

The enemy of our souls has deceived far too many Christians into believing that they should spend their days sorrowing and weeping either over their own sins, the sins of the Church, or the whole world. Hendrik Kraemer, the Dutch Christian leader whom the Nazis tortured in a concentration camp, exposed such deception with a passionate "NO!" Speaking in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1951, he cried, "We Christians must get the joy of Christ back into our religion. We are denying Christ by losing it!"


In light of the pressing, oppressing, and depressing world events, Christians are not meant to be flippantly unconcerned about a lost, suffering, and dying world, and what appears to be coming upon that world, but are to live in the light of what has been done by Christ and is and will continue to be done to roll back and remedy a fallen race and reverse the curse sin brought upon all creation – and in this light there is joy unspeakable!


Elton Trueblood wrote, "The Christian is joyful, not because he is blind to injustice and suffering, but because he is convinced that these, in the light of the divine sovereignty, are never ultimate. The Christian can be sad, and often is perplexed, but he is never really worried, because he knows that the purpose of God is to bring all things in Heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."

After being in the faith for fifty-six years, being ordained into vocational ministry for 52 years, pastoring churches for 35 of those years, and traveling all over the world, it is obvious to me that for the most part, God’s people have lost the key to the door of joy and have been looking for it in all the wrong places.


Where did we lose it?  In my humble opinion, we lost it as the gospel got distorted and truncated.


William Tyndale described the Christian gospel as "good, merry, glad, and joyful tidings that makes a man's heart glad, and makes him sing, dance, and leap for joy."


If this is the biblical meaning of gospel, then why do so many professing Christians live as “Bad News”, rather than “Good News” Believers? Why do they live gloom-filled lives instead of gospel-filled? Why do they live so uncertain of their acceptance before God, unconvinced of the victory of Christ, undecided about the power of the Good News to make believers eternally joyous in Jesus, beginning right now, and uncommitted in regard to sparing no expense or effort so that everyone can hear the good news?


The main reason for such a joyless life is that far too many believers have a truncated view of the gospel, tending to see it only as a door that they walk through to become a Christian. Consequently, they see the gospel as being only for unbelievers. Once you become a follower of King Jesus, you don’t need it anymore except to share with people who are still outside the door. What you need to hear instead are the challenges and how-to’s of discipleship for Christian growth and remember that it will be good in the sweet by and by. To embrace this view is to forget that Christian growth isn’t steeping out from the gospel, but rather stepping out with, in, and by the gospel. We need to recover the whole gospel that reveals what God’s salvation provisions in the gospel include.

Pastor Philip Ryken, in his commentary on Galatians 5:22, gives a great definition of joy: “Joy is the ability to take good cheer from the gospel.”

Wow! If this definition is valid, then when I as a believer get discouraged and downcast, it’s because I have displaced the gospel and lost the joy of His salvation. In my self-curled sinfulness, I have re-calibrated my gaze to the low horizon of my own little world rather than the broad horizons that encircled the gospel of God. Grover Gunn notes that when we do this, “Self and circumstances have become objects within my trajectory. I become the measure and circumstance becomes the sovereign determiner of fate, and it doesn’t take long before both create a black hole from which escape becomes increasingly difficult.”

The key to living in gospel joy is “being daily filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). John Piper defined the imperative mood of command in 5:18 that is incumbent upon every follower of Christ to obey as one of experiencing what the world would call “inappropriate joy”. He writes, “…being filled with the Spirit means, basically, having great joy in God. And since the Bible teaches that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), it also means there will be power in this joy for overcoming besetting sins and for boldness in witness. But, basically, it means radiant joy, because the Spirit who fills us is the Spirit of joy that flows between God the Father and God the Son because of the delight they have in each other. Therefore, to be filled with the Spirit means to be caught into the joy that flows among the Holy Trinity and to love God the Father and God the Son with the very love with which they love each other.”

Lord, restore unto Your people the JOY of Your so “great salvation” that we may live with such joy in Jesus that the world thinks our experiences and expression of joy seem inappropriate and begin to inquire as to what’s wrong with us! Come Holy Spirit and daily fill us with Your presence and “fructify” us to bear the fruit of joy in the face of everything happening to us or around us. Give us what seems to be “inappropriate joy”!