A toddler picks her first dandelion seed ball and marvels at the symmetry. She blows on it and delights to watch each tiny parachute in flight. Can you see her face, lit with joy? Now, imagine the kinds of things that will occur in her life that will work to erase that look of joy, replacing it with caution, suspicion, sorrow, weariness, insecurity – the list will be long. Who among us does not yearn for our bygone innocence and unadulterated joy? Someone who also yearned for you and I to recapture real joy was Jesus. Just before He went to the Cross, He said these words to His disciples:
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
The Creator of all things (John 1:2) wanted His followers to be filled to overflowing with His joy! It is a sad irony that so many people who believe they are following Jesus are known for being joyless. But how can we attain this joy? What were “these things” He spoke in order to give us His joy? Let’s look back to see:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:9-10)
Jesus loves you – His words, not mine. How much does He love you? He loves you like the Father, all-perfect, all-loving God loves His only Son. Jesus loves you with the kind of love that prompted God to give His only Son to rescue you. His love is unconditional, perfect, thorough, unchanging and powerful. The kind of love that prompted Jesus to willingly lay down His life for you. Jesus loves you, right now, in the condition you are in right now. No matter what you have done. He loves you. We cannot earn that love and we cannot do anything to shut it off.
But we may not be able to experience it. That’s why Jesus tells His followers to “abide” – literally, to make their home in – His love. Let His love surround you, let it be the environment within which you live. And how does one do that? How do we “make our home” within His love? He tells us. We do it by keeping, or following His commandments. Jesus says, if we keep His commandments, we will live in His love, His joy will be in us, and our joy will be full.
Again, a sad irony. People get the idea that to follow Jesus’ commands would rob us of joy. We would have to dress in black, live within the confines of harsh and strict “thou shalt nots.” We would not be able to laugh, but would have to sing mournful Gregorian chants and stare at candles. No way! Jesus came that we might have a more abundant kind of life, the kind of life we were designed to have, that would fill us with light and that by living according to our “Manufacturer’s” instructions, we would be filled with His kind of joy! Following His commands would naturally lead us away from the kinds of things that change the face of a young child into the face of a wounded, disillusioned adult. And return us to joy.
PS – Don’t misunderstand: I am aware that some have sensed a call from Jesus to dress in black and sing chants, etc. In voluntarily obeying that call some have found exquisite joy. I am not denying or diminishing their experience. But those who reluctantly surrender to such a life, thinking that they are earning Jesus’ approval, have misunderstood His grace, the idea of abundant life and have missed out on His joy.