Joy to the Full
"Joy to the World!" "Let heaven and nature sing!" Each and every year, Christmas is supposed to bring a season of joy and laughter; magic and fun. It's a time to be filled with cheer, soak in extra time with family, and spread kindness to our neighbors. Joy to the world. And joy to the full.
But all too often this time of year becomes more of a season filled with stress: too many parties, too many to-do lists, and dreading awkward family dynamics around the holiday table. Or perhaps it’s a unique time of grieving because you've lost loved ones and miss their presence at special occasions. Perhaps it's a time when you are acutely aware of your loneliness. Where can we go to find joy? Not just a seasonal joy of celebration, but a joy that serves as a bedrock to our whole being. A joy that perseveres through dark times of suffering. How can we have joy to the full no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in?
In John 15, Jesus tells his disciples that he wants them to experience joy. Verse 11 says, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." Not just any joy, but His very own joy. And His joy in them will throttle their joy to the max.
Attach yourself to the Source of Joy
So the question is What do we do to experience that joy? The answer is to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus is telling His followers what discipleship will look like after He is gone physically in John 15:1-11. How do we follow and learn from someone who is no longer around? The command is simply to abide in Jesus. Attach yourself to Him. He is the True Vine. Jesus produces the kind of perfect and beautiful fruit that God is looking for. The kind of fruit that we can't produce on our own.
Here is a definition of discipleship based on John 15:1-11 – Experiencing the joy of unity with Jesus through the practice of abiding.
Did you know that every human is a disciple (of something/someone)? We're all abiding in something. We're all connected to a source. It's in our nature. The goal is to find a source that produces joy. We're all producing something. What you produce reflects what you abide in. Christian author David Mathis says it this way: "We become what we behold".
Another way to say it: You are what you eat. When all you consume is empty calories, you'll have low energy. The same is true in a mental and spiritual sense. When all you consume is a certain News Station, you'll be filled with angry opinions and hardline stances. When all you consume is Instagram, you'll always be looking through the filter of comparison and envy. When all you consume is TikTok, you'll have a short attention span and an endless supply of useless dance moves. We become what we behold. We produce what we abide in.
Tune in to the Channels of Joy
How do we abide? A Christian named Justin Earley wrote a book about shaping our lives around this idea of abiding. He confesses, "While the house of my life was decorated with Christian content, the architecture of my habits was just like everyone else's . . . And that life had been working for me – until it collapsed." (The Common Rule, Justin Earley).
Jesus doesn’t just want our Sundays. He wants our Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays too. J.C. Ryles said it this way: "To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with him."
The example of Jesus Himself, along with thousands of years of Church history, show that spiritual disciplines are the best way to abide in the Vine. These spiritual habits can break down into 3 categories (from Habits of Grace by David Mathis): Hearing His Voice (God's Word), Having His Ear (Prayer), and Belonging to His Body (Fellowship). These are the channels through which God has chosen to dispense His grace. These serve as our lifelines to Him. This is how we abide in the Vine. This is what fuels our joy.
When you gather with your church on a Sunday morning, you are abiding in Jesus. When you take time this week to read and reflect on Scripture, you are practicing abiding. When you set aside times to pray this week, you are practicing abiding. You are tapping into the Right Source. And the amazing part is that these things don’t have to be limited to a 15-minute sit-down in the morning with your cup of coffee. You can carry God's Word with you all day in meditation and reflection. You can check in with God multiple times throughout the day in prayer. It is an ongoing relationship. Not a chore we do each day.
The mind shift is that we don’t do these things in order to make God love us more. He already loves us more than we could ever imagine. We read, pray, and fellowship so that we will love God more. The more time we spend with God, the further we will be immersed into His story. The story of redemption. The reality of His gospel. His presence and love and grace will shine through even the darkest of seasons we face. There is no better fuel than this for the fire of joy.
If you are giving all your attention to something other than Jesus and you can't find joy, then change the channel. With all the information we are constantly inundated with, the practice of abiding in Jesus is our only hope in surviving. Society is forming us into whoever it wants us to be (whether we are aware of it or not). So how can we fight back? How can we fight for joy when all we feel is anxiety and exhaustion? It's only through the power of Jesus. And we can access that power regularly through simple practices and habits – time in God's Word, prayer, and fellowship.
If you were God's Enemy, how would you attack His people? Detach them from the Source. Rob them of their joy. Make them too busy to be intentional. Too distracted to care. But we can resist through redirection (as John Mark Comer says in Live No Lies). Redirecting our thoughts and attention onto Jesus. Onto the Source of truth and life and joy. We can experience the joy of unity with Jesus through the practice of abiding. And that is joy to the full!