When my Christian life only feels average, and not awesome
John 10:10 is an awesome promise. It talks about Jesus coming that we may have life and life abundant. In John 4, Jesus promises the Samaritan woman with five husbands the same thing at the well: that with His living water, there will be an fountain of living water welling up to eternal life.
But in real life, the Christian life often feels less than awesome. It may feel average, or ho-hum, or routine, or even dry, sometimes. We’re not talking about suffering or hardship, just the normal, average day. What do we do?
The Bible seems to promise so much more. For instance, Psalm 16:11 says that “[God has made] known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” John Piper, one of the most influential teachers in the church today, has built a ministry on the idea that the joy that God commands us to have is not optional or negligible. For Piper, joy is a necessary and essential part of the Christian life.
So why don’t we feel that kind of awesome joy?
Here are some four clusters of questions I’d like to ask in response:
- First, what is your joy based on, or what is the source or root of that joy? Do you know what the source of it is?
- Second, what do you expect that experience of joy to be like on a daily basis? How do you experience the “awesome Christian life”?
- Third, in your life, what do you think are the supporting catalysts for joy in your life? How are you amplifying or guarding these “regular means of grace” in your life?
- Fourth, could there be something that’s robbing you of joy in your life – what might these be?
Let’s look at them one by one.
The source of awesome joy
A scan through the Psalms shows that joy has a source. Ps 21:6 says that the Christian is made glad by the “joy of [God’s] presence”; Ps 43:4 talks about God as “my exceeding joy” whom I experience when I go to His altar; Ps 119:111 says that the “testimonies [of God]” are the “joy of my heart”; Ps 137:6 says that God’s holy dwelling, Jerusalem, home of the temple, is set above his highest joy; Ps 126:4-6 says that when God restores the fortunes of Israel, the one who wept will “reap with shouts of joy”; when God goes to His “resting place… the ark of [His] might” and the “priests [are] clothed with righteousness”, then the saints will “shout for joy”. In other words, a life that consciously experiences, relates, and rests in God, is a life that is filled with joy. This may take place in holy worship, or mediated through the Word of God, or an awareness of what God is doing and has done – but in all of these, the source of our joy, is God.
Another way of saying this is, having our lives filled with the work and purposes of our Maker, of His character and His agenda, that gives us the satisfaction of knowing what we were meant for. And this makes sense, since in the gospel our Lord Jesus Christ liberates us from sin and a life-centered on me, to love Him and live for Him freely. If He has saved me for Himself, then surely He is the source of all my joy. God Himself must be the source of my living water, and to the degree that He pours Himself into my life, the more I will brim over with life in Him. Do you see Him as good? Do you realise what is soul-satisfying about Him? Are you drawing this kind of life from Him? Are you passionate about your God – not just what you can get from Him, but who He is and what He’s about? To that degree, you will be energized and satisfied in your soul.
Ordinary means of awesome joy (and grace)
Christians throughout history have known that in order to “abide in the vine” of Jesus Christ as He calls us to do in John 15, we require the practice of the “ordinary means of grace”. These include (i) reading the Scriptures, (ii) prayer, (iii) fellowship with other believers, (iv) even actively sharing the gospel with unbelievers, (iv) witnessing baptisms, (v) taking the Lord’s Supper – these are some of the ordinary means by which God pours grace into our hearts by giving us a visible, experiential sense of His favour and presence. When we take part in these things, God uses them uniquely to strengthen our bond with His Spirit. For example:
(i) reading the Scriptures refreshes our minds and helps us think in a godly way instead of a worldly one.
(ii) Prayer expresses our intimacy with Him and dependence upon Him as sinful creatures who need Him every hour.
(iii) Fellowship gives us the opportunity to use our spiritual gifts for the good and advancement of others, and for us to receive ministry from the church, the way He designed it to be.
(iv) Sharing the gospel forces us to clarify and rehearse the gospel, as well as act on faith in obedience to our Master.
(v) and (vi) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are “faith treats” for our eyes, hands and tongues – that we may see the gospel, touch the gospel and taste the gospel in ways that nourish our soul.
Hear me out carefully – I’m not saying that these activities are must-haves. But if we don’t participate in the ordinary means of grace, how do we expect Him to pour out joy into our hearts? Remember that the more we spend time with Him, the more we love Him, and the more we will become like Him. The converse is true. The less we spend time, the less we love and the less we will become like Him. The Christian who never reads the Bible should not expect to hear from God. The Christian who never prays or meditates on the Word of God should never expect to be hungry or yearn from Him more. The opposite is far more likely – that we ignore the means of grace to our own peril – and we will grow more tied to the world and trapped by its way of thinking, as well increasingly steeped in wicked self-confidence and insatiable pride.
Gospel partnerships for awesome joy
Who we spend time with makes an enormous difference. The ways we fill our lives with people who influence and speak into our situations – the ones with whom we spend time and interact with – those are the people who disciple us with their choices and lifestyles. We should have people who can challenge us and speak God’s truth into our lives, and ideally, friends whose differences from us testify to the unifying power of the gospel. These are gospel partnerships – brothers and sisters who are committed to keeping you in Christ, helping you fight sin, reminding you of the gospel and the goodness of your God – these partnerships help you with awesome joy. In Ps 16 the Psalmist says that the “glorious ones… are all my delight”, which is illustrated in places like Philippians 1:4 where Paul says that whenever he prays and thinks of his good friends, the Philippians, does so “with joy”. In that same letter, he calls them the ones “whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” which show you how happy he is when he has like-minded friends in the gospel.
Obstacles (and threats) to awesome joy
It’s worth thinking also about obstacles to joy, or things that diminish our satisfaction in God. Some of these include (i) sin, (ii) idolatry, (iii) unbelief that causes us to doubt God’s goodness, or (iv) a lack of sleep, for instance.
(i) Sin, especially when unconfessed or unaddressed in repentance, creates a sense of guilt and shame that push us away from God instead of allowing us to enjoy sweet fellowship with Him and His holy people. Instead of the healing, restorative fellowship we can enjoy in the gospel, sin in our lives is a barrier between us and the God who is holy, and can be an obstacle to joy in Christ.
(ii) Idolatry, similarly, can be the source of shame when we realise that God wants us to give up our petty little idols so that we can be satisfied with the enormity and scale of His grace.
(iii) When we refuse to comply or trust His will, it leads us to doubt whether or not God’s promises and revelation are trustworthy, and unbelief rises as a root of bitterness that becomes a wedge between us and God.
(iv) In the case of a lack of sleep, that too can rob us of happiness in Christ when just have no physical ability to enjoy what He has given.
In summary, why not sit down with a friend, and explore why your Christian life seems deficient and talk through these four categories?
Written by Caleb Yap