Question. How do we enjoy God?[1]
Answer. We enjoy God as we submit our hearts to all that he tells us.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Isaiah 12:3)

God loves a cheerful preacher. Our ever-blessed, ever-joyful God wants to be proclaimed by those who are brimful of the joy his grace in Christ brings. He calls us to delight in him and, out of that joy, to call others to the feast. Preacher and sermon must be filled with gospel joy. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3). Preachers who taste, teach, and share the joy of the gospel are truly fulfilling their calling as they serve those who listen.

What I’ve just said causes some to smart. Life can be so hard, and surely joy is just one of our experiences among the whole range of what we encounter. What about the tears, the heartaches—for some, the months and even years of numbing grief or debilitating illness? It’s true, we preachers are often deeply sad—just as everyone else can be. So, why single out joy when joy is so often crowded out by almost anything else?

The reason is that joy, like nothing else, shows whether we really believe the gospel. Joy is gospel authenticity. Joy is not an emotional buzz, an escape from the difficulties we face. To know Jesus Christ means to taste, and to want to taste more, the delights of peace with God the Father, who cares for and smiles on us, the Son, who journeys with us, and the Spirit, who empowers us. Crushingly hard days come, and conscious fellowship with God may be over- shadowed for a season; but the triune God is with us. He is our joy.

Joy in Christ and his grace is the most convincing sign that the gospel has won our hearts. If we say we’ve been brought to Jesus and are his willing servants but live joyless lives, then there is a problem. If we preach out of a heavy sense of obligation, we are in trouble. And if we honestly believe that people will be won for Christ through our dutiful, even faithful and conscientious—but actually joyless—preaching, then we are deceiving ourselves. The whole world is looking for joy. The church is looking for it, too. And everyone’s looking at you. You’re the preacher, who’s supposed to have a message, even a life-transforming one. Are you being changed, then, in this one area that everyone longs for most of all? Are you a joyful preacher, whose words match the revolution you’re experiencing?

The men who framed the Westminster Shorter Catechism knew that we are redeemed in Christ to know the joy of God’s love. That is life’s purpose. As they put it, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”[2] Life in Christ is not, above all, a set of commands to obey externally but the inward work of the Holy Spirit to remake our minds and hearts. Only then does faith express itself in glad obedience. As those who are led by the Spirit, we are to be led into a life of deepening and joy-filled contentment in Christ. True joy in Christ has many distractions and opponents. One of its greatest opponents is ministry. Click To Tweet

The Christian life begins with hearing the Word of God in the power of the Spirit and responding to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. Christian maturity is an ongoing experience of the same: we see Christ in his Word, and we worship him, gladly giving our hearts to his lordship. We repent of the ways in which we deny his rule of grace over our lives, and we recommit ourselves to him.

The discovery our astonished hearts make as we live the Christian life is that discipleship is an invitation to taste joy. Jesus gives his disciples the promise, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). That first step with Christ is a step into understanding, reality, truth, and freedom. All the world is looking for those things but failing, as we once were. Now we’ve been brought by grace to encounter them all in a person, Jesus Christ. Sin once controlled our hearts, but the invasion of God’s forgiveness has brought us into a new life of forgiveness and peace. And joy. Joy is offered to us in Jesus (John 15:11; 16:24). Those of us who preach must be eagerly seeking out joy in Christ.

True joy in Christ has many distractions and opponents. One of its greatest opponents is ministry. At times in my own ministry, my heart has felt like a wind tunnel, with prayers and sermon prep all focused on the needs of others rushing through it, while I was struggling to give enough time to ministering to my own spiritual needs. Sunday and midweek deadlines may focus the mind and will, but they can also be the slow (and stressful) death of even the keenest preacher. Jesus ceases to be the delight we’re knowing and commending to others and becomes the one whose sweetness has faded. Preaching his Word is no longer the overflowing of joy-captured hearts. If that is the situation we’ve fallen into, we need to take time out, and begin over again.

So what do we do? We need to give our hearts time and space, and bring them, distraction free, back to the gospel. We need a fresh discovery of just how loved we are in Christ. We need a fresh discovery of just how loved we are in Christ. Click To Tweet In life’s busyness we need to fight for the time to listen to God’s Word. If we don’t, the thistles and thorns of work, ministry, and worry will choke our souls. Our hearts need time—time for the Word. We must pray, sing, and worship. Joy-crushing sins and patterns of ungodly behavior must be identified and confessed. There are the many, many blessings that unmerited grace has brought us to reflect on and much joy to be found in our Savior. “Joy in God is a duty of great consequence in the Christian life; and Christians need to be again and again called to it,” wrote Matthew Henry.[3] God designs that his church be served by Word-soaked, joy-seeking, and joy-sharing preachers of his delightful gospel. He purposes that those same preachers be mastered by his Word, preaching out of experience.

For that to become reality, the sermon prep will have to wait, and some areas of our lives need a careful and principled neglect. The lawn can grow long, and the bike can rust a little. There are wells of salvation to draw from, and our joy in Christ is at stake. This heart work (as the Puritans would call it) is not an extra duty to add to the many in your busy life. It is the preacher’s first responsibility, and not an optional extra.

Martin Bucer, friend and mentor to John Calvin, gave this counsel to ministers of the Word:

The health and life of the inner man consists in a true living faith in the mercy of God and a sure confidence in the forgiveness of sins which Christ the Lord has acquired and earned for us. This faith and confidence make us truly love God and everything which pleases Him, and bring us his good Spirit, who effects in us a right will and ability to avoid everything that is evil and to do everything that is good.[4]

Good advice. Our crowded age needs to rediscover the wonder of going to God empty-handed but with expectant hearts. Before we would dare to preach his Word, we must ask him to preach it to us, for our growing delight in his Word. “Our joy in the word is the litmus test of the value we actually place on that word.”[5]

Endnotes

[1] Content taken from The Preacher’s Catechism by Lewis Allen, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

[2] Answer to Q. 1 in The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2015), 5.

[3] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 6 vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrick- son, 1991), 6:599.

[4] Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008), 103–4.

[5] Christopher Ash, Bible Delight: Heartbeat of the Word of God (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2008), 191.