Psalm 126 has Israel’s return from Babylon (“When the Lord brought back the captive ones” (v. 1 – NASB) as its starting point. The nation’s response to God’s great deliverance is both poetic and powerful, “Our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy . . . we are filled with joy” (v. 2-3). The reason for their joy was simple—”the Lord has done great things for us.”
Joy is not a command, it’s a consequence. It is the natural result of a relationship with God through Jesus. But people don’t always want a relationship with the Lord so their search for joy takes them in other directions. Eugene Peterson speaks to this in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
We try to get it through entertainment. We pay someone to make jokes, tell stories, perform dramatic actions, sing songs. We buy the vitality of another’s imagination to divert and enliven our own poor lives. The enormous entertainment industry in America is a sign of the depletion of joy in our culture. Society is a bored, gluttonous king employing a court jester to divert it after an overindulgent meal. But that kind of joy never penetrates our lives, never changes our basic constitution. The effects are extremely temporary a few minutes, a few hours, a few days at most. When we run out of money, the joy trickles away. We cannot make ourselves joyful. Joy cannot be commanded, purchased or arranged.
But there is something we can do. We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to center ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab. One of the certain consequences of such a life is joy, the kind expressed in Psalm 126.
Joy flows from a relationship with our transcendent Father! Joy that is rooted in anything else is only a pretender and will never meet our deepest needs. Only joy that comes from God can power our journey through this life. Don’t settle for anything less.