There can be almost as much joy in the anticipation of a good thing as there is in the experience of the thing itself. 

Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, tells about his family’s yearly summer vacation. Each year, Jim and his wife take the boys camping. But the trip is preceded by months of anticipation. The family looks at maps of the areas where they intend to hike. They look for waterfalls, lookouts, interesting places. The actual camping experience only lasts a week, but the anticipation of the camping week builds for several months. As the trip approaches, it increasingly becomes the dominant topic of their family conversations. And the family experiences deep joy in that anticipation, almost as much as in the trip itself.

The Psalmist David wrote, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7). Because David knew his Father’s heart, David knew that God had great things stored up for him. Even when he was not experiencing those pleasant things, which the context of Psalm 4 indicates he was not, David was still able to find joy in the anticipation of those things.

Paul also had this ability to find joy in the anticipation of future blessings. Notice from Philippians 3:1-11 that Paul begins with a rejoinder to “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1) and even notes that he is being intentionally repetitive in telling the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord.” The section ends with Paul’s anticipation of a great day to come, “the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:11):

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Jim Elliot famously wrote in his journal, years before he gave his life as a martyr, that “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot had learned the Christian secret to a happy life. He knew what allowed both David and Paul to face suffering without losing joy. More than that, he knew why these men even experienced increased joy in a time of suffering! 

Undoubtedly there are many who have been reading this 8-part series on happiness who are not experiencing any increase in their happiness. But some of you are learning the secret to joy. The “mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to the saints” (Colossians 1:26) is nothing more and nothing less than “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27).

When Christ becomes your hope, joy pervades your life. Hope is the future-oriented aspect of faith. No one hopes for what He already has. People hope for good things to come in the future. Those who not only have present faith in Christ but have also learned to hope in His future grace are actually able to experience present joy. The mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This is the Christian secret to the happy life.

In Philippians 3:8, Paul claims to value Christ so highly that everything else appears as rubbish by comparison. “The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” has completely swamped the joy-draining power of present difficulties. The key to understanding how this could be the case is to have both faith and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is one thing to believe that Jesus has died to atone for my sins; it is another thing to consider the future grace that will be mine on account of His shed blood.

Set your mind on what is to come, not on the passing circumstances of today. Teach your soul to hope in God (Psalm 42:5). Then you too will experience what David, Paul, and Jim Elliot experienced, which is the joy of the Lord. “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). 

This is now the sixth of eight exhortations to joy, and it is no trouble to say the same things again and again. It is a safeguard to me each time that I write it and a safeguard to you each time that you read. We need to be reminded again and again, until we learn to hope in God.

With Joy In Christ,

Pastor Jeff