The full range of human emotion can be found in the Book of Psalms. We can find love, hate, sorrow, hope, fear, peace, strife, faith, despair and joy. In this article we will concentrate on what the Psalms say about joy. The Emotion Of Joy Can we adequately describe the emotion of joy? What is it like to experience joy? Is being joyful the same as being happy? Perhaps many of us would indeed describe joy as the feeling of happiness. Although the dictionary uses “happiness” as one definition of “joy,” it is generally understood that the emotion of joy is a stronger and more sustained state of “high pleasure.”
The 18th century British philosopher John Locke said, “Joy is a delight of the mind, from the consideration of the present or assured approaching possession of a good.” Hebrews 12:2 is a biblical example of an “approaching possession of a good”: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame.”
The word “joy” is found at least 48 times in Psalms, depending on the version being used. Within these references we are encouraged many times to sing or shout for joy; we are given several examples of believers singing or shouting for joy; and we are reminded time and again that God is the true source of this joy.
Reasons To Sing And Shout
Psalm 5:11 encourages those who take refuge in God to be glad and “ever sing for joy.” And verse 12 provides both a definition of the “joy” and a reason for singing for joy: “For surely, O LORD, You bless the righteous; and surround them with Your favor as with a shield.”
Psalm 33:1 urges us to “sing joyfully to the LORD.” Verse four tells us why: “For the word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.”
Psalm 47:1-9 gives us more reasons to sing and shout for joy: “Awesome is the LORD Most High”; He is “the great King over all the earth”; “He subdued nations … peoples under our feet”; “He chose our inheritance for us”; “God has ascended amid shouts of joy … God is seated on His holy throne”; “The kings of the earth belong to God.”
Psalm 71 is filled with reasons for expressing our God-centered joy, even in the midst of troubles: He is our rock of refuge and our hope (71:5); He is our confidence; He is the source of our salvation; He is righteous, powerful, and faithful (71:3,5,15,16,18,22,23). Making a careful study of this Psalm and having a heart-felt belief in what it says will strengthen our ability to shout for joy as we sing God’s praises (71:23).
Psalm 81:1 tells us we can “sing for joy” because “God is our strength.”
Psalm 92:4 encourages us to be glad about the things God has done and continues to do in our lives: “You make me glad by your deeds, O LORD; I sing for joy at the works of Your hands.”
Psalm 95:7 gives us another reason to sing for joy – because we are “the flock under His care.”
Psalm 100:5 lists two more reasons for joyful singing and shouting: “The LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.”
Psalm 145:7 promises us that future generations will also joyfully sing of God’s “goodness” and “righteousness.” This will happen, in part, because we give joyful expression of our God-centered praise as a way of commending God’s works to another generation. Just think! This is encouragement to us that our children, grandchildren, and peoples of the world, may celebrate God’s abundant goodness as a result of our joyful singing of God’s righteousness. They, in turn, through coming to Christ, will joyfully sing of His righteousness. Then, as future generations joyfully sing, even more peoples of the world will know of His mighty acts and the glorious splendor of His everlasting kingdom (145:11-13). What a far-reaching effect of our joyful singing!
Examples Of Joy
When King David’s throne was seized by his son Absalom, he found himself in great danger (2 Sam. 15). However, even with such danger looming about him, David was able to experience joy and express it in Psalm 4:7, where he proclaimed to God, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” This is a reference to Israel’s annual harvest festival when barns were full and wine vats were overflowing. It was a festive time of celebration.
Yet, David’s joy was far greater than this. It was the true joy that came only from God. His joy was in God, not in thrones, kingdoms and things. Also, he was not content to keep this joy to himself. Earlier he lamented that “many are asking, ‘Who can show us any good?’” David then asked God to “let the light of Your face shine upon us, O LORD” (Ps. 4:6).
In Psalm 30:11 David acknowledged that God is the one who turned his “wailing into dancing” and “removed (his) sackcloth and clothed (him) with joy.” His joy was so great that he was now able to sing and not be silent; he would give thanks to God forever.
Perhaps David’s testimony will prompt us to share with others our 21st century testimonies of God-centered joy, as found in our personal relationships with Jesus Christ. Joyful testimonies can make a difference in the lives of millions of people worldwide who are in need of having their “wailing” turned into “dancing” and their “sackcloth” exchanged for the “joy” found in God through His Son Jesus Christ.
When God freed the Israelites from their Egyptian captors (Ex. 14), who enabled them to rejoice with singing (Ex. 15)? Of course it was God. Psalm 105:43 reminds us that “He brought out His people with rejoicing, His chosen ones with shouts of joy.” Another reference to this joyous deliverance is given in Psalm 126:2-3 which says: “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORDhas done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”
Notice the Scripture says, “Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’” The joyful thanksgiving voiced by the Israelites had evidently also served as a testimony to God’s greatness. As we reflect upon the many times that God has brought us out of difficult places in our lives, we can also rejoice with “shouts of joy.” As we are filled with God-centered joy, our neighbors and people around the world will learn of the greatness of God.
A Path To Joy
Following God’s Word provides us with a path to true joy. In Psalm 19:8 David reminds us that “The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.” The words of Psalm 119:111 proclaim as a God-directed prayer, “Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.” Are we being diligent in our study and also in our application of God’s Word to the extent that we are finding true joy as a result?
In addition to studying and obeying God’s Word, what about those promptings of the Holy Spirit that we sense from time to time in our lives? Responding to them can result in joy. I offer a personal testimony as an example. One morning during my Bible study and prayer time I sensed a strong urging to make a phone call to an old friend with whom I had not had contact for a long time. I called and we had a great visit, including reminiscing of some good times past. My friend also shared some prayer requests, especially for the health of his wife and him. As we concluded our phone visit I told him, “I love you, buddy!” I’m not sure I’d ever said that to him in our 50+ years of friendship.
That was the last time I ever talked to my friend. A few weeks after our phone visit, he entered into the joy of God’s presence in heaven. As I attended his memorial service, along with sadness there was joy in my heart – the joy of knowing that Bob was now worshiping in the presence of his Savior and Lord. There was also the joy of knowing I had visited with him a few weeks earlier, and that I had told him I loved him. This second joy would not have been there had I not followed up on an early morning prompting of the Holy Spirit. Once again, God proved to be the source of joy, even as witnessed in the Psalms.
My mother-in-law was afflicted with severe dementia a few years before she died at 93. Although she could not remember what she had told us only a few minutes earlier, she had little difficulty recalling Scripture verses she had learned many years earlier. She also had wonderful recall of such songs as “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.” It was not unusual for the residents of the nursing home to hear her happily singing as she shuffled down the hallways.
Even in her state of dementia God enabled my mother to be a singing worshiper and an evangelist. Even as Moses requested in Psalm 90:14, God also satisfied her with His “unfailing love,” and she was able to “sing for joy” and be glad all her days. As we grasp with greater understanding the joy in the Psalms let’s trust the Holy Spirit to enable us to sing for joy and be “glad all our days.”
Let’s Sing For Joy!
Let’s join our hearts and voices together in singing the hymn verses below, written by 18th century hymn writer Isaac Watts and based on Psalm 5:11: “Let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You.”
By Roger Wayne Hicks
|Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne.
Let those refuse to sing
That never knew our God;
But children of the heavenly King
May speak their joys abroad.
– Isaac Watts, 1674-1748
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org