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A Reformed Fellowship

Our greatest joy

At its most basic level, life is lived according to what gives one the most pleasure. Credit card companies certainly realize this. I once received within a credit card statement three perforated checks on a sheet with the heading “It’s Nice to Have Options.”

Isn’t it nice to know that your credit card company is so concerned about your happiness? On the page with the perforated checks, just waiting for my use, I am assured that “your account makes things possible!” By the way, why do they always use exclamation marks? I guess I’m supposed to be excited. I’m encouraged to “imagine the plans you’ve been dreaming about coming true,” such as “vacation getaway, home improvements, consolidate debt, pay college tuition, a new deck and grill.” Actually, I’ve been dreaming about cleaning the top of my desk, but I guess they can’t help with that.

Now, I’m not opposed to a vacation getaway (really!), making home improvements, paying college tuition (we’ve done a bit of that), or a new deck and grill. It’s just that those things are not worth borrowing money from my credit card company that has to repaid over months or years at exorbitant rates of interest.They don’t provide enough joy for the monthly pain of payments.

Does that mean that we Christians are a bunch of spoil sports who have no fun? Unfortunately, biblical Christianity is often portrayed as doom and gloom, woe is me, behind every silver lining is a dark cloud. That portrayal, of course, is a mischaracterization. True Christians are the happiest folks on earth. Why? They recognize that their sins had separated them from God. They are amazed that God the Son condescended to become robed with mortal flesh, fulfill the law’s demands, and die upon the cross in the place of believing sinners, taking upon himself their sin and granting to them his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Laura Miller reminds us that our greatest joy is derived not from what money, whether our own or borrowed, will purchase. For the Christian, life must have eternal meaning, and that meaning is found in the eternal, triune God. She notes that “the Westminster Divines [1647] charted the whole of the Shorter Catechism on this question of life’s meaning, beginning with the first principle expounded: ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.’ The remainder of the catechism serves as the apologetic [defense] for this answer: The whole of life is found only in God and His Word. These are our boundaries, the recipe for a culture bound to God. If we are in search of a purpose, a meaning for life, that will last longer than the glitter of the latest trinket to catch our eye or the most recent achievement to puff us up, then there is much we have in common with Peter at that moment when he resigned himself to following his Savior—and naught else” (Laura E. Miller, “Life is a Beach,” Tabletalk, vol. 19, no. 11).

Finding one’s greatest joy in God is the secret to contentment, the reason that Paul could write, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).

What is your great joy? Possessions, prestige, accomplishments? Waiting for MasterCard to buy you some happiness? Miller provides this insight: “John Piper notes that ‘God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.’ When we put away the lures and lusts of this life, and cling—even tenuously—to the culture of God defined by His Word, we are able to experience ultimate enjoyment and God is ultimately glorified. . . . ‘If anyone desires to come after Me,’ Christ said, ‘let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’ (Matt. 16:24). There is no room for self-definition in these words, only self-denial and redefinition in the image of God, where we are made to enjoy and glorify Him.”