There's no doubt in my mind that God wants those of us who are His chosen children to live in joy always. Not happiness necessarily, but joy always. Happiness is merely a fleeting feeling dependent upon our circumstances; but joy is a possible condition of the heart regardless of circumstances. How else could the Apostles have sung praises to the Lord while being tortured and murdered?
Jesus died to make it possibe for us to have the kind of intimate relationship with God our Father that affords us not only salvation and eternal live with Him, but also the freedom in Christ to live out our lives on earth with an unquenchable joy in the hope of our salvation. A hope without any doubt at all, looking securely forward to something we already have. Our eternal life starts at the point we realize we're not God and commit ourselves, rather, to Him.
The thief on the cross who asked Jesus to take him where He was going, immediately received the unconditional, blessed assurance from Jesus, "This day, you will be with me in paradise." And there was still time left on the clock. Nevertheless, I have no doubt the thief died, though in incredible pain, with the incredible joy of that blessed assurance!
How else could so many throughout history, starting with the Apostles, have rejoyced in suffering? "Rejoyce in the Lord always, and again I say rejoyce." was Paul's insistence to us who belong to Him.
Without Jesus, we cannot be free to live in joy; with Him, we are made perfectly free to live in joy if we choose to trust Him. Freedom in Christ from bondage to the enemy. Eternal life starts now. He died to give us life, and life more abundantly, because we have been bought by His sacrifice and are free from the law of sin and death starting now. He is our Shepherd if we are His sheep. But living in that joy is up to us. We are simply free to choose it.
Does He want us to be joyful always? You bet! It seems to me that most, if not all, of His commands and ordinances for us in the New Testament are for the ultimate purpose of showing us how to free ourselves from the bondage of human pain and heartache and bitterness and resentment and covetousness and fears and self-condemnation, and live in joy always!
Christ did the work to save those of us who have a heart committed to God. Our own good works cannot save us; but they do increase our own joy in serving our Master (as illustrated by the good servants in the parable of the talents). They're how we show our love for Him, but nothing we do can complete or perfect or add to the work Jesus has already done for us. Our salvation was completed to perfection the moment He died; He said, "It is finished."
Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you. Seek me and you shall find me. Trust in Me. Cast your burdens on Me. (Be heavenly minded and know who you are in Christ, and look forward to your salvation from this world, the salvation you already have).
Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love even your enemies. Esteem others higher than yourself. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me. Judge not, lest you be judged. (Don't carry hatred or bitterness or disappointment, even toward yourself). Be content with what you have, including who you are. In my weakness, He is made perfect. "The least of you will be called the greatest in the Kingdom." "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit." "Blessed are the meek..." Pray always with thanksgiving. Don't worry. Don't compare yourself with others.
Don't even compare yourself to who you think you should be, or what you think you should be doing, if it brings discontentment or disappointment with yourself or your circumstances. He bought us as we are, and "He who has begun a perfect work in us is faithful to complete us until the day of Christ." He's the One who will perfect us.
After all, did He make a mistake in choosing me and drawing me to Himself? Do my weaknesses surprise Him? Did anything we've ever done or not done surprise Him? Have any of my mistakes disappointed Him about me? Did Peter's weakness in denying Him three times surprise Him, and did He love Peter any less for it? Do I know better about myself than God does? Is it up to me to second-guess Him? Is it up to me to assess whether I'm worthy of His choice?
(Job 35:5-8) Look unto the heavens, and see; and behold the clouds which are higher than thou. If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him? or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto him? If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man.
So He has even made it possible for me to be free from being discontent or disappointed with who I am, if I will take every thought captive and wash my mind with His words about His unconditional love for me. He loves me perfectly right now, as I am, and He is fully aware of all my weaknesses as well as my strengths.
He's always known my sins and failures from beginning to end, but now that I've repented and surrendered my life to Him, He chooses not to see them. When He looks at me He only sees what He wants to see; He only sees what He loves about me.
Shouldn't I love and accept and forgive myself as He does? Which of us is the liar? It is a heart for Him that He seeks; a heart that He can mold, a heart for Him that He can perfect. When we judge anyone who's His, even ourselves, aren't we second-guessing God?
We are sojourners in the enemy camp of this world, but we are not one of the enemy. "The Lord is my shepherd (If I am one of His sheep); I shall not want." For anything. Period. I am not left lacking or wanting anything. I no longer come up short in His eyes. No one understands me better than He does. If we love Him and are trying to live for Him according to His ordinances, even against our own natural feelings, we can be free to live life joyfully. Just "go and sin no more", for the sake of your own joy.
But why? Why is our own joy so important to Him? Because when we are joyful, we are at our best for Him. We can have joy in knowing we belong to Him. It's the devil who wants us beaten and robbed of joy, rendered ineffective in serving God. God wants us at our best always so that he can freely use us for His purposes. When we exhibit the good fruit of living for Him in unquenchable joy, others see it and wonder about it and want it. Then we have an opportunity to witness to Him that saved us. We're not perfect, just saved. Living in joy is being a perfect witness to His perfect mercy.
When Jesus 'partied' with 'sinners and tax collectors', was He solemnly bible thumping? Was He a party-pooper? Probably not. I know He wasn't sinning like they may have been, but was He still enjoying His time with them? I'll bet He did. Were they still drawn to Him? I'll bet they were. I'll bet it made them want what He had; it made them want to be like Him.
Anything that robs us of our joy is from the pit of hell. It steals our effectiveness for Him. It makes us a weakened tool of His. It cripples us from being ready, willing and able to do His bidding when He calls us to do something for Him. In this way, I think that any thoughts we heed, even about ourselves, that robs Him of our effectiveness as a servant for Him, is a sin. It's like taking His tool (myself) and throwing it out in the dirt. After all, am I my own, or am I His? Am I my own savior, or is He? Am I a tool for myself, or am I a tool for Him? Am I my own god, or is He?
It's for this reason that I must choose to rearrange my priority list, not only for each day, but for my whole life. Joy must be at the top of my priority list for myself for each moment of each day, because then doing what's right in His eyes at every instance will follow. Doing what pleases Him is what gives us joy; and no wonder: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Likeness. That wasn't just about the physical; He wasn't being redundant.
Those of us without God cannot have joy, and those of us who belong to Him can. But that's up to me. He has given us every tool we need to live joyfully for Him and be free from the bondage of self-condemnation. He has given me every fear-squashing Word we need. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus", and since I've made the choice to live in Him, He lives in me.
Certainly, as children of the King, we should hold ourselves to high standards, but never to the point of thinking less of ourselves than He does. He loves us for who we are, as we are right now We should always be about striving toward being the best and most effective tool we can be for Him; and the first requirement for that is to have peace and joy about who we are in Him, not what we do or don't do. Live in joy now.
Stop chasing it and let it catch up with you.
When we are disappointed in ourselves to the point of feeling beat down by it, we've stepped over the line. When we become obsessed with anything, even our own "perfection", to the point where it has robbed us of joy, then we've made ourselves our own idol. It is sin. Disappointment, even (and maybe especially) with ourselves, is sin.
Peter was no doubt mournful after he heard the cock crow and realized what he had done. Thank God he, after denying Jesus three times, didn't beat himself up so much that he felt unworthy and afraid to show his face to our Lord after His resurrection! When he did meet his resurrected Lord, did Jesus condemn him for denying Him? No! In fact, Jesus exalted him in spite of it, and gave Peter a chance to recover, a chance to tell Him that he loved Him, once for each time he denied Him.
Why did Jesus do that? It certainly wasn't because He didn't know whether Peter loved him. I think He was giving Peter the chance to forgive himself and just relax about it and rest himself in Him. I think He absolutely wanted Peter to forgive himself. Why? I think he wanted Peter to be fully encouraged to feed His sheep, free of the burden of any guilt about denying Him. Strengthened and encouraged, not beat down with self-condemnation and fear of inadequacy, feeling perfectly loved for who he was, not what he's done.
There's only one who wants us to beat ourselves down and feel unworthy and inadequate. There's only one who wants us to feel as if we can't do enough good works to earn our salvation, to earn God's love. Even "mother Theresa", one of the greatest of us in good works and devotion to God, never felt that she could do enough to earn a place in heaven, because she had been brainwashed by Catholicism to believe it had to be earned. She may have indeed already had it sewn up long ago by her heart of devotion to God, but was never free to live out her life on this earth in the joy of that certainty. Her memoirs testify to it. Can you imagine what she may have been capable of otherwise?
There's only one who wants us rendered ineffective to serve the Lord by being at our best. And that, of course, is Satan, from which all lies, including the idea of a salvation conditional upon our works, have sprung. Paul said, "...I'll show you my faith by my works." It's by faith we are saved, through grace, "...not of works, lest any man should boast."
So whenever we do that, whenever we beat ourselves down for anything we've done or not done, whenever we feel burdened by all the good works we're not doing or the bad things we've done, whenever we feel guilty about anything, we're serving the enemy. And again, who is our god? Just go and keep trying to sin no more, and repent when you stumble and fall, and remain at your joyful best when He calls you to do something for Him. And trust Jesus for the rest.
Determine to live in freedom and joy first and foremost, and remember that it's Him who wants that for us. We can choose joy first, above all, always, and He went to great lengths in His Word to show us how.
It's easier said than done, but it's certainly something we must shoot for and be ever mindful of for our own sake, which is for His sake. Let's strive to love and accept each other, including ourselves, with our weaknesses and our strengths, as He has loved and accepted us; and let's just live in the joy of knowing we're children of the King, chosen for who we are at heart, knowing He's certainly no fool.
"Those He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son..." Notice He didn't say "...predestined to conform themselves..."
Now go, be free, trust fully in your Lord God in all things, and live in joy always, the joy in the certain hope of seeing the face of your almighty Shepherd Jesus.