As a kid I remember eating “Now & Later” candy which was fruit-flavored and taffy-like. These square-shaped candies were quite hard at first with only a little flavor to be enjoyed at the beginning. But as the taffy was chewed, it became softer, and the real flavors came out “later.” I don’t eat them anymore, as I’ve determined the “Now” hardness and flavorlessness at the beginning to be somewhat unenjoyable. Instead I have given preference to the soft taffy that gives immediate gratification! But “Now & Laters” are a great metaphor for our joy in this life. It is true that we will have some joy now. But the real joy comes later!
Jesus promised His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). This promise of Jesus should not be misunderstood! Jesus was not promising full joy now, but He was promising full joy later! Certainly, we have joy in this life at some level. Even the common grace of God allows unbelievers to experience minuscule joy in this life. God provides joy in many ways: love (Song of Solomon 1:4), marriage (Proverbs 5:18), birth of children (Psalm113:9), gathering of the harvest, military victory (Isaiah 9:3), and drinking wine (Psalm 104:15). But the ultimate joy, which God intends for His children, is only received in the future. The joys of this life are but a shadow of the true joy to come. And we MUST keep this perspective in mind at all times. Having this right perspective will help us all avoid the “Prosperity Gospel” preachers who promise full joy now that is tied to material possessions. In the end that is a bankrupt gospel message. If we expect “fullness of joy” now, we will be sadly mistaken, and in the end may become embittered at God. Nothing in this life compares to the promises we have for future glory! Our best life is NOT now, but in the future!
The root of our joy is grounded in the promises for future glory! The Psalmist said, “In His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11). Nowhere in Scripture are we promised fullness of joy in this life. In fact, the opposite is true. Those who follow Jesus are promised suffering, trials, difficulties, persecutions and hardships (John 15:20, 2 Tim 3:12, Phil 1:29). For the Christian, his or her joy is delayed and promised to come later!
Our Great Example
There is no greater example of delayed joy than in Jesus’ example of going to the cross. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to “look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). For sure there were joys that Jesus experienced while on the earth (i.e. seeing people saved, healed, etc.). But the greatest motivation for Jesus to leave heaven and come to the earth to endure what He did was not immediate joy and gratification, but the future promises that His Father made to Him. In short, Jesus was willing to suffer for the joy of future exaltation. In His high priestly prayer Jesus said to His Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” Jesus gained His reward by glorifying His Father while on earth. And when it was all done, God “highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11). Joy for Jesus was delayed! The same is true for all who follow Him.
This is why true believers are able to rejoice through suffering. We “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” which is in the future (Rom 5:2). We are able to rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). We don’t mind the plundering of our property, since we know that we have a “better possession and an abiding one” waiting for us (Heb 10:34). We realize that our suffering for Christ in this world is going to ultimately lead us to “rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13-14). Christians are not crazy people who enjoy pain. But our joy is not rooted in this life. We are able to look past all of the difficulties and look to the promise of our future, just like Jesus did.
The Danger of a Distracted Eye
But let’s be honest, our joy is often robbed because we fail to be future minded. We begin thinking like unbelievers. We look around and see all the blessings that others are experiencing. It is not beyond us as believers to feel sorry for ourselves! We can become envious and even bitter at God because we feel like we are mistreated! Don’t be mistaken, this is a dangerous place to be! Even the Psalmist realized this when he said, “But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pains in their death, and their body is fat. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind” (Psalm 73:2-5). What saved him from stumbling (i.e. getting bitter at God) was the change of mind that occurred when he finally “came into the sanctuary of God” (v. 17). It was the Word of God that reminded him of the ultimate destruction of the wicked and the terrors that await them. The truth was that the Psalmist was on the verge of being “embittered,” “pierced within,” “senseless.” He was allowing his flesh and his heart to fail, and this was robbing him of real joy. Everything changed however when he began to think about the future! As believers we must guard our eyes from looking around us and comparing our lives to others, particularly those in the world. For us our joy is NOT grounded in the circumstances and possessions of this fleeting and temporary life. Our joy is grounded in the future promises!
Witness to the World
As we journey this life we are going to have small joys along the way. But we may also have many sorrows, difficulties, trials and even persecutions. But we must keep our joy rooted in our future hope and the promises of future glory. If we fight to have the right perspective it will not necessarily make this life easier, but we will be a bright light to the world and they will see the faith that we have which is rooted in future joy!