Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (ESV)
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (NIV)
What was it like when you first experienced the beauty of the gospel? I don't mean the time that you first heard the gospel or the first time you read your Bible; I mean the first time that the gospel sunk deep into your heart. Your story is likely different from my story. But no matter who you are, one thing is true of each person when they truly understand the gospel; joy. It's impossible for a person to understand the gospel and not be overcome by joy. After all, the gospel is the most wonderful news in the world. Think about it. All your shame, guilt, and condemnation are totally removed, not because of anything you've done but because of what Jesus did. Jesus has completely paid the price that you and I deserve to pay for our sins. We deserve hell but get heaven instead as a gift of grace through faith. That's the gospel, and it's wonderful news. And when that news sinks in, it leads to joy.
Unfortunately, however, as the weeks and years go by — as we fall into habits of sin — the joy that we first experience at the moment of our salvation begins to fade. It becomes easy to think about following Jesus as a chore rather than great news. J.I. Packer once said, "The way to be truly happy is to be truly human, and the way to be truly human is to be truly godly." In other words, sin undermines the joy you and I first experienced when we placed our faith in Jesus. David knew this was true and prayed in Psalm 51:12, "Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit." He understood that sin, robs us of joy. Someone has said, "Trying to be happy without a sense of God's presence is like trying to have a bright day without the sun." This is true because we were created to live in fellowship with God; sin undermines that fellowship and sabotages the joy we were created to experience in him. That's why I love David's prayer so much. He knew he was designed to experience joy and asked God to restore it to him.
The most important thing to notice is where David goes looking for joy. He doesn't try to change his circumstances to find joy. He doesn't look to another human to find joy; he asks God. The reason is that true joy is only found in a relationship with our Creator. C.S. Lewis wrote, "Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy." Maybe that's your story as well. But we see, over and over in the Bible, that true joy is found in Jesus. The key to joy isn't choosing joy but choosing Jesus.
Maybe like David, you find yourself in a joyless season. Perhaps you long for the joy that you once experienced. Listen. That longing of your heart to experience joy is from God — it's the way he designed you. But you don't become joyful by pursuing joy. You become joyful by seeking Jesus. Consider again the joy you first experienced when you understood the gospel. The thought of joy didn't overcome you. The grace, mercy, and kindness of God overcame you. You understood that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. The greatest news led to the greatest joy. And the same is true for us today — true joy is found by looking to Jesus. I hope our joy will grow as we look to him this week. After all, it's the reason you and I were made.
Written By: Nick Harsh
Nick Harsh (MDiv, Clarks Summit University) is a ministry leader with The Salt Company, a ministry of Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. While publishing regularly at nickharsh.com, his writing has also been featured at The Gospel Coalition, For the Church, and Relevant Magazine.