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Joy

The summer months are in full swing. For many, words like “cottage is my happy place” and such like readily come to mind. There is truth to that idea as there are many places where we do find an escape from the busyness of this world and enjoy time with friends and family. Hopefully, we will all continue to have happiness when the Lord provides such blessed opportunity. Happiness, however, is an external emotion that is a result of circumstances, actions, emotions, or events around us. Joy, on the other hand, is an internal feeling, a contentment that is independent of circumstances—a cause, not an effect.  

The difference between happiness and joy was impressed upon me when I was studying John 15:11: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” Substitute the word happiness for joy, and the words John expresses immediately become less personal, less meaningful as a blessing for God’s people centuries later. I was surprised when I turned to news in the world around me that a similar discussion was taking place. 

In the world of sports, the concept of a super-team, or dynasty, is both admired and despised at the same time. Arguably there is no team, in any sport, that is closer to being named a dynasty than the Oklahoma Sooners softball team. This past year they had a record of 60–1, which followed a 56–4 season last year and a 59–3 season the year before. They were favored to win, and eventually did, the College World Series for the third year in a row. 

Naturally, every press reporter, and most observers too, want to know the secret to the Sooners’ success. Asked if the girls felt satisfied with three championships in a row in one of their postgame press conferences, the players provided a unified and astounding response: our joy is in Christ alone. “The only way that you can have a joy that doesn’t fade away is from the Lord. And any other type of joy is actually happiness that comes from circumstances and outcomes,” Oklahoma player Grace Lyons said.1 Wow! Not what I expected to hear, nor what most listeners were expecting either. Grace Lyons was not alone in her response. 

Another player, Jayda Coleman, responding to a question about winning last year, stated, “I was so happy that we won the college world series, but I didn’t feel joy.” Coleman followed this by saying:  

  • I didn’t know what to do the next day. I didn’t know what to do for that following week. I didn’t feel filled and I had to find Christ in that. I think that is what makes our team so strong is that we’re not afraid to lose because it’s not the end of the world if we do lose. Yes, obviously we worked our butts off to be here and we want to win. But it’s not the end of the world because our life is in Christ and that’s all that matters.2  

Coleman’s Instagram page reveals the meaning behind her words. She was recently baptized, and pictures of the event show her surrounded by her teammates at church. They are together in all aspects of life, not just softball. 

Alyssia Brito, responding with a statement of her own, said, “I think a huge thing that we’ve really just latched on to is ‘eyes up’.” She explains what this means with the following: 

  • And you guys see us doing this and pointing up, but we’re really fixing our eyes on Christ. Like they were saying, you can’t find a fulfillment in an outcome whether it’s good or bad. I think that’s why we’re so steady in what we do, in our love for each other and our love for the game because we know this game is giving us the opportunity to glorify God. Once we figured that out and everyone was all in with that, it’s really changed so much for us. 
  • I know myself…once I turned to Jesus and I realized how he had changed my outlook on life, not just softball…but understanding how much I have to live for. That brings so much freedom. No matter the outcome, whether we get a trophy in the end or not, this isn’t our home. We have an eternity of joy with our Father. Yes, I live in the moment, but I know this isn’t my home and no matter what, my sisters in Christ will be there with me in the end when we’re with our King.3 

The players were not coached to say these things, but they were coached by someone who speaks and lives this way. Patty Gasso has been coaching Oklahoma softball for twenty-eight years. For the first few years her teams were good, but not great. Gasso stated, “The Lord kind of woke me up and was like, ‘You’re doing this wrong. You’re not here to win games. You’re here to open the door — here to win souls. You open the door and let them in. I’ll take over from there.’ And then everything changed.”4 She took this purpose, and those words, and brought them to her teams. Interesting to note, since 2000 her teams have been to the College World Series fourteen times, winning the national championship seven times.  

This article is not about softball, the Oklahoma Sooners, the specific theology of the players, or even whether or not the Lord works in such ways on a softball field. This article is about the life of a child of God, and the expression of that life in all that we say or do, finding our joy in the Lord. I credit the players and the coach for expressing their faith publicly, immediately, and for properly directing the attention to Christ and not to themselves. This is rare in sports, but also rare in life.  

Recently there was an editorial in this magazine that addressed the marks of a true church and the calling to be a member in a church with the clearest manifestation of the truth. I applaud the author of that article, and I also applaud all God’s people who do not simply make claims about their church, but actually, purely, and clearly manifest God in all that they think, say, and do. If we live our lives as such, we, too, will recognize that the things of this life can only bring happiness; true joy is of the Lord. Such joy will not fade away because the source of it is in God alone. 

Dr. Burk Parsons recently expressed a similar theme when he stated that the identity of a Christian is as a disciple of Jesus Christ whose life bears this out, not perfectly, but repentantly.5 Christians should be the first to admit their shortcomings, weaknesses, and sins because fundamental to being a disciple of Christ is relying on his work as our source of joy. Confessing our sins, we trust in Christ alone for our salvation. Our joy in this salvation is full—and it’s not ours alone. Luke 15:7 tells us that there is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents. Imagine that, heaven shouting praises to God when a child of God repents of his sins through Jesus Christ! 

There is joy in the Lord! We have been set free! May this joy remain in you and be fully known in all of your life. 

 

 Scott worships with his family at Zion Protestant Reformed Church and is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Walker, MI.