Sermon Illustrations on Joy

Chapter One of the Great Story

In the epic conclusion to the Narnia Chronicles, C.S. Lewis attempts to express the absolute joy that will come as our earthly lives come to an end and we are reunited with our God for all of eternity:

The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Macmillan, 1956), p.165.

A Firm Foundation of Joy

Children—and then adults—with a firm foundation of joy also have the capacity to make positive contributions in the world. It starts with play and exploration. When a child has a firm foundation of joy, then, little by little, the child will adventure further and further into the world (even if it is just a new toy or the next room over).

The bumps and bruises of exploration are overcome by being able to return to joy (either through the physical presence or the memory of a safe person). A child with a firm foundation of joy assumes the world is a fundamentally safe place, even if it is punctured by occasional pain or distress. As the child grows into adulthood, their exploration and play turn into the courage and creativity to contribute to the world in a positive way. Our brains are wired for joy. They are conditioned for connection.

Taken from Does God Really Like Me?: Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us  by Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw Copyright (c) 2020 by Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


The Greatest Challenge to Faith

The great challenge of faith is to be surprised by joy. I remember sitting at a dinner table with friends discussing the economic depression of the country. We kept throwing out statistics that made us increasingly convinced that things could only get worse. Then, suddenly, the four-year-old son of one my friends opened the door, ran to his father, and said, “Look, Daddy! Look! I found a little kitten in the yard . . . Look! . . . Isn’t she cute?”

While showing the kitten to his father, the little boy stroked the kitten with his hands and held it against his face. All at once everything changed. The little boy and his kitten became the center of attention. There were smiles, strokes, and many tender words. We were surprised by joy!

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (pp. 19-20). The Crossroad Publishing Company.

He Saw it, He Loved it, He Ate it

Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are and other children’s books, gets many letters from his young fans. A favorite was a “charming” drawing sent on by a little boy’s mother. “I loved it,” Sendak says. “I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on a post card and sent it to him. His mother wrote back: ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ The little boy didn’t care that it was an original drawing. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it. That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received.”

Submitted by Chris Stroup, source material, Maurice Sendak.

Joy Awakens from a Smell

On a trip to France during college, I (Cyd) was walking through a historic garden in Paris with my older sister. Rounding one of the reflecting pools, we both caught a familiar scent and stopped dead in our tracks. “Grandpa and Grandma’s backyard in Washington!” Joy swept over us.

We had no idea what the smell was or where it was coming from, but in a split second we were transported from a thriving metropolitan city in Europe to a quiet backyard in the northwestern corner of the United States. All by a smell. We searched the gardens and discovered juniper bushes, covered in bright red berries. We bent over and buried our noses in the bushes and began to reminisce about our summers in Washington state, visiting our grandparents.

Our bodies were in France, but our minds and our memories were running barefoot through the mowed grass of a small-town backyard where we would salt slugs and lay pennies on the railroad tracks while our grandpa smoked salmon strung up on smoldering cedar planks.

…We hadn’t been there for more than ten years, and it was over five thousand miles away, but that smell transported us from Paris to Lynden, Washington. We were filled with joy at the memory of being loved in such a lovely place, surrounded by people who were always glad to be with us. Our grandparents delighted in our presence, celebrated our accomplishments, prayed for us daily, played games with us, baked cookies with us, and were always interested in what we were up to.

When we were with our grandparents, we were sure we were loved because of the delight they took in being with us. And in response we experienced the joy that came from being with people who were glad to be with us. This delight, this joy, is what home is all about.

Taken from Does God Really Like Me?: Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us  by Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw Copyright (c) 2020 by Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Joy Beacons

Katja, our seven-year-old granddaughter, stepped in it, as they say. She had doggie droppings on the bottom of her tennies. Not just one foot, mind you, but both. Her mother, Maureen, suggested she leave the shoes outside, where they could be cleaned after lunch. An hour later, Adam and Katja went for a walk to fix the problem. She put on her shoes, looked for a good stick, and off they went down the street.

When they came to an appropriate spot, she sat on the curb and started scraping. Thirty seconds later, she stopped. She looked up at Adam with a smile, down at her shoes, then at the brown stuff scraped onto the street. “You know, Daddy,” she said, “this would make a very good meal for a dung beetle.”

The contentment range of unspoiled children is a mile from end to end. Joy beacons, I call them, God’s little ambassadors to cheerless cynics. The laughter of just one child is enough to lift a crowd of fifty. Where do they get this capacity? How do they pull it off so casually, to make happy connections between a shoe full and the disgusting culinary habits of ugly beetles? According to statistics, four-year-olds laugh 26.6 times more than I do. No wonder Jesus preferred the kids to, say, me. To be honest, I prefer them to me too. Young children find equal delight in a puddle or a pigeon, a worm or a waffle.

Throw in a puppy, and joy goes off the charts. “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Contentment in the young does not require Disneyland. Just a book on beetles. Or a puppet drinking green milk. Just hearts with the capacity for delight, brains with the capacity for imagination, and spirits with the innocence of sufficiency. Perhaps the statute of limitations for creation wonder

Richard Swenson, Contentment: The Secret to a Lasting Calm. The Navigators.

Joy Makers?

One day an ad from one of my favorite stores showed up in my email inbox. Splashed across the top in big letters was the phrase “JOY MAKERS.” Of course, the ad was pointing shoppers to deals on toys, electronics, appliances, and cozy styles. Our Generation dolls, child-size John Deere electric tractors, smart TVs, Fujifilm Polaroid-style cameras, fleece jammies, and blanket scarves—apparently this is the stuff joy is made of. The message was loud and clear: joy comes from having stuff. The pictures looked promising, but we all know better. Honestly, I love giving and receiving gifts.

It’s one of my top love languages. I love finding just the right gift for that wow factor or to make someone feel deeply loved. That Christmas I paid attention during all the gift-getting and unwrapping. As my daughters, nieces, and nephews tore through piles of presents, there was excitement. There was laughter and merriment, but it only lasted for a time. Even though I love gifts, I’ve realized through the years that no gift brings true lasting joy.

Our culture too often confuses joy with happiness. Joy is more nuanced than happiness. Joy emanates out of God’s unconditional and fierce love for us, while happiness can be fickle and fleeting, like a quickly forgotten Christmas present. In other words, joy is a state of being rather than an emotion.

Mary Carver, Courageous Joy: Delight in God through Every Season (An (In) Courage Bible Study, Revell, 2021.

Joy’s Relationship to the Good Life

Could joy, then, be a candidate for a one-word definition of the good life, perhaps in the same way some people think happiness is? Indeed, could it be better able to integrate in itself the requisite conditions for our thriving and our responsibility for it? Could the good life be described as the life of joy, as the parable of the talents might be read to suggest? Not quite. Joy is a bit like a crown.

Wearing a crown won’t make you a monarch; a child can wear one, as can a usurper. If you aren’t a monarch already, even if what is set on your head looks like a crown, it isn’t actually a crown. For the crown is a symbol of royal authority. It is similar with joy. Joy isn’t the good life; it is one part of it, the one dependent on the other two. If there is any good, either perceived or actual to rejoice over-no good circumstances or active stances-happy feelings might have may look and feel like joy, but they will not be joy.

As an emotion, joy is always over something (perceived) as good, and it presumes proper relation to some (perceived) good-which means that true joy presumes proper relation to some actual good. At the same time, the crown is not merely external to royal authority. In a crown, royal authority comes to expression; wearing it, a monarch is publicly manifest as monarch. It is similar with joy. Joy is not merely external to the good life, a mint leaf on the cake’s shipped cream. Rather, the good life expresses and manifests itself in joy. Joy is the emotional dimension of life that goes well and that is led well, a positive affective response to life going well and life being led well; all three in their interpenetrating unity, life going well, life being led well, and joy-are the good life.

Miroslav Volf & Justin E. Crisp in Joy and Human Flourishing: Essays on Theology, Culture and the Good Life, Fortress, 2015, p.135.

The Love of God Wrapped About Him

The sense of Presence! I have spoken of it as stealing on one unawares. It is recorded of John Wilhelm Rowntree that as he left a great physician’s office, where he had just been told that his advancing blindness could not be stayed, he stood by some railings for a few moments to collect himself when he “suddenly felt the love of God wrap him about as though a visible presence enfolded him and a joy filled him such as he had never known before.”

An amazing timeliness of the Invading Love, as the Everlasting stole about him in his sorrow. I cannot report such a timeliness of visitation, but only unpredictable arrivals and fading-out. But without doubt it is given to many of richer experience to find the comfort of the Eternal is watchfully given at their crises in time.

Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper & Bros., 1941.

The Meeting Place of Deep Intentionality and Self-Forgetting

In his prose and poetry, David Whyte shares what David Brooks refers to as “emotional joy” in his book, The Second Mountain. While not necessarily unique to the Christian, this type of joy has the ability to draw us towards deeper union with the creator of joy, as for example, C.S. Lewis describes in his autobiography.

Whyte uses beautiful language to describe joy this way:

Joy is the meeting place, of deep intentionality and self-forgetting, the bodily alchemy of what lies inside us in communion with what formally seemed outside, but is now neither, but becomes a living frontier, a voice speaking between us and the world: dance, laughter, affection, skin touching skin, singing in the car, music in the kitchen, the quiet irreplaceable and companionable presence of a daughter: the sheer intoxicating beauty of the world inhabited as an edge between what we previously thought was us and what we thought was other than us.

David Whyte, Consolations, Many Rivers Press, 2015), 127.

Mirror, Mirror

Good people will mirror goodness in us, which is why we love them so much, Not so mature people will mirror their own unlived and confused life unto us, which is why they confuse and confound us so much…

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Jossey Bass, 2011.

Our Father is Younger than We

If you read through G.K. Chesterton’s writings, it will not be long before you recognize the recurring theme of joy. Joy, Chesterton believed, ought to be a central experience of the one who realizes the absurdity of his life as a gift. What should have been a terminal diagnosis of death and condemnation has been rescued by the ultimate gift-giver, God himself, who gave up His son to death that we might experience eternal life. In this memorable passage, Chesterton reminds us that the God of the universe is the God of all joy, who gives us a small picture of what this joy looks like through the singular experience of…children.

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.  They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.  For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.  It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daises like; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.  It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Taken from G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

A Quiet and Holy People with a Great Secret

As a third-century man was anticipating death, he penned these last words to a friend: “It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians–and I am one of them.”

Today In The Word, June, 1988, p. 18.

The Promise of Joy

In her book When God Talks Back, psychological anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann sets out to explain how sensible people believe in an immaterial God. One aspect of evangelical Christianity that she finds particularly compelling is its promise of joy, and Luhrmann talks about the theme of ultimate joy found in the stories of Tolkien and Lewis. She cites from an essay of Tolkien’s:

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending…a sudden and miraculous grace … it does not deny the existence…of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Returning to Joy

Ideally, when a baby is born into a healthy family, she is received with gladness. Her parents look on her with delight and the baby responds with joy. The baby is wanted—is loved. Her parents will make sure she has enough to eat, keep her warm and dry, cuddle her, sing to her, hold her, and play with her.

All along the baby’s brain is awash in positive neurological activity, activating parts of the brain especially wired to trigger joy in response to other people. Every time the baby feels connected to someone who loves her, she grows stronger in her identity through the experience of joy. By the time she is three months old, she will have images of her delighted caregiver’s face firmly planted in her brain. These wordless images become the foundation for her identity.

When she becomes distressed, her caregiver is there—even if just as a memory. From comfort to a difficult situation and back to comfort, the baby’s neural pathways are learning how to return to the joy of connection amid distress. This process can be called “returning to joy.”

Taken from Does God Really Like Me?: Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us  by Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw Copyright (c) 2020 by Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com



See also Illustrations on Attitude, Emotions, Happiness, Love, Peace

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Joy. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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