What I Learned in College, Part 1
Jesus is Joy
by Robby Higginbottom
September 16, 2013
When I stepped onto Duke’s campus as a freshman, I thought I knew where I would find joy during my college years. Duke basketball had a great program, and the prospects of a national championship were great. (And we got one my junior year.) College was a whole new world of relationships, and the thought of meeting someone was exciting. (But that never quite worked out.) Being far from home was a little scary, but it also offered the joys of independence and freedom. (But I eventually had to learn how to do laundry.) In four years, I found some joy in sports, relationships, and parentless freedom, but the big lesson about joy I never saw coming. In college I learned that deep and lasting joy is ultimately in Jesus, and that lesson changed the way I thought about Christianity and all of life.
I went to college as a Christian, but I didn’t understand that following Jesus could (and should) be a joyful endeavor. I knew that Jesus was God and that I should worship him. I knew that he was King and that I should submit to him. I knew he was Savior and that I should trust him. I knew that he was Friend and that I should walk with him. What I didn’t fully grasp yet—what I’m still trying to work out even today—is that Jesus is life and that I should enjoy him.
Jesus is _______ . What would you put in that blank if you were honest? Jesus is boring. Irrelevant. No fun. Did you think to say, “Jesus is joy”? Like many college students, I thought that God’s glory and my joy were at cross purposes. If Christianity was all about God’s glory and I was all about wanting to be happy, I had a choice to make, right? I could either follow Jesus and be miserable…or I could do what I wanted and be happy.
In those years, the Lord taught me that God’s great design and my deepest longings were not opposed to one another. A pastor named John Piper messed me up (in a good way) with his book Desiring God. He distills the teaching of the Bible and church history into the statement: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Piper simply found a new way to say what Presbyterian children learn from the Westminster Shorter Catechism at an early age. “What is the chief end of man?” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Glorifying God and enjoying him forever come together in the Christian life. If we glorify what satisfies our souls—whether that’s a relationship, a sport, a hobby, or a meal—then God gets the most glory when we find our ultimate joy IN HIM.
Why does this matter in college? I started to see that my sinful desires had me looking for joy where joy could not be found. I might taste a bit of joy here or there, but apart from Christ, the search for joy was an endless exercise in futility. Much of what happens on a college campus is a picture of insanity—returning again and again to “sources of life” that have no life to offer. Students turn to many of the good gifts of God, but they try to enjoy them apart from him. Trading God for his gifts is the recipe for idolatry and unhappiness. Christ’s redeeming love brings us back to him. He gives us a new heart to know him, a heart that declares, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
A few questions to consider:
• Where am I looking for joy in my life right now?
• Why are God’s glory and my joy not opposed to each other?
• Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and life abundantly” (John 10:10).
• Why are Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection necessary for our joy?
A few things you could do:
• Read Piper’s Desiring God or the shorter version, The Dangerous Duty of Delight.
• Give yourself to the things God has given us to grow our joy in him (reading God’s word, praying, confessing, repenting, worshiping with God’s people, fellowship, serving). Pray that the Lord would work through these things for his glory and your joy.