By Ward Fenley


For several years now I have wanted to write a book that deals with theology in a very practical way: a book that stretches the mind, yet has clear relevance to the Christian life. It is easy to write an article or a book on an area of theology that is dear to the soul. Almost all of us who have been Christians for some time have found certain doctrines that have reached into our hearts and incited us to study that particular doctrine to a greater degree. And oftentimes while studying that particular doctrine we will find ourselves wandering down a little rabbit trail that leads us on into other doctrinal territory; then the search is on again into a new area of theology that touches us (and hopefully that new area of theology is biblical!).

Each of us has found different doctrines that have had profound impacts on our way of thinking: for some the doctrine of God’s grace is a very heart-warming doctrine. For others it is perhaps the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. And still for some it may be the holiness of God or the resurrection that has lasting effects on the way we think. We are each created uniquely and with certain passions that grip our lives.

In my particular case the first doctrine that I started studying was the doctrine of eschatology (the doctrine of last things): such topics as the antichrist, 666, the middle-east, Armageddon, and the book of Revelation really intrigued me. I had a close friend who was my Sunday school teacher who had all these charts and diagrams with multitudes of circles and arrows that really got my attention. After studying that for a while I began to really look into the doctrine of what some people call eternal security. I prefer to identify it as eternal salvation. At the time I was in high school, and I had a good friend who was involved in a religion that taught the doctrine of salvation by works. That is, instead of believing that we are justified (made righteous in the sight of God) through faith in Jesus Christ, this friend believed we were justified by our good works, and that those good works would get us into heaven. So it really forced me to study the issue further. In my first year of college I was exposed to the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. This became my favorite doctrine. I studied it backwards and forwards and could defend it very well. But the arguments with those who would deny that Jesus Christ is the almighty God grew a little dull after a while and I found myself searching for more truth. Then just after I finished college I was introduced to a young man who shared with me the doctrine of predestination and what some people call Calvinism or the doctrines of grace. And so this became a new passion for me. For years I studied these "doctrines of grace" and actually found them very edifying and uplifting. But then those doctrines were not as dear to me as they were when I first learned them. In fact the other doctrines were also not giving me the joy they once were. Finally I began studying the nature of the kingdom of Christ. This area of study involved finding Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament. For example, when Isaiah says, "He was wounded for our transgressions and He was bruised for our iniquities," I found great satisfaction in that truth: that is, that Christ fulfilled these prophecies. So that was a doctrinal trail I pursued for a while.

But in all those doctrinal pursuits, there continued to exist a nagging reality: that reality was that the doctrines in and of themselves were not giving me happiness in life. For whatever reason, after each of these doctrinal pursuits, I would reach these plateaus that were dry spots in my life. It seemed that I would often study myself into deep depression striving to find something new that would revitalize my Christian walk. My study of the Scriptures became a mere intellectual safari: a journey to make sure I had all the answers to every question that plagued my mind. And when I would find the answer, I would be ecstatic. But then the intellectual ecstasy would fade. Nevertheless I would continue the doctrinal pursuit. Certainly I would justify this pursuit with the text:

Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. If God was hiding something, then it was my duty to study and search out the answer until I found it, no matter what. Granted, to my delight I found many answers to questions God brought my way. But then there were those dismal times of questions that I simply could not answer—questions that appeared to have no answer at all. In fact, I would study myself to the point of beginning to doubt God, to doubt the Bible, and to doubt my purpose in this world. Of all the things that can disturb the human mind—breaking up with a girlfriend or a boyfriend, divorce, getting fired from a job, losing a loved one—none is so devastating as the trauma of beginning to doubt that which concerns your philosophy of life. This is true not only to the religious but also to the non-religious as well. When your philosophy of life suddenly does not seem to uphold your future, yea your eternity, your mind can begin a downward spiral toward purposelessness, lonliness, and that which some have called spiritual depression.1 In fact, this happened to me. That Bible that had been so dear to me had become my enemy. But it was an enemy that I knew had been my best friend. That is what was so incredibly difficult. It would be one thing if I had grown up as a budding atheist or agnostic: then the Bible would have simply always been my enemy. But it had been my friend, my companion, my comfort in times of trouble. It was that book to which I would come home at night from a day of stress, a bout with sin, or just an uneventful day, and I could find solace and warmth. It would soothe me before I entered into what otherwise would have been a restless night. But everything had changed. What was my comrade had become my opponent. It was not the opponent that it is to many. That is, it was not that I didn’t want the Bible in my life to guide me and to stir my heart into worshiping the living God. The unbeliever wants nothing to do with the Bible, for most everything in the Bible goes against the mind of the unbeliever. But as a believer I was finding myself in this new love/hate relationship with the most precious thing in my life. I loved it because it comforted me. But I began to hate it because with every new treasure I was finding, I was also finding gaps, holes—not in the word of course, but holes in my mind—holes that represented my inability to answer questions, many of which were troubling. I usually was always able to find answers to even the most perplexing questions: questions like the sovereignty of God, the presence of evil in the world, God’s omniscience, etc. But then I would stumble across issues not nearly as important, but important enough to make me waver. The things at which I would falter are not things that I necessarily need to mention here. In fact, I still have many of the same questions. But my purpose in writing this book is not to deal with those questions, but rather deal with the solution to my troubled and discontented mind. All of us have things that affect us differently. For some, discontentment and despair come primarily because of troubled families. For others, trouble comes from difficulty in intimate relationships, or at the job, or with the children. But for me personally, why was this happening? Why had I suddenly come to a place where I just could not get the answers to my questions? And worse, why was this driving me into a depression and despair that was leading me away from intimacy and companionship with God and His word?

After pondering these questions for countless nights, I found that the answer lay in two very basic Sunday school verses:

Colossians 3:17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

The issue was simply motives. The real question I should have been asking was not why I was experiencing what I was experiencing; but rather, the question should have been: why do I study and search the Bible at all? A dear friend once wrote to me: "Ward, I think worshiping scripture has been something you have done. Now don't get me wrong. I cannot see into your heart and see what you put above God. I can only judge what I have seen. It seems to me that you find your identity, not necessarily in Christ, but in what you believe is true about the bible...I just feel you have gotten so caught up in the intricacies of scripture that you have lost sight of the heart of worship, which is Jesus." What this person said was so true. My trouble had arisen from looking to something for my contentment. For me it was searching for intellectual satisfaction from the Bible. To a great degree I was looking to Scripture (the words on the page) rather than looking to the author of the Scripture for my joy and satisfaction. Though the bible is clear in what our respect for the word should be, I was falling short of this. The Psalmist writes: Psalms 119:14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I thought that I was pursuing this. But what was my motive for searching His testimonies? The Psalmist sets out the ultimate goal for searching God’s word: Psalms 119:7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments. Yes, I sought to learn of God’s word and righteous judgments, but it was for my own intellectual gain and not so much to "praise God with uprightness of heart." I was not looking to God’s word to adore Him. I was looking to pacify my greedy mind. I was looking to find my contentment in answers to problems rather than looking to find my contentment in the solution to my problems—and that solution is God.

I had to come to the realization that it is very possible to study a doctrine or a philosophy for the sake of purely intellectual gain rather than to simply find joy in Jesus Christ. I now try to be more aware of my motive in studying any given doctrine. I ask questions like: how does this affect my life? How does this affect the way I view and treat people? And most importantly, how does this affect the way I view and treat God? Isn’t this our goal? Isn’t this the primary aim of of Christianity and the worship of God?

Mark 12:29-31 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: {30} And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. {31} And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. At this point you may be asking the question: "So great, that was his problem, but how do I deal with mine?" My intention in writing this book is for us to lear how to find joy in whatever circumstance we confront. For me personally, the problem was unanswered questions. Others have different problems of equal importance. We will always have problems, and those in abundance. But the real questions that must be asked are: How do we deal with our problems and what is our ultimate goal in problem solving? We do not simply want to solve our problems. We need to have a goal in solving our problems. We need to be "purpose-driven"2. And finally, how do we obtain the missing element that so evades the majority of humanity, and that is, joy?

The text upon which this book will be built is found, not surprisingly, in the book of Psalms:

Psalms 43:3-5 O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. {4} Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God. {5} Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. Numerous books have been written on overcoming depression, problem solving, finding happiness, conflict-resolution etc. Some of these books address these issues from a humanistic perspective. Others address the issues from a psychological perspective. A few address the issues from a biblical perspective. And still others incorporate a little of each to deal with the issues. Mine falls pretty much into the category of those who deal with issues from a biblical point of view. Pragmatism is often frowned upon by many Christians, and in many cases with just cause. However, like science, many times the Scripture and pragmatism unite. For example, some people find great joy in getting out in the wilderness and enjoying the beauty of their surroundings, both in the heavens and the earth. Atheists can do this and so can theists. However, when the theist does this, he or she has the privilege of finding satisfaction not merely in the creation, but also in the Creator: Psalms 8 To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm of David. O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. {2} Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. {3} When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; {4} What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? {5} For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. {6} Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: {7} All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; {8} The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. {9} O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Notice the mindset of the Psalmist. He does not only observe the grandeur of the creation. He first, in approaching his observation of the creation, recognizes that the glory of God is even above the creation (vs.1). And even at the conclusion of the Psalm he sees the ultimate goal of finding excellence in the name of God in all the earth. That is, this theist found delight in the creation—in his cosmological surroundings, so to speak. He observed the beauty of the heavens and the earth, and that worked for him. That was pragmatic for him. For others it could be riding a horse or reading a book. But the Psalmist here expressed his delight in the creation. But his delight in the creation was founded upon a greater delight, and that delight was in the divine Architect of the creation. He was always aware that the glory of the Creator was eminently above the glory of the creation. But through the creation the Psalmist was able to find excellence in the name of God. Certainly pleasure and enjoyment was experienced in the Psalmist’s observation of creation. Creation was used as a vehicle to stir his mind into thanksgiving and adoration of God. And this should be a constant pursuit of ours: namely to be able to use all of the unique creations of God as vehicles to stir our minds into praising Him. So then we find that if looking at the creation helps you relax and have some peace in your mind, then by all means, take in the creation and rejoice in its beauty and splendor. But always have the pervading thought that the ultimate end of all things is to bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ.

Returning to our foundational text, Psalm 43:3-5. It is the truth found in this text that will lay the groundwork for finding joy in life, for in this text the Psalmist identifies what true joy is:

Psalms 43:4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: The Psalmist clearly declares where he finds joy, or more accurately, what his joy is—God. Think of that concept: God is our joy. God is our exceeding joy. When so many things in our lives take our attention to other places than beholding the face of God, the emphatic truth remains that God is our exceeding joy, whether we are consciously identifying with it or not. When the trials of life arise that seem like insurmountable heights, the Christian can usually be sure that atop of what appear to be lofty jagged mountains will be a panorama that will enable him or her to see every trial and tribulation, every storm and strife, with the vision and joy of God. Remember that the Psalmist said, "O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" Most likely, as we approach the upward climb of a jagged mountain, we will be on a journey to find that the truth was certain: How excellent is God’s name in that mountain. Remember, the less mountains, the more valleys. The more mountains, the more grand and glorious panoramas of joy and delight we will experience once we reach the top.

So, friend, Christian, and unbeliever: may you find hope and comfort as you pursue this spiritual journey into true and everlasting joy, a joy that keeps one on top of life—joy in God.

Ward Fenley

1. See D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones—Spiritual Depression 1965, reprinted by Eerdmans 1988
2. The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren, Zondervan 1995 p.242