"Thou wilt show me the path of life: In thy presence is fulness of joy; In thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." (ASV)
Atheists use many words to describe the Christian life. They tell us we're trapped in a prison, we're suffering for no reason, we allow ourselves to be enslaved to a God who isn't there. You never hear them talk about joy, peace, freedom in association with the Christian life. That's because they're missing the point. Since they don't know God, they don't know about the good things He has provided to His children.
God is not some stern lecturer hurling lightning bolts from the sky to punish His followers. While He is certainly just, He's not all about rules. He is all about love, and His love for us who He created is far more powerful than we could ever fathom. Because He cares for us so much, God has provided us with a number of gifts which are ours for the taking!
One of these gifts is joy. In the above verse, the Psalmist writes "In thy presence is fulness of joy." Joy is not to be confused with happiness. Joy is a long-term state, rather than an emotion of elation. It is the ability to stand in the face of pain and depression and say "My God loves me, and that's enough for me!" Joy doesn't fade with the circumstances around us, rather it aides us through our mourning, keeps us from drowning in our sorrow.
Another gift God bestows on us is peace. In Phillippians 4:7 Paul writes: "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus." (ASV) There's a calmness that comes with the knowledge that God is in control. Have you ever found yourself calm in a situation where you felt you should have been panicked? Have you watched the hustle and bustle around you and been content to move at God's pace rather than the world's? Have you made what should have been a very difficult decision with certainty because you knew it was God's will? Have you ever tried to explain to an unbeliever why you're not worried in spite of difficult circumstances? These are all examples of the peace God grants to us who follow Him.
"For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage." (Galatians 5:1 ASV) Possibly the one gift most non-Christians have the hardest time understanding is the freedom we find when we follow God's path for our lives. They see it as a set of rules to be followed. They assume we're not allowed to have any fun because much of what the world calls "fun," God calls "sin." While it's true that God has made rules for us to follow, they're not in place just to make our lives more difficult. Rather, God has set these rules because He know's what's best for us. But more than the rules, He gives us the freedom to live our lives without worry.
Imagine yourself to be a player in a big championship sporting event. There's a lot of pressure involved. You don't want to mess up and let your team down, let your fans down. Now imagine that you also have seen the future and you know that your team will win, regardless of your performance. What a weight off your shoulders that would be! You would be free to just enjoy playing the game, rather than worrying about putting in a perfect performance. In a lot of ways the Christian life is like that. We're playing in a game that has eternal consequences, but we know that in the end, Christ has already won it for us. We are free to enjoy the game because we don't need to fret over the conclusion.
Of course, there are many other gifts God gives to each of His followers. Most of them the outside world will never fully understand. So the next time someone tells you that you're a slave to your God, or that you don't need to be entrapped by your religion, share a little of God's joy, peace and freedom with them.