I have spent over forty years working with troubled individuals, first as a police officer then as a minister and addiction counselor. A common problem is what I think of as inner emptiness. Psalm 16:11 says of the Lord, "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." God's intention for man is that man would come to know the joy of living life in continual awareness of His presence. That certainly means spending time in the Bible, in prayer, in worship, but it's far more than that. God uses surrogates to express His love and care for us. The surrogates we all have in common are our parents. Other surrogates can include our wider family, friends, a church community, etc. When those surrogates are performing their proper roles, God uses them to bring joy--His joy--into our lives.
I think back to the years when my wife and I were raising our children. We took seriously the biblical admonition to bring them up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" - Ephesians 6:4. ("Nurture" carries the idea of training and discipline, while "admonition" means "to put in mind", to instruct children both positively and negatively.) I give most of the credit to my wife for the fact that our home was filled with love, laughter, peace and quiet. We spent a great deal of time with our two daughters and son. We took them to restaurants to teach them how to behave in public. We took family trips. Five nights a week, depending on my schedule at church, we had what used to be known as a 'family altar.' I would read the Bible and then we prayed together. I kept it to about ten minutes so as not to lose their attention. Afterward I would read to them. I remember scanning book lists to locate interesting books. Just as one example, we read all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books then during two family vacations we located most of the locations mentioned in the books. Those years of reading exposed them to a big, broad world of which many children are unaware. (When my youngest daughter was a student at the University of Montana, she had a teacher who in order to get acquainted with his students had them make up a list of all the states they had visited. I think she was able to list nearly 40 states at the time. As I write this, both daughters are in Hawai'i. That leaves Alaska as the only state still have to visit. They've left Dad behind. I love it.)
The reason for describing all of that is to say that our children weren't "hungry", as in the verse listed above. As a result, they had no need to seek out the wrong crowd or to get involved in trouble. They were loved and they knew it. (Still do.) Both my wife and our son are now with the Lord, but along with the wonderful wife the Lord gave me twelve years ago, my daughters are my best friends. Only one of them has children, but it is immensely gratifying to see how she and my son-in-law are raising my grandchildren. It's like watching reruns of many of the things we did and I can see the same happiness and joy in my granddaughters. Their mother would be proud.
As I said in the first paragraph, far too many people are suffering from inner emptiness. God made us to desire Him so that He could fill our hearts and souls with His love and presence, but when a person doesn't know Him, he or she is left with a gaping void deep inside. It's natural to try to fill that void. Some young people try to find it in relationships with the opposite sex. Other lonely young people, especially in urban areas, try to fill it with the companionship of gangs. Still others turn to drugs or to alcohol. Those are bitter things, as the verse in Proverbs puts it, bitter in that they are destructive and tend to unhappiness, but to the lonely person bitter things are better than nothing. The bitter things are sought out in a desperate attempt to fill the void within.
You and I may not be able to bring God's joy into the lives of everyone, but we can certainly do it with our children, our friends, and very definitely within our church families--assuming we are willing to be used. I can tell you from long personal experience that it involves self-sacrifice and self-denial, but that should come as no surprise: Jesus said that if anyone desires to follow Him, the very first thing he must do is "deny himself" (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23). The source of joy is never found in trying to please ourselves--that always ultimately leads to disillusionment and heartache--it is discovered in the giving of ourselves for the good of others. Which makes perfect sense. After all, we serve a God "who so loved the world that He gave..."