11. Aspiring to Joy

Aspiring Meditations: 11.  Aspiring to Joy

Neh 8:10    the joy of the LORD is your strength.

Gal 5:22   the fruit of the Spirit is …. joy,  ]

Jn 17:13  I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Yesterday, as we finished Peter’s list from his second letter, we also inadvertently started on the list known as the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22,23: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Love, goodness and self-control in this new list we’ve already covered as they were in Peter’s list. But there are still six others we have yet to cover here. The first is joy.

Now the problem with joy, rather like love, is that we can get all academic about it and study it and study it, but not know or experience the reality of it. However we will have to anchor it first in our understanding, so let’s take a simply dictionary definition first. “Joy = a feeling of great pleasure and happiness”. Now I have heard preachers try to rationalize the absence of this in our lives by saying that it is not a frothy outward bubbly thing, but a deep down sense of goodness. Well I guess they use a different super-spiritual dictionary, but perhaps they want to distinguish it from simple straight forward ‘happiness’ Let’s explain.

Joy comes with an awareness of something really good. One well-known preacher has come up with the following definition: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” Now what he is talking about is something that is really good  (but I wonder of this is more a definition of Peace!) The only word I would take exception to is the word ‘quiet’.  He does add in his blog, “You’ll find nothing in that definition about happy feelings.”

And there, I want to suggest is its lack. You see my start of that paragraph is inadequate as well. It is not merely an ‘awareness of something really good” it, by English definition, HAS to mean something that is emotionally powerful and positive. Now why do we try to demote its meaning? I think there are three reasons: 1. We fear because we sense (rightly) that we cannot express it every moment of our lives. 2. We fail to rehearse the truths that release joy, and 3. We so often aren’t doing the works of Jesus that will always release joy.

Consider an associated word, ‘joyful’ which means to be expressive of joy. At one point there is this sentence: “your times of rejoicing–your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals.” (Num 10:10) That reminds us of something the Jews were known for – their feasts before the Lord. Feasts and Festivals were NOT somber times. When King David eventually brought the Ark to Jerusalem in the right way, we read he, “brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing.” (2 Sam 6:12) This was not a time of somber reflection but a time of outrageous celebration, full of joy!! In fact so outrageous was the joy and worship (and so often the two go together) that David was expressing, he got into trouble with his wife for it (see 2 Sam 6:16,20).

If you want another similar time it was when, after the Exile, Israel returned and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and when it was finished – celebration! “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.” (Neh 12:43) Nothing of ‘quiet confidence’ about that!

Joy comes with an awareness of something really good with an expression that is emotionally powerful and positive. When joy is evident (and it isn’t always present) it is expressed: “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Lk 1:44) Elizabeth knew that baby John inside her recognized Jesus in Mary and John leapt with joy. Amazing! After the resurrection and the women meet Jesus we read, “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Mt 28:8) When Philip the evangelist moved in power ministry, joy resulted: “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:6-8)

The Gospel writers were clearly, most of the time, not focusing on the response of people but of the work of Jesus for after that account of Philip’s ministry above, surely this was what was going on with Jesus so much of the time: “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” (Mt 8:16) Did these people, delivered and healed, stand there afterwards looking mournful? No way! I would suggest there was mega-rejoicing at such times.  Joy was the fruit of Jesus ministry so much of the time.

Joy was also the part of the disciples’ experience as they joined in that ministry: “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Lk 10:17) Note it was joy expressed. Following that, “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” (Lk 10:21) The Godhead rejoiced (full of joy) at the wonder of these ‘innocents’ going out and doing the stuff!

Let me reassert what I said earlier about the lack of joy there so often is in church: there are three reasons: 1. We fear because we sense (rightly) that we cannot express it every moment of our lives. 2. We fail to rehearse the truths that release joy, and 3. We so often aren’t doing the works of Jesus that will always release joy.

Picking up on point 1: we are told to weep with those who weep. We could expand this greatly but there are other times in life when joy is not the appropriate emotion. Point 2: the more we think about the wonder of our salvation and what the Lord has done, the more we will rejoice (as well as give thanks) Point 3: whether it is us doing it – and I find great joy always in ministering whether it is preaching or prophesying – or whether seeing the fruit of ministry (mine or of others), seeing people born again, being filled with the Spirit, being healed or delivered, that always brings joy and that is not a ‘quiet confidence’. The blessing of God will always release Joy.

Now, as to the aspiring part, do we try to be joyful? No, it is a natural working out of appreciating the wonder of the Lord and His works, and of being part of those works. That is where I need to be more open, so that He can use me more, and when He does, joy (expressive) WILL be the fruit that comes forth. As I walk in the Spirit, keep step with the Spirit, and are led to do His works, Joy WILL flow. Not seeking more joy, but seeking to be more available. Perhaps we should ask, if a church that lacks the joy of the Lord, is a church that is not doing the works of Jesus as commanded by him?

23. Enduring, Patient and Joyful

Meditations in Colossians: 23. Enduring, Patient and Joyful

Col 1:10,11   And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father,

Life is sometimes tough. I recently sat in a church and heard the leader out front speak of three church members who had recently lost their grandmothers and his ‘seeking to be compassionate’ comment was, ‘Life sometimes is tough’.  I’m sorry but that is not tough. Yes it is sad when we lose someone close to us who we love but these were three elderly ladies who had just gone to heaven. That’s not tough; it’s a combination of sad and happiness – sad that we’ve lost them but happy that they are in glory and free from all their elderly infirmities. Tough is when the sky falls on you in the form of a life threatening accident that leaves us disabled, a major life threatening illness, or persecution. That is tough!

If I lose my temper and slap someone and they strike me back and break my jaw, that is not tough, that is stupid. When our own folly brings things on us, that is not tough. Tough is when the ways of a fallen world press down on me and make it incredibly difficult to continue. It is tough when these things happen to those closest to us so the burden of their anguish presses down on us in our love for them.

When life is tough, the temptation comes from the enemy to give up. It’s silly really and irrational because these are the times when we should more than ever seek to stick close to the Lord but when we are feeling low physically, often our emotions also take a nose dive and then we stop thinking rationally and a “I don’t care” mentality descends on us. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. It’s simply the enemy taking the opportunity to have a go at us when we are vulnerable. This is being real for this is what life is like sometimes and the first step to getting through it is to recognise what is happening.

Do you remember David went through this: Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psa 42:5,11) He knew what the answer was: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (v.5,6) There are times when these sorts of things drag on. How can I hold out? How can I keep going in the face of these things? How long will I have to wait for things to change?  There is a brand of evangelicalism that says we must never accept a negative thought and I am saddened when I see such people desperately struggling but refusing to acknowledge that anything is wrong. This is what living in a fallen world is like; sometimes it is tough.

So what is the answer? Come back to the verses we are considering. Paul prays that they (we) will know God’s will, will bear fruit, will grow in the knowledge of God and be strengthened through God’s unlimited strength and power. It is that power of His own indwelling Holy Spirit that we considered in the previous meditation that sees us through. It’s not a rational thing, it’s a faith thing. He does live in me, He will be my resource, so much so that I will be able to endure, I will hang on, I will not fall away, I will not give up. Part of it is in acknowledging His presence and part of it is turning to Him for help, and part of it is the fact that He is there on my side and purposes to keep me. I won’t just endure, I will have “great endurance”. Even more I will not chaff wondering when it will end; I will rest in His love and His provision and I will be patient. Part of it is my awareness of this provision, part of it is His desire to bring it.

Many years ago my wife had what was genuinely a life-threatening accident. As she lay in A&E while they failed to stop blood flowing, she suddenly thought of our three young children and cried out to the Lord in prayer for them. In the midst of that crisis a gentle voice came from heaven to her, “Don’t you realise that I love them more than you do?” This is the incredible truth, that God is more for us than we are for ourselves. That’s why He sent Jesus to die for us, that’s why he has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us and strengthen us, not only to generally teach and guide us, but to be here for us as a resource, THE resource when we are going through the tough times when we need endurance and patience.

As we remind ourselves of these things, we realise afresh the wonder of them, the wonder of His love and provision for us and as we do that we find a joy welling up within us that produces thankfulness. “Joyfully giving thanks to the Father” is an outworking of all of this, a sign that we have come to know God’s will for us and realise that His power is there within us and He purposes blessing and success for us. Sometimes (and often He waits until we do see these things) He delivers us out of the situation and sometimes He delivers us through the situation. Sometimes He steers us clear of upheavals and at other times He allows us to walk through the upheaval, but whichever it is, He promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb 13:5)

It was knowing His will and knowing His presence and power that enabled the prophet to declare, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17,18) Why? He knew the circumstances were within God’s will and that they were temporary – and that God was there for him.

It was going through tough times that enabled the apostle Paul to write, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) That is amazing. It says that not only will we endure, and not only will we find patience in such times, (because of His grace which comes in those forms) but we will be able to be fruitful even such times. Glory be to God, not to the enemy!

23. Be Joyful

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 3 :  23. Be Joyful

1 Thess 5:16-18   Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I must confess in passing, I sometimes wonder how those who divided the Scriptures up into verses did so and particularly here why they separated off “pray continually” unless they felt that it was so important that it needed marking out on its own. Very well, we shall deal with each part alone. First of all, “Be joyful always”.

Again, while I’m in a confessing mood, I confess this reminds me of Snoopy Cartoons where I think the girl would say to the others sometimes, “Be of good cheer”, and it was almost a cynical mocking  phrase. At first sight (and this just reveals my ignorance) this seems a little glib, and yet I know the apostle Paul doesn’t do glib. So what does he mean? Does he mean be happy all the time? What is the background of this word ‘joyful’?

Intriguingly in the Law, speaking of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Lord says through Moses, Be joyful at your Feast,” (Deut 16:14) and then “For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.” (Deut 15:15b) The first verse does seem to suggest happiness and merriment but the second verse seems to suggest that joy  can come in different levels and there is a level that is deeper, more meaningful, more prolonged.

But there is something in those verses that may become clearer with some other verses: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Mt 13:44) The joy or happiness came as a result of finding treasure. The joy or happiness or even merriment in the Deuteronomy verses comes as a result of feasting and the feasting comes as a result of a good harvest. Joy has a cause always. When the angel come to the shepherds after Jesus was born, he declared, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Lk 2:10) The joy within the good news was the arrival of the baby Jesus, the Saviour of the world.

After Jesus sent his disciples out, we read, “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Lk 10:17) Their joy was because they had tasted of the kingdom of God on the earth. When Jesus returned to his disciples after his resurrection we read, “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (Lk 24:40,41) Their joy was because he was still alive.

At the Last Supper there is an apparently odd connection between love and joy: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:10,11) Jesus experienced joy as he kept his Father’s commands of love, and says we can have that same joy.

Now we need to pause to acknowledge that joy is greater than mere happiness. Although the two are almost the same, joy seems a form of happiness that has greater depth of origin and rises to greater height of expression. A dictionary definition of ‘joy’ is ‘a very glad feeling; great pleasure; delight.’  Joy bubbles out and comes from a well founded reason. When a baby is born we aren’t just happy, we are full of joy. When an athlete breaks a world record, they aren’t just happy, they are full of joy. When a football team scores the winning goal of a Cup Final, in the last minute, they aren’t just happy, they are full of joy.

So what is our joy, our very glad feeling, our delight?  It must be the realization of the wonder of our salvation. Within that must come, not only the knowledge of His saving grace that brought us to Himself, but the wonder of His Holy Presence within us and the fact that He is there for us and leading us into His perfect purposes for us. Whatever happens today, He will be there for me, working to bring good for me (Rom 8:28) and He will continue to do this until the day I die and go to be with Him for ever. If that knowledge doesn’t bring me joy it means either I haven’t yet appreciated the wonder of it all, or I have allowed the enemy to distract me with lies. Work on coming to an ever greater understanding of these things we’ve just said and when necessary (which is always) “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee.” (Jas 4:7)

With the Spirit within, joy is part of our inheritance: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.” (Gal 5:22) and “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet 1:8,9). This joy is not a surface, frothy happiness, but a deep-seated inexpressible and glorious ‘very glad feeling; great pleasure; delight,’ that comes from knowing Jesus, knowing God’s love for us, knowing the power and presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit within us.  Prophetically the Son declared about Creation, “I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31)  There was the Son, full of joy as he worked alongside the Father. Remember what we saw earlier, I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  Jesus’ joy comes from working alongside the Father, doing what he sees the Father doing (Jn 5:17,19), working in perfect harmony. There is the model for us.