Finding Joy NOT Happiness in the Lord (4)
Today we continue our series of Finding Joy Not Happiness in the Lord. If you haven’t read the three previous posts of this series, I invite you to do so now so you will be caught up. How many of you have been keeping up with the homework? Has it been a helpful exercise for you? I sincerely hope so.
As Ken L. Williams says in his book “11 Keys That Unlock the Door to Joy and Keep it Open”, “Sometimes joy flows from us like a gushing spring, but much of the time we must hold on for dear life. Joy can be elusive.”
Joy is a way of living, it takes time to foster joy, it is the result of a hard won victory over entrenched attitudes of apathy, pessimism, doubt, unbelief and despair. For true joy, Christ is the only source. The Morales’ know this. Rev. Lang knows this. I know this.
In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a two year battle with the disease, but it was also a two year endurance course of trying not to dwell on my circumstances but to focus entirely on God. Some days I did a better job of it than other days, but that was when God would bring people into my life who would walk with me through the struggles and always, always, always point me towards God. You may find it weird for me to say but I truly “rejoiced in the Lord” through my cancer journey. Would I want to go through cancer again?… no way, but I understand better than ever before what it means to “rejoice in our suffering” as Paul states in Romans. I learned more about God, about my family, about my friends, about my church family and about what was important in life, and what was not. I am convinced that had I focused on my circumstances, I would not be the person I am today. The scars of the experience would have overwhelmed me in more ways than one.
Now you’re probably thinking to yourself…”OH OH…looks like the only way I can experience true JOY in the Lord is to go through a really bad experience“…a valley experience I call it. Rather than try to avoid the bad experiences to find JOY you’ve got to seek out those negative experiences to find joy…right? Believe it or not, there are some radical world philosophies out there that demand just that. Ever hear of spiritual self-abuse? It’s actually a form of self-mutilation where you whip yourself or starve yourself etc. to somehow grow spiritually closer to God. I guess followers of this philosophy feel they must somehow experience the same kind of pain that Christ did when He went to the cross. That is, in my opinion, slightly insane. However, the scriptures that state denying oneself and picking up your cross are extremely valid when we start talking about how to find JOY in the Lord.
The joy of God came to full fruition in human history in the Person of Jesus Christ. Joy and exultation run through the entire biblical account of the coming of Christ. (Luke 1:14; Luke 1:44; Matt. 2:10). The most familiar passage is the angel’s announcement of “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people”. (Luke 2:10). Jesus spoke of His own joy and the full joy He had come to bring to others (John 15:11; John 17:13). He illustrated the kingdom of Heaven by telling of the joy of a man who found treasure (Matt. 13:44). Zacchaeus was in a tree when Jesus called him, but he quickly climbed down and received Jesus joyfully (Luke 19:6). He had found life’s ultimate treasure in Christ.
As Jesus’ death approached, He told His followers that soon they would be like a woman in labour, whose sorrow would be turned into joy (John 16:20-22). Later they understood, when the dark sorrow of the cross gave way to the joy of the resurrection (Luke 24:41). Viewed from this perspective, eventually they came to see that the cross itself was necessary for the joy to become real (Heb. 12:2). Because of His victory and the promise of His abiding presence, the disciples could rejoice even after the Lord’s ascension (Luke 24:52).
The Book of Acts tells how joy continued to characterize those who followed Jesus. After Philip preached in Samaria, the people believed and “there was great joy in that city”. (Act. 8:8). After the work of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, “the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 13:52). After the conversion of the Philippian jailer, he “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house”. (Acts 16:34).
Joy in the Christian life is in direct proportion to a believer’s walk with the Lord. As believers we can rejoice because we are in the Lord (Phil. 4:4). Joy is a fruit of a Spirit-led life (Gal. 5:22). Sin in a believer’s life robs the person of joy (Ps. 51:12).
When a person walks with the Lord, the person can continue to rejoice even when troubles come. Jesus spoke of those who could rejoice even when persecuted and killed (Matt. 5:12). Peter and James, like Paul, echoed the Lord’s teachings about rejoicing in troubles (1 Peter 1:6-8; James 1:2).
Joy in the Lord enables people to enjoy all that God has given to them. They rejoice in family (Prov. 5:18), food (1 Tim. 4:4-5), celebrations (Deut. 16:13-15), friends (Phil. 4:1). They share with others the joys and sorrows of life: “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, weep with them that weep.” (Rom. 12:15).
Let’s look at Phil. 4:4…”Rejoice in the Lord always.” It does not say rejoice sometimes, or rejoice only when we feel like it, it says “rejoice in the Lord always.” (In the Lord) means in His fellowship, in His love and grace and in the knowledge of His dominion over our lives and His rule over all our destiny. In other words, the Lord has EVERYTHING under control.
Which leads us to our first MYTH about JOY: The idea that if we’re NOT joyful every minute of every day, we’re terrible Christians. That myth can rob us of the little joy already in our lives. Every Christian struggles with a lack of joy at times, but God’s response is compassion, not accusation and anger.
We can choose JOY. If God commands joy, then it must be possible to choose it. During my cancer experience I had two choices as I saw it: I could choose to laugh or I could choose to cry. That was my philosophy throughout the experience. Laughter gave way to hope, hope to life,…the opposite was true when I cried; I felt defeated, and hopeless. There are all kinds of studies about terminal illness about the effects of laughter and the longevity of life: people who laugh and have a generally positive attitude during their illness, live longer and have a better survival rate than those who tend to be pessimistic and discouraged throughout their illness. So, very soon after my initial surgery and during my recovery and especially during my chemo treatments, I made a point of trying to laugh every day. That wasn’t always easy especially as the side effects of chemo kicked in, so I recruited people to send me emails to encourage me, especially when I was too weak and sick to leave the house. I would get on the computer and people from around the world sent me wonderful, humourous anecdotes, silly jokes, pictures, videos and I would immediately feel better because they made me laugh. When I was feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, my family, friends and church family supported me in hundreds of little acts of kindness and always they tried to bring a smile to my face. When I couldn’t do it for myself, I found JOY through others!
Of course there is a down side if you choose NOT to have JOY. Then we are vulnerable to a host of what has been called the Devil’s D’s: doubt, discouragement, disillusionment, dejection, depression, despair and disaster.
1. Do you think it is possible to choose “JOY”? Why or why not? 2. Should Christians be “joyful” all the time? Why or why not? 3. Several scripture verses were mentioned today. Read through them and choose two that speak to your life right now. Memorize them, or write them in your prayer journal, or share them with a friend. If you’re brave, share them in a comment here and tell me why they have impacted you today.
(*This blog series was first published by Lynn Dove in April/May 2012.)