The Joy of the Lord is Strength
This past week our country celebrated it’s 247th birthday. A tradition that I’ve held over the years is to read the document that birthed our nation on that day. And so I read those amazing words. As you begin the second paragraph you read some of the more famous words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Are they the same? Meriam-webster dictionary defines it this way:
hap•pi•ness \ˈha-pē-nəs\ noun
1 obsolete: good fortune: prosperity
2 a: a state of well-being and contentment: joy
b: a pleasurable or satisfying experience
Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). In Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Merriam-Webster, Inc. The pursuit of prosperity may be what our founders meant, or it could have been the second definition - a state of well-being and contentment.
When Merriam Webster gets to defining Joy it is similar:
joy \ˈjȯi\ noun
1 a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires: delight
b: the expression or exhibition of such emotion: gaiety
2: a state of happiness or felicity: bliss
3: a source or cause of delight
Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). In Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Merriam-Webster, Inc.
We began a series on the fruits of the Spirit two weeks ago, and I’m simply working my way through Paul’s list.
Galatians 5:22–23 (ESV)
...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
However, we know that this list is not exhaustive. As we see Paul’s statement “against such things”, meaning the list could go on. Last week we began with Love. And this week we’re focusing on JOY.
It seems appropriate given our celebration this past week. We should all strive for joy. Paul simply says it is a fruit of the Spirit.
In other words it’s naturally produced by the Holy Spirit living in each of us. Just as love is the opposite of fear, so is joy. In Hebrews 12:2
Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, WHO FOR THE JOY that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Joy was set before him?
What joy was there?
Could it be an eye towards eternity?
Could it be that pursuit, and the knowledge of what is to come?
Joy is listed as the second fruit, for in rejoicing in God’s salvation Christians show that their affections are rightly placed in God’s will and his purpose.
Martin Luther wrote: “this is the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride, that is to say, sweet cogitations of Christ, wholesome exhortations, pleasant songs or psalms, praises and thanksgiving, whereby the godly do instruct, stir up and refresh one another. Therefore God loves not heaviness (and doubtfulness) of spirit: he hates uncomfortable doctrine, heavy and sorrowful cogitations, and loves cheerful hearts. For (sic) he sent his son, not to oppress us with heaviness and sorrow, but to cheer up our souls in him.”
Throughout the Bible we read phrases like, “Rejoice in the Lord”, in fact Paul wrote to the PHilippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
This is not just some empty headed ignorance of the world around us, this is intentional focus on the person of Christ and His impact on that world. It is having that eternal perspective.
I have spent decades working with children of all ages. In my ministries and even in my work with the YMCA it seems that those kids that “seemed” (and I used air quotes) to cause the most trouble also found a way into my heart. I’ve often marvelled at parents who had those children that were always up to something, and yet they always seemed to be so calm. I remember one group of 4 brothers that frequented our rec. swims at the YMCA. Their native language was Russian so our communication was often challenging.
Our staff often were frustrated by how they seemed to use our pool rules as a check list as to what to do next.
“No running on the deck”, Check. I ran on the deck.
“No diving.” Check, I dove.
“No rough horseplay.” Okay, that’s a rule I've always thought was awfully subjective, but holding a brother underwater seemed to fit the bill. Check.
They definitely tested us, and still they were among my favorites. Yet their mom always seemed so calm to me. She seemed to have a peace as if she knew this too would pass. And it did, they grew up and seem to have become good young men. I don’t know, but I imagine she had faith in the Lord. I would later learn the boys uncle was a pastor.
Joy is taking that eternal perspective. It is stepping back and recognizing that this is the long haul. When I was young my mom used to tell me this is why God made puppies, kittens and babies so cute. So you don’t kill ‘em. She was kidding of course. For me personally, Doxa my other dog, has definitely tested my patience. He totally destroyed all my potted plants in the back yard, including my hanging baskets and my green house. At some point though I just had to laugh. Did it bring me joy what he was doing? No.
Did it ruin my day? No.
Did it ruin my oasis with all the pretty flowers in my back yard…well. yes.. Ha-ha.
Still, he is a good boy, and we’re working on more of those simple obedience traits that he needs to master.
Many of you have been parents, or have worked with children, and recognize the need to take a long term view.
I can only imagine that this the view that Fannie Crosby took. You may not recognize that name. Fannie Crosby wrote more than 2000 hymns. She was blinded by a doctor’s negligence at six weeks of age. In her life she faced challenge after challenge. Born in the early part of the 19th century, she entered the New York City institution for the Blind in 1835. Today there is hardly a hymnbook in the English language that does not contain at least one hymn from her.
She is listed among the Whose Who in Christian History, and is known for not only the theological content of her hymns - which was unequivocally orthodox - she is also known for how personal and experiential her theology was. Hymns such as “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” “I am thine , O Lord,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” and “To God Be the Glory.”
Perhaps it is that focus, on God’s glory and off of ourselves that truly brings us to the point of that joy.
In Nehemiah we read of a celebration to the Lord. Neh 8:10
Nehemiah 8:10 (ESV)
Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH.”
When Paul speaks to the Galatian church about the fruits of the Spirit and includes among the list joy, I have not doubt that he puts it there because despite all that he’s been through he recognizes that joy cannot be determined by our circumstances. It has to come from a source beyond that
The Bible is full of commands to joy
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
Psalm 20:5 (ESV)
May we shout for joy over your salvation...
Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
As we look at our fruits of the Spirit
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Our joy cannot be determined by the circumstances around us. If you think about the people you’ve met that exuded joy you think of people that maybe didn’t have an earthly reason for it. I’ve met some who in a worldly way had no reason to be joyful and yet they were: People living in what we would consider poverty - yet joyfully willing to share anything and everything they had. People diagnosed with incurable disease and still laughing and seeking to live life to its fullest.
Taking the eternal perspective, giving the glory to God is the one way, and it would seem the only way to have the deep seated joy that can exude from us all the time.
Our country was founded on Judeo Christian principles. Today we live in a post-Christian culture. Yet the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of joy continues.
I recently watched the movie Jesus Revolution, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. In it is a great line where Lonnie Frisbee a hippy preacher, says, “This generations is searching for all the right things in all the wrong places.” I don’t think that truth has changed for much of our culture today. As believers we need to let our joy show, and share the reason for our joy.
It’s the joy we all pursuit. Let’s hare it.