(Presented September 2015 at the Protestant All-Faith Worship service)
We as Christians are known as peculiar people. I believe this is in part because of our response to adversity. (Titus 2:11-14) James tells us “to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials,” not because we are masochists who enjoy pain but because we know that “the testing of our faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2)
God told both the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah that the sorrow and mourning that the people of Isreal were experiencing would be replaced by joy and gladness. (Isaiah 51:11, Jeremiah 31:13) We will experience mourning, sorrow, crying, and pain while we are in this life. (Revelations 21:4) But Solomon wrote, “To everything there is a season. A time for every puirpose under heaven.” (Ecclisiates 3:1) Those struggles that we go through are only temporary and we must fix our eyes firmly on God.
Joy is not produced by the absence of conflict or struggle, rather it is what results from those trials when we understand them from God’s perspective, and when we experience His presence in the midst of the storm. (Isaiah 55:8-9, Daniel 3:25) King David rejoiced when God answered his prayers to rescue him from the hands of his enemies, “I will shout for joy,” he said, “and sing your praises for you have ransomed me.” (Psalms 71:33)
Joy is somthing we experience in spite of our circustances. It is a gift we receive when we stop trying to get it. It comes when we surrender fully to God and let His Holy Spirit work in us and through us. The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth about the experience of the churches in Macedonia. How during a time of severe trial they experienced an overflowing joy that caused them to give generously, even though they were extremely poor. (2 Corinithians 8:2)
Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) The fruit of the Spirit are not for our consumption. The fruit produced in our lives goes to feed others, so that the seed of God’s message may be planted in them.
Jesus told his disciples, “If you keep my commandments you will abide in My love… These things I have spoken to you that my joy remains in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:1011) Joy is the reward for odedience when we stay faithful and continue to trust God during adversity. However, when we sin, we disrupt our relationship with God and the fruit withers and dies. We must like King David confess our sin and seek God’s forgiveness. “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” (Psalms 51:10-12)
When King David wrote the 119th Psalm he was meditating on the value of scripture. He said, “Your statutes are my heritage forever, they are the joy of my heart.” (Psalms 199:11) The writer of Hebrews says that, “The Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit.” (Hebrews 4:12) That is why in the book of Nehemiah when Ezra the priest read the scriptures to those who had returned from captivity in Babylon, they wept. But Ezra told them, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) We can prepare ourselves to face adversity by spending time in the Word. We draw strength from reading about how God has been faithful to those who came before us. We believe the promise that “He will never leave us or forsake us” in our times of adversity. (Hebrews 13:5)
Even without adversity we should be joyful. Isaiah said that “we should go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” (Isaiah 35:10) Even creation is filled with joy and if we won’t speak out the very rocks will cry out. (Luke 19:40) The psalmist said, “Shout with joy to God, all the earth!” (Psalms 66:1) “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad…Then all of the trees of the forest will sing for joy.” (Psalms 96:11-12) We are commanded to “tell of his works with songs of joy,” (Psalms 107:22) because “You, Oh Lord, have filled my heart with great joy.” (Psalms 4:7)
The Apostle Paul told the Thessalonicans to be “be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) When we realize all that God has done for us in the past, what he is doing for us in the present, and what he will do for us in the future how can a Christian not help but be joyful? “The Lord is my strength and shield I trust Him with all my heart. He helps me and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” (Psalms 28:7) No wonder King David was a man after God’s own heart.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew words for joy refer to gladness and mirth. The general usage was applied to the state of the mind in any pleasurable experience. In the Psalms it appears as a natural consequence of the individuals fellowship with God, who is the source of joy. In the New Testament, the Greek words for joy refer to exultation or delight.
Joy should not be confussed with happiness, which is an emotional state that like all feelings is highly influenced by our present experience. Joy is not an emotion, but a characteristic of the Christian life. It is a conscious response we make on a daily basis, made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Lastly, when Christians live in right relationship with one another our encouragement and humble service can impart joy. Paul wrote to Philemon, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” (Philemon 1:7) We can cause others to experience joy by “being like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2)
My prayer for you dear Brothers in Christ, is that you will be “filled with inexpressible and glorious joy as you receive the goal of your faith, which is the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)