Joy encouraged
by Jack Wald | June 5th, 2016


Mark Twain was an American writer of the 19th century and among the books he wrote were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These two books tell the story of two boys who grew up along the Mississippi River that runs north to south in the center of the United States. In the second of the books, Huckleberry Finn, Twain begins with this:

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.

Well, this morning I am preaching a second sermon on joy and to paraphrase the opening of Huckleberry Finn, “You don’t know about joy without you have heard the sermon from last week; but that ain’t no matter.” I told the truth, mainly, and I hope I told the truth, mostly.

Let me run through a summary of last week’s sermon for those who missed it.

There are many words for joy in the Hebrew Old Testament. There is simcha, a bright and shining joy. Masos joy is a leaping and jumping joy. Rinnah joy is a shouting joy, a joy that has to be expressed and cannot be contained. Gil joy is “moving around in a circle” joy.

It is appropriate and good for followers of Jesus to experience the joy these words describe, but there is another, deeper joy that is experienced by followers of Jesus that stays with them even through difficult times.

This is the joy James talks about at the opening of his letter. (James 1:2) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” This is the joy the writer of Hebrews refers to in Hebrews 12:2 – “For the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

This deep joy is not dependent on circumstances. This  joy is not dependent on whether the battle is won or lost, whether we are healed or not, whether things work out as we want them to or not. This joy is present at funerals as well as at weddings. It is present in the ashes of defeat as much as it is present in the thrill of victory.

This joy is not the same as happiness and not the same as the words for joy in the Old Testament. This joy does not make itself known with a big smile and exuberant behavior. This joy is not rooted in what happens or does not happen here on earth. It is rooted in what is true for eternity. It is rooted in eternal truth, Kingdom of God truth.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, along with love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. What this means is that joy results from abiding in Christ. As we attach ourselves to Jesus, like a branch to the vine. As we remain attached to Jesus, through good and bad, easy and difficult times, we become more like him and the fruit of the Spirit that describes the character of God begins to also describe us.

Deep joy cannot be imposed from without, it must come from within. Joy that stays with us through trials and tribulations comes from a heart that is being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Dallas Willard defined joy in this way:
Joy is not pleasure, a mere sensation, but a pervasive and constant sense of well-being. It claims our entire body and soul, both the physical and the non-physical side of the human self. Hope in the goodness of God is joy’s indispensable support.

Joy is an emotion, but it comes from such a deep place in us that it is not a temporary expression of happiness. It is present, even in the midst of persecution.

This brings us to this morning. The focus today will be on what we can do to encourage the development of this deep joy and what blocks this joy from being part of our lives.

If joy is a fruit of the Spirit, then to have joy evidenced in our lives we need to abide in Christ. It is not more complicated than that. Jesus taught in John 15:1–5
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

If we abide in Christ, joy results. If we do not abide, our joy will diminish. It is that simple. If you cut a branch from the vine, it shrivels and dies. If we are not firmly attached to Jesus, we will lose the life and joy he gives us.

Astronauts do space walks. When they exit the spacecraft, they have a rope that prevents them from drifting off into space. If that rope is not attached to the spacecraft, their life is at risk. When we neglect our relationship with Jesus, we risk our eternal life. Jesus saves us, but we have to hold on.

One more image I use to help me think about this comes from the novel Les Miserables written by Victor Hugo. In this novel, Jean Valjean carries a young girl, Cosette, over the wall of Paris to safety. Who saved Cosette? Jean Valjean saved her because he is the one who did the work of climbing over the wall. He had to use both hands to climb the wall so how did Cosette get over the wall? Cosette had to hold on to the neck of Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean did the work of climbing but Cosette had to make every effort to hold on. We are saved by grace but we also have to make every effort. We have to abide in Christ.

There is nothing more important than abiding in Christ. So hang on to Jesus. Never let go of Jesus. Stay attached to Jesus. Remain in relationship with Jesus. Through all of life’s struggles, ups and downs, good days and bad days, strong faith and deep doubts – hang on to Jesus. Jesus is your lifeline and when you hold on, joy will come.

What prevents us from abiding in Christ? What blocks our joy? What depletes our joy? What robs us of our joy?

This is a very broad topic, so let me mention just a few things.

1. Fear blocks our joy. The apostle John wrote: (1 John 4:18)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

When we know we are loved by God, when we are certain that we are loved by God, there is no fear. I mentioned last week that Paul and Silas were beaten, flogged, and put in prison. As they sat in their jail cell, with all their physical pain and uncertainty of what would happen when they were brought before the judge in the morning, they prayed and sang hymns to God. Why were they not fearful? Why were they not anxious? The morning might bring death but they knew that death would bring them eternal life with Jesus. Their trust was in Jesus who promised to bring them safely into his kingdom. Perfect love drives out fear.

When we give in to fear, we open the door for the devil to come in and torment us. In Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, is headed toward the celestial city. He hears from two characters named Mistrust and Timorous that there are lions ahead and turns around because of fear. But then he is encouraged to continue on the path because the lions are on short chains. They can growl and claw, but if he stays on the center of the path, he will not be harmed.

When we walk on the path to the heavenly city, our eternal home, we are safe. But if we give in to fear, we are pulled to the side of the path where the devil can harm us.

Fear blocks our joy. When we fear, the truth of Jesus becomes smaller and smaller and what is making us fearful grows in size.  So when we are fearful, it is time to remind ourselves of what is true. We need to remind ourselves of who loves us and where we are going. This needs to become the truth on which we stand so we can resist what makes us fearful.

2. Tiredness and exhaustion deplete our joy.

Psalm 121, the second of the psalms of ascent Jews chanted as they made their way to the annual festivals in Jerusalem, tells us (Psalm 121:2–4)
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

Psalm 121 tells us God never slumbers or sleeps. Sometimes we think we are God and deprive ourselves of rest. There is so much that needs to be done. There is even so much good that can be done that it fills up seven days of the week and there is still more that remains undone. We are so busy we do not have time to rest. We deprive ourselves of sleep and rest.

But we are not God. God is unlimited, but we are limited creatures. We need rest and because God made us he knows that we need rest. So in the Ten Commandments he commanded us to rest.

We don’t do too well with any of the ten commandments, but the one we feel least guilty of transgressing is the fourth. (Exodus 20:8–10)
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.

We take the other nine commandments seriously, but we let this one slide. Some Christians have taken an overly legalistic approach to keeping the Sabbath, but that does not give us an excuse for ignoring it.

We can go on a long time without taking a day of rest, but eventually we become less effective in what we do, we have less energy for what we do, we begin to lose creativity in what we do, we begin to lose the joy in what we do.

When I have gone away on a spiritual retreat in years past, I would sometimes begin just by sleeping because I was so tired. I felt guilty about this and then I was told by a spiritual director one time that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep. We need rest.

Are you God? Then work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and go see a psychiatrist to help you with your delusion. When you are healed and you realize you are not God, start taking a day of rest each week. Obey the fourth of the Ten Commandments to remember the Sabbath and recover your joy.

3. Idols rob us of our joy.

An idol is anything that becomes too important in our lives. So when we attach too much value to our possessions, they can become an idol. I read the passage from Hebrews 10:34 last week.
You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

When I read that it hurts because I realize how attached I am to the things I have. I have lots of little things that remind me of places I have been and things I have experienced. I have little things that remind me of my father and my grandparents and even great-grandparents. It is not bad to have possessions but they should not control us. How do I know when my possessions control me?

When I don’t allow people to use my house for a meeting because I worry they might break something or steal something, my possessions have become an idol. When I worry and obsess about someone breaking in to take my things, my possessions are pulling me away from what God wants me to focus on. When I spend more time thinking about my possessions than I do about my relationship with Jesus, my possessions have become destructive to me.

Augustine wrote of the sack of Rome by the Goths in 410 AD and noted that because Christian teaching had reached the Goths, they spared the Christians who gathered for safety in their churches. Those who suffered, for the most part, suffered because they attempted to protect their wealth and Augustine had harsh words for them. He said that if they loved their money that much, they deserved to suffer in its defense and should rejoice that, in allowing its loss, God had freed them from its snare.

Augustine wrote:
Those who suffered so much for the sake of gold should have been warned how much they should endure for the sake of Christ, so that they might learn, instead of loving gold and silver, to love him who would enrich with eternal fortune those who suffered for his sake. To suffer for the sake of wealth were pitiable.

Jesus asked the rich young ruler to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and then follow him. Luke tells us he went away sad because he was very wealthy. When we hold on too tightly to what we will surely, inevitably lose when our time on this planet comes to an end, we lose our joy.

4. A lack of purpose depletes our joy.

There are certain existential questions that we need to answer. Why are we here on earth? What is our greater purpose on earth? For followers of Jesus, these are not optional questions.

We need to know that we are doing what God wants us to do. David Bosch, a South African missiologist and theologian, wrote in A Spirituality of the Road,  a book that should be required reading for every missionary,
It is as true of the modern missionary, as it has always been of all the generations of missionaries since Paul, that we will not be able to cope with frustrations, disappointments, disillusionment, and shock unless we know that we belong where we are, and are able to draw courage from that knowledge. In Troas Paul had a vision of a Macedonian appealing to him and saying, “Come across to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:10). Yet upon arrival in Philippi, no county orchestra or reception committee greeted him, rather a whip, and a cell in the local prison. Yet he persevered, with joy, for he knew: “This is where I belong!”

This is true of missionaries, pastors, and other church workers. It is also true of those with careers in the military or diplomacy, teachers or plumbers, housewives (and sometimes househusbands) or business people, carpenters or architects.

We all have to ask the same questions. Am I where God wants me? Am I doing what God wants me to do with my life?

The world may have pulled me into a position of wealth and power, but God may be calling me away from that world. It is not bad to be in a position of wealth or power, but is it God’s calling or the world’s calling that has put me there? Is God’s call for me to be a stay-at-home mother or to have a career? Is God’s call for me to have a career or to be a stay-at-home father? We need to resist what our culture tells us is appropriate or inappropriate, what is best and what is not best. Rather than stay where I am because it is easier to keep doing what I am doing than to make a change, we need to ask God if he wants us to continue where we are. We need to be open to God calling us to do something new and different. What is God calling me to do? That is the question.

Paul’s joy, even when he was greeted with a whip and a cell, came from knowing he was where Jesus wanted him to be. Our joy is also dependent on doing what he wants us to do where he wants us to do it.

These are among the many things that can block, deplete, and rob us of our joy. What can we do to encourage joy in our lives? I already talked about abiding in Christ. There is nothing more important than that, but let me add some ways to encourage our abiding.

First, let me say what is not helpful. Putting on a happy face is in no way a solution to having a deep joy.

I was talking with some of the men in the church this past week and Steve McDaniel pointed out that there is cognitive research that shows smiling is beneficial to our health. The magazine Psychology Today says that “Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.” Smiling helps reduce stress. Smiling helps relieve pain.

I am not disputing this. But I don’t think smiling, putting on a happy face, can create the deep joy that will take us through suffering and persecution. Since joy is a fruit of the Spirit, it must come from the heart, not through external effort. Deep joy does not repress pain, cover over pain, or ignore pain; joy looks pain full in the face and is victorious.

I read last week from Barry Gaeddert’s book, Mosaics of Redemption: Discovering God’s Restoration in Our Broken and Shattered Lives. He writes of his wife Suzy’s battle with a brain tumor that resulted in her death. In the selection I read he writes
One more thing: God tells Habakkuk that the enemy, the destroyer, will be destroyed (ch. 2). I take great hope in that. Make no mistake, just as Babylon was eventually destroyed, there will be a day in our world where cancer reigns in evil terror no more. Glioblastoma multiform will be defeated, and no one, absolutely no one, will suffer or struggle with the hell in which we walked. Until then, I will continue to unashamedly affirm my faith and trust in a good and loving God, who, at the right time, will make all things new.

Circumstances be damned. You do not win in the end. So I’m lining up my trust in the One who does.

A happy smile did not triumph over the pain of Suzy’s suffering; it was Suzy’s and Barry’s hope in Jesus and his kingdom that allowed a deep joy and trust to be present even in the midst of this tragic death.

Second, cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the process of making you holy.

As the Holy Spirit leads you into truth, be willing to submit and make Jesus lord of all your life. Resist temptation. Don’t hold grudges. Forgive those who have offended or hurt you. When you observe that food or the internet or television or anything else has power over you, discipline your flesh and fast from those things for a day or week. Regain power over your flesh. Swallow your pride and realize you still have a long way to go to be the holy person God wants you to be. Become more and more teachable. Grow in humility and patience.

Persevere. This is a lifelong process. Keep on cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit.

Third, be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

After Paul wrote about the theology of the church and the place of his fellow Jews in God’s plan, he began his application of this glorious truth with these verses: (Romans 12:1–2)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The world is broadcasting its message to us twenty-four hours a day, non-stop. The message comes through movies and tv shows, magazines and books, music, social media, and all of popular culture. The advertising industry spends a lot of money to study human psychology so they can manipulate us to buy what they are selling. We are bombarded with the values of this material world. There is no such thing as objective media.

We need to examine the messages being sent and discern the underlying values being promoted. And then we need to check those values against the truth of God revealed in the Bible. Is it really true that buying a certain car will give you the boyfriend or girlfriend you want? Will it give you the fulfillment you want? What are movies and popular music teaching us about human relationships? Is what they are teaching us going to lead to long, loving, and lasting relationships? Will the values the world promotes lead to peace and well-being?

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Fourth, draw encouragement and strength from your brothers and sisters in Christ.

We are not meant to make our pilgrimage to God’s heavenly kingdom alone. We were created to be in relationship with others who are in God’s kingdom. We need our brothers and sisters in Christ.

For this reason we are instructed in Scripture not to forsake fellowship. (Hebrews 10:23–25)
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We can sing by ourselves. We can study the Bible by ourselves. We can listen to a sermon on the internet in the privacy of our room. We can do some of the things we do in church all by ourselves in our room, but we miss out on the relationships with others that we need, that God created us to need.

We need brothers and sisters in Christ to worship with us. We need brothers and sisters to help us resist the temptations of the world that pull us away from Jesus. We need brothers and sisters to help us discern the messages of the world. Popular culture pulls us and the attraction is powerful. It is difficult to resist when we are without friends to support us and encourage us to resist the destructive elements of popular culture and live lives that lead to well-being.

Fifth, We need to keep our feet firmly on the foundation of truth God has given us. When the world’s non-stop message is pulling us away from Jesus, leading us to false idols, telling us our worth is determined by how much power and money we have, we need to be reminded of what is eternally true. We need a daily reminder of what is true to counteract the unrelenting message the world sends.

In the bulletin there is an insert with four truths upon which we stand. These are taken from Richard Lovelace’s book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life.

I am accepted! (Justification)
I am delivered! (Sanctification)
I am not alone! (Indwelling of the Holy Spirit)
I have authority! (Power over spiritual forces of darkness)

I encourage you to keep this insert in your Bible and read it often. Read it in the morning before you start your day. Remind yourself of what is true and stand firmly, confidently on that foundation.

As we prepare for communion this morning, let us declare the truths on which we stand as followers of Jesus.

Jesus saved us and set us on a solid rock but when we are anxious and fearful, that rock becomes very slippery and we fear we will fall off. Our minds become distracted and we forget who we are and to whom we belong. We need to be reminded of the truths upon which we stand as Christians.

1. I AM ACCEPTED! (justification)
Because of my relationship with Christ, when God sees me, he sees me not as a sinner but as his perfect and holy child. The blood of Christ covers my sin.
I can trust God. He will not reject me. His love is not dependent on my behavior. Nothing I do today will make him love me more or less tomorrow. I am his special child, loved and accepted with no strings attached.

2. I AM DELIVERED! (sanctification)
Sin has no power over me. The power of sin to rule my life has been destroyed in the cross of Christ. The Holy Spirit is working with me to transform me into the holy child God sees me to be.
By faith I claim the power of God at work in me, transforming me from sinner to saint.
I have hope! What I am today is not what I will be tomorrow.

3. I AM NOT ALONE! (indwelling of the Holy Spirit)
The Holy Spirit lives within me. Each day I need to open myself to the Spirit, sharing all my thoughts and plans. I need to spend time in silence, allowing the Spirit to speak to me, to guide my thoughts. I need to continue to be open to the Holy Spirit throughout the day in a relationship of communication and communion, checking my thoughts with my knowledge of the Word.

4. I HAVE AUTHORITY! (spiritual warfare)
The forces of darkness are so chained by the victory of Christ that they are unable to do anything which does ultimate damage to his glory and kingdom.
The devil is on a short chain. He can growl and threaten, but in Christ, I cannot be harmed.
Satan is my accuser but I do not have to listen to his accusations.
Stand firm in Christ and rebuke Satan’s power over you each day.
When you are fearful and anxious, fast to focus your attention on God. Remind yourself of what it is you believe. Remember how God has worked in your life.

I am accepted by God as righteous!
I am delivered from the power of sin!
I am not alone for I have the Holy Spirit as my counselor!
I have authority over fallen spirits!

Claim these truths each day, never let go of Jesus, and live a life with Jesus full of joy and peace.

1 Peter 1:3–9
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 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, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.