Summary: This sermon is intended to question why there often seems to be a shortage of joy in the lives of God’s people, and to call God’s people to "rejoice" and give thanks!
I. When my father, Rev. Charles Wesley Bradford died, my mother gave me all my father’s old sermon notes and some manuscripts. Among these files were, I believe, also some things that either belonged to my grandfather Rev. Ernest Bradford or to my mother’s father Dr. Rev. Dewey Whitwell. AMong these notes one illustarition began "A college chaplin was crossing the campus of his college, when he was joined by a young woman, who was a member of the college faculty. As they walked together their conversation turned to the appraisal of the college which they served.
They agreed it was a wonderful place: the location; the equipment; the high standards; the select student body; the fine faculty - all these were mentioned. Just before they parted the young woman said, "Yes we have everything to be thankful for, everything but joy."
Whoever authored that original sermon, goes on to state "A commentator traveled widely throughout America and returned with the observation, "America is lacking in joy". This sermon, judging by the manuscript was written in the late 50’s or early 60’s comments seriously about the "lack of joy" in America. And yet some 40 years later, perhaps we might find the same "national shortage". "My own observations is not that there is an absence of joy in American life, but a serious shortage". With Thanksgiving approaching in about two weeks, perhaps we should examine our own "joyful" response to life, and to God! For even in difficult times we have much to be thankful for in this world of ours.
Putting this in our day, at a more recent conference, (1) "...at a Presbyterian church in Omaha. People were given helium filled balloons and told to release them at some point in the service when they felt like expressing the joy in their hearts. Since they were Presbyterians, they weren’t free to say "Hallelujah, Praise the Lord." All through the service balloons ascended, but when it was over 1/3 of the balloons were unreleased..." What a sad day, when 1/3 of the people at Church are not free enough to express joy; to express delight; or happiness caused by something good or satisfying.
Sometimes we don’t express joy, because rather than seeking spiritual fulfillment, we have tried in its place other things: Consider the reflective comments of these men: (2) "Men have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy cannot be found:
- Not in Unbelief -- Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type. He wrote: "I wish I had never been born."
- Not in Pleasure -- Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: "The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone."
- Not in Money -- Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: "I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth."
- Not in Position and Fame -- Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: "Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret."
- Not in Military Glory -- Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent, before he said, "There are no more worlds to conquer."
And yet the Scripture boldly proclaims "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice" (Phil 4:4). Not just to be joyful, but to express the feeling of great joy. To resound with a joyous celebration for the Lord! (3) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years. At one point in his life, Justice Holmes explained his choice of a career by saying: "I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers." So where is the joy? Where is the "always" rejoicing in the Lord? Where is the "always" giving praise with joy in our hearts for the great things He has done?
II. Let’s look then at what it means to have joy, looking closer at the "nature" of joy:
1) It is not the same as pleasure: Many woman may know this better than men, because of having experianced childbirth. Joy may accompany pain. It is awesome and almost uncomprehensible (especially for us men) that a woman could experiance such pain of childbirth, yet be filled with the joy of giving birth to a new life. It is certainly not pleasure, but it is joy. In fact, we may find that the most important time, but often the most difficult, is for us to "rejoice" in the Lord when in the midst of pain, tribulation, or difficult times. I am often reminded of one of my most favorite Scripture verses in James 1:2-3 "My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance..." Another translation reads "Count it all joy when you fall into difficult times...".