Summary: We find joy by saturating our minds and hearts with the future promises of God.
This morning, I’d like to talk about joy. How does that statement make you feel? Hopeful? Glad? Or does it arouse feelings of apprehension? Joy is a funny topic. You would expect that people would enjoy hearing about joy; that they would welcome a discourse on such a positive topic. But I’ll bet that in some of your minds, the prospect of a sermon on joy is less than welcome. Because, paradoxically, it often makes people feel depressed and guilty. They know that Christians are supposed to be joyful, and yet they have a gnawing suspicion that their own joy isn’t up to snuff; that their own heart isn’t as full of gladness and good cheer as it ought to be. They’re not sure just why they don’t feel particularly joyful, but they do know that joy is something that’s expected of believers. And so the result is often hypocrisy. Playacting. Fakery. Putting on a mask of joy, when the reality is very different. In fact, I suspect that joy is one of the most commonly counterfeited attitudes among Christians.
You may remember that last week, we looked at the importance of being honest as we share with one another our struggles and hardships. We are members of the body of Christ, and so when one suffers, we all suffer. God intends for us to support one another, and encourage one another, and help one another. And the only way we can do that is if we’re willing to humble ourselves and admit our weaknesses and failings. Claiming to possess something we lack undermines genuine fellowship. But we can be honest with one another, because we understand grace. We understand that all of us alike are sinners, having nothing to commend us to God or merit his favor. None of us have any standing before God to judge or condemn anyone. We are loved and accepted by God only because of Christ. And therefore, we can love, and accept, and forgive, and empathize with one another.
On the other hand, some don’t even make a pretense of joy. They’re just openly grumpy and morose, and they’ve come to view this as normal. They’re the Eeyores of the faith. They’ve absorbed the fact that following Christ involves persevering in faith through struggle, and hardship, and trials. But they’ve missed the part about joy in journey. They see the Christian life as a matter of grim determination, of joylessly soldiering on through a world of woe. Well, my message today is for both of these, the pretenders and the drudges, and everyone who just wants to get a better handle on joy. We’re going to be looking at why joy seems so elusive, so hard to grasp, and so hard to hold on to once we’ve found it. And we’re going to see what we can do to make joy a more consistent and a more authentic part of our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.
First, I want to review a few verses to establish that joy is indeed a normal part of the Christian life.
"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" – Romans 14:17
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." – Romans 15:13
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." – Galatians 5:22
"Be joyful always." – 1 Thessalonians 5:16
The Bible does not teach that joy is an exceptional condition, something to be experienced only on rare occasions – perhaps when we’ve just gained some deep insight from the Scriptures, or when we’ve received some great answer to prayer, or at those times when our fellowship with God seems unusually close. No, Paul writes that this is what the kingdom of God is all about – righteousness, peace, and joy. It’s something we’re to be filled with. It’s one of the distinguishing marks of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. And he puts it most clearly and succinctly in First Thessalonians: "Be joyful always." It’s not intended to be rare; or unusual; or uncommon; or exceptional. It’s supposed to be what the Christian life looks like. It’s what we should expect as we walk with Christ. And so, if our hearts possess little joy, and our lives display little joy, then something is amiss. We need to find out what’s wrong and work to correct it.
I use the term "work" intentionally, because one of the reasons people don’t experience joy is that they fail to work at it. Now, that sounds faintly ridiculous, doesn’t it? – working at being more joyful. It seems like a contradiction in terms, like planning to be more spontaneous. We tend to see joy as a basic character trait, something you either have or you don’t. Or, we view it as something which God does to us, with little or no involvement on our part. Not something to be sought, but only received. After all, if joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, something He produces in our hearts, then doesn’t it stand to reason that he will give us joy as He pleases, regardless of what we do? If joy is truly a work of God in our hearts, then isn’t it a bit presumptuous to pursue it, to take things into our own hands?