Summary: God gives joy to those who abide in Him which is not dependent on circumstances but is actually compatible with pain.
Years ago I spent the last four months of seminary in the Clinical Pastoral Education program or CPE as a chaplain on the third floor of Central Baptist Hospital. It was a great experience, but not one that suited me too well. I was assigned to the respiratory ward where people were mostly dying of black lung, emphysema, and lung cancer. That took a toll on me as did the weekends of serving as the chaplain on call and ministering to families in the ER after accidents. In those situations you are face-to-face with life as it really is sometimes. There isn’t much pretending in the ER or at the bed of a person as they take their last breaths. And it wears on you. It becomes too real.
At first it was exciting but then it begins to get to you. But we learned two tricks that helped us cope. First – we never went through the pediatrics ward. It was just too close to home for those of us who had kids ourselves to see little ones fighting for their lives. But we did visit the maternity ward on a regular basis. That would get you leveled out – to see people pressed up against the windows –looking at the baby. A few minutes there and things were ok again and we could go back to the rest of the hospital. But there with the babies – there was joy. There was this deep sense of wellness – of observing something that was pure and good and completely beyond our comprehension or power.
The toughest guys cry when they hold their son or daughter for the first time. No one says “I did this. You can thank me. I made this happen.” Everyone is taken by the mystery and the miracle of birth. There is joy – not just happiness – but joy – deep – transcendent – slippery – you can’t get words around it. It is joy unspeakable and full of glory.
I remember a young couple whose story wasn’t as they had dreamed. The baby was way premature and was fighting for life and it was tough. They had to sit by the incubator. That little three pounder all taped up and strapped down --- hoses and tubes. He looked so small and helpless. And the father said “We are just thankful for every day.” There was no sadness or bitterness.
That is joy. It is deep and sometimes unexplainable and often has little to do with the circumstances of life.
That is our topic for this day. And I want you to ask yourself, “When was the last time I saw joy?” Can you remember? It might have been a birth, or a death, or a graduation, or some other event where God’s joy just flowed through you and gushed out for others to see.
Joy is the state of delight and well being that results from knowing God.
It is second in the list of the fruit of the Spirit as given to us by Paul. Last week we began with love and we also spoke about the fruit of the Spirit are a result of walking with Jesus Christ – of abiding in Him. The Spirit produces fruit in our lives. We don’t produce them. It’s not about discipline. It’s not about giving stuff up. It is about connecting with Jesus. And we read that passage from John 15 where Jesus tells us to stay connected – to abide – to center our lives around him and then he promised that if we do, he will produce fruit in our lives and he also warns that apart from him we cannot do anything.
And Paul lists out nine attributes or virtues that God will develop in us if we walk in the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22–23 (NLT) (read together)
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
And we might hear these and think – I really need to get to work and try to be more loving and more joyful and find peace. I want to stop you right there and make the point that if we do that it will not work. The list is not a test. Paul is not saying – You should be more loving. You should have more joy. We are not the recipients of the fruit of the Spirit. The world enjoys the fruit as God grows them in us for others. God wants them to flow through us – and I think the verb “flow” works so well for joy, because joy is dynamic, it is often difficult to understand, can never be faked or imitated - -but arises in all circumstances.