Pastor's Blog September 13, 2016
Step into Joy
People all over the world are in the pursuit of happiness, especially here in the USA. One of our country’s foundational documents clearly states:
That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The Declaration of Independence
In America, the main objective for most people is simply to be happy. That sounds like an innocent way of looking at life, but in reality it is a very dangerous view that has horrible consequences. Striving for happiness is a big part of our culture here in the USA. This concept is woven into the very fabric of most people’s view of life. When happiness is your primary goal, you are in danger, because you will do almost anything to fulfill this objective or dream. People drink, do drugs, destroy their bodies, destroy relationships, and destroy themselves, all in the name of pursuing happiness.
Our society has become one of seeking constant entertainment all because of this underlying objective of pursuing happiness. Hollywood creates a constant flow of violent, worldly, sexually charged movies and television shows in order to meet the demand of those that use entertainment as an escape from the cold, hard realities of life. Video games have become a giant part of the American culture, so much so that they are shaping the way our young people think and behave. Sports have become a form of idolatry in America of gigantic proportions. People in the USA are so miserable that last year, they consumed 6.3 billion gallons of beer to numb their souls from the pain caused by their pursuit of happiness.
When in the pursuit of happiness, people find themselves trying to control their outward circumstances and often say things like, “If only I had that job”; “If only I had that person”; “If only I could make this much money”; or “If only I could live in that neighborhood.” They believe things, persons or situations can produce happiness in their lives. The harsh truth is that nothing external can produce lasting joy in your heart no matter how successful you are in your pursuit of happiness.
The Christian life should be a life full of joy, but it is a grim reality that many Christians today live a life of sadness or quiet despair. Most are good at putting a smile on their face in public, but behind the curtain they live with a downcast countenance as inner depression gnaws at their souls. Sure, we all experience happiness from time to time, but even the world is happy when things are going their way. When I speak of the joy of a believer, I am not talking about circumstantial happiness that everyone experiences when life is pleasurable. I am talking about a joy we can find in Christ Jesus, which is an inner joy that gives us immeasurable strength. This joy is not dependent upon the outward circumstances that life deals us. Instead, it comes from God and can be experienced while in the greatest amount of pain. The Bible teaches us that in the presence of God there is fullness of joy.
Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Psalm 16:11
God is always present in the believer’s heart; therefore we should always experience the fullness of joy. The problem is not with God, but with us, because we lose our awareness of God’s presence from time to time. When we are aware of His presence, we experience His joy. When we are not aware of His presence, the darkness of this world impresses our minds, and we experience sadness and misery. The Bible also teaches us that joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…. Galatians 5:22, 23
However, fruit takes time to grow as the tree matures. Just the absence of joy in our lives should be a wake-up call to us, telling us that maybe we are not as mature as we once thought we were. As we wait on Jesus Christ to grow in our lives, we need to learn to step into joy. When I say step into joy, I am using a figurative analogy to help us see that this is similar to abiding in Christ, or walking in the Spirit, or being transformed by the renewing of our minds. To step into joy is like walking by faith. This is an action that we must take that follows our believing.
Joy doesn’t have to always be just out of your reach or just beyond your grasp. Instead, joy can be something you experience continually if you can learn how to step into joy by faith. There is a very short but powerful verse in the Bible that gives us the mandate of how to live.
Rejoice evermore. I Thessalonians 5:16
It would serve us well to meditate on what God is telling us to do here. He is saying that no matter what your outward circumstances are right now, you are to rejoice. We should thank God, even in our negative circumstances, rather than just when things are well. The passage below is one that holds the key to a happy, peaceful life.
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7
The Apostle Paul tells us to rejoice always. Then, he says it again, rejoice. This is a mandate from God, a requirement if you want to find true and lasting joy. In the Kingdom of God, we have joy because we rejoice. In the world we rejoice because we have joy. In other words, our joy will follow our obedience to rejoice. We have to step into joy by faith. As we do so, we will experience a new self-control, and lose our anxieties by learning to put our faith and trust in God. As we turn to God in prayer, then He will release His peace and His joy into our lives. It all begins with simply choosing to rejoice, no matter our circumstances. Paul goes on to tell us that we must learn to think correctly. This matter of joy is found as we step into it by faith. We must learn to gird up the loins of our minds and control our thinking.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8
This matter of finding joy is an inside job. It doesn’t depend upon our circumstances going the right way. Instead, it depends upon our thinking. We need to learn how to bring heaven down to earth and to get the mind of Christ Jesus to the point where we begin to think like God thinks. The battlefield is in our minds and the victory will be won or lost by the way we think. If we can continually think about Jesus and how good He is to us, then we can experience joy. We must learn not to worry, not to fear, not to think about our negative outward circumstances, but rather to think about God and His nature. If we can stay aware of His presence, and think about Jesus, then we can continually step into joy as we walk by faith.
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Romans 14:17
This fabulous Scripture shows us that the Kingdom of God is not found in our ability to keep the rules, but rather in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our righteousness comes from Jesus, as does our peace and our joy. As we place our faith in Christ Jesus and what He did for us on the cross, we become righteous, we become peaceful, and we find His joy. I don’t deserve righteousness, but God’s grace gives it to me anyway. I don’t deserve peace or joy, but grace gives it to me when I put my trust in Jesus. This is the Kingdom, His righteousness, peace, and joy.
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. James 1:2-4
Here the Bible tells us to count it all joy. An accounting term is used in this scripture to show us we have a choice, and must decide whether our painful circumstances are going to be a debit or credit to our account. Our pain actually becomes an opportunity for us to advance in the Kingdom or to become more like Jesus Christ. The reason for all believers' suffering is that God can make us more like Jesus. If our primary objective in life is to become Christ-like, then we will embrace each experience with suffering as a great opportunity to advance toward our objective. Romans 8:28 is one of the most popular verses in the Bible, but it is a mistake to read verse 28 without attaching verse 29, because verse 29 holds the key to understanding verse 28.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Romans 8:29
The word For at the beginning of verse 29 ties these two verses together. The reason for our suffering, or the reason that all things work together for good is because God predestinated us to be conformed into the image of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Knowing this helps us to count it all joy when we are going through trials and tribulations in this life.
In the book of Nehemiah, there is a fascinating story containing a very popular verse of Scripture that states that the joy of the LORD is your strength. It would serve us well to examine the context of this statement. Nehemiah had just completed rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem. He and Ezra gathered the people, and probably for the first time in their lives, the people heard the law of God read to them and understood. This caused the people to start weeping, as they realized they had broken the law and were condemned. At this time, the Levites went among the people and told them not to cry or to mourn, because this was a holy day unto the LORD. Instead they were to go home and celebrate, have a feast, and share with others, because “the joy of the LORD is your strength”.
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. Nehemiah 8:8-10
This word strength means a fortress, a refuge, or a stronghold. God knew the people needed the strength of God that comes only through joy first, before they could properly repent or change their way of thinking and living. This is a key principle, and it explains why so many Christians are walking around sad, with long faces, instead of smiling and abounding with joy. I was one of those Christians who for years thought I was always, every day, supposed to come before God with tears of repentance. I knew that I was an unworthy wretch, so I assumed that I was always to come before God on the terms that I was a mess, and in order to have any kind of relationship with God, I thought I needed to cry and tell God that I was sorry for being a human being.
When one views God in this manner, or views his relationship with God on these terms, then he can never experience change for the better no matter how many times he repents, because it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. We cannot properly repent until we experience God’s grace.
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? Romans 2:4
We must learn to experience God’s grace first. When we do, we feel loved and accepted by God. When our souls experience the grace of God and we realize that God loves us, forgives us, redeems us, and justifies us, then peace and joy flood into our hearts. This joy gives us the strength to face life for what it is instead of trying to escape the realities of life. The strength of God that comes from joy is an inner strength that is stronger than all the forces of the enemy combined. Sure, there is a time for everything.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; Ecclesiastes 3:4
But when it comes to this matter of repentance, we need to do it in the proper order, because without God’s help in the matter we can never really change our thinking or behavior. With confession and repentance comes new thinking and changed lives, but we need the strength of joy first, to properly repent. Nehemiah had the people go home and celebrate. He told them not to cry, because they first needed to find the joy of the LORD. Later, they spent seven days in a booth reflecting upon the goodness of God, as they celebrated the feast of tabernacles. Once they regained joy and had proper time to reflect upon the goodness of God and think upon His Name, it was time for them to experience a day of repentance, as we see in chapter nine.
Personally, I believe this is why so many Christians repent without ever seeing any lasting change in their thinking or behavior. They are trying to repent with their own strength. Ignorantly, they think that they are pleasing God by trying to weep over their wretched condition each day, but in reality they are trying to earn the favor of God with their tears. They do not realize that God’s grace or favor can never be earned, deserved, or merited. This is upside down thinking.
We need to experience the grace of God first, understanding that He loves us, accepts us and forgives us based upon what Jesus did for us 2,000 years ago, instead of how hard we pray or how many tears of repentance we shed. As we experience the grace and goodness of God, then His love, peace, and joy floods our souls, and we find a supernatural strength rising up within us that only God can give. Afterward, the goodness of God will lead us to true repentance that will bring forth lasting and eternal change inside us.
So many Christians experience upside-down or backward thinking in this matter of repentance. But it is the same old lie from Satan: that we can work our way to God, which almost all religions teach in some form or another. We can never do it by ourselves; instead, we need the grace of God to find our salvation, or to experience lasting change within. This explains why so many Christians are always sad, defeated, and downcast. It is because their image of God and their relationship to Him is always one of rejection instead of acceptance. Their thinking is always about what they can do, instead of what God has done for them.
Jesus’ first miracle was turning the water into wine at a party. We need to receive the miracle of the grace of God first and find our joy. Then we can repent and experience lasting eternal change in the way we think and behave. So step into joy; find God’s eternal strength, and get prepared for God to change you into something beautiful.
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. Isaiah 61:3