Joy (Jon Fryer)
'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.' (1 Pet 1:8).
Does this sound like your faith? What, all of the time? If I'm honest, most of the time my prayers are full of an all too expressible list of complaints, and precious little joy in the situation in which God has put me, but complaining and being miserable is not God's will for us. Rather, St. Paul encourages us to 'Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say: Rejoice!' (Phil 4;4), and in Thessalonians this becomes a command: 'Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in ALL circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus' (1Thes 5;16-18) - Joy is not an optional extra in the Christian life! Rather, it is a command, and a vital part of our witness, 'for the Kingdom of God is a matter of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved of by men' (Rom 14;17-18).
Surely this does not mean we have to be enthusiastically happy no matter what the situation? 'By no means!', as St. Paul would say! Most non-Christians find such people to be incredibly irritating, not to mention hypocritical, because real people continue to have real problems even after they find Jesus... as Christians we should not put across the image that we have no problems, but rather we know that we have no problems that can not be solved. Ecclesiastes makes it clear that there is a time and place for every emotion: 'A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance’ (Ecc 3;4), and that it is unhealthy to pretend otherwise, for 'it is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes' (Ecc 7;18).
Biblical joy however is not some wishy-washy changeable emotion that depends upon circumstances and situations, or a permanently fixed false grin, but is something else entirely, something permanent because it is based in our faith in an eternal and unchanging God whose love for us never fails or falters.
Our faith is not just empty belief. God does not call us 'merely' to believe - Read James 2;14-26! Instead, God continually calls us to put our faith into action; after every step of belief comes a command, right from the very start - 'Believe... and be baptised' (Acts 8:36-38 - note verse 37 in the NIV footnotes.) In effect, God says 'Prove it!' and not only to Him, but to an unbelieving world. In Heb 11;1-38 every one of the ancients mentioned expresses his faith in his actions. Some may argue that this is not so, that all that counts is 'faith expressing itself through love' (Gal 5;6) – How true, but to quote some very wise men ‘Love is a verb' - its something you DO, not something you necessarily FEEL. Agape love is a love in action.
Again, I have often heard people say 'I don't feel like worshipping God at the moment'. I've said it myself on occasion. Unfortunately, we've missed the point entirely. Worship isn't a feeling. Worship and praise and thanks are a debt and a sacrifice owed to God by every human being simply because He is God, and a debt owed even more so by every Christian because we have been given so much more. Not that I’m saying that praising God 'cos you feel like praising God is a bad idea - on the contrary, its a great idea, its what He wants to hear - just as long as it is GOD you feel like praising, rather than YOU feel like praising God; GOD comes first and foremost.
Often when we 'don't feel like worship' is when we need to open ourselves to God even more than usual. This is the point when we need to choose to stand up and almost physically push out our praise up to God, to ignore ourselves and the world around us and say 'Hallelujah anyway!'. God honours this and meets with us in a way perhaps even more powerful than when our worship is all fire and enthusiasm, for he gives us a new, spiritual, heavenly perspective on the situation or circumstances that are making us feel miserable. He, through our choice to worship Him, begins to minister to us and solve the problem, not by changing the situation but by changing our attitude towards it.
In case you haven't caught on yet, this is what biblical joy is! It is a decision to worship God whatever the situation we find ourselves in, to choose to ignore the world and instead turn to God and revel in His love as an answer to all the things that attempt to make us miserable.
Just to be clear, I would like to stress that it is God who is at work in such a choice - the power does not come from within us as New Age philosophy would have us believe - this is NOT the power of positive thought. Rather, God begins this work in us by giving us a command as we have already seen, and we choose to allow Him to work in us by choosing to worship (for God is not a 'rapist', but always requires our permission first), and then God completes the work by showing us His love. God is glorified throughout, but for our benefit, because He loves us!
This is borne out by the picture of fruit. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5;22). The gifts of the Spirit are quite literally that, given by God as He chooses, but the fruit always require a choice on our part. In Mat 21;18-19 and John 15;1-2 Jesus makes clear that the decision to forward the effort to bring forth fruit belongs to the branch, and thus it may be judged on that decision. However, in John 15;3-17 Jesus goes on to make it clear that the conditions necessary for growth, the sun and the rain if you will, come only from God for the sake of His own glory.
Although joy is not a traditional part of the Christian armour in Eph 6;10-18 it is just as much a vital part of our Christian walk, for this joy in the Lord and what He has done for us is our first and only defence against the things of this life that wish to see us miserable. Before moving on to look at this, I'm going to state the obvious:
As Christians we have so many reasons to give praise and worship and thanks to God, to be joyful! These reasons are implied in the John 15 passage just referred to - Jesus and the Father both love us! God is amazing - for proof read any part of the Bible it doesn't matter which 'cos everything He does is great! (Psa 145-150 are particularly good for this, though!) Most amazingly of all however, the Great Almighty Holy God of the Universe chooses to allow insignificant us to approach His throne - more than that, to climb into His lap and call him 'abba; papa, daddy'. If that isn't reason enough to make you joyful whatever your situation then nothing is! Our biggest and only reason for joy is Jesus, who gave up everything for us to enable us to remain with God forever. Hebrews tells us that Jesus 'for the joy set before Him endured the cross and scorned its shame' (Heb 12;2-3). The 'joy set before him' was the pleasure of our company in Heaven. Jesus takes joy in being with us! We are the joy of the Father's Heart! Doesn't it sound a trifle ungrateful therefore if we do not therefore take joy in His company (which is always with us through His Spirit (John 14;16) - As the liturgy puts it, 'The Lord IS with us, for His Spirit IS here'), simply because of some situation that is insignificant compared to the suffering He put Himself through for us?
We have every reason to praise God, and no excuse not to. If you have trouble concentrating on abstracts, simply look around this wonderful world that God gave us to play in, and every time you see something beautiful use it as a reminder to praise the God who created it - I estimate that you will on average end up praising God once every six seconds or so!
Because of Jesus, even sin has no claim on us. This truth is contained in every book of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Job is the oldest book in the Bible and our reason for joy is described there in the very oldest Hebrew poetry:
If there is but one angel (e.g. Christ) on his side
as a mediator, to vouch for his righteousness,
to be gracious unto him and say
'Spare him from going down into Hell
For I have paid his ransom',
then... He prays to God and finds favour with Him,
He sees God's face and shouts for joy,
He is restored by God to his perfect state...
and will live forever to enjoy the light. (Job 33;23-28)
Through Jesus we are made perfect and may worship God face to face in His throne room forever, and Satan has no claim on us. Jesus has thrown our guilt and sin away from us, gone forever, completely forgotten. This joy in the Lord which we have as a result of Jesus' death for us allows us the strength to stand up under Satan's accusations and brush away the past, to go forward into new life in Christ. This is stressed in Neh 8;1-18. The people of Israel had just returned from exile and Ezra reads the Book of the Law to the entire nation. Being imperfect, sinful human beings, not one of them was innocent and so 'all the people wept as they listened to the words of the Law' (Neh 8;9). Nehemiah speaks the words of God to the Christian however: 'Go and enjoy choice foods and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.' (Neh 8;10). This joy of the Lord is a direct reference forward to Christ who is our strength. Through Him the misery of sin has no hold on us, for God does not condemn us. Instead, as verse 24 of Jude tells us, Jesus is able to present us 'before God's glorious presence without fault and with great joy'. Indeed, in Psalms and Isaiah, on almost every occasion when the words 'joy' or 'rejoice' are used it is in connection with God's mercy, salvation and the forgiveness of sins, all of which we receive in Jesus.
Therefore, if guilt continues to make us miserable after Jesus has dealt with our sin then Satan is lying to us, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8;44), forever laying claim to that which is not his. His prompting us to guilt causes us to effectively deny the usefulness of Christ's death for us, which is blasphemy; 'It is for freedom (and not guilt) that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery (to guilt, sin and Satan)' (Gal 5;1). After the people confess their sin in Neh 9, Nehemiah gives the only answer to this problem, joy in God's salvation again expressed as a command:
'Stand up and praise the Lord your God who is from everlasting to everlasting!' (Neh 9;5).
The joy of the Lord, the decision to focus upon God and His good gifts rather than upon our situation is also our answer to any and all of the problems a fallen world can throw us, for when we look at them from a heavenly perspective they prove to be insignificant compared to the power of Almighty God and the love that He has for us. Take Hab 3;17 for example: 'Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.' The prophet is in the very worst situation possible in the world, a famine to rival any in modern Africa and Asia, and his response is to worship God! Indeed, earlier in his words he rebukes all those who would complain or turn to any other source of comfort: 'The Lord is in His Holy Temple – therefore let all the earth be silent before Him' (Hab 2;20). He attributes all power in Heaven and on earth to God, and if God is in control then what right has man to complain, especially when he has proved so often in the past that He loves us without measure? Some Christians seem to think we have a right to be comfortable and happy in our situations. Sometimes God does put us in such places, and thank God for that, but He doesn't have to; God may do with us as he wills simply because He is God (Isai 45;9-10), but even more so, because 'you are not your own, you were bought at a price' (1 Cor 6;19-20). We are literally slaves to him who paid our debt (Rom 6;22), and he may do with us as he wills. Our only 'right' is to trust in His mercy and love, to take joy in our God who has already saved us. As Job says, 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him' (Job 13;15). Jesus takes this to its ultimate conclusion in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26; 39+42); He questions, but ultimately accepts God's will in trust and for the joy promised (Heb 12;2-3).
The links between faith and joy in the Lord are made clear in the New Testament. James 1;2 tells us to 'consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of any kind', since such troubles both cause us to concentrate upon God who is our joy and also allow us to see God at work in power and love, for God Himself says 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in your weakness' (2 Cor 12;9-10). Indeed, as we trust in God, in faith, in such situations then we are filled with joy and peace by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15;13), a joy and peace that carries us through all the trials of this world, just as Jesus carries the dreamer in the Footprints story.
This peace and joy from faith in Jesus overcomes every problem the world can throw at us: St. Paul says that the secret of being content in every situation is to learn that 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me' (Phil 4;12-13), and that such 'godliness with contentment is great gain' (1 Tim 6;6), and therefore he says 'Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say: Rejoice! Let your gentleness (faith / peace / contentment / joy!) be evident to all, for the Lord IS near. Therefore do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving (and joy!), present your requests to God' (Phil 4;4-6).
Although I am often guilty of this sin, I am forced to say that the Church of God does not need pessimists. Such an attitude, always seeing the universe without hope, is the absolute opposite of this kind of faith. It denies that God can work in power in our lives and situations, and that is blasphemy for it ascribes the victory to Satan over the Blood of the Lamb. It also tends to prevent us from allowing God to work in us and through us for the increase of faith and joy both in ourselves and others. So, don't look on the dark side, but rather keep the Son in your eyes and praise God!
Of course, it is often not only hassle from a fallen world that we face, but active opposition from the enemy, who 'prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith' (1 Pet 5;8-9). Sometimes the enemy attempts to cause us to sin by blaming God for hardship with the misery he causes, but often he attempts to make us miserable simply out of spite, for he knows that he has lost and that his time is short for we have the victory in Christ Jesus (Rev 12;10-12). This of course is again our answer: the joy of the Lord is our strength.
Job is our example in such situations. In a single day in Job 1-2 Satan takes from Job everything on earth, and although not at all happy about the situation - indeed, in 1;20 we see that he is deep in mourning - he still 'fell to the ground in worship and said... Blessed be the name of the Lord' (Job 1;20-21). Even at the death of his sons Job's response is to praise God through his tears, and we are told that because of this 'Job did not sin with his lips by charging God with wrongdoing' (Job 1;22), for even to remain silent would be to tacitly accuse God and deny his ever present blessings. After all, as Job says 'Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?' (Job 2;10). When it comes down to it, we often do not know what God is doing, or why He allows death and evil and suffering, but we can trust in faith that 'all things work together for the good of those who love God' (Rom 8;28). After all, this is what faith is for, 'the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen' (Heb 11;1). If anyone thinks this is simply a cop out answer then I suggest that they look at Job's faith in Job 13;15. Such faith is a tougher walk than knowing all the answers and tests our trust in God. All faith, and therefore all joy, depends upon whether or not we accept God's promises and his Truth upon which they are founded, regardless of the situation. If we accept that Jesus Christ is Lord of All, our Way, our Truth and our very Life (John 14;1-6) we can therefore in faith praise him as he deserves even when we do not understand what he is doing, for we have certain knowledge that 'our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them, and so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal' (2 Cor 4;17-18).
Job also shows us that joy, that our choosing to come before God to worship no matter what our earthly circumstances, is not only a defence against Satan's schemes but is also a weapon against him. In the Hebrew of Job 1;11 Satan is actually very sarcastic, saying 'Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and maybe he will bless you for that as well.' Job actually quotes Satan word for word in Job 1;21 when he says 'Blessed be the name of the Lord', but he actually means every word of it. This verbal slap is a rebuke to Satan before God, and it also makes him look very silly in front of all of the other angels who have been observing this test in the throne room of Heaven (Job 1;6). When we come before God to worship in the throne room in spotless white despite all of Satan's schemes then he is rebuked before God and Jesus is glorified (Zech 3;1-5). Therefore again I say: Rejoice! Give glory to God!
Having said all this, sometimes it is hard to remember the joy we have when we are deep in some trouble or another. The Greek New Testament says that we are sozo, 'the saved', who have soteria, 'salvation'. Both words come from the word saos, which means not only safety, but also deliverance, protection, preservation, healing, health and complete wholeness, all of which we have in Christ Jesus. We have only to remember it and call upon his name. It is important that we get into a 'habit' of joy, of praising God, to defend our joy and our certain knowledge of God's love from the attacks they daily suffer, just as we desperately need to cultivate a 'habit' of continual prayer. This is not an empty habit, a rote repetition, but rather having faith and joy in God so ingrained in our souls that turning to Jesus becomes an automatic reflex whether we face trials or blessings. It is useful to daily remember God's promises, which is why regular bible reading is so important - I find Psalm 91 especially useful to read in this context. If we acquire this habit then whenever a 'storm' blows up in life we will be able to instantly turn to him who calms the raging sea (Mat 8;23-27), and from the sheltering wings of the Most High, in the shadow of the cross, we will be able to consider life from an eternal and true perspective and say 'Hallelujah anyway... For this I have Jesus...'
What was Jesus like?
The Character of God
How do we know what God is like?
The Authority of Scripture
How should we obey what the Bible teaches us?
The Wise Mans Tragedy
What can we learn from Solomon?
What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?
Cain and Abel
What can we learn from the first murderer?
Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?
When the Fire Burns Low
How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?
Fix Your Eyes
How do we look for God?
Why should we look after the world God has given us?
How do we know who we are in God?
Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
What is the period of Lent all about?
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...
How do get to have intimacy with God?
Can we feel the breath of God?
Hearing From God
How can I hear what God wants to say to me?
The Story We Find Ourselves In
The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?
What does Passover mean to us as Christians?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?
What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Teaching for Christmas Eve...
What does it mean to have authority?
What can we do when it all seems like too much?
I Will Be With You
What does it mean to say "God is with us"?
What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?
A contemplative service for Pentecost
A creative/contemplative baptism service
How do we know what we should do?
A creative prayer/worship service
The Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
A Relationship With Jesus
What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?
The Pilgrim's Progress
If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!
Heroes, Promises and Trust
How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?
A liturgy for masculine prayer
Living Life to the Full
How do we get the most out of life?
What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?
The Presence of God
What does it mean to say God is present?
How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?
Who is Jesus?
...and what does he want from you?
To Act Justly Every Day...
What does the Lord your God require of you?
Sex and Self Image
Don't you know how beautiful you are?
Will you let Jesus be in charge?
Would you know him if he met you on the road?
The Person of the Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
The Passion of the King
What does Jesus really want?
How can we really 'count it all joy'?
More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?
The Armour of God
What tools does God give us to protect us from the Enemy?
The Heart of the Gospel
The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...
Do you really want to follow him?
How should I prepare to give a sermon?
The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?
The People of God
What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
How can Jesus be God and Man at the same time?
Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
How do we resist?
What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
We're in a constant battle, so how do we try and prepare to fight?
Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
What is forgiveness and why do we need to forgive others?
Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
We look in detail at the Lords Prayer
It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?
Becoming a Christian
What is a Christian, how do you become one?
Basics of Christianity
Here we delve into the Nicene Creed