Fruitful Living - Genuine Joy
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Galatians 5:22 (Joy) ~ Sunday, June 23, 2019
This past week was VBS week at CTK. One of the things I quickly associate with VBS is catchy, upbeat songs. I learned this one at VBS myself. Is this one familiar to you? Sing-a-long with me if it is …
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy Down in my heart, Where? Down in my heart, Where? Down in my heart, I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy Down in my heart, Where? Down in my heart to stay.
As I was contemplating joy as one of the unique flavors for the fruit of the Spirit that song was on my mind this week. Though this song is relatively simple, it shares a really helpful thought in a catchy way about what biblical joy is … and what that means for our hearts!
Let me start by unpacking the distinction between joy and happiness. Happiness is an emotion, a desirable one at that. One that as Americans we passionately pursue, our founding documents protecting our pursuit of it. And when we experience happiness, it is really incredible! But it also doesn’t seem to last. Sometimes it feels like happiness is gone as quick as it came. Sometimes people get so focused on how fleeting it is they can’t even enjoy it when they’re in the midst of it. “I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Happiness never lasts,” I’ve heard people lament, despite the reality that in that moment, they have reason to experience and enjoy happiness! I understand the sentiment. Human beings don’t just want the opportunity to pursue happiness. We want to attain it. To experience it. To hold on to it and never let it go. Although, to be honest, that life focus actually sets us up for unhappiness. God never promised that in this life we would live in the emotional state of happiness at all times. Rather he says quite plainly: there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). In this broken world, that’s life!
With a firm grasp on this reality of life, some have intentionally chosen to turn their back on temporary happiness in pursuit of something greater. Consider the life of Moses from the bible’s Old Testament. Moses was raised in the Pharaoh’s palace, treated as royal member of the most powerful and prestigious family on earth at the time. Yet he chose to walk away from what his royal upbringing and affluent connections could provide him. Why would he forsake such a lifestyle? Couldn’t he find contentment in serving God while still living in Pharaoh’s palace? No. Moses’s internal GPS dictated that his true joy couldn’t be attained by pursuing temporary pleasures. The writer of Hebrews records about him: “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:26).
In sharing the example of Moses, I’m not suggesting that God is opposed to you feeling happy. In his goodness he does bless you with events and circumstances that glorify him and bring you the sensation of happiness too. But far more important to God than a fleeting feeling of happiness is to bless you with unconditional joy. Or to say that another way: God wants you to have a joy that is always down, down, down in your heart and it is down in your to stay, no matter what might be happening to you in any given moment. God desires that you clearly see that biblical joy and the emotional experience of happy feelings are two distinct things.
Happiness depends on what is happening. But joy works differently. As his people, God says that our lives will be characterized by joy, the fruit of his Spirit’s presence in our lives. Jesus himself promises that His joy will “remain in you” and “your joy no one will take from you” (John 15:11; John 16:22). Biblical joy—the true joy—comes from filling your inborn spiritual void with good relationships, primarily an intimate relationship with Him, for He is pure joy. Jesus put it this way: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5). That fruit includes much joy!
The joy we receive through our faith-connection with Jesus is the same joy that characterized his life from start to finish. From the “good news of great joy” the Christmas angel proclaimed, to the “great joy” the apostles had as they returned to Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension, Jesus’ time on earth radiated joy. Even Jesus’ death march to Golgotha was prompted by joy: “For the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). Think of joy as a strong foundation that supports a variety of healthy emotions, including happiness. The presence of joy is the foundation for a life of gratitude, contentment, optimism, a sense of freedom and other positive attitudes that help us process all of our emotions in healthy, God-pleasing ways.
You might not feel like praising or celebrating God when things are difficult, but this is precisely the time when the joy from the Lord does some of its most powerful and profound work! Though feelings of happiness may be hard to come by, our joy as believers doesn’t dry up and disappear due to life’s happenings. Not even in the desert-dry times of life. That’s because our joy as believers is based on an accomplished fact of history, on an event that will never change: the eternal God has provided us with a right relationship with himself through the saving work of Jesus, who lived, suffered, died, and rose again for us! Biblical joy isn’t produced by what you can create or attain for yourself; it is the result of the everlasting love and strength of a God who saved us and loves us.
Happiness comes as the fruit of good happenings around us, but biblical joy is the fruit of God’s Spirit who lives within us. The joy that the Spirit of God gives us actually helps see this life differently and work through our challenges, difficulties, and hardships in a better way. It’s why Peter can write with full sincerity: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6). That’s because even though trials may not make us happy, they really can’t take away the joy we receive from Jesus who assures us of God’s help through our problems, giving us God’s strength to face the challenge.
Jane, Tom, and their two teenagers were planning a trip to Egypt. They bought the proper clothing for the hot climate, as well as canteens and sunscreen. They knew they would be doing a lot of walking, so they began a moderate daily exercise program to get into shape.
About a month before their trip, the family had an experience that taught them the power of deep down attitudes. They went to the grocery store but could not find a parking spot anywhere close to the entrance. They had to park almost two blocks away from the store. As everyone got out of the car, Jane and the teenagers were irritated. Each of them complained about the long walk. Finally Tom suggested gently, “Look, it is hot and we have to walk a long way to the store. Let’s just say we’re practicing for Egypt!”
Jane couldn’t help herself from laughing. Sheepishly the teenagers joined in. They linked arms, smiled at one another happily, and walked the two blocks to the store. From then on “practicing for Egypt” became their positive phrase for reminding each other to accept problems, let go of anger, and step into their challenges with an attitude of joy.
It’s that joyful approach to life that the Spirit of God is working in your heart because you are connected to Jesus! What’s going on in your life right now that causes you to grumble? To worry? To feel down? How might that same situation look different to you if you embraced a “practicing for Egypt” kind of attitude? The key is looking first to Christ, not to our situation. For as we do, our situations, even the trying, troubling, and tiring ones look different when we see them in the joyous light of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. Rather than justification for feeling doubt and worry and bitterness, instead we are able to see our challenges, our troubles, our difficulties as opportunities to learn of God’s faithfulness to us, as opportunities to grow in living by faith in God and his unchanging love for us! So when life’s happenings have your feeling less than happy, from a heart of joyful faith go to your loving God and pray, “Dear Father, your forgiveness in Jesus guarantees that whatever happens in my life is something you promise to work out for my good. Help me to trust you so I choose to consider every trial as a treasured gift from you. Holy Spirit, keep me focused on my Savior and his greatest gift to me: the salvation of my soul, so that I always live with his joy down deep in my heart and have that joy always there to stay! Amen!