Sunday, December 13, 2015

JOY - Dec. 13, 2015

Matthew 22:36-40 NIV
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

John 15:5-8 NIV
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Galatians 5:22-26

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Our topic today is JOY. Like LOVE (next week's topic) I believe joy is often misunderstood - at least the biblical concept of joy is.

Webster's dictionary defines joy as "a feeling of great pleasure and happiness." This sounds pretty reasonable doesn't it? Joy does appear to be something you feel, and pleasure and happiness are certainly part of what we associate with this little three letter word.

The rub comes because unfortunately joy doesn't come easy for some of us. As such, it makes us feel like there is something wrong with our faith - why are we so down? Why so gloomy? Why don't we have the "joy, joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts" as the old VBS song chanted?

Speaking for myself, I’m not naturally an upbeat person; I’m more reflective, melancholy, even somber. To be honest, there's not a glass around that I can't somehow make seem half empty - for myself and for others around me. In other words, when I think about joy, I do so from the perspective of someone that no one in their right mind would describe as a peppy person who never has a bad day. So what's wrong with me? If I'm a Christian, why aren't I more joyful?

Kay Warren, in her book, Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough argues that the problem may lie in our definition of joy. Joy doesn't mean feeling good all the time. Even those who are naturally upbeat and optimistic aren't joyful all the time. Warren says the answer is to start somewhere more realistic — and closer to Scripture.

Here's the way I try to think about it. Jesus himself described the greatest commandment as Loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and secondly, loving others as yourself. To me there is an important order there - a very important order. God first, people second, and me last. More than one preacher/teacher/saint has come up with the acronym "J-O-Y" Jesus, Others, then You.

I also believe that chasing after joy is a waste of time - because joy, true biblical joy, is a by-product of something else. That something else is staying attached to Jesus. In John 15 Jesus said, "I am the vine and you are the branches…those who remain in me will bear much fruit…" What kind of fruit? I believe at least one type of fruit you'll bear if you stay close to Jesus is joy.

As if to follow up on Jesus' comments, Paul lists nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: "Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Joy is right there, number two on his list.

My point? Joy is not something we are supposed to chase after or worry about. Joy is the fruit of a life lived with Jesus as the source and inspiration of everything else in our lives. Apples grow naturally on apple trees, there's no straining or worrying about it at all - it's just what happens naturally when you're out there at the end of a branch of an apple tree.

So what is Joy? Here's the definition Kay Warren came up with, and it's one I believe is much more biblical than simply feeling happy all the time:

Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.

There's nothing in her definition about happy feelings because happiness is almost always fleeting and temporary. What is in her definition is something to have and be: "settled assurance," "quiet confidence" and something to do: to make the "determined choice to praise God in every situation." This state of mind and course of action are much closer to the biblical concept of joy in my opinion.

Bottom line? Life has enough ups and downs without us complicating matters by feeling guilty or less than Christian by not feeling or appearing or even acting happy all the time. Focus on Christ, praise him in the midst of your troubles, cast your cares on Him and grow in that quiet confidence that Jesus has your back in each and every situation you could ever face.

Talk About It

What is your definition of joy?

Would you describe yourself as a joyful person?

Do you know someone you consider to be a joyful person? Why?

Do you believe your understanding of joy is biblical? Why or why not?

Does your definition of joy need to change? If so, how?

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