It has now been over a month since we last met together in person as a church family. I don’t know about you, but I’m really beginning to miss those times together. Its one thing to miss church for a Sunday or two – but it’s another to away from your church family for weeks on end.
God designed us for relationships. In fact, he describes the church as being a body and we are all parts of it. A hand was never designed to function apart from the arm. A foot cannot fulfil it’s purpose without being connected to the leg.
It’s the same in the body of Christ. God has designed us for relationships with each other! The Christian life was never intended to be lived out in isolation!
In light of this pandemic, it’s certainly been good to gather virtually like what we’ve been doing, but it’s sure no replacement for meeting face-to-face.
There is something about seeing people’s faces when we communicate. I think it was Shakespeare who said “the eyes are the window to the soul.”
Well, I miss seeing into your souls! I miss seeing whether you’re joyful or whether you’re discouraged. I miss that personal connection with you and I’m certainly looking forward to when we can again meet face-to-face.
However, until then, we’ll just have to keep doing the best we can with the technology we have!
So this morning, I’d like to ask you a question. You can think about this and email me your answer sometime later this week if you like. I can’t see the answer in your eyes, but here’s my question: How much joy do you have these days?
If joy was like a gas tank – how full would your tank be? Is your joy-tank full and overflowing – or when it comes to joy, are you running on empty these days?
And I suppose this question might be best answered by the others in your household. Your joy (or lack thereof) is not something you can hide very well when you’re stuck at home with the same people for weeks on end! The people you live with can easily see just how joyful you are.
So maybe here’s what we’ll do. Let’s pause here for a minute and I want you to ask the others in your household that are watching this along with you – maybe your wife or husband, maybe your kids, or your roommate or whoever’s there with you right now. Ask them this question: “On a scale of 1-10, how joyful have I been in the last week?” – with 1 being about as joyful as a wet blanket and 10 being an absolute delight to be around.
So how joyful were you? Were you an absolute delight to be around this week – or were you more in the wet blanket category?
Well, if you find yourself in the ‘wet blanket category’, don’t be too hard on yourself. In fact, I would guess that most of us have probably had quite a few highs and lows when it comes to joy in the past few weeks.
With all that is going on in life right now, it is pretty easy to find yourself lacking joy. It’s easy to get discouraged. I mean, you’re stuck at home, perhaps out of work, the future is full of the unknown, you’re running out of constructive things to do with your time, its easy to get the ‘blahs’ – it’s easy to lose your joy!
But this morning I want to share with you that, while it is easy to lose our joy in difficult circumstances – it’s certainly not a requirement. We don’t have to lose our joy when facing challenging situations. Our joy-tanks can be full and overflowing no matter what we’re going through.
And I hope this doesn’t come across as a typical ‘Sunday school answer’ kind of thing where Jesus solves all your problems, but the Bible does say that we can be full of joy in every circumstance. So I’m going to show you from the Scriptures this morning just how we can have that kind of joy.
So this morning I want us to start by looking briefly at the story of Paul and Silas. In Acts chapter 16, we read how Paul and Silas were on what’s known as “Paul’s Second Missionary Journey” and they had just entered into the city of Philippi. There they had discovered a group of believers and had been spending some time teaching and encouraging them in their faith. For the most part, things were going fairly well for them here. That is, until one day, when their situation changed dramatically. We pick it up in verse 16 as Luke describes what happened on that day….
16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”
18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.
19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace.
20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. 21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”
22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.
Now let’s just pause here for some perspective. I don’t know what kind of a week you’ve had this week, but I’m guessing that most us have not experienced anything as severe as this. I’m sure most of us are still sleeping in a comfy bed in our homes at night – we have plenty to eat, we’ve manage to stock up on toilet paper, and our big complaint is that we’re tired of binging on Netflix!
And I do say that a little tongue-in-cheek. I don’t mean to say that this isn’t a difficult time for us. I know that a lot of people are experience real struggles, but try to put yourself in the shoes of Paul and Silas for a moment.
There they are in in prison. Not a comfortable jail cell with tv and room service – but literally a dungeon.
Archeologist and professor at Wheaton College, John McRay, describes Roman prisons like this:
Most cells were dark, especially the inner cells of a prison, like the one Paul and Silas inhabited in Philippi. Unbearable cold, lack of water, cramped quarters, and sickening stench from few toilets made sleeping difficult and waking hours miserable.
~ John McRay
There was nothing pleasant about these jails. But the condition of their cells was not the worst part of their situation. Notice how it says in verse 22…
“…the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison.”
I cannot imagine what it would be like to be beaten severely with wooden rods! I mean, I know how it hurts to bang your shin against a coffee table or even what it’s like to have a bad headache – but I cannot comprehend what it would be like to have my entire body beaten severely with wooden rods.
But that’s what Paul and Silas experienced. At the end of that crazy day – beaten, bleeding, and bruised, they found themselves sitting in a cold, dark, putrid dungeon, unable to move due to the stocks they were locked in – and probably un-eager to move because of the pain throbbing throughout their bodies.
If anyone had reason to lose their joy – these guys did. They should have been absolutely miserable! They should have been the most discouraged people on the planet! But look what it says in verse 25.
25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Acts 16:25
Can you imagine!? Despite their aching bodies and despite their horrible living conditions, and despite the fact that they were stuck in prison and who knows what would happen to them in the morning – despite all these things, they were praying and singing hymns to God!
I mean, when I bang my shin on the coffee table, I do not tend to break out in joyful song! Or when I’m suffering with a bad headache – or even when the internet goes out in the middle of my Netflix show – in those moments, praising the Lord is not often my first thought! Perhaps it should be, but it’s usually not. My first inclination is to complain and feel sorry for myself – not to pray and sing hymns to God.
But yet, that’s just what Paul and Silas did! Even in the most miserable of circumstances, these guys continued to be filled with joy! In fact, their joy-tanks were over-flowing in the form of songs – their joy was spilling out all over the other prisoners as they sat there listening to them sing.
So the question I’ve got to ask is this: Where did their joy come from? What filled their joy-tanks so much that their joy just overflowed? And perhaps most importantly, can we be filled with that same kind of joy today in our circumstances – whatever those circumstances may be?
Well, I think the Bible answers all those questions. First of all, let’s answer the easy one – where did their joy come from? The Bible is pretty clear on this one – joy comes from God. He is the author and the inventor of joy. In Psalm 43, the Psalmist writes:
3 Send out your light and your truth;
let them guide me.
Let them lead me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you live.
4 There I will go to the altar of God,
to God—the source of all my joy.
God is indeed the source of all our joy. Every little bit of pleasure and delight and happiness that we experience on this planet comes from the source of all joy – Who is God.
It was God who imagined the flavour of strawberries. It was God who invented laughter. It was God who came up with the idea of music and dancing. Every sunset, every symphony, every thrill, every delight, every pleasure – all originates from God – the source of all our joy.
And it’s God’s intention that we experience His joy. And this is maybe where we need to clarify the difference between joy and happiness – or joy and pleasure.
You see, happiness and pleasure can be had by anyone in the right circumstances. Anyone can have a sense of pleasure when they eat a slice of cake or they create something really cool.
But that happiness – that pleasure – is dependant on the circumstances. As soon as that cake starts going moldy, your pleasure is replaced with disgust. As soon as your brother wrecks that cool thing that you built, your happiness is replaced with anger. Happiness is very temporary.
I ran across a cool verse in Job and I think I like it mostly because it uses the word ‘mirth’ – which basically means ‘amusement or hilarity’.
Job 20:5 says:
5 …the mirth of the wicked is brief,
the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.
Job 20:5 (NIV)
The idea here is that happiness and pleasure are temporary and conditional. They can disappear in an instant. But true joy – that’s something much different. I know our English language kinda blurs the line between joy and happiness – but the kind of joy that the Bible speaks of is much different from mere ‘mirth and hilarity”.
Kay Warren defines Biblical joy like this:
“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.” ~ Kay Warren
That’s true joy. It’s almost like a combination of peace, hope, and confidence. In contrast to the many pleasures and delights in life that anyone can enjoy, this joy can only be had by those who have surrendered their life to God. Apart from God, we simply can’t have this kind of peace, hope, and confidence. True joy is something that we only experience when we are living in a right relationship with God. It’s only when we live life the way God intended us to live it – it’s only then that we can we experience the full measure of joy and delight that God intends for us.
Of course, as I’ve mentioned, anyone can have moments of happiness, but the pleasures of this life are very temporary and they never truly satisfy. But the joy that comes from knowing and trusting God is lasting, deep, and rewarding in so many ways.
When you’ve tasted and seen that God is good, when you are absolutely convinced that God loves you like crazy and he wants nothing but good for you, and when you realize that God is sovereign over all creation and nothing – not even death itself – can separate you from the love of God – that’s when you can have true joy.
This joy does not depend on your circumstances. Life around you can be falling apart and you can still have tremendous joy because you know that God is still in control – God still loves you, and God will ultimately work things out for good for all those who have put their faith in Him.
So while you can find happiness and pleasure in all kinds of things – its important to remember that true joy – the kind of joy that allows causes you to sing hymns in a dark smelly dungeon – that kind of joy can only be found in a right relationship with God.
And by the way, if you have never experienced that kind of joy – that combination of total peace, hope, and confidence in God – then I just want to let you know that you can have that kind of joy today. Jesus Christ loved you so much that he died in your place – taking the punishment for all your sin and rising again to life on the third day – so that you can have a right relationship with Him. He wants you to have true joy – you simply need to put your faith in Him. You just need to trust Him. I’d encourage you today to surrender your life to God. Accept his free gift of salvation and forgiveness, and trust that He loves you like crazy and will be with you through it all.
8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9
So I think that answers the first part of our questions. Where did Paul & Silas get their joy? They got it from being in a right relationship with God. They had that combination of absolute peace, hope, and confidence in God even in the midst of some terrible circumstances.
And clearly, that joy is available to us too. We too, can have the glorious, inexpressible joy that comes from trusting in Jesus.
But that still leaves us with the second half of the question – how do we experience that joy every day in every circumstance? Is it possible to keep our joy-tanks full and overflowing all the time? And if so, how?
Well, to go back to our illustration of joy being like the gas-tank in your car, I might explain it this way: Having a right relationship with Jesus gives us free access to the gas station – but we still need to regularly pull in and fill up.
When it comes to being filled with the joy of the Lord, part of it is God’s provision and part of it is our daily choices. Galatians 5:22 says…
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. Galatians 5:22-23a
When we come to Christ and we submit our lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit – He produces these godly traits in us – and joy is one of those traits.
But the catch is that we must submit our lives to his leading in order for him to produce that fruit in our lives. We won’t see that fruit if we run off living however we want – we have to submit to his leading. In the verses just before this, Pauls writes:
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Ephesians 5:19-21
There is no promise of joy if we live following the desires of our sinful nature. The promise of joy comes when we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit – when we live for God instead of for ourselves.
When I was a kid, there was song in Sunday school that we sang. I don’t even remember the tune or the lyrics very much – but I do remember the first line. It went like this:
“Jesus and others and you – what a wonderful way to spell JOY.” And the idea of the song was that if you want to have joy, put Jesus first, others second, and yourself last. J-O-Y…. Jesus Others You… That’s how to have true joy!
And I think there is a lot of truth to that simple song. The way we fill up our joy tanks on a daily basis is not by seeking joy for ourselves, but it’s actually by giving joy to others.
The Holy Spirit never leads us to be selfish. He never leads us to put ourselves first. He leads us to live in a way that #1. Brings joy to God and #2. Brings joy to others. And doing those two things is actually what brings the most joy to yourself!
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed that, but I sure have!
On the days when I’m selfish and thinking about myself – When I’m unpleasant and cranky with my kids, when I make life miserable for my wife – when I ignore God and leave him out of my day – those are my most miserable days. Sure, there may be fleeting moments of pleasure as I live for me – but there is no real joy in living for yourself.
But on the other hand – on the days when I live for the Lord – doing the things that I know please Him – and when I live for others, serving my wife and bringing joy to my kids – those are my best days! The more joy I bring to God and the more joy I bring to others, the more joy I have myself!
And I think that’s really the bottom line when it comes to joy. The more we live to bring joy to God and and the more we live to bring joy to others, the more we experience God’s joy in our own lives.
I think that’s exactly what we see with Paul & Silas. These guys were clearly not thinking about themselves. They didn’t need to! They had the joy of the Lord – they had the settled assurance that God was in control of all the details of their life, they had the quiet confidence that ultimately everything was going to be alright, and because of that, they made the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” They were determined to bring joy to their God! They were determined to bring joy to the people around them.
And doing that filled them with joy.
So this morning, I’d just encourage you to follow example of Paul & Silas.
Put your trust – put your confidence in the Lord. Trust that God is good and that God is still in control. And as you trust Him, God will give you his joy – that peace, hope, and confidence all wrapped up in one.
Then, as God gives you that joy, make it your aim to bring joy to God in all you do. And be really practical – what can you do to bring a smile to God’s face this week? How can you serve Him? How can you honour Him? What can you do to bring Him joy? Doing those things will multiply your joy.
A big part of bring joy to God is bringing joy to the people around you. To your wife, to your husband, to your kids… What can you do to fill their hearts with joy? How can you be a delight to them?
Choose to give your joy away, and God will give it right back. As you bring joy to God and joy to others, God will fill your joy-tank until it’s full and overflowing!