The Season of Joy
December 05, 2010 | Randy Smith
The Season of Joy1 Thessaloninas 5:16
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Pastor Randy Smith
One website said, "Christmas time is the most likely time of the year to experience depression. The suicide rate is higher during December than any other month, which tells us that Christmas depression should be taken quite seriously" (www.professorshouse.com).
Isn't this the season of joy? Don't we read about that in our Bibles? Didn't the angel say Jesus would bring "good news of great joy which will be for all the people" (Lk. 2:10). Don't we sing songs like, "Joy to the World?" Why then is Christmas the most likely time to experience depression? Why are so many saddened?
Is it possible that we have established false expectations that can never be met to achieve the happiness we envision? And then when we consider our personal dissatisfaction with the expectation to be happy during the season, our problem is only compounded.
The kids receiving gifts rarely act with the gratitude and contentment we desire. Enough of the family is never gathered together. Shopping in the stores can create the biggest headache. The problems I dealt with in November didn't magically disappear when I turned the calendar. Grandpa is no longer with us to read, "Twas the Night before Christmas." There will be no chestnuts roasting on our nonexistent fireplace. There will be no Lexus in our driveway. And the white Christmas I dreamed of never came. How much do we need to pay for this pine tree? Do we have a free night available at all this month?
Created for happiness. Desiring happiness. Receiving very little happiness.
Or how about the "joy rollercoaster?" In this life we get joyous moments, but it seems as if they are never sustained. For example, I was happy when I left the church Thanksgiving service last week rejoicing in your wonderful testimonies, but saddened that Julie and I would not enjoy any of the holidays with our immediate families. I was happy last Sunday when I watched the Bears beat the Eagles. Then I was saddened when I came to work on Tuesday morning and read an e-mail from a female visitor who ripped me to pieces based on the sermon she heard. I was happy when Shane for the first time made a trip to the Home Depot with me, but saddened when I discovered that someone on the Internet lifted hundreds of Grace Quotes from my site without permission and is presently using them to make money.
Based on these circumstances within my week, it was very easy for my joy to fluctuate from one extreme to another. Does that describe your life? Do you find yourself shifting in moods, coming in and out of joy based on your circumstances? Maybe you are experiencing no joy at all?
We are studying the "fruit of the Spirit" on Wednesday evenings. Our subject was joy this week. I would like to expand that study and present a special message this morning on that particular topic before we head to the Lord's Table.
God expects and commands that we be happy. 1 Thessalonians 5:16, "Rejoice always." Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" Now this thought for many might breed further discouragement. Like it is for Christmas, the expectation to be happy only adds additional pressure that makes us unhappy! Yet with God it is much different. If He expects us to be happy in Him, it is only natural in His economy that He will provide all the instructions and empowerment to achieve that goal. God wants you to be happy. For when you are happy in Him, He is most glorified. Complaining and downcast and anxious sheep bring very little praise to the shepherd they represent.
So without further say, allow me to present four simple biblical ways to guarantee that you achieve the optimal joy that God desires for you, not just during the Christmas season but throughout the year.
1. COMMUNION WITH GOD
The first and overarching way to receive joy is to have continual communion with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 15:11, "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." The implication is that the triune God is a joyful God, and if we are to have true joy, full joy, it must come from Him as the source.
Our Lord's comments are in the context of the popular "Vine and the Branches" parable. In order for a branch to bear fruit, it must naturally abide in the vine. And when the branch abides in the vine, the fruit is a natural by-product of the abiding.
Likewise, when we are in communion with Jesus Christ, we are connected with Him - His life pulsating into ours. The Holy Spirit will bear spiritual fruit in us. And according to Galatians 5, one of those fruits is joy (Gal. 5:22; cf. Rom. 14:17; 1 Thes. 1:6). Paul put it like this in Romans 15, "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:13).
So if true joy is a spiritual fruit, and I receive spiritual fruit by abiding in Christ, it is only logical that we must know how to abide in Christ. That is why John MacDuff in an excellent sermon on Christian joy stressed, "[We must] live near to the throne of grace." After installing some lights in my attic last week, I will use another metaphor: We must stay "plugged into" God. Disconnect ourselves from the energy source and we will fail to have any positive results. Like we saw from Jesus a few weeks ago when in Gethsemane, He stayed "plugged into" the Father by prayer (Mt. 26:36) and Christian fellowship (Mt. 26:37) and Scripture (Mt. 26:31). Jesus knew that the moment we quit these disciplines is the moment we disconnect ourselves from God's power. And any disconnection from God's power will result in joyless living.
All people in the world are created to pursue joy. Unfortunately few ever receive the joy that really blesses their hearts. That is because they are searching for joy in personal significance and materialism and self-pity and a cesspool of other empty wells. May we realize that true joy only comes from God, and since it comes from God nobody and no circumstance will ever steal it from our hearts.
2. FAITH IN THE SCRIPTURES
Second, we need to read our Bibles to abide in Christ, and the more we read our Bibles, the more we will increase our joy because we will behold and cherish all the wonderful promises that belong to us a God's children. And we have faith that God will keep His promises. The more we know of God, the more joy we will experience.
For example: I remember an elder in his late thirties in our former church was diagnosed with cancer. He was happily married with three young children. The whole church was grieved and shared in his pain. His life soon became a witness as to how a mature Christian man would deal with such unfortunate circumstances. Would he complain? Would he lose his joy? One day he gave public testimony about God's faithfulness and made a comment that I will never forget. He said even if I no longer believe God is good (and I don't) that will not change the fact that He will always be a good God. In other words, God will always be who He is and do what He has promised regardless of my perception of His character. Will that understanding of God have any bearing on my joy?
Another example: I trust most of us are familiar with and have lived by Romans 8:28. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to Hispurpose." Yet if I am a brand new believer and have never heard of this verse, does that change the fact that God will not work all things together for my good? God will do what God promises He will do. We can find joy in that, but we will find greater joy in knowing this promise and believing this promise. We will maintain our joy in the worst of circumstances because we walk by faith knowing our sovereign God is in the business of working things together for our greatest good. Will that understanding of God have any bearing on my joy?
Another example: if anything has the capacity to steal our joy, it is trials. Yet what do the Scriptures say? "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt. 5:11-12). "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope" (Rom. 5:3-4). "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (Jas. 1:2-3). "But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation" (1 Pet. 4:13). I can continue, but I think you get the point.
Beloved, learn and meditate upon all that the Scriptures teach! If you are in Christ, claim them as promises made specifically to you! You have been granted faith in Jesus Christ! The living God loves you and died on your behalf! All your guilt and sins have been taken away! You have escaped hell and are awaiting heaven! God welcomes and desires your conversation with Him! God speaks to you through the Bible! God is working all for your good! God promises to carry your burdens! God has given you a church! God allows you to cooperate in building His kingdom through your service! Now if that doesn't produce joy in your heart…
My friends, how can we be found complaining when we have been given so much? We must look like the spoiled child in the candy store, well taken care of by her parents, but throwing a temper tantrum because she cannot get a blow pop! Greater joy is a result of growing up in your walk with God!
3. REPENT FROM SIN
A third component necessary for joy is the need to repent from sin.
The first reason is obvious. We cannot abide in Christ unless we are sincerely pursuing holiness. Since the Father has called us, 1 Peter 1:16, to be holy as He is holy, since His major objective is to conform us to the holy image of the Son, and since joy is the fruit of the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit, I would say that sin in our lives will do a pretty good job of short-circuiting the process.
At another level consider the known reality that sin is the ultimate robber of joy. If God wants you to be happy, isn't it only natural to assume that His commandments are in place to make you happy? If you don't believe that, think of the consequences that come from violating His Word! Do you want the shame, the guilt, the worry, the stress, the discipline?
King David understood this very well. In Psalm 32 he wrote, "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer…Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart" (Psm. 32:3-4, 10-11).
Joy is always the result of obedience.
4. AVOID ARTIFICIAL SUBSTITUTES
Let me give you one more way to further your joy: avoid artificial substitutes.
Here is what I mean by that. We already learned that true joy is found in God and God alone. Yet we have a tendency to be lured into following cheap imitations that promise greater joy but totally fail to deliver. They do not satisfy, and the harder we pursue them, the more they leave us unfulfilled. Often these fruitless joys are not big scandalous sins, they may not even be sinful in and of themselves, but they are the little things that too often consume our thoughts and time and finances.
It is the obsession with a sports team or the addictive hobby or the constant daydreams about a better life or disillusionment of how our life has turned out or compulsive shopping or worldly ambition to "make it to the top" or lingering bitterness or continual worry or always wanting more money or sexual fantasies or alcohol and drugs or an unforgiving spirit or the need to always outdo the other guy or the quest for a perfect family or perfect body or perfect lawn or the desire to be accepted and appreciated by everyone or anything else we are convinced that we cannot live without.
They never bring the lasting and deeper joy our heart craves because we allow them to substitute for God. The Psalmist knew that. "In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever" (Psm. 16:11). At conversion our eyes were opened to all the trivial and vain and worthless obsessions of the world. "Grace is God satisfying our souls with His Son so that we're ruined for anything else! (Sam Storms, One Thing, p. 140).
Don't apologize for or repent from or try to kill your heart's desire to be drawn to that which will bring it the greatest joy. God created you with this need. But always remember this; you were created to have that need fulfilled in Him. As you abide in Him and have faith in His Word and repent from sin and avoid artificial substitutes, you will discover the joy that your soul craves. You will have a deep abiding joy that is not dependent on circumstance. You will have God's joy, and when you do it His way, you will "rejoice always" (1 Thes. 5:16). And that is a promise from God!