Well, as I’m sure you picked up on from our children’s message just now, we’re talking about joy this morning, and this is part of a summer sermon series we’re doing on the Fruit of the Spirit as we reflect on how we as God’s people can grow in qualities such as love, joy, peace, patience and the like through our relationship with Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. And for today we’re talking about joy.
Now, I want to be really honest here, I find joy at times to be more elusive than I’d like for it to be or think it ought to be. And I know that this defies all logic – I have a beautiful and caring wife, a son that makes me laugh and smile, a wonderful home, a faithful church filled with people I know and love – and yet, for reasons I can’t always totally explain, the pursuit of joy often feels like the frustration I feel when it comes to trying to find my phone, that feeling of, “I swear I just had it, where did it go and why can’t I seem to find it!” Joy, for whatever reason, at times feels just out of arms reach.
And my guess is that maybe some of you feel this way as well. Maybe joy feels elusive to you too. Maybe you’re in midst of a really difficult and trying season and feelings of grief and sorrow have taken away your joy. Or maybe you’re trying to find joy in all the wrong places. Or maybe we’ve confused joy for happiness like I sometimes do. Truth is, for whatever reason, I think a lot of people struggle to find joy.
And yet with all this said, scripture tells us that real and lasting joy is possible for followers of Jesus like you and me. It really is! Not a fake and temporary kind of joy that comes and goes as our circumstances changes, but a real and lasting kind of joy. In fact, the bible and Paul here in our passage today from Philippians, not only encourages us to be joyful, even more he commands us to be joyful.
Paul says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice.”
Joy is something that ought to permeate the Christian life. Which is good news, because my guess is no one came here thinking to themselves, ‘You know what? I’m hoping for less joy in my life. Less joy for me please.” No one says that. Rather, I think we’re all in favor of a little more joy.
So with that in mind, we’re going to try and answer two questions today. Just two.
Joy: What is it? (and what is it not?)
How do I get more of it?
What is joy anyway? Well, let’s first name two things that it isn’t.
And this comes from Pastor Aaron Menikoff, when he says, ‘Joy is not the absence of sorrow nor the presence of a smile.’ Let’s break that down a bit.
Joy is not the absence of sorrow. Truth is, you can experience times of grief and sorrow, and yet still have real joy. And this to some extent is the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is temporary. It’s dependent on our circumstances. But joy is more enduring than happiness, joy has deeper roots than that.
And this is consistent with Paul’s understanding of joy. After all, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Notice that pesky little word “always.” Both when things are going good and when things are going bad. Both when it feels like you’re catching every single break and when it feels like nothing’s going your way. Paul says rejoice.
And Paul can say this with real credibility because think about where he is when he writes this letter. He’s in prison. He’s writing from a prison cell. And I have to believe that life in prison did not “spark joy” for Paul. But yet, here he is, calling the Philippian church to choose joy.
And in fact, the entire book of Philippians is one that is filled with joy as he uses some variation of the word 14 times in his letter. And he’s joyful even in midst of sorrow and suffering. Paul has endured hardship and opposition from all sides, he’s had every reason to be tired and bitter, yet he responded to life with joy. And how exactly that can be we’ll address in just a minute.
But first let’s address the other part of that quote. The other thing that joy is not -
Joy is not the presence of a smile. At least it’s not necessarily the presence of a smile.
Noah was watching a show the other day and a familiar song came on and I want you to help me finish it. Kids we’ll need your help on this one - It goes, “If you’re happy and you know it,_______________.” Well, sure that’s true of happiness, but it’s not necessarily true of joy. Joy is more than a facial expression. It runs deeper than that.
Which makes sense, right? While we can have joy in midst of sorrow, that very presence of sorrow may make it difficult to bring a smile to your face.
It’s also a reminder that joy is not only for those of us who have bubbly, gregarious, extroverted personalities. Joy is not meant to be an optional fruit of the spirit, where we look at this list and say, I’m really good at patience, but joy’s not really my thing, it’s not my strength, it’s just not who I am. No! God wants to grow us in all of these traits, joy included.
And this reminder that joy isn’t necessarily the presence of a smile reminds us that just because someone is displaying happiness or say, optimism, that they aren’t necessarily joyful.
For example, former president Franklin D. Roosevelt strived for and was known for being what he called an “Optimist in Chief.” And he was elected for a fourth term, in part because he was charismatic, cheerful and optimistic – qualities desperately in need during the uncertainty surrounding WWII. But yet, historians tell us that his sunny outward disposition was all smoke and mirrors and that unhappiness punctuated his daily existence. He was a man for whatever reason, that had lost his joy.
Joy is not the absence of sorrow nor is it the presence of a smile.
But yet, what is joy? It’s about time we define what joy is for goodness sake’s.
Well, truth is, I’ve struggled to narrow joy down into one clean definition, so instead I’m going to give at least two.
Pastor Randy Alcorn describes joy as a “settled happiness.” A happiness that depends not on circumstances but through a deep contentment in the Lord.
Or here’s another - as author Karl Barth puts it, joy is a defiant ‘nevertheless.’ That even when stuff hits the fan, joy is living in the ‘nevertheless’ in the pleasure of the Father’s delight in you. That even when life is hard, joy is living in the ‘nevertheless’ in the trust that God is Lord of all, who is working all things together for our good. That is, when you gladly choose to trust God no matter what’s going on in your life, what that will produce in you over time is joy.
And this is the kind of joy that Paul has and wants you and I to have. It’s this kind of defiant nevertheless. Where he may be bruised and battered, he may be in prison, but as he reflects on his relationship with the Lord and the love and gratitude he has for the Philippian church, it brings him joy.
Paul is describing a joy that cannot be taken away from him. And friends, I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of joy I want. I want that kind of durable, deep rooted, unshakeable joy.
Which brings us to our second question regarding joy, and that is,
How in the world do we get more of it? How do you and I grow and cultivate, through God’s leading, more joy in our life?
I’ll admit, answering this question is somewhat difficult, because unlike many of the other fruits of the spirit, joy is more of an inner disposition than an outward expression. And so it’s a little tougher to find the three easy, tried and true steps to increase your joy. It’s kind of like looking at a fruit tree and yelling at it “Grow!” Yet nevertheless, (there’s that word again), I think Paul’s words in our passage here give us a couple helpful clues.
So here are three ways we can grow in joy.
Monitor your intake.
Now by intake I don’t mean what you eat. Rather, I’m talking about your information intake, your information diet if you will.
Here’s what Paul says shortly after telling us to “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
He says, 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
He’s saying, make it a habit, make it your practice to put good, positive and encouraging things in front of you. Think about those kinds of things. And so maybe we move closer to this end through bible reading or prayer, or worship or a good conversation with a close friend, or maybe we do so by reading a good book or a movie full of beauty and wonder. And with that, maybe that means paying a little less attention to the news or social media. Monitor your information intake.
Now that’s not to say we ought to be uninformed and turn a blind eye to the tragedies and troubles in our world. But here’s what I do know. Is that, on average, my consumption of the news and social media isn’t moving me closer to that list we just read. In many ways it feels like the opposite. More often than not I find our age of information overload to be joy killing and anxiety producing.
Callie and I were watching a show the other day and the host was commenting on how ludicrous it is that for so many of us, the very first thing we do when we wake up, the very first thing we do, is check our phone and get ourselves updated on all the crazy things happening in our world. He called it like taking “an expresso shot of anxiety.” And that rather than enjoying a quiet moment or turning to look at my sweet wife, a real source of joy, I go for the anxiety instead. All that said, monitor your intake.
Here’s a second and this is kind of related to the first: Respond to worry with prayer.
Paul says, 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
One thing I know for sure is that worry and joy don’t go together very well. In fact, worry is yet another joy killer and in the end rarely, if ever does us any good.
For example, many of us are worried about our health, whether it’s because were worried about what the doctor will say or what the scale will weigh. And yet the irony is, I think all the doctors at our church would tell us that worrying, and the stress that it causes us is bad for our health!Worry is so often a waste of our time, thoughts, energy and steals our joy.
And so Paul says, the antidote or rather the response to our worry ought to be prayer.
Often times when we pray we get greater clarity on what’s in our control and what’s not, what’s in our control and what’s in God’s control. Which over time, brings us a deeper sense of joy and peace. And notice how Paul mentions to pray with thanksgiving as you make your requests known to God. He’s saying give thanks to God before he answers your prayer. This is a thankfulness that isn’t contingent on getting what we want but a trust that even when life is hard, nevertheless God is Lord of all, who is working all things together for our good. And that kind of trust leads to joy.
Alright, here’s the last one.
Rejoice in the right thing (or person, that is)
Notice how Paul doesn’t say ‘Rejoice always!” but rather “Rejoice in the Lordalways.”
What matters most isn’t so much that we rejoice but what or who we rejoice in.
Truth is, so many people struggle to find joy because they’re searching for joy in things that’ll never deliver what they promise, things that’ll never bring real and lasting joy.
And so we try to find our ultimate joy in our spouse or kids or success or accomplishments in our wealth and belongings, all of which can bring some joy, but yet it always seems to fade away.
There was a movie when I was a kid called Cool Runnings, and it was about a Jamaican bobsled team and yes that’s supposed to be funny. And in the movie, the main character was obsessed with making it to the Olympics and taking home a gold medal. And seeing this, His coach offered him some advice, saying, “A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.”
Kind of profound, right? Here’s how I would contextualize that quote for us. “If you can’t find joy without the gold medal, you’ll never find joy with it.”
Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
You all, Jesus wants us to be a people filled with joy. A joy that no matter the circumstances is rooted in Him.
One of my first stories I shared with you all was a story about a woman from my previous church who had to have her leg amputated because of cancer, and even more, wasn’t able to have a prosthesis.
And it’s hard to imagine the pain and the loss she is experiencing and, how that loss will affect her everyday life, but yet her attitude, and the way she is handling it, is inspiring, and even more with a wonderful and admittedly kind of dark sense of humor.
A pastor went over and asked her, “How she was doing?” and she said … "Well, I've got Jesus, and I've got my friends and my family, and they're bringing me lattes every day, and they never did that when I was healthy," and she said, "and there's always a bright side, such as now I can get half-price pedicures." Pretty great, right?
Before the amputation she had a party to say goodbye to her leg, and the whole party was leg-themed. The cake was in the shape of the leg lamp from the movie "A Christmas Story." One of the Bible verses was, "My hope shall not be cut off. My leg will be, but not my hope.” There were T- shirts that said things like, "I've always had a leg up on the competition," and toward the end, they all danced the hokey pokey. Put your left leg in, put your left out …
To me, the whole thing feels a bit morbid, but yet oddly beautiful. Or maybe a better word is defiant. A defiant nevertheless. She’s saying, cancer can take my leg, but it can't take my hope. Cancer can take my leg but it can't take my joy.
She’s saying “I can't control my circumstances, but I control my attitude, and what God is doing in and through me is more significant than what is happening to me.”
She recognizes that life is going to be harder now and that there’s a real sense of loss, but she's relying on Jesus. She said her faith is what gets her through, and she's focused on eternal things like relationships and Jesus, so the loss of an earthly thing like a leg is difficult but it doesn't undo her, and she's realizing the strength she has in her and friends and family and that wonderful, somewhat dark sense of humor.
You all, what if we had this kind of joy? What would it look like if we had this kind of joy? You know, we as Christians are known for and labeled as all sorts or things, and sometimes, sadly, it’s not always for the best things. But what if we were known for what Jesus wants us to be known for?
How cool would it be if people heard about Christians in general, or about our church in particular and said, “Oh, I love those people, they have so much joy.”
In a season of so much uncertainty and so much anxiety, what if you and swam upstream as people filled with joy, a joy that’s rooted in the Lord?
Paul says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, rejoice.”