How wonderful it is that we laugh because our bodies cannot contain the joy.
And think of how much nonsense is blown away by one good belly laugh. Steve Brown said, “You ought to live your life with such freedom and joy that uptight Christians will doubt your salvation.”
And, another famous quote of his reads: “If there is no laughter, Jesus has gone somewhere else. If there is no joy and freedom, it is not a church: it is simply a crowd of melancholy people basking in a religious neurosis. If there is no celebration, there is no real worship.”
And the third week of Advent, to which we now come, has the theme of joy. These themes indicate the gifts of God to the world in Christ: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
Hope that does not disappoint;
Peace, but not as the world gives it;
Joy unspeakable and full of glory;
And love, perfect love that casts out fear.
Let me give you a definition of “joy.” “Joy is an evidence of the presence of God in your life.” If God is in your life, if you are filled with the Spirit of God, then this fruit of the Spirit will be obvious in your life.
Now don’t mistake happiness for joy. It’s easy to do that. The Bible mentions “joy” or “rejoicing” 330 times. But it only mentions “happiness” 26 times. Happiness depends upon what happens to you. So if all the circumstances are right, then you can be happy. But joy comes from inside.
And it is inside ourselves where we must daily choose joy.
But many are robbed of joy for various reasons. Some are unable to accept the forgiveness of God and thus cannot accept themselves. They look back over their lives with all its faults and failures and cannot really believe that God can truly clean up all that mess.
Secretly, they don’t feel welcome in God’s house. They think: “If people knew what I was really like, they would reject me.”
And so unresolved guilt robs them of joy.
The irony is that God knows all about us and has already acted on our behalf. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” Our joy is not a facile escapism but a deep consciousness that we are loved, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
If that’s you, then you need to find your way, like David did in Psalm 51, to the point of praying: “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.”
It ‘s a prayer God delights in answering.
Some others are robbed of their joy through a wounded ego. They seem continually offended, and (almost) seeking reasons to be offended!
It’s true: People say the wrong things. Our feelings are hurt. We feel unloved, unneeded and left to one side.
And the consequence is that we have no joy at all in our fellowship together; only more and more reasons for a smoldering resentment where joy can never flourish.
What’s the problem? It’s a “critical spirit.” Lori Hatcher suggested that there are three poisonous roots that support this behavior:
- Thanklessness. Instead of being grateful for every gift, action, or kind word, the critical spirit weighs everything against an imagined standard of unattainable perfection and gripes and grumbles when it falls short. It complains about what it doesn’t have instead of appreciating what it does.
- Selfishness. Critical spirits reside in people who expect and demand to be served. They believe their needs should be met first, their wants attended to quickly, and their preferences honored.
- Insecurity. Critical spirits build themselves up by tearing others down. Pointing out others’ failures, errors, and flaws, makes them feel smug, smart, and superior.
If any of this describes you, then receive joy as a Christmas present! In every single conversation, learn from the Holy Spirit how to build up and not tear down; how to commend and not criticize; how to be grateful and not to gripe.
One more thing: many people lose their joy because of the “stuff” that comes into their lives. Things don’t go smoothly. Circumstances trip you up and the problems gather around like unpaid bills.
Or perhaps unpaid bills are the problems themselves!
But how can you be chirpy when things go wrong?
It’s like saying: “How can you be brave when you’re scared?” The answer is that the only time you can be brave is when you’re scared.
And the only time you can be truly joyful is when it seems you have no reason to be so! (From a worldly way of thinking, that is).
It’s not the circumstances that shape you; it’s your perspective that shapes the circumstance. Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2). Titus 1:15 explains this powerful principle: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.”
But for today, choose joy. Decide to be happy. Make the choice to trust God with every circumstance that comes your way.
As Jesus put it, in John 15:11: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
Lord, I desire that your joy might remain in me – it sounds so good! And help me to imagine what it is like to have a fullness of joy.
I bring to you the things I have done wrong and I accept your forgiveness for my failure. Restore to me the joy of my salvation, Lord, that I might rise to praise you, and live that life of scandalous freedom that Steve talked about!
Lord, I’m fed up of being nitpicking and judgmental. Sweep it all away and teach me to relax in the joy of your fellowship, so that in every circumstance I can learn to be content, and full of joy in you.