Joy is a Choice
I have the privilege of co-teaching the women’s bible study at our church, this week I offered the challenge to discern the difference between happiness and biblical joy. Before diving in, I asked the gals to close their eyes, when I say the word ‘chair’ what first comes to mind, what image do you see? Asking around the room we had quite a variety; from old wooden chairs to high wing backed, to a big white stuffed comfy chair. There was ‘my chair at work’ also ‘this chair right here next to me.’ One gal pictured her friend, who was the ‘Chair-man’ of an organization they both belonged to.
Perception. How we view things, people and circumstances. These primarily are defined by our senses, what we see, hear, and touch and we as women basically by what we …FEEL! I feel unhappy today, so today will be an unhappy day. So goes our day.
What is the American dream (in a nut shell) ‘The pursuit of happiness.’ Happiness, we all want it, desire it, seek after it and sometimes make extremely poor choices in attempt to …get it. Webster’s defines happiness as: The mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions. What a cycle! So I FEEL happy, than I must BE happy! If I don’t FEEL happy, than I am not. In this cycle we tend to ‘whine.’ “I just want to b-e H-A-P-P-Y! I have a RIGHT to be happy! We even go so far as to DEMAND others make us happy. We are happy junkies!
Please don’t get me wrong, these emotions are real. But we cannot define our moment, our day and lives by the coming and going of these emotions. We get happiness and joy, God’s joy so confused. Happiness is the result of external happenings. What is done to me, around me. It is circumstantial, and circumstantial is temporary. So as soon as the circumstances change, our mood changes, our happiness shifts. Joy, biblical joy is the result of an internal heart condition (read that again). Joy is our response to God’s heart for us, understanding His presence, purpose and power in all He does and is in our life. Joy.
Oswald Chambers said, “The first thing that will hinder joy is the subtle irritability caused by giving too much thought to our circumstances.” Too much thought, we do that don’t we. We re-hash, revisit and restate finding ourselves in … remorse.
What is the reason for our joy? Luke chapter 10. Jesus had sent the 72 out to minister to the people, “… they returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.” (v17) Jesus replies, He saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning, and gave them authority to trample icky things and overcome all the power of the enemy. (paraphrased) Then, He continues, “HOWEVER, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (emphasis mine) He is saying all this stuff is not any biggy, BUT, your name written in heaven, in the Lambs book of Life, now THAT is to be rejoiced over! Salvation.
And who’s salvation is it? Psalms 51:12, King David had just been confronted by the prophet Nathan for his sinful behavior with Bathsheba, David responds, (beginning at v10) “Create in me a pure heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” John shares his vision in Revelation 7, the multitude “…cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (v10) Amen, and amen. Salvation is God’s.
God holds the ownership of salvation, it is a gift, His gift of grace. It is His to give. Apart from the demand to take in happiness, grace is the privilege to accept what is offered. In the Greek, the word for joy is ‘chara’ and for grace, ‘charis.’ See how so very close they are? They are so entangled, it is like the price tag hanging from Minnie Pearls hat, it is always there, always attached. Everywhere I researched, joy pointed to grace and grace pointed to joy. Grace is the unmerited favor of God, the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God, His divine influence upon my heart and life. Saved by grace… the internal heart condition. Yes, this does indeed equal joy. Joy is living out a grateful response to grace.
Pausing for a moment, I want to add a side-note. In my studies I came across something that changed the colors in my understanding of the Fruit of the Spirit. I found that all (ALL) 9 qualities mentioned: Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control, (breathe) are all ‘nouns.’ That’s right, all are rendered nouns in the original language. God deposits His qualities in us, we posses them. By His enabling power they turn from love to loving, from joy to rejoicing. Just like any other noun (person, place or thing) He can give us His ‘arm’ for example, a thing, we could take it and put it nicely on a shelf and declare ‘here sits the arm of God,’ or we could use the arm to serve, help (action) the noun now has function and purpose. Love and joy now have purpose; goodness finds purpose and action in showing kindness. We extend mercy to others through our patience. We always hear love is a verb. YES, it is. But in its deposited form it is something God gives us.
In 2 Cor 12:9 Paul said Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul had an amazing understanding, a revelation in knowing Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he opens chapter 3 with “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!” Then he goes on to explain that knowing Jesus is everything. This knowing is 1st hand knowledge. In today’s society if we saw it on YouTube, we assume we KNOW it. I’m quite certain there is a HUGE difference from watching skydiving on YouTube – to actually being thrown out of a plane at 13,000 feet and free-falling. We’d KNOW skydiving. This is what Paul is talking about, “I consider everything a loss compared to the SURPASSING GREATNESS of knowing Jesus my Lord.”
But even in this, often we don’t have a knowledge problem but an OBEDIENCE problem. Remember in John chapter 20, Jesus appears to the disciples behind closed doors, (this following His death, and resurrection) later the disciples tell Thomas about it, (he wasn’t there) Thomas says, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, I will not believe…” Well a week later, (Go God!) Jesus appears again, this time Thomas ‘IS’ there. Before Thomas had a chance to say anything, Jesus tells him, “Put your finger here, and see My hands. Reach out your hand put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.” What do you think would have happened if when Jesus told Thomas to look and touch, Thomas refused, looked away and left the room? (Pause, think on that) Our obedience steadily impacts our revelation. Our revelation of Who God is. Thomas did look & touch, His response, “My Lord & my God!” (yes, this is long, but keep reading)
The New International Dictionary of NT Theology (yes, I am a geek) explains the joy mentioned in Philippians (14x) as a ‘Continuous defiant NEVERTHELESS joy.’ Defiant joy. How many of us need us some DEFIANT JOY! Nevertheless, regardless, I WILL rejoice. Joy defies what we are ‘feeling’, defies our circumstances. Joy can even defy our pain. It is easy? NO! It is purposeful, is it chosen? YES! We take what God gave us and surrender and allow Holy Spirit to grow it in us, we grow from joy to rejoicing.
Psalm 30, David again pens, “For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (v5) I love King Jimmy’s version, “Joy cometh…” Such hope. Just wait. It’s coming. Holding this thought: John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (jumping to verse 16) “From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.” It literally reads in the original text: “We all have received grace and grace” (or ‘grace for grace’) What this means for us, as we stand in grace, the next step will be grace, then the next and the next. And just like Minnie Pearls hat, joy will be attached. Progressive joy. That joyful confidence in Who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He will continue to do and be. Joy cometh.
Can our joy be challenged? Yes. I have friend, his name is Robby. Robby and I worked together for about 4 years. We were as different as night and day, he nicknamed me, ‘Preacher Girl’ a name of endearment. When we first met, we chatted up a storm, the next day and the next. Then one day, he asked, “Why are you talking to me?” Hm, interesting question. “Um, why not” I replied. He said, “But you’re a Christian?” (I hadn’t told him, but you could tell) I said, “Yes.” He continued, “But, I’m gay.” (yes, you could tell) He told me when he ‘came out’ his family abandoned him. Over the course of the next 4 years, Robby and I had amazing conversations, I found out he was raised in the church, in high school he helped teach Sunday School. Robby knew.
One day he looked at me with his eyes welling up, and saying, “You are restoring my faith in the church.” Christians can be so mean. I was humbled. We had a strong understanding, boundaries were set, our lifestyles so very different. When he and his partner were going to Washington to get married legally, I told him I couldn’t go, he understood. Long story – short: We hadn’t worked together for over a year, but we kept in touch. Robby contacted me a few weeks ago, upset, stating his partner had left him for another. We talked, I prayed, I encouraged. I checked in with him often. He asked one day, “How do you do it, how do you know God doesnt give you more than you can handle?” I told him, you take one day, one moment at a time and you cry out to Him. I asked him if he could do that, he said he would try. Yesterday morning, a friend called to tell me Robby took his life on Monday, Oct 3rd.
Can our joy be challenged? Yes. (Especially when we are teaching on this topic) After I hung up the phone, I broke down. My heart was broken. I loved that kid. You know, the first voice I heard , “Where is your joy NOW!” It enveloped me. I took pause. Then realizing where this was coming from, from the pit of hell, I boldly declared, “My joy is right where it was last night when I went to bed! My joy is right where it was when I woke up, and my JOY is right here, right now in Jesus Christ! I have NO doubt in Who and where Jesus is!” Defiant Joy! Nevertheless! Joy is a choice! Jesus said, “The thief comes ONLY to steal, kill and destroy…” (Jn 10:10 emphasis mine) It is my choice to ALLOW it to be taken away, taken from what I KNOW is true. Jesus is King, Lord, Master and the One to Whom I run. I rejoice in this. He is!
We learned that grace and joy belong to Jesus, He is the possessor and the Giver. Joy as opposed to its counterfeit, happiness, it is not a right, but a gift we freely accept through grace. Happiness is external, but true inner joy, is the calm delighted confidence, the knowing and continual connection with Jesus. Jesus says in John 15, to tap into His deep reservoir of joy, ‘Remain in Me.’
Standing before Pilate, just before His crucifixion. Pilate says, “You are a king than!” Jesus’ response, “You are right in saying I am a King.” (Jn 18:37) I believe those are some of the most profound words in red. May that be said of me (always) “You are right in saying I am a King.” May my life represent Him in such a way that love, and kindness are so evident, others see Him. May we all be like Paul, seeking to know Him, like Thomas stay, and receive the revelation of Who God is. “My Lord and my God.”
After this teaching, our worship leader came in, with acoustic guitar, we worshipped.
Grace. Joy cometh.