It’s safe to say that joy is one of the most elusive fruits for us as believers. It’s not a very popular fruit and doesn’t get near enough use today. Part of the problem is that joy is often misunderstood. We tend to equate “happiness” with joy but they are two totally different ideas because they each spring from a different source. One comes from the world around me. The other originates directly from the Spirit of the Living God. Happiness is conditioned by and often dependent upon what is “happening” to me. If people treat me good, if things are going well in my life, then I’m happy. If my circumstances aren’t favorable, then I’m unhappy – that describes me as I was flying over the back of that dangerous dragon!
Joy, on the other hand, throbs throughout Scripture as a profound, compelling quality of life that transcends the events and disasters which may dog God’s people. Joy is a divine dimension of living that is not shackled by circumstances. The Hebrew word means, “to leap or spin around with pleasure.” In the New Testament the word refers to “gladness, bliss and celebration.”
To have the fruit of joy ripen in our lives is to recognize the journey involved in getting there. It takes time, diligence, patience, and hard work to make a grapevine produce grapes. Fruit is not instantaneous because it has to overcome weather, bugs, weeds, poor soil and neglect. Likewise, in our journey to joy we’re faced with the waves of apathy, the currents of pessimism, the deluge of doubt and the waterfalls of despair. There is no way we can manufacture this fruit on our own. If we want to see this fruit ripen in our lives, we desperately need the Holy Spirit to prune away whatever it is that hinders our joy and then empower us to make some choices that move us closer to a lifestyle of rejoicing. We need to guard against three common Joy Busters and we need to cultivate some Joy Builders into our lives.
I. Joy Busters
Before Paul wrote to the church at Galatia about the Fruit of the Spirit in chapter 5, he asked a very penetrating question in Galatians 4:15: “What has happened to all your joy…” That question needs to be asked in the church today. What has happened to all my joy? What has happened to all your joy? William Barclay has said that “a gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms, and nothing in all religious history has done Christianity more harm than its connection with black clothes and long faces.” Let’s look at three common joy stealers that often give us long faces.
Unsatisfied expectations. Do you ever feel like you’re just going through some joyless routines in life? If the truth were known some of us are discontent with the way our lives are progressing. It could be that your expectations for your marriage have not been met. Or, maybe your kids aren’t living like they should. Perhaps you don’t have everything you want – a bigger house, a nicer car, and a better job. I’m convinced that a spirit of discontentment can rob many of us of joy. Listen to how Paul discovered the secret of being content with what God had given him in Philippians 4:12: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” I find it interesting to note that Paul calls contentment a “secret.” There’s a mystery about it. He also had to “learn” how to live with unsatisfied expectations. Likewise, we must learn to live with plenty or with little. Contentment doesn’t come when we have everything we want but when we want everything we have.
Unresolved conflict. Our joy evaporates when we allow conflict between ourselves and another person to go on. When someone’s offense against us occupies our mental and emotional attention, we have little left over for the Lord. Anger clouds the eyes of our heart and obscures our view of God, draining away our joy. Hebrews 12:14-15 challenges us to not allow relational ruptures to fester because bitterness can set in: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” We addressed this last week when we established that love keeps no record of wrongs. If you’re still itemizing people’s mess-ups, the fruit of joy will be squashed in your life. Paul recognizes the link between joy and unity in Philippians 2:2: “Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”
Un-confessed sin. This third joy buster is perhaps responsible for chasing more joy out of lives than any other. Guilt can gut your joy faster than anything I know. Sin can send joy far away. David understood this very well when he attempted to ignore the promptings of the Spirit. Take a look at Psalm 32:1-5: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ -- and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” I love how this Psalm ends. After David owns his sin, his joy returns. Notice verse 11: “Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” Did you catch that? He was not able to rejoice and experience the joy of the Lord until he confessed his sins! That’s very similar to what David wrote in Psalm 51:7-8: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.”
Before we move on to some positive joy builders, I want to give the Holy Spirit an opportunity right now to do some pruning in your life. Let’s take a couple minutes as I walk through these joy busters. Allow God’s Spirit to prompt you to acknowledge, confess and repent.
Friends, I have some great news this morning. Lost joy can be restored. As a result of some discontentment, some conflict, and some open sin, David had tubed out spiritually. His joy was a long-lost memory. And yet, he boldly prays in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…” God honored his prayer, and He will honor yours.
II. Joy Builders
Billy Sunday once said, “The trouble with many men is that they have got just enough religion to make them miserable. If there is not joy in religion, you’ve got a leak in your religion.” God not only wants to restore our lost joy, He also wants us to cultivate those things that will build lasting joy into our lives so that we don’t have any leaks in our religion. The Bible gives us at least six ways to experience this joy.
Recognize God as joyful. We can be helped greatly in our journey towards joy if we learn to see the Almighty, not as a taskmaster, but as the God of the Universe with a smile on His face. When I first discovered Zephaniah 3:17 I had to read it several times because it was such a new thought for me. Listen to how God feels about you: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” [Read again] God delights in you and breaks out into song when He thinks about you! That’s hard to believe, isn’t it? I love how the Living Bible paraphrases this verse: “Is that a joyous choir I hear? No, it is the Lord himself exulting over you in happy song.” Psalm 104:31 says, “May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works.” Isaiah 65:18-19: “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people…” Friend, if we have little or no joy in our lives, it could very well be because we don’t know God well enough because joy is one of His character qualities. When we recognize God as joyful we will be even more drawn to Him. He is not an aloof judge just waiting for us to mess up so He can unleash His fury. He has created us to be His delight. He finds great joy in you! He exults over you in happy song.
As we view God this way, we will discover that He takes great pleasure in us. He is the Good Gardener who toils over us with constant care. He waits patiently for His fruit to ripen and with great joy He longs to gather in the harvest. Since there is enthusiasm in everything He undertakes and sweet satisfaction in all He does, His joy can be transmitted directly to us by His Holy Spirit who lives within us. That’s exactly what Nehemiah discovered in Nehemiah 8:10: “…The joy of the LORD is your strength.” I pray that we’ll experience the Lord’s joy as well.
Rehearse God’s attributes in worship. God delights in us and finds great joy in His creation – then when we celebrate His attributes in worship we allow our joy to flow back to Him. Psalm 66:1-4: “Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.’” Our collective worship of God on Sundays should be the culmination of our individual and private worship during the week. We make room in our lives for God’s joy through the traditional disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, Scripture memory, meditation, fasting and singing. When David focused on God’s character in Psalm 28, he couldn’t help but break out into joy. Listen to verse 7: “The Lord is my strength and shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song.”
Reignite your passion for evangelism. One of the best ways to build joy into your life is by talking to others about Jesus. Philemon 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Luke 15 records for us how much rejoicing takes place when the lost are found. When the lost sheep is recovered, verse 5 says that the owner “joyfully puts it on his shoulders” and then goes home and calls his friends and neighbors together and declares in verse 6, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep. I tell you in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents…” Jesus reminds us in John 4:36 that we can be filled with glad joy when we participate in the process of evangelism: “Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.” Not only do we appreciate God’s gift of grace in our lives when we tell others about Jesus, we also get to see the inexpressible joy of those who experience the new birth.
Release your problems to the Lord. One of the hallmarks of Christian joy is that it can be experienced in the midst of intense sorrow and loss. Often we define happiness as the absence of something undesirable, such as pain, suffering, or disappointment. But Christian joy is the proper response to the presence of something desirable: God Himself. In Acts 16, the authorities beat Paul and Silas. After they were severely flogged, they were thrown into prison. In order to make sure they didn’t escape, they were put in the inner cell and had their feet fastened in stocks. If that were me, I’d be more scared than I was when I flew down the Dragon’s Tail! Verse 25 says that Paul and Silas “were praying and singing hymns to God…” This word for praying is not the word used for making requests but rather the word used for praise, or worship. Instead of asking God to get them out, they turned this tough situation into an opportunity for rejoicing. This reminds me of what Matthew Henry, a Bible scholar from the 1700’s wrote in his diary after some thieves robbed him and took his wallet: “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my wallet, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because, it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”
The only way to have an attitude like this is to release our problems to the Lord. Because He’s in charge we can have joy – no matter what happens. Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 7:4: “…in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” James 1:2 challenges us to “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds.” This takes a conscious decision. We’re commanded to work at it. While we can’t manufacture joy we can give our problems to the Lord by leaning on Him with everything we’ve got.
Remain close to Jesus. As we established last week, the only way to experience the fruit of the spirit is to be obedient to Christ and submit to the Spirit on a daily basis. To discover joy we must abandon the search for it and go looking instead for the one who is Himself joy. Joy is the flag that flies over the castle of our hearts announcing that Jesus is in residence today. John 15:10-11 puts it this way: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” If we want the kind of joy that is complete, lacking nothing, then we must remain close to Jesus. Apart from Him we can bear no fruit. Jesus said it clearly in John 15:4: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
People can see fake fruit. Are you a fraud or are you a fruit-bearer? Are you a charlatan or a true Christian? Are you playing charades or are you praising Christ? The only way to have real joy is to nurture your relationship with Jesus and keep in step with the Spirit on a daily basis.
Let me briefly mention three application steps.
In closing, let’s allow Romans 14:17 to penetrate our lives: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.