A bit of a recap to put today’s thoughts in context:
A few years ago I was asked to give the weekly chapel address at a Christian High School in New Jersey. They were having a series of speakers over the semester talk about “The Myths of Christianity.” The one they wanted me to talk about was “Once I’m a Christian I’ll always be happy.”
That made me laugh for two reasons:
First—my experience with faith personally and with Christians in general has been such that I really have no idea where this came from. I mean, how many of us have really been fooled by this, that being a Christian means that life is going to be one big happy party? I mean, come on! What I have been learning is that the opposite is true! A more believable myth would be “Now that I’m a Christian, my life is all about giving up my Happiness.” If Christians need to hear anything today, it’s that they need to be happier!
Second—despite everything I just said, there really are people who believe this—that being a Christian means you’ll always be happy. So what I’m going to share over the next few posts is talk a little bit about two things I have been learning:
- The story of Job is not the exception—it’s the rule. This I have talked about in parts 1 and 2.
Joy is not an option. This is the subject for today.
Joy is not an option! We are all going to go through rough times. Life is going to knock us down. Life is going to knock you down. God’s message to us is—don’t focus on what we are going through, but on where we are going to. Disappointments, frustrations, failures, those are all parts of life. We all have them. We all will continue to have them. They should not be a surprise to us. It is normal to have them! Rather, Gods says to you and me that we should rejoice when these times come. Paul says in Romans chapter 5, But we also rejoice in our sufferings. James says in the opening sentences of his letter, Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.
Why are we supposed to rejoice when we are tested, tried, disappointed, betrayed, let down, or knocked flat on our backs? Because, ironically, it means that God’s blessing is not far away. It means that we are becoming more like Christ. It means that we are going to grow, become stronger, become better, more faithful, even more holy than we were before. The greatest joys in life come through attacking and overcoming the challenges that life throws in your way. This is what gives us hope. This is what allows us to press on. To go through the hard times. Knowing that joy is in abundance on the other side.
I don’t think anyone went through more pain and suffering and personal trails than Jesus did. He went through a valley that none of us will ever have to walk through ourselves thanks to Him. Do you remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? Was he happy? Was he thrilled about the prospect of the next 24 hours? He was so concerned, dare I even say anxious about the next few hours, that his own body started to push his blood out the pours of his skin! He pleaded with His Father, “Please, if there is any other way for me to achieve this goal–to get this joy–please don’t make me do this.” His Father heard him, and strengthened him, and encouraged him and Jesus did it. Why? Hebrews 12:2 tells us–for the joy set before Him, he endured the cross. For the joy. For the joy! That’s what motivated Jesus to do all God meant him to do–joy!
Joy is not an option! That means joy is required! We need to learn to cultivate joy. To encourage joy. To expect joy. Expect to find it wanting for us around every corner. We need to learn that joy is waiting to surprise us in the most unsuspecting places. Jesus found it on the other side of the cross. If there was joy waiting for Jesus there can you really imagine a place where there is no possibility of joy? Don’t focus on the crud in your life. I don’t mean deny it, just don’t focus on it. Quit worrying. Quit criticizing. Quit making excuses for yourself! Learn to focus on the good in people. Be an affirmer. Instead of thinking about how big your problems are, start telling your problems how big your God is!
The power that is released by realizing this truth is amazing! Christians should be the most joyous people on the face of the earth. But so often we don’t live up to anything like this. Psalm 34 says Delight yourself in the Lord. It is a command! Joy is not an option. If I could change one thing about Christians today (myself included) I would get rid of our negative attitudes. They are sin. They are keeping you from experiencing all the joy and happiness that God has planned for you. Let me give you some examples that I’ve heard people say again and again no matter where I go that I believe keeps us from being joyous.
I hear people say, “We are sinners who don’t deserve any kind of grace or favor.” When we should be focusing on the fact that as Christians we are new creatures, God’s children, who are pleasing to God. Colossians 3:12 (NIV) says we are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.
I hear people say, “My will isn’t God’s will. God’s ways are not my ways.” When the truth is that the Holy Spirit is living in you making you more like Christ every minute of every day. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
I hear us say, “God wants me to give everything up.” When the reality is God wants to give you everything. Ephesians 1:22-23 (NIV) And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
We tell ourselves, “Real love is selfless, expecting nothing in return.” But the fact is that real love is the only way to true personal fulfillment and joy. Psalms 37:4 (ESV) Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
We excuse each other saying, “I can’t help sinning, I’m only human after all.” When the reality is that we have a new heart, and the Holy Spirit living in us empowering us to conquer sin. Romans 6:6-7 (NIV) For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
We worry about our future saying, “If I don’t pick the right road God has planned for me, I’ll never be as happy as I could have been.” When the reality is God has given you many roads and dreams that are God-honoring. And you can chose from any of them. Hebrews 13:5 (NIV) Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
God is in everything. Therefore Joy can be found in everything. Psalm 16 says joy is found in the presence of God. Wherever He is, joy can be found.
What I have been learning is that I need to remember that I am a sinner, but I need to be focused on becoming the person God wants me to be. I need to remember the horrible price my sin and rebellion against God cost Him, but I need to focus on the fact that, for some inexplicable reason, God thought I was worth the price. I deserve God’s just wrath for my sins, but He wants me to focus on the fact that because of Christ I am going to heaven. Paul says we should think on whatever is true, noble, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. (Phil. 4:8). It is my contention that constantly dwelling on the negative does not meet the standards Paul has set for our thoughts.
So let’s recap here, two points to remember.
First: Job is not the exception–he’s the rule. Failure, disappointment, loneliness are a part of life. Life is not a bed of roses.
Second: joy is not an option. It is the motivation for us to do the things that are painful but necessary. The truest joy belongs to the Christian. Be positive. Focus on where you are going to, not on what you are going through.
Dear God, we are so easily discouraged, distracted and frustrated with life. It is so easy to focus on what we are going through and experiencing in the present that we forget where it is we are headed and why. Forgive us. Help us this week to remember Your love, your forgiveness, the promise of heaven, and the rewards of worshiping and witnessing for You wherever we are. Thank you for Your Son Jesus for whose glory we pray, Amen.