Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Joy of the Lord is My Strength

I was reading a blog a bit ago. On it a woman was expressing her dismay over the seeming impossibility of ever convincing Christians how stupid they were for “believing” in Jesus. She also went on at length regarding how awful the God was whom these Christians seemed determined to worship. Especially perplexing for this person was the fact that the worse conditions get for Christians, be it a flood, or earthquake or act of terrorism or the death of a child, the greater their joy seems to get and the deeper their conviction in the goodness of God.

I actually know where she’s coming from. At one time I too found the Christian’s response to life perplexing, disconcerting and at times infuriating. I thought that it was just a phoney act when I’d hear a Christian talk about how blessed he or she felt during a “time of sorrow.” I thought it was absolute rubbish when a Christian would talk about the peace she would feel after what sounded to me like a horrendous loss. Now that I’m on the other side, now that I have a healed relationship with Jesus, I know where those weird Christians are coming from. Now that I have a forgiven relationship with my Creator I can relax and just bask in the loving presence of the Holy Spirit who is the source of my joy.

There is a tremendous chasm that separates a Christian’s deep inner joy and the fleeting happiness that pagans experience. A Christian does not need to depend on manufacturing joy through a well planned trip to the mountains or to a movie. A Christian doesn’t have to depend on the fleeting pleasure of getting stoned. A Christian doesn’t have to search for contentment and security in amassing a fortune or accumulating piles of possessions. A Christian doesn’t have to pretend that h/his worth has increased or that h/she “belongs” because a lot of names have been accumulated on a website. A Christian doesn’t have to work at or discipline him/herself through meditation or rituals in order to finding lasting peace. A Christian’s joy is independent of worldly influence. A Christian’s joy comes to the Christian from the Creator’s Spirit that indwells that person upon accepting Jesus as one’s Saviour.

This is not to say that some of the things that make a pagan happy don’t also make a Christian happy. It’s just that the Christian will acknowledge the truth that “All good things, and every perfect gift is from above, coming down to us from the Father of heavenly lights, in whom there is no changing or shifting like shadows - James 1:17. A pleasant day, a good relationship, the thrill and excitement of exploring or travelling to a new place, watching a much loved child learn a new skill, these things please anyone, pagan or atheist or Christian. Rather than enjoying and then praising a painting, a Christian enjoys the painting and then praises the artist.

The type of attitude that was so troubling for the writer of that blog was highlighted thousands of years ago by another person who had a close relationship with the God of Love.
A person named Habakkuk whose thoughts can be found in a ‘book’ by the same name. In chapter 3 verses 17-19, it says this. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” A line from the well known book of Job cites, “Though He slay me, yet I will serve Him.”

In more recent times a song writer said -
“When peace like a river attends my soul
When storm clouds like sea billow roll
Whatever my lot
You have taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.”
These are more than just words. They were written by a man who had lost his wife and children when their ship sank in the North Atlantic. As he later passed that very spot on his way home to England from North America he penned those words.

What creates that kind of loyalty in a person who has just been clobbered by life? What sustains the soul of these people who claim to love and serve a God that does not free his loyal subjects from the harsh realities of life? How is it that possessing the ability to experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, supercedes and overshadows the good feelings that come from relationships, power, position, looks, or fame etc.? This is something that the writer of the blog simply can’t comprehend because in her spiritual state, it is impossible for her to experience or to receive what Christians are allowed to experience.

There is no doubt that we humans possess an indomitable spirit. We can adapt to virtually any situation, any cruelty, any oppression. But those who rise above these situations, those who come out of them more convinced than ever in the goodness of their Creator have been given something that they and they alone know to be true.

One of the main things that bring joy to Christians is the solid belief that they have found a “First Principle” when it comes to a code of ethics and moral grounding regarding how to live life. They have found a solid foundation upon which to base their lives. Experience has proven that this is a foundation that is able survive the storms of life. It’s a foundation that nothing and no one can take away from someone who is part of the family of God.

As most people discover at some point during their life, and as has been stating at least a dozen times in the Bible, we are strangers here on earth. We do not instinctively know the way home. The old adage, ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,’ while true, is virtually useless as the majority of people not only fail to learn from history, they purposely ignore it. Each of us begins the journey of life content in the arrogant belief that we know the correct path through a dizzying array of street signs. Even though we’ve never been down this road before, and even though we profess that no single map is any more dependable than any other map we boldly go where all the other idiots have gone before. In a great irony, it is those who are the most lost who proclaim the loudest that they know the correct route to a good life. Only in hindsight and often after great damage has been done to those around them do people confess that they were on the wrong road for decades. I can honestly state from years of experience spent on both the incorrect and finally the correct road, that it is a tremendous relief to no longer have to pretend that I know where I’m going and to simply let Jesus be my tour guide. Christianity is of necessity an admission to self and to one’s Creator that, “I’m lost and I need help.”

First and foremost, Christians have joy because -
The Holy Spirit is the source of a Christian’s joy.
Luke 10:21 - At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
John 15:10-12 - 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. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Acts 13:52 - And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 - May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
Galatians 5:22 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.
This is a supernatural joy that is as amazing as it is wonderful. In fact, agony is hardly an exaggeration to describe how I feel when I’m not allowed, out of political correctness, to share the way, the path, the how to lay hold of this joy with another individual.

Christians have joy because they possess-
The Road-map of God’s guidance:
Psalm 16:11- You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.
Psalm 19:8 - The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
Psalm 119:111 - Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.
Psalm 97:11 - Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.
I can’t remember who it was that said it, but someone from another blog said something like, “I don’t believe in God because I can see Him. I believe in God for the reason that because of His light I can see everything else clearly.” Amen to that. I no longer have to wonder whether an affair is worth it or not. I don’t have to ponder if it’s alright to steal something small from a big company. I don’t have to contemplate if it’s worth the risk to cheat on my taxes. I live a life whereby morality is no longer relative to the situation. Do I still fail from time to time? Sure. But it’s due to human weakness; it not because of not knowing the right path to take.

Christians have joy because -
Praising God brings joy:
Psalm 33:1 - Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
I’ve heard it said that God presents Himself in the Bible as self-centered, egotistical, arrogant, etc. because of all His commands to worship Him. What the people who make these claims don’t understand is that when we are “right” with God and when we possess the Holy Spirit of the living God in our souls, worship is a natural outpouring of our inner joy. Worshiping our Creator is what brings joy to His created beings. Praising God brings joy because it is precisely that for which we were created. He is only asking us to do those things that will bring the most joy into our lives.

Christians have joy because -
Salvation in it’s own right brings joy:
Psalm 51:12 - Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Psalm 68:3 - But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.
Isaiah 12:3 - With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
Psalm 71:23 - My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I, whom you have redeemed.
I just finished reading a book by a man who was recently involved in purchasing, or more correctly redeeming slaves in Sudan. At this time in the 21st century, the Muslim slave trade is huge business in Sudan and in many other parts of the world. While the men from villages are usually killed, women and children are sold into both physical and sexual slavery. Many of the young boys are forced to fight in the Muslim militias after little or no training. All slaves are forced to convert to Islam via torture. No one that I know of, except North American Christians are involved in this effort to redeem slaves. This is done at great personal risk. To redeem means to buy back, to free - to set free those who have been enslaved. This is what Jesus did for us. Every person on earth is born enslaved to sin. Every person on earth is born impossibly separated from God. Only through faith in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross brings freedom from the power of sin, freedom from guilt, and freedom to live life as it was meant to be lived. That is indeed a joyful experience. If you are interested in reading about this further, see my post “Freedom - Glorious Freedom” where I list all that areas in which Jesus has brought freedom into my life.

Christians have joy because -
The joy of the Lord brings mental and emotional healing:
Psalm 94:19 - When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.
Two opposing thoughts cannot occupy the mind at the same time. Perhaps the greatest antidote to anxiety is a trusting relationship with Jesus our Lord. My prayer every night is that God would grant my children the gift of faith. It is the greatest gift in the world. Trust of course is built strong over time. I can tell you however that Jesus is more than able to prove Himself to you if you will only let Him. Do that and you are in for the most exciting ride of your life, for the rest of your life.

Matthew 13:44 - "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
What incredible peace and joy lies in the heart of the person who has found the greatest treasure this stage of life has to offer - Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:8 - Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
This joy that Christians have is not manufactured. It is not a human joy. It is not some chemical mixture in the frontal lobe. It is supernatural. In many cases the joy comes without the person becoming fully aware of its growing presence. We become so used to trudging through life that it’s only in hindsight that one becomes astonished at the power with which s/he handled what would normally be a very troubling experience. Only in hindsight do we realize that Jesus is changing us for the better. Only in hindsight do we realize that the promise of Jesus to bring joy and peace into our lives is no empty promise. It’s a promise that comes to us and is fulfilled in us with power and perfection.

Christians have joy because -
Faith is the greatest gift ever:
So often I praise God with , “Thank you that you are in charge Father.” This faith that I have in Jesus is based on almost three decades of friendship with Him. As the apostle Paul once said, “I know the One in whom I believe.” I know Jesus well enough that I know that I can trust Jesus. I know that He is Truth. I haven’t found even one statement of Jesus’ to not be truth in the absolute. I know that He will never leave me or turn His back on me. My faith is based on being SURE of what I hope for. I am CERTAIN of what I don’t yet see (Hebrews 11:1). This is not just some wishful thinking. My joy is based on fact; it’s based on the reality of Jesus the Christ. Rather, as some say, that faith is based nothing substantial or ‘believing without any evidence,’ my faith is based on irrefutable evidence. It is built on trust that has been built up over 26 years of living with Jesus. This allows me to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
1 Thessalonians 1:6 - You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
15:16 - Be joyful always;
Hebrews 1:9 - You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy."
10:34 - You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
12:2 - Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
James 1:2 - Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
1 Peter 1:8 - Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

This is what is so confounding to non believers. Paul is recorded as saying in 2nd Corinthians, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” The joy that increases even as our troubles increase is so overwhelming, so wonderful, so infused with the love of God, that life’s flaming arrows become as pinpricks. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. There is no trouble so great that Jesus will not be right by your side all the way through it, empowering you and bringing you peace. That is why, in regard to a relationship with Jesus and the victorious life that He provides, someone has written, “Rain on, I will not drown, for I am standing on higher ground.”

Christians have joy because -
Jesus love feels the same as Protection from suffering:
Psalm 4:7 - Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength
James 1:2 - Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
Psalm 5:11 - But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Psalm 28:7 - The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him
2 Corinthians 7:4 - in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.
8:2 - Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
Colosians 1:10-12 - And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
1 Thessalonians 1:6 - You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
15:16 - Be joyful always;
Hebrews 10:34 - You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
Hebrews 12:2 - Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
What humans so often fail to realize is that our problems, our losses, our pummeling by life, while difficult, are also opportunities for growth and courage. This is doubly so for the Christian. The chief source of pain when confronted with hardship is not the hardship itself but our resistance to the hardship. We spend so much time trying to wiggle out of our problems that we completely miss the learning that can be taking place within the problem. As a Christian, you are not always protected FROM life’s difficulties. But you will be protected THROUGH life’s difficulties. This is joy. This is strength. This is character.

No comments: