Midweek Reflections

Midweek Reflection 30 July - 6 August 2020

Joy Part 1

Listen to audio version - 1

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

Our subject for the next couple of weeks is joy. If you were to search the NIV on biblegateway.com as I did, you will find 242 references to joy or joyful in the Bible. 174 in the OT and 68 in the New. If you then go on to search the word rejoice you will find 154 in total; 123 in the Old and 31 in the New. That’s a total of 328 references to joyfulness and rejoicing. The only conclusion to draw is that being joyful and rejoicing are clearly important in the lives of the people of God. Apparently, there are 25 different Hebrew words and 10 Greek words for joy in the Bible. It’s no wonder then that we may have difficulty understanding what joy and rejoicing mean in a biblical sense.

I know through my own experience of life (and not just the last few months) that being joyful and rejoicing can seem like a huge thing to ask when we may be going through really testing times. The key is in what we understand as joy, and what the Bible tells us about it. For the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at that very question. What does it mean as a Christian to be joyful?

Before we start, spend some time in prayer and offer to God with thanks those things in our lives which make us rejoice.

You may like to listen to the following song

Chris Tomlin – Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy)

 

When looking for songs/hymns about joy, the vast majority (of the good ones) are all carols or songs we sing at Christmas. This fact is also a key to understanding the meaning of joy. Jesus Christ came in human form and brought joy into the world!

Joy/Joyfulness

I think the first thing to get straight is that joy and happiness are not the same thing. Whether we are happy or not depends on our particular circumstances at a given point in time. Joy is not dependent on our circumstances. Joyful is not something we try to do, but rather who we are! Joy is something much deeper, connected to our faith and trust in God that allows us to cope with those darker and sadder times in our lives. Simply stated, happiness is tied to our circumstances while joy is not.

Matthew 5: 11-12 says “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you”.

James 1: 2-3 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”. Neither Jesus himself or James are telling us to be happy when life gets tough, but are reminding us that as followers of Christ we have joy deep inside us which strengthens us through the trials of life.

The source of that joy is faith in Jesus Christ and thankfulness for all he has done for us. Let’s look at a few statements about joy

  • Joy comes from being in God’s presence- He is the source of joy!
  • Joy can be healing – we can find joy during suffering and our suffering can turn to joy
  • Joy can be found by following God’s will- serving him in our daily lives, following his commands, and emulating Christ as best we can.
  • Joy can and should be shared - it should exist in all of our relationships
  • Joy is something we can ask for - God gives it freely
  • God finds joy in us

Importantly, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-24) along with love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Joy is a gift we receive from and through the Holy Spirit as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ, and of our willingness to give our lives to him. Remember, it’s not about happiness. It is much deeper than that as we dwell in Christ and he in us.

Rejoicing

Rejoicing describes the outward expression of our internal joy.

In the Bible, rejoicing takes the form of leaping, shouting, singing, playing music and dancing. The Psalms in particular describe forms of rejoicing.

Psalm 27:6 “Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord”.

Psalm 33:1-3 “Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skilfully, and shout for joy”.

Psalm 47:1 “Clap your hands, all you nations;
    shout to God with cries of joy”.

The two main definitions of biblical joy are connected; rejoicing flows out of gladness in the Lord and our gladness in the Lord increases the more we rejoice.

Now, I know that we are all missing being able to sing in church (and other places). And as the Psalms say, singing is part of rejoicing in the Lord – letting that inner joy out. What we need to understand is that we can still rejoice without singing. Over the centuries singing has become integral to worship and in these times, we have to find different ways of expressing ourselves. More of that next week. Not singing is a sacrifice to ensure the health and wellbeing of those around us. There is joy to be found in that sacrifice, in the fact that we are putting others first. We can rejoice in that. Plus, like me you can sing at home as you follow the services on line. I’m still not sure what the neighbours think of what they hear every Sunday morning emanating from my lounge!

 

Listen to audio version - 2

Let’s look at joy in a little more depth

Reading: John 15: 1- 11

 

Jesus tells us that if we stay close to him, if we allow ourselves to be shaped and guided by his word then not only will we be stronger, we’ll also develop Christ like characteristics such as the fruits of the Spirit. I’ve deliberately chosen the NRSV translation because of its use of the word ‘abide’, (in Greek ‘menon’) whereas the NIV uses ‘remain’. The dictionary definition of abide is:

  • To dwell or reside.
  • To last or endure, or withstand 
  • To wait for; await: to abide the coming of the Lord.
  • To remain faithful to; keep: to abide by a promise.

Then I looked up ‘remain’

  • To continue to be as specified; continue in the same state.
  • To stay behind or in the same place.
  • To be left after the removal, loss, or destruction of all else.
  • To be left to be done, told, shown, etc.

They’re very different. Abide gives a picture of closeness, of intimacy, of interdependence, of expectancy, while remain feels like the past tense, of something left behind, almost of abandonment. I think Jesus was talking about the present, a state of being, of oneness with him which is where our joy comes from. We still abide in him and he in us even in our darkest times. The last verse of the passage we have just read states “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete”. It’s important to remember that just as faith in Christ brings us joy, we give joy to God as his faithful people.

In many ways, perspective is key. When we look at what God has done for us, we naturally respond with thanksgiving and joy. When we look at difficult circumstances in our lives and in the world, we naturally respond with discontent, or anxiety and frustration. But we can do so while still recognizing that God is in control and that He loves us. The Psalms display this truth beautifully. David, for example, poured out his complaints to God. He did not deny the hardships of life, his depression, his hurt, or his disappointment. Yet by the end of each psalm, he generally seemed encouraged. Psalm 13 is a good example

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Verses 1 and 2 are lament. How long Lord are you going to leave me feeling like this? How long are you going to leave me in this situation? David is feeling separated from God. He seems to think that God is hiding from him, punishing him perhaps. I’m sure that all of us, at some time in our lives have felt exactly like David. In times like that it’s easy to forget that God is the source of all joy; he is the source of all wisdom and strength; and he is the source of life itself.

Because David feels separated from God, he is sorrowful, he feels the need of God’s wisdom and counsel; he is weak before his enemy (verse 2), and has a fear of death itself (verse 3).

Verses 3 and 4 show how David, in his distress turns to God in prayer. We often speak about prayer as though it’s our last resort. There’s nothing more that we can do so we might as well pray! David’s first resource is prayer. Lamenting the situation he’s in and how he feels about it, then asking for God’s intervention.

Verses 5 and 6 show David rejoicing in the Lord. His prayer has not yet been answered, his situation is still the same. He is still feeling anxious and stressed and far from God but yet he rejoices. He is far from happy but he is full of joy and praise for the Lord. David is a good example of how we can find joy in God amidst the trials of life.

Next week we’ll look further at how we express our joy in the Lord, how we praise him especially now when our usual method has been forbidden to us for a while. We’ll also look some more at what the Bible tells us about joy.

I’m going to leave you with a clip from Sister Act 2 where a group of disadvantaged and troubled teenagers are formed into a choir and sing ‘Joyful Joyful’ to win a state choir competition. I challenge you not to smile! I’ve set out some of the words below. Until next week I pray that the Lord will fill you with his joy.

Sister Act 2: 'Joyful Joyful'

 

Joyful, joyful Lord we adore thee

God of glory, Lord of love

Hearts unfold like flowers before thee

Hail thee as the sun above

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness

Drive the dark of doubt away

Giver of immortal gladness

Fill us with the light of day

 

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