Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:10

Joy is a gift. Like the other fruit of the Spirit, it’s not something we conjure up. It’s present in our lives because it’s the joy of our Lord. For instance, when Jesus sent 72 of his disciples to spread the gospel, on their return, he got super excited about the results of their efforts.

“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.” Luke 10:21

If Jesus could be filled with joy ‘through the Holy Spirit,’ why would anyone turn down a gift that creates spontaneous worship?

Joy is a permanent possession, but happiness is fickle and fleeting. While it may be hard to distinguish between joy and happiness, I like to think of joy as something I simply can’t explain. My happiness is usually expressed as something I have or don’t have. For instance, if I say “I’m not very happy today” or “I’m so happy right now!” you might ask me what’s causing my happiness or lack of it. I’d probably be able to tell you why. If I can’t tell you exactly why, it’s most likely joy.

If you look up the word joy in a dictionary, you’ll see descriptive words like exhilaration, delight, sheer gladness. When defined like this it can result from a great success or a very beautiful or wonderful experience like a wedding or graduation. But this definition of joy, one that most people understand, is from a whole different perspective. I’m here to tell you, it’s not nearly as amazing as the joy I experience from knowing God.

The joy we experience as we follow Jesus can feel a little overwhelming. It can be confusing because we’re joyful and, like I said, we can’t explain it. Sometimes I will try to figure it  out. And when I do that, what I usually find is oodles of gratitude for the grace God gives. But my little brain can’t figure out that kind of grace so anymore, I don’t even try.

Because I’m experiencing the joy of the Lord I don’t fret over things much. I’m certainly concerned about important things; I just don’t lose sleep over stuff like I used to. Experiencing joy lets me lead a simpler life. My life is more full because God has emptied me of most of the extraneous stuff I used to think was important. That sort of change in my life has brought me peace and I more easily trust God that things will eventually be okay.

“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 15:13

Joy comes from contact with God and availing ourselves of His love. When we know our identity in Christ, joy naturally follows. That’s a joy we want everyone to experience, so we take the story of Jesus to everyone as often as possible.

On the night he was arrested, Jesus took his closest disciples to a private place and prayed for them. It gives me great joy and brings me to tears when I learn that he also prayed for the people they would reach with the gospel. People like you and me. He prayed that we would know God as he knows God and to be filled with his glory. He prayed for our protection. He prayed that we would know the unity he and his Father know. He prayed that we’d have his joy in all things.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:13

When Jesus says “full measure,” he means it. “Full measure” will be another thing–like joy–we’ll probably never be able to explain. Because if God is eternal, how much is “full?”

I don’t know, but it sure does make me happy!

Dear Father in Heaven, remember your promise that your joy will be in us and that our joy will be complete. We praise you in our joy for your faithfulness to complete the work you’ve begun. Help us to walk in the Spirit and show evidence of you that others will see, then come to know your joy as we do. Amen

 

Fleshing Out a Flannelgraph

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

When I was a child going to Sunday school in the basement of my church they used “flannelgraphs” to tell Bible stories. A flannelgraph consisted of a flannel-covered board on an easel and cloth Bible characters. The characters stuck to the board as you placed them. Then you’d peel them off and place more characters while telling the story. There was Joseph and his brothers; Noah, the ark and the animals; and of course, Jesus.

The stories I heard about Jesus in Sunday school always made him sound larger than life. He worked miracles healing people and made a little bit of food go around to feed a multitude. He was a pretty awesome Jesus.

Then I’d go upstairs to ‘big church’ and the pastor’s message about Jesus was that he died on a cross for me. That kept Jesus in the larger than life realm. Not knowing exactly what a crucifixion entailed, I assumed it was pretty bad and that I was lucky Jesus would do such a thing for me. The pastor talked about how angry God was about sin and how much I needed his forgiveness. He was a pretty awesome God too, but for different reasons. I made a decision to ask God to forgive me and said a prayer, asking Jesus to come into my heart.

God and Jesus fell into the larger-than-life category for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with that; they are larger than life. But something was missing and it kept me from really knowing how much I could benefit from the decision I’d made about Jesus. I didn’t know it then, but what I was missing was Jesus with flesh on.

Skip ahead several years. I had become confused and disillusioned by church, leaving it to try my own way of living. I still believed in God, but he wasn’t part of my worldview. Then something happened to create in me a hunger for him and I returned to the church. Because I was hungry for God, I began to read my Bible. In fact, I devoured it. Guess what I found?

I found a Jesus with flesh on.

I don’t remember the folks in the church where I grew up talking about Jesus as a man. They must have, but I was young and mostly hearing the anger part. I never really got a glimpse of Jesus with flesh on until I read about him for myself. As I traveled through Galilee and the Judean countryside with him and his followers I watched him interact with people like a real person would. I saw him express emotions like anger, joy, and grief.

He got tired and slept. He got hungry and ate. He interacted with friends and with some Pharisees (who weren’t always counted among the friendly). He worshiped on the Sabbath. He engaged in normal human activities found easily if you look in scripture.

Maybe it’s the storyteller in me that looks for what’s hidden. I look at more than just the words, and I read between the lines. For starters, he was a carpenter. Imagine Jesus banging his finger with a hammer and getting one of those black fingernails. We know he had sisters and brothers and, though we aren’t told much about his childhood, it must have been a fairly normal one with playtime, chores, and “school”.

Then his ministry began. Look at the loaves and fishes story. After Jesus multiplied the food for the crowds, he sent his disciples on to Bethsaida “while he dismissed the crowd.” (Mark 6:45) Call me goofy, but I see Jesus talking to people as they leave as if he knows them personally. It’s not a “Hey, all of you, clear out of here now” type of dismissal. It’s the type of thing a host would do, saying goodbye to as many as possible and seeing that their needs are met. Anyway, that’s the Jesus I was getting to know.

I got to know this Jesus who was a single man all his life while many his age would have been betrothed or already married. Jesus lost a relative, John the Baptist, to a cruel death and took time to grieve alone before he was called again to minister to the crowds. Jesus’ closest relatives misunderstood him to the point that they tried to manipulate his actions, thinking they knew better what he should do. At a crucial moment, his best friends deserted him. One of his friends took his own life.

After becoming familiar with this Jesus, I realized that I need the God who’s larger than life and truly awesome. But I also need this Jesus who has been human and can understand what it’s like to be me. Many of us have no mate, have grieved the loss of a close relative, are genuinely misunderstood, and have been deserted by a friend.

Jesus with flesh on makes him able to relate to us in every problem and in every success. God wants to get up close and personal. He wants us to know he’s not just a flat personality we peel and stick to our circumstances when we need him. He’s a fleshed-out God who relates to every situation in which we find ourselves. And his desire is that we’ll get to know him as that pretty awesome Jesus.

Contentment as a Way of Life

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  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 can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

The apostle Paul is saying he learned contentment by trusting the Lord for everything. Knowing God is in control of every aspect of our lives is the “secret” he talks about. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, know that He watches over you.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)