Joy is powerful and something I definitely need to grow in.
When God created joy it was a big deal. Jesus himself said that one of his greatest desires was for his disciples to know/experience joy: “Keep my commands, remain in my love… so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11)
Someone described joy like this: Joy isn’t just a smile or a laugh. Joy is something that is deep within and doesn’t leave quickly. When we have the joy of the Lord, we’ll know it and so will others. Since joy is given by God and something that He wants us to have, we need to be joyful! In addition to being joyful, we should let others have their joy and not bring them down when they are excited about good things. The only thing worse than not having joy is stealing someone else’s.
When I kick back and reflect on many of my experiences of joy they tend to be circumstantially based…. Everything’s going well, no pressure, money’s in the bank, relationships are encouraging, I have something to look forward to, and generally life is good. I remember feeling ‘joy’ as a child on a Friday when there was no school for two days and a weekend ahead; Sunday evening was the exact opposite.
Now that I’m older I have to admit that I’m not one of those naturally joyful people. I do experience far more peace and I’m not bad with avoiding anger. Hope comes with a little effort on my part and love is definitely a work in progress. But joy, that’s a challenge that I’m pressing in for more of in my life and spirit. You see, I have this suspicion that it’s a key to a radiant life and it comes with side effects – more hope, more peace, more assurance, more courage, more energy and more freedom.
I don’t think I’m alone. I’ve learned that joy hides behind Jesus (or in His presence)…. And, here’s the surprise…. It’s seldom obviously visible. James says, “Count it pure joy when…” Meaning ‘the circumstance’ may not be joy filled but if we press in joy will follow if Jesus is at the centre – which in the small print means…. The relationship is the key to ‘counting it all joy.”
I’m humbled by the references to joy in the Bible. To my surprise they have nothing to do with great circumstances. I’m amazed how many times joy is linked to service, sacrifice, suffering, and perseverance. Joy is not an end in itself; it is a by-product of serving Jesus and ‘being there’ for one another. Listen to what James, Paul, Peter, and Luke say; and this is a small sample believe me.
James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…
Hebrews 12:2 Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Acts 5:41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
1 Peter 1:6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
This joy from Jesus is much deeper than ‘happiness’…. And like many other gifts of the Spirit it cannot be manufactured or attained through our effort. It’s rooted in an attitude, a mindset, and a heart response to the love of God often expressed through serving others.
The greatest thief of the joy Jesus offers us – prays for us – and releases to us – is our tendency to want everything without having to let go of anything.
At the risk of being unpopular or making someone uncomfortable I’ll just blurt it out. We are so busy trying to do everything to find our fulfillment and joy on earth – that when faced with the choice – it seems ‘energy-sapping’ to consider committing and being relied upon for anything. We prefer to hedge our bets and keep options open in the here and now.
God’s Kingdom on earth is meant to be as tangibly visible today as Jesus was when he walked the shores of Galilee as a man and hung on the Cross for the sake of others outside Jerusalem. The Kingdom is not about conferences and worship experiences – although those are helpful in energizing, equipping, and refreshing the ‘living stones’ who are the disciples. The tangible expression of the Kingdom on earth is the local church – which Jesus calls his bride. There’s the clue. Following Jesus means taking care of the one he adores and most values on earth…. his Bride. Those of us who have given our hearts and lives to him become part of that love relationship.
Building the Kingdom on earth as followers of Jesus includes being involved in the mundane…. What energizes me is the knowledge that I’m doing it for him. I’ve long ago settled the fact that my loving him and following him will be tangibly expressed through service that others would call sacrifice.
My love for Jesus is manifest in my serving his body… and similar to any relationship – that means enduring through tough times, celebrating good times and finding fulfillment in everything in-between.
Remember the words … “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
‘Counting it all joy’ is expressed in the context of our local community. Fortunately we are not persecuted yet, or in danger as Christians in Canada. However our battle is against the spirit of the age, which is ‘hell-bent’ on dissuading us from serving others and being interdependent. It seduces through busyness, selfishness, finance, independence, too many toys, not enough time, and a host of other mindsets that lie to us about why we don’t need community. Adultery is not merely betraying a marriage on earth, it’s also a spirit that causes us to love other things and neglect the Bride of Jesus – forsaking our first love.
For my own sake I need tangible commitments in my life that I only do because I follow Jesus.
If I were asked what is my one concern for the future of local churches it would be the struggle to attract or motivate people to help carry the load it requires to keep growing. Not just being in love with Jesus for themselves… but allowing that attraction to motivate outwards. People who not only have a vision but are willing to commit, be trained, serve, and help that vision come to life from week to week; they are reliable, dependable, inspired… counting it all joy….
They are those who catch hold of the privilege we have to love Jesus by serving his bride and demonstrating the extraordinary and counter-cultural values of his kingdom on earth as in heaven. When love is at the centre then it changes everything about my approach and priority. We cease to count the cost because it doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice anymore. Henry Ford said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”