To help you celebrate the joy of Christ’s birth, we are re-posting by permission parts 2 and 3 of Ben Sadler’s study on “Joy.” Gary and Cheryl Schwarz are proud to have Ben as a son-in-law. He is married to their daughter, Heidi, and serves as a pastor in two house churches in Portland, Oregon. He and Heidi also lead a new missional ministry of worship and evangelism called Chasing Ebenezer. Visit their website for more information and other helpful resources.
Joy is defined as a deep happiness, gladness, even glee.
God tells us that this kind of joy is found in His Presence. Not in our circumstances, not solely in His gifts, but in His Presence. The word “presence” means nearness or proximity. To be near to God is to experience the fullness of joy.
In Luke 1:44 we read: And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
Notice that Jesus hadn’t even left Mary’s womb! He didn’t come bearing gifts. He was simply there. The result: John, who was also still in the womb was filled with joy.
This truth is counterintuitive to our utilitarian society. We often base decisions on what we get out of it. People become a means to an end, a stepping stone to something else. The same can be true with God. Do we come to God for who He is, or simply for what we get from Him?
This January Heidi and I celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary. I remember our wedding day well. When I was waiting to go out and make my vows, I wasn’t thinking, “I can’t wait to marry her because I will get to eat good food,” or “I can’t wait to marry her, then my taxes will go down.” While both are benefits of our marriage, they weren’t my reasons for getting married. The fact was that Heidi’s very presence brought me to life; to be without her was death.
Can the same be said regarding your relationship with God? There is a promise in the book of James that says: Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
It is a promise that requires something of us. We are to draw near to God. Doing so requires us to turn from sin and doubt. God will not share His life with that which brings death. The two are mutually incompatible. Those vices which we hold on to, our addictions, our comfort, our idols – though they bring pleasure and relief, they do not bring us real joy.
Somehow we’ve made the mistake of believing that to have joy, we must be free of pain. On the contrary, joy is not the absence of sorrow. Rather, it is the presence of God in the midst of sorrow. Joy is in the middle of tragedy, difficulty, inconvenience.
As humans, we’ve tried to make ourselves happy in attempt to forget our pain, to override our fear, to stop feeling. But joy is not an escape from pain; it is the kingdom of God breaking out in its midst.
Are you looking for joy or relief?
What are you holding on to that would keep you from drawing near to God?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
How do we access the joy that is available to us in Christ? Our tendency is to focus on our outside behavior. Maybe we’ll try to smile more. Try to be positive in all situations. Maybe even dance. The fact is that all this striving leads nowhere. We might be outwardly functioning while internally withering.
It’s interesting that Paul describes joy as a “fruit” of the Spirit. Let’s think about trees. They do not strain and strive to produce fruit. On the contrary, trees bear fruit by abiding in soil. The same is true of our joy in Christ.
The word “abide” means to be present. We are called to be present with Christ. We are called to remain in Him, have constant fellowship with Him, see our life through His reality.
So if the abiding presence of God is the source of our joy, how do we walk in it? The battle begins in our mind. Listed below are four simple worship exercises to lift our thoughts towards a heavenly perspective:
We acknowledge who God is.
In Psalm 46, we are told to be still and know that God is, well, God. How do we know who He is? Scripture teems with descriptions of what God is like. Find a verse such as Exodus 34:6 that describes who God is (“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” ESV). Concentrate on each descriptive word in the verse, then pray the descriptions back to God in the form of praise and confession for each of His characteristics.
Remember what He has done.
The Bible is the ongoing story of God’s work to redeem humanity. In the Old Testament God commanded Israel to remember His deeds, to recall how He had delivered them. Why is remembering important? Because it’s so easy to define the past by our present circumstances and feelings. Start by reading stories of God’s deliverance in the Bible, then prayerfully mediate on your own history. How has God delivered you? How has He been merciful to you? How has He blessed you? Journal what comes to mind so that you don’t forget.
Recognize what He’s doing.
Taking what is known of God’s character and His history of deliverance, begin to ask God where He is at work in your current circumstances. Pay attention to what the Lord may reveal. Are your thoughts consistent with His character? Do they confirm what’s in His Word? Write them down and ask the Lord for direction in how you can honor and obey Him in light of what He has revealed. Discern what you hear and act on it.
Our life with God is both a present reality and a future hope. God has made promises in Scripture. Some we have access to now, others will be fulfilled in eternity. Every time you read a promise in the Bible, write it down, memorize it, orient your life around it.
If someone promised me a financial inheritance, or if a doctor guaranteed that my wife was having a child, my life would begin to change. Decisions would begin to shape around the news I had received. Even more so, the same should be true regarding the promises of God.
As we make it our life’s ambition to cultivate an all-consuming relationship with Christ, we will begin to produce the fruit of joy in the Holy Ghost.
Listen to Ben Sadler’s complete message on “Joy,” delivered to Grace Bible Church of Portland on December 7, 2014, by clicking this link – MESSAGE.