Today I want to talk about JOY. Not happiness, which is a different thing. Happiness is hearing how well the garage sale did. Happiness is waking to a beautiful sunny morning. Or to a 3’ snowfall and knowing you don’t have to go anywhere for at least 3 days. Or when your teenager comes home within the curfew. Or having your children who live far away come to visit. Driving by a beautiful garden. All these things can elicit happiness. We often hear of ways to find happiness. We wish it for ourselves and for others. But happiness seems to b dependant upon circumstances. Joy is a something different altogether. I think what we all really are seeking is joy.
What is it?
Who has it?
Do I have it?
How important is it?
How do I get it?
I was listening to a radio interview the other day, with a book author who had written about how to have hope in these times when things can look very bleak. The international political situation is complicated, the worries over climate change and the future economy looming…He listed many ways to manage our life in order to keep finding glimmers of hope to be able to find some joy and light, enough to keep on living and not give up.
Earlier this year, the big hit was a book and a Netflix show by a Japanese woman named Marie Kondo- it is to do with organizing and decluttering your home basically by getting rid of stuff.
In order to decide what to keep and what to discard, the method is, you hold an item up and ask yourself if that item brings you joy. If it doesn’t, you get rid of it.
What strikes me about this is not that everyone is so incredibly excited about decluttering. After all most of us do it regularly. Or fairly regularly. Or we know we should!
I think what made this book and show so popular is that it promised an experience. It promised to bring meaning to our lives. It promised JOY.
Humans desire joy. We want to experience it. We seek it.
The Bible tells us that the source of true everlasting joy is being in a right relationship with God. That was one thing that the author of the book I mentioned, certainly didn’t talk about.
But before we can experience the true joy of the Lord, we need to know who we really are.
If we do not have the deep joy of God then we need to ask ourselves “who am I” ,for true joy comes from knowing WHO YOU ARE.
George and I are relative newcomers to this community, and of course we don’t know everyone yet. We are still finding out that someone is someone’s cousin, or sister etc etc. Look around at each other. What we see is what we know. We are familiar with the faces and the outer appearance of those in our community and families, and we say, we know each other.
We define ourselves by our family name and our chosen career. We define ourselves by our appearance and skills, (such as Sue, the one with the beautiful red hair, or Linda the gardener who brings fresh flowers every Sunday, or Norm, the one with the long hair and the great rhythm who plays the djembe) or we are defined by who we married, or who our mother or father is, who our ancestors were, or where we live, or what our profession or education is. Think about it. How do you define yourself?
Another recent phenomenon is having one’s DNA tested for ancestry. We want to find out who we are, who we belong to. I have heard of people giving siblings an Ancestry DNA kit for Christmas…like, you are our brother, but maybe you’re not?? I think that’s pretty funny actually.
I have a very dear friend who was adopted at birth. Still throughout her adult life, she felt something was missing, she didn’t really know who she was, until she located her birth mother and siblings. Only then did she feel she really knew who she was.
When I first moved to Switzerland and started to get acquainted with that community, one of the very first questions was always “What did you learn”? At first I was baffled by this question, because I had actually learned a lot in my life so far, at least I thought I had!
But, I realized, In a society of achievers, you are defined by what you can do, what you can accomplish. I learned that the education system in Switzerland moves students after grade 6 into either an academic or a technical stream, and almost everyone enters an apprenticeship leading to a diploma in a skilled trade or profession. So to get to know who you are they want to know what you have learned.
Who are you? How do you define yourself? How does the Bible define me? What does God say, if anything, about who I am?
I want to read an interesting account In the book of Nehemiah, where we read of the time after the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon and are establishing themselves again in the promised land.
Nehemiah 8:1-12 New International Version (NIV)8 1 all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear[a] and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
So here we read how the people are called together to hear God’s words for them. How they upon hearing God’s law read out, began to bow down and worship, and how they experienced joy. How they were told to express this joy by feasting and sharing with others who had less, to be calm and not be sad, to understand that the “Joy of the Lord is your strength”. After hearing the words that the priest and scribe Ezra read to them, they realized WHO THEY WERE in God, and the immediate response was to worship and feel joy.
So who are we? Who am I? The Bible tells us that if we believe in Jesus, then we ARE the children of God.
In 1 John 3:1 we read “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us ,that we should be called children of God! And this is what we are!”
So we are defined, not by our size, gender, clothing, family, job, what we have learned, our DNA etc, but by our Heavenly Father.
Like the Israelites who returned from Babylon, true joy comes from knowing who you are, and that you are in the will of God, fulfilling that which he has created you to be and do. When Ezra read out the “rules” they knew who was in charge and what they had to do. They knew who they were. It was cause for celebration, an outburst of joy.
A young neighbour in our village in Switzerland had been going to youth group for a while, and had wanted to give herself to Christ, but as she told me, she was afraid of taking that final step for fear of losing herself, of becoming someone she didn’t know, of changing into someone she maybe wouldn’t even like. What she hadn’t yet realized was that by totally surrendering herself to God, she would be allowing Him to make her into who she truly was meant to be, and therein experience the true deep joy that complete surrender to Him brings.
Joy comes from knowing the real purpose of your life. By surrendering to the One in charge and allowing Him to define you. This joy is a gift from God. When that relationship is in place, he fills you with joy.
The joy that is the gift of God is not dependent on circumstances, good health, wealth or success, but this true joy comes from understanding what God has done for you, and surrendering to Him. Surrender is actually something that really needs be done constantly, because if you think about it, we constantly take back the directorship of our lives. Constantly surrendering to God will keep our relationship with God in the right place, and give us a constant source of joy.
And that’s where the “rivers of living water” come from, from that source of joy always springing up in you. Like the Israelites, who returning from exile, heard from Ezra where they stood with God, heard that He was their ruler and guide, and then experienced in their surrender the joy and peace of knowing who they were in God.
True joy comes from complete surrender to God.
When Ezra had finished reading the law to the Israelites, Nehemiah the governor said “do not grieve, for the Joy of the Lord is your strength..”
Another question: how does this kind of joy, the “joy of the Lord” make you strong?
Abundant joy comes from knowing that you are loved by God and that nothing can change that.
Like the words of the hymn, great is His faithfulness, He will never change.
Here’s what that looks like:
You have been purchased by Christ’s blood and will never be abandoned. This is a love that we DID NOT EARN, so we cannot undo or “un-earn” it. This puts you in a position of great strength, knowing who you are because of what Jesus has done. All the things we experience in life, whether good or challenging or downright awful, cannot change the fact of who we are in Christ. Knowing that gives us a strength to carry us through all circumstances.
Why in fact does the Bible tell us that we should count it all joy to go through suffering, and pain, even persecution? One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Ps 50:15 “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honour me”.
Because going through difficult things that we cannot change FORCES us to cast ourselves on the loving mercy of God. Our relationship with Him is deepened. We come to a new realization of how much God loves us and how He will never abandon us, and knowing THAT brings a freedom that cannot be bought. Through these trials our decision to follow Christ is reinforced, our relationship with Him is deepened, and a wonderful joy is the result.
So the secret of true joy is right relationship with Jesus. In that relationship you know who you are. You know the value of God’s love for you.
True lasting JOY is not sparked by organizing your storage shelves, or micro-managing stress.
True STRENGTH comes from knowing that nothing on this earth can actually touch you. In time of trouble, wait and listen for the voice of God, the voice of the one who loves you most.
1 Peter 5:6-10 New International Version (NIV)6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
“Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you… so allow God to be in charge. What a relief! The joy!
1 Cor 1:30 says “It is because of Him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption”
Joy comes not from decluttering your home, or from developing strategies to cope with modern life, but from the realization of who you are in Christ, the realization that Christ has BECOME our righteousness, our sanctification and our redemption, and from knowing that you have nothing to lose, and will never be cast off.
The joy of the Lord is indeed an incredible strength.
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