Joy Then, Now, and Beyond

Psalm 126

Bruce Larson tells this great story about a time when he was asked to speak about joy at a conference for Presbyterian ministers. According to Mr. Larson, the Presbyterians are not known for displays or outbursts of joy, and so he got this great idea. He went out and purchased about 200 red helium balloons. His plan was to give one to every person before he spoke. In his introduction, he mentioned that he knew it was very unlikely that he would get an amen or hallelujah, but if at anytime during the service they wanted to express joy, instead of making a spectacle of themselves they just needed to merely let go of their balloon. In his mind he though about how neat it would be throughout his speech to watch the balloons ascend into the air one by one. But that’s not what happened. At the end of the service only one balloon had been released, and it wasn’t because someone felt joy, it was because their phone rang and they let the balloon go to answer it.

Have you ever known a sour Christian? I have, and I can even admit that I have been one. It seems to me that some christians pride themselves on being the Eeyores of the faith; bitter brothers and sour sisters who are absorbed with the fact that following Christ involves persevering in faith through struggle, and hardship, and trials.

I wonder if you can you imagine what message we are sharing with the world when all they hear from christians are complaints and gripes? What do our friends, neighbors, and co-workers believe about God when they see us more miserable than joyful, or frowning more than we smile. Even though God pours out His blessings on us, we give the impression at times that following God makes your life miserable. Maybe the one thing the church needs before we can have revival is a return to the description of the believers found in Psalm 126.

This is a song of rejoicing, joy characterizes the Christian journey and is the outcome of the Christian life; we don’t generate it, God does. None of us have joy within ourselves. Joy is not a commodity that can be purchased. We don’t need a distraction from our stressful lives; we need a cure. The only cure comes from a living relationship with Christ. We live in a world of dying souls that are looking for joy and one of the greatest tools we have for evangelism is the joy we possess. That’s why we have to ask ourselves what does our joy tell the world about God.

Our song is not about a frivolous, shallow, Disney World type of joy. It’s not the joy you get from seeing your children excel or when someone tells you a funny joke. This is a Spirit filled joy that can sustain any struggle that this life throws at you. This is a joy that is not depended on our circumstances, but a joy that is dependent on our God. This is the emotion that the Children of Israel feel as they sing Psalm 126. They had times of rejoicing as well as times of weeping, their history was filled with times of great triumph and times of great tragedy. But they also knew that there is a difference between being happy and having joy.

Happiness and joy are two totally different ideas because they each spring from a different source. Happiness comes from the world around me. Joy comes from the Spirit of the God living in me. Happiness is dependent on what is happening to me. If people treat me well, if things are going great in my life, then I’m happy. If my circumstances aren’t favorable, then I’m unhappy.

Joy, on the other hand, oozes throughout Scripture as this intense, compelling quality of life, even when the world around you is falling apart. Joy is a divine aspect of life that is not tied to our circumstances. Verse 2 of our psalm shows us how God’s children should look: our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.

Sing The Joy Of The Lord (Vale)

Joy Then

I am so excited that this song was sung by the pilgrims heading to Jerusalem to worship God. We have spent the last two weeks looking at songs of struggle and pain. Honestly, I wonder if we prefer those songs, because there are times when all we can see is the brokenness of mankind. Last Tuesday was a grim reminder of how depraved we can be when we choose not to love one another, but instead fight over who is the greatest in the kingdom. And while I would never discount the reality of pain and suffering in this broken world, we face a bigger problem when we refuse to acknowledge all of the good that happens in this world as well. We cannot forget the blessings of God.

Our song begins by remembering what God has done in the past: When the LORD brought the prisoners back to Jerusalem, it seemed as if we were dreaming. (1) It is hard for us to appreciate the opening stanza, because not many of us have experienced anything like that. Israel had just spent 70 years in Babylonian captivity, it was he darkest moment in Israel’s history. Their nation had been destroyed, their freedom taken from them. There was violence and rape in the streets, cannibalism, and a 600 mile march across the desert to a foreign nation to be enslaved as captives. But God had not forgotten them, just as He promised He had delivered them from captivity.

But it wasn’t all made right. When they returned home to Jerusalem, it had been left in ruins. They were in the middle of some hard times. The captivity is behind them and now they face the task of restoring the city of Jerusalem. Behind them and before them are times of sorrow and trial. The release from captivity in Babylon was like a dream come true. The people knew about the promises of return to Israel, but when the actual moment came, it was an overwhelming experience. After decades of longing for their own homes, their own city, and their own land they were going home.

Can you imagine the joy that they felt? I know how I feel when I start to pack my bags after a vacation or a trip, there is a bit of excitement and joy that I am going home. These Israelites were not merely coming home from a week at the beach or a weekend in Gatlinburg. They had been away from home for a generation. For many of them home was nothing more than a story their parents or grandparents had told them. But now, the story becomes a reality and they were filled with joy.

In the midst of this joy someone writes our song that year’s later the pilgrims journeying toward Jerusalem would sing in celebration and anticipation of their chance to worship in the Temple of God. In verse 2 we see that the Psalmist says that the children of Israel gained a reputation among the Gentiles because of the joy that they possessed. Their deliverance was such a remarkable occurrence that even the Gentiles recognized that it had been accomplished by God.

The Old Testament tells the story of how God’s people wanted to be like the world. Here the Psalmist says that the world wanted to be like God’s people. The Gentiles wanted what the Israelites had, a God who took care of them. He allowed them to be taken captive and then returned them to the land of promise. This was such a remarkable act that the news traveled to every nation and they were lead to confess that God had accomplished “great things” for Israel.

Greenbrier’s history is littered with story after story of God doing great things through and for His people. We must share those stories so that our community can come to know the love and joy that comes from being a child of God. As we think back to the way that God has worked in our lives and through this church we can sing songs of praise and worship and deliverance.

In your own life, God has given you reason after reason to think back and to remember the joy of His involvement in our lives. We cannot allow our present crisis to blind us to God’s wonderful work in our past. We can have joy because of what God has done. God has always been good because even in times when we feel like we are strangers in a strange land, He has never left us alone.

Sing God You’re So Good To Me.

Joy Now - The Lord has done great things for us, and we are very glad. 3

This song starts with the story of the Jews returning from Babylon. While that was a time of great joy, there was also the reality of trying to get reestablished, rebuild the temple, and reconstruct a lost society. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah tell how difficult those years were. While there was joy in their days, it was mixed with hardships. 

The Bible is honest with the fact that there will be times of struggle in our lives. Job 14:1 says, Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. So it’s safe to say if your mom was a woman you will have some struggles in this life but you cannot allow those struggles to cloud out your joy.

Remember, we cannot confuse happiness for joy. Happiness depends on our circumstances, on what happens to you. If something pleasant happens then you can be happy. But happiness comes quickly and never lasts. When the boys were little, when it came time to celebrate one of their accomplishments, whether it was an A on their report card, or scoring a goal in a soccer game we would take them to McDonalds and get them a Happy Meal. But what I quickly learned is that even though I bought them a happy meal, the happy never lasted. Eventually the toy would break, or their brother would breathing their air, and the happiness was gone. Happiness is not joy. 

That’s why, one of the hallmarks of Christian joy is that it can be experienced in the midst of sorrow and loss. Happiness occurs in the absence of pain, suffering, or disappointment. But joy is found in the presence of God Himself. I love the quote from Francis Chan in Letters To The Church. He writes “Joy comes as we stand among those Jesus has redeemed and get lost in a sea of worship, becoming fully a part of something sacred.” We can gather together and experience joy when we take the time to understand how sacred the time we get to experience God together. God is still at work in our lives today and that’s enough reason to rejoice. The way that you and I live on a daily basis should be enough to cause people to talk about our Lord and God. Joy is evident when God has a presence in your life. You cannot claim to have God in your life and not have joy.

Joy comes from learning to really trust God. His involvement in our lives give us reason to have joy no matter what happens. Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 7:4: I have great comfort and joy in all our troubles. James 1:2 challenges us to consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds. 

We can have joy because we were created in the image of God who is joyful. God thinks about you and it brings a smile to His face. Don’t believe me? listen to Zephaniah 3:17: The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. [Read again]

God delights in you and breaks out into song when He thinks about you! God has joy in His character, and He passes His joy to us through the Spirit who lives within us. That’s why Nehemiah said in Nehemiah 8:10: The joy of the LORD is your strength. We can have joy in our present, because God’s strength abides. As long as God is on His throne, and He is in control we can have joy because the joy of the Lord is our strength. 

Sing The Joy Of The Lord (Paris)

Joy In The Future - LORD, return our prisoners again, as you bring streams to the desert.Those who cry as they plant crops will sing at harvest time. Those who cry as they carry out the seeds will return singing and carrying bundles of grain. - 4-6

We are promised to have a future with God. We are promised that there is something better, something greater than the brokenness that we experience on a daily basis. So why do so many of us struggle to find joy? Let me be as honest and clear as I can. Many of us lack joy, because we don’t really believe and trust that God can do what He has promised.

When I was a little boy, there used to be these American Family Publishers commercials on Television. Every commercial was the same, Ed McMahon would ring someone’s door bell and surprise them with a big cardboard check. In every commercial the person who answered the door would yell, jump up and down, and dance. Now why do you think that they did that when someone showed up with a piece of cardboard. They didn’t have any money yet; in fact, they may not get it for several months. But it didn’t matter. They had complete faith they would receiving the money, because there was Ed McMahon, TV cameras, and balloons.

We are promised something much greater than $7,000 a week, every week, for the rest of our lives. Jesus said, There are many rooms in my Father's house. We don’t get a home in the same city as God, or a house in the same subdivision. We get to move in to His House, to experience His love and welcome for all of eternity. Our joy is based on the amount of faith and trust we have in the One who holds our future in His hand.

In our song this morning we see that it was the memory of what God had done that served as the bedrock of a strong hope for even better days to come. It was not just a wishful thinking, pie in the sky type of faith, it was a strong, realistic faith based on the character of God. God is unchanging in His goodness. He has granted us wonderful joys in the past and we can be assured that He can be counted on to give us wonderful days again.

The Psalmist remembers the earlier days in which their mouths were filled with laughter and tongues with songs of joy. In that time of reflecting on what God has already done, he shares two images with those who will come after him and sing this song.

In the first image in verse 4, the sudden filling of the desert streams, is an image of receiving a gift that is sudden and unearned. In the desert there are gullies from past streams. For most of the year the ground is parched, barren, hot, and comfortless. But then the rain comes, and once again the gullies fill with water and come together in streams filling the barren valley with abundant sparkling and refreshing water. Water brings life, and as long as there is life there is hope. 

We can have joy in our future because God is able to bless us quickly and abundantly, and His blessing is so great that we cannot hold His abundance.

In the second image in verse 5-6 is of the harvest after the difficult work of plowing and sowing seed. Anyone who has ever planted seeds know that the results come only after a long period of hard work and waiting. This is a good dose of spiritual reality. Sometimes God’s blessings come like the sudden rains in the desert and other times, God’s blessings come like the opening of a flower. It takes a little while for everything to be prepared to witness the beauty of the gift.

Joy is essential to our lives; it is the experience of knowing that we are loved, and that nothing in this world can take that love away. We often discover joy in the midst of sorrow. During the most painful times we become aware of a spiritual reality larger than ourselves, that enables us to hope. Henri Nouwen writes, “My grief was the place where I found my joy.” God is very honest about the reality of hardships in this life. But we also have the promise that hardships will not last, because God will have the last word. 

Joy is not an escape from sorrow. We cannot achieve joy by eliminating the things in life that hurt us. When we come to the end of our resources we realize that joy is what God gives. True joy enables us to face reality, because we do so with the assurance that God is working in our lives, even the things that cause us pain, to bring about His perfect will. This morning we are called to greater Joy, as we are called to greater faith in the one who gives us joy.

Going back to the story we started with, I don’t want to be a person who refuses to let go of my balloon. I want to let 1,000 balloons go every bad day and 10,000 balloons go on a good day. Because the more time I spend with My Father, the more His spirit can be seen in me. God has been faithful, God is faithful, and God will always be faithful. And that is why we can be people of Joy.   

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