Joy Then, Now, and Beyond
Bruce Larson is a Presbyterian minister and he tells this great story about a conference where he was speaking. The topic of the conference was the Fruit of the Spirit, and he was supposed to speak on the fruit of joy. According to Bruce, the Presbyterians are not known for displays or outbursts of joy, and so he got this great idea. He went out and purchased red helium balloons, one for every person at the conference, and handed them out before he spoke. He told the crowd 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 how wonderful would it be to see these 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 worshipped in those churches? I have been a member of churches that were filled with the Eeyores of the faith; brothers and sisters who were absorbed with the fact that following Christ involves persevering in faith through struggle, and hardship, and trials. But they’ve missed the part about joy in journey.
The Bible has a lot to say about being joyful. Paul writing to the church in Corinth says in 2 Corinthians 9:7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. The word we translate cheerful is the word ?λαρ?ς (hil-a-ROSS) and could better be translated joyful or hilarious.
We read in Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. In Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, In 1 Thessalonians 5:16 Be joyful always. And the entire book of Philippians tells followers of Christ to rejoice or have joy.
Christian joy is not 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 my circumstances, but a joy that is dependent on my God.
This is the emotion that the Children of Israel feel as they sing Psalm 126. They knew what it was to be happy and to be sad, 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. 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. This song is so important to us because joy should characterize the Christian journey.
I am so excited that we are looking at this beautiful song on Senior Sunday. I really believe that it lends itself to our hope and prayer for our graduates and their families. The Psalmist begins this song by remembering the joy that existed in the land of Israel when God was at work.
When the LORD brought the prisoners back to Jerusalem, it seemed as if we were dreaming. Verse 1
It is hard for us to appreciate the opening stanza, because not many of us have experienced anything quite like this homecoming. These people had been released from a dreary, seventy year long captivity and returned home, and they were so overwhelmed with this sudden good fortune that they imagined they were dreaming.
Their deliverance was such a remarkable occurrence that even the Gentiles recognized that it had been accomplished by God. There are a few experiences in life that might be close to that of the returning exile. I think for seniors graduating High School is a bit like this "almost dreaming" joy.
There are so many reason for us to have joy when we think back to what God has accomplished in our lives. On almost every page of your Bible you can find the accounts of the great things God has done. And Park Central’s history is littered with story after story of God doing great things through and for His people.
The book of Exodus, The battle of David and Goliath, and the returning of the people from Babylon are all times of great joy. And 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. But so often we allow our present crisis to blind us to God’s wonderful work in our past. That’s what I love about Joshua 4. In this text we see that once again God parts the water for His children to pass through, this time it was the Jordan River. Joshua chose one man from each tribe and said to them, “Go out into the river where the Ark of the Lord your God is. Each of you bring back one rock, one for each tribe of Israel, and carry it on your shoulder. They will be a sign among you. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these rocks mean?’ Tell them the water stopped flowing in the Jordan when the Ark of the Covenant with the Lord crossed the river. These rocks will always remind the Israelites of this.”
We were created to have joy in our past, because of what God has done. We set up memorials to remember how God has worked in our lives. I would like to suggest to our Graduates that maybe you need to set up a few memorials in your life. You need a way that you and your family can think back to what God has done in your lives and remember how to rejoice. I Pray that you can look back and see the fingerprints of God all over your lives and that will cause you great joy, because He has never left you alone.
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. And while that was a time of great joy, we know that this world is filled with struggles and trials. For the captives returning home their joy was mixed with the hard tasks 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.
To our graduates, I know that you are overjoyed at the possibilities that lie ahead of you. Getting to this milestone in your life is a a great accomplishment, but don’t be seduced by the fact that you are done. You have been handed a blank page to write the story of your life, and this time of celebration and rejoicing is mixed with the hard task of getting established, building your personal faith on the bedrock you received here, and finding your place in society. You cannot allow the task ahead of you to steal your joy.
My prayer for you is that you will learn how to turn your struggles over to the Lord. One of the hallmarks of Christian joy is that it can be experienced in the midst of sorrow and loss. Often we define happiness as the absence of pain, suffering, or disappointment. But a Child of God knows that joy is found in the presence of God Himself.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. In order to make sure they didn’t escape, they were put in the inner cell and had their feet fastened in stocks. Then in verse 25 we read that Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Instead of asking God to get them out, they turned this tough situation into an opportunity for rejoicing.
In the same way we can find joy in our present when we give our problems to the Lord. 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: in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. James 1:2 challenges us to consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.
I find it helpful to remember that we can have joy because we were created in the image of God who is joyful. I love the fact that the God of the Universe has a smile on His face. When I first discovered Zephaniah 3:17 I had to read it several times because it was such a new thought for me. Listen to how God feels about you: 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.
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
If you think about, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that the promise of a future with God would bring joy, but your joy really depends on how much you trust that God can do what He has promised.
On TV they used to have these Publishing Clearing House commercials, where someone would ring a door bell and surprise someone with a big cardboard check. If you remember those commercials you remember that the folks 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 weeks. But it didn’t matter. They had complete assurance of receiving the reward, because of the promise of Publishers Clearing House. In the same way our joy in the future is based on the faith and trust we have in the one who holds our future in His hand.
In our Psalm 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. It was His ability to remember that caused him to do two things: He asks God for the good times again and he predicts that good times will follow sorrow.
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. At times God does work suddenly and without any labor on our part. But usually rewards only come after much hard work, even when we know that God is the source of the blessing, like the blessing of the harvest.
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.” Hardships in this life is a promise, but 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. We’re experts in constructing futile strategies for achieving joy. 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.
Questions For You To Consider
Read Psalm 126 together, but have someone read the odd verses and someone else read the even ones. It should sound like a conversation.
How would you describe joy?
What does it mean that joy is a Fruit of the Spirit?
What are some things in your past that you can remember with joy?
When was a time that God answered your prayer in a flash?
When was a time that your prayer was answered like waiting for a harvest?
How can God’s faithfulness in the past give us hope for future joy?
Are you are joyful person? If not then what must you give to God so that His joy can be evident in your life?