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2 July 2014

Joy300The Daily Telegraph recently commissioned a Gallup survey that concluded: “British people are filled with unprecedented gloom about virtually every aspect of life. They are far more despondent than a generation ago about standards of health, knowledge, honesty and behaviour.” Nobody wants to be gloomy do they? The passage we looked at last Sunday from Nehemiah 8: -12 encourages the opposite; it encourages us to find the ”Joy of the Lord as our strength”. We explored together what joy is and how the Joy of the Lord can be our strength.

When you ask most people what they want out of life they tend to say “I want to be happy.” In the film “The Pursuit of Happiness,” Will Smith plays the part of Chris Gardner a medical appliance salesman. He makes no money, gets thrown out of his apartment for not paying the rent and ends up in a homeless shelter. He’ll do anything to get a prestigious job as a stockbroker in a top city firm which he believes will bring him and his son “happiness”. Despite his circumstances he achieves his dream and at the end of the film says to his young son, “if you want something, just go get it”. That may be the American Dream, but life’s not like that is it; otherwise we’d all have what we want and we all be happy! The reality is that the rich and powerful tend to get what they want and the poor, disadvantaged and marginalised do not. Happiness is not equal or fair.

So if the Gallup poll is right, and “unprecedented gloom “is the order of the day, what does make us happy? It’s different for all of us, but it comes from our experiences doesn’t it ?? A trip to the seaside, getting a surprise birthday present, someone giving us an encouraging word might make us happy at a superficial level. Similarly having a minor accident on the way to the seaside, someone important forgetting our birthday or giving us a discouraging word might make us unhappy at a superficial level. These types of experience affect us on the surface, they affect our moods. They can change daily. Happiness comes and goes.

Like apples, we are all different shapes and sizes, small medium and large. We are all different colours and shades. We all have a surface that is affected by our experiences. When good thing happen to us our surfaces get polished, we shine and gleam. A trip to the seaside, getting a surprise birthday present, an encouraging word. When bad things happen to us they can bruise us and we can get discoloured; having a minor accident on the way to the seaside, someone important forgetting our birthday, a discouraging word. You can see from the surface of the apple what it’s been through, we can often tell that something is wrong with someone we know well.

Are happiness and Joy the same thing? Is joy just a big load of happiness, happiness x 100?? I suggested that Joy is much more than happiness, much deeper than happiness, for example a BMW may make you happy for while, but does it bring Joy? Joy is more like peace, or wisdom, these things are not superficial, they are much deeper. You can’t buy Joy, you can’t apply for it, you can’t download it online, there’s no app.
Maybe we find joy in the more significant and deeper experiences.? Maybe your wedding day or civil partnership, birth or adoption of a son or daughter, good exam results, the all clear after medical treatment. Yet other experiences can rob us of our joy, the failure of our marriage, difficulties having children or the death of a child, not getting the all clear after medical treatment. Our experiences can bring us joy, but our experiences can also rob us of Joy. These experiences get under the skin, beneath the surface. Under the skin an apple is a different colour and texture. Both Joy and despair go deeper under the skin, what goes on under the surface is not always seen from the outward appearance. If we are damaged or abused; physically, mentally, emotionally, it can be like being cut with a knife – these things don’t just bruise us they break the surface; they get under our skin, the damage goes deep.

Yet in the bible we see people who retain joy despite their experiences, despite their circumstances. Hebrews 12:2 talks about Jesus: “…who for the JOY set before him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The Joy set before him?? The cross?? Jesus could see a bigger hope for the future of the world that was beyond the cross. It was joy in something bigger that helped him endure that sacrifice and suffering.

Philippians 4:4-7 relates to Paul in Rome, where despite being stuck in prison he still writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Joy? Peace? In prison?? How do you do that? How is that possible??

Why is Jesus’s joy bigger than his experience? Why is Paul’s joy bigger than his experience? Our first reading from Nehemiah provided clues – it reminds us of a time where God’s people had lived through significant and difficult experiences. Experiences that went deep; under the surface. They had plenty reasons to be gloomy and despondent! Materially they were impoverished, socially they were downtrodden and excluded having been in exile in Babylon. We joined them at a time when a small group under Nehemiah and Ezra had been allowed back to rebuild the temple wall in Jerusalem and settle. On completion of the wall the people were overcome with grief and remorse over how they had forsaken God, turned to other Gods and tolerated sin in their lives – and what that sin led to. Yet as they mourn their fall from grace and weep for their sins, they are encouraged not to grieve, but to recognise the “joy of the Lord as their strength”. Why was this?? Their joy was not found in material prosperity , they had lost everything and had come back with very little. Their joy was not found in social popularity, they were an outcast people. Their joy was much deeper than their circumstances:
-they found joy by worshipping and recognising God’s greatness,
-they found joy by listening attentively to the word of God and marvelling at it,
-they found joy by recognising God’s forgiveness despite their sin,
-they found joy by recognising God’s faithfulness to his promises and the hope he offers,
-they found joy in their relationship with God.

Ezra, in reading the book of the Law, in reading scripture, points to the God who gave it, the God who called Israel, the God who saved them out of Egypt, the God who promised to be faithful to his people. It made sense to them in their experience. Ezra reminded them of WHO God is, WHAT God has done and WHO they are in God. The same things are true for us, only we have more, the same God gave us his Son Jesus, so we too can become children of God; chosen, anointed and blessed.

These things go to the heart of who we are as Christians, they are at the core. At the heart of every apple is a core. It’s not seen or obvious from the outside, sometimes we hide it intentionally. It is in this core that those truths of WHO God is, WHAT God has done and WHO we are in God need planting for us to know real joy.

Our second reading from Galatians 5:22-23 reminded us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Luke 10:21 notes that Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit.” Our whole bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit lives within us, even if we don’t feel it.
John 14:16 J says:“…I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot see him, because it neither sees him or knows him; you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

2 Timothy 1:13-14: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you- guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
On this basis Joy isn’t just something we feel, it’s springs out of our relationship with God, it is something of the Spirit. If it’s a fruit of the Spirit it’s something God would want us to live out, not just experience every now and again. Indeed in John 16:22 Jesus encourages the disciples that although they will grieve at his death “…I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no-one will take away your joy.”

What might a deep joy look like in someone’s life? How would you recognise it? I’d picture someone who a permanent sparkle in their eyes despite their circumstances, someone who loves life and people, who sees every day as a gift from God, something to be enjoyed and used to serve him. A “glass half full” person, someone who always sees the best in people and situations without being naive or a mug, someone with such a close walk with the Lord that you can see a bit of God in them. We might know a few Christians like that but we’re not ALL like that are we?? Some of us may not even remember a time when joy was at our core, our centre. There are so many things that can rob us of our joy; death, disease, disappointment, despair, depression, disadvantage, drudgery, the devil – and that’s just things beginning with “d.”

Even if we pray to be filled with the Spirit we are like leaky buckets, life throws things at us, we get distracted, lose focus, lose perspective. If we lose sight of the truths of scripture from our hearts we lose our joy. If we lose sight of Jesus as our first love, we lose our joy. If we tolerate deliberate sin in our lives and lose a sense the intimacy of the Holy Spirit in our core we lose our joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and fruit needs to be grown, cared for and nurtured like an apple. Joy needs feeding and watering. Joy is not static; it grows or dies, and we have to ask what can we do in our lives to nurture it, to water it, to feed it.

I concluded that whatever gets thrown at us we can hold onto Jesus and remember WHO God is, WHAT he has done WHO we are as children of God. But finding joy, keeping joy is more than just choosing to believe a set of truths, more than our experiences and is something of the Spirit. The real question is what do we conclude as individuals and as a community of faith? Hopefully, we explored some thoughts and ideas that can help us continue to work this out. As a community we can seek to develop an environment where joy can grow and flourish. We can encourage each other, support each other, love one another as Jesus has loved us.

Pete Jorysz

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