Most of you will remember the encouragement from Nehemiah, "…for the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)
Or maybe you remember the Proverb, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine…" (Proverbs 17:22)
Or you might recall the words of Paul to the Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice." (Philippians 4:4)
It’s easy to forget such Scriptures when you look at the problems around the world, or when you are having to endure some tough times, or when you watch people you love making bad decisions, or as you see people suffering the consequences of sinful behavior, or when you see other people suffering through no fault of their own. How do you rejoice? Where do you find the joy?
The key is where we have our ultimate focus.
Nehemiah did not say, "Joy is your strength." He said, "the joy of the Lord is your strength."
Paul didn’t just tell the Philippians, "Rejoice always!" He said, "Rejoice in the Lord always!"
Obviously we cannot ignore the problems all around us, the bad decisions we and others have made, the sins that we and our loved ones have and are committing, the sufferings of others. As Christians, we are under orders from our Lord to respond Biblically to these things.
But as we consider these things, our thoughts must rise to a higher level. We must learn to look through them to our God Who is, as Francis Schaeffer’s book titles so eloquently communicated, "The God Who is There" and "He is There and He is not Silent!"
It would be good to remind ourselves of Paul’s circumstances when he wrote those words to the Philippians. He was getting older, he had been beaten and imprisoned many times. In fact, he wrote these very words from a Roman prison! The people to whom he is writing live in the very city where he and Silas were scourged and thrown into a dungeon (and where, by the way, they were praising God at midnight!). You can read all about it in Acts 16.
But he is full of joy! And he’s encouraging them (and us) to remain full of joy! How?
We stay full of joy by keeping our perspective. For example, Paul wrote to the Corinthians that if it were not for one thing, we would be "most miserable." What was that one thing?
“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-20)
Christ has conquered death, sin, the devil, and all the stuff that would otherwise leave us in abject misery, depression, despondence, and hopelessness.
Of course, when we reject truth and righteousness… when we choose sin… we set ourselves up for depression and joylessness. People who continue in sin are robbed of joy… even though they may be laughing on the outside.
Someone might say, "But what about all the sitcoms! What about the movies? What about all the beer commercials! Here we find people who are fulfilled! They are living noble lives! They are laughing and having a great time! They seem to be enjoying life to the full! They are often indulging in sinful lifestyles, yet they are so upbeat and happy and optimistic!"
But, of course, things are different in the real world. Check out the consequences of sin in the real world, instead of in the fictional imaginary world of television and movies. Sure, anybody can write a story where everybody is immoral, drunken, and indulging themselves in all kinds of sins and where everybody is having a great time and seems to live happily ever after. But it’s different in the real world. In the real world, we get to choose our behavior… but we do not get to choose the consequences.
I am aware that many people try to put on a happy face while they embrace sin. Inside they are often utterly miserable. But even if they really are feeling great for a time… the consequences of the sin finally catch up with them… and reality crashes in.
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." (Galatians 6:7-8)
Don’t be deceived by the imaginary joy of the world of fiction!
But if you are looking for truly happy people, if you are looking for people who have a deep and exciting and overflowing joy in life, find the people who are walking with Jesus most closely. Find the ones who look at the circumstances all around them, then gaze past them into the eyes of their Lord!
These are people who have begun to comprehend what Paul meant when he wrote to the Romans, "And not only so, but we glory [Greek: "rejoice" or "exult"] in tribulations also…" (Romans 5:3)
When we begin to wrap our minds and hearts around the hope that we have in Christ, when we realize that He will carry us through every trial of this life, when we internalize that there is a time coming up when we will be literally living and working with Him in a world where all things are made new, we will find joy that cannot be quenched!
Can we grieve and rejoice at the same time? Of course! It happens all the time. But, in Christ, the grief gets swallowed up by the joy!
Stay in the Battle!