The Joy of the Lord
“The Joy of the Lord” Nehemiah 7:73b-8:1-3;5-6;9-10
“The Joy of the Lord” Nehemiah 7:73b-8:1-3;5-6;9-10
“This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Today is, without doubt... one of the happiest days of the year here at WPPC! A day to celebrate our heritage... and to remember both who and Whose we are... as Presbyterian Christians! It’s also our church’s 180th anniversary! 18 decades of witness and service... 180-years of Reformed faith, professing “Faith alone, Scripture alone, Grace alone, Christ alone, while giving Glory to God alone!” 180-years of celebrating the love, mercy and forgiveness of God in Christ. As our scripture reading declares: “This day is holy to our Lord!”
It’s definitely a happy day!
Of course, we all want to be happy... to experience happiness! We even speak of the “pursuit of happiness” as being a foundational, inalienable right of every single person... right up there with life and liberty. We all enjoy the right to pursue happiness in some way, shape or form... even when those ways are vastly different... because what make me happy won’t necessarily make you happy, and vise versa!
I believe we long for happiness, because being happy equates with goodness, with blessings... It’s the reward of achieving our goals and the enticement to seek out things which benefit us.
Happiness is also a wonderful social tool. How many of us like to hang-out with unhappy people? Not many takers! We like to be around happy people!
Because happiness breeds happiness... it’s contagious! Happiness is good for fellowship and worship. It creates an atmosphere of gratitude and allows our affections to grow and flourish!
So logically, I should be telling all of you to be happy all the time, right? Don’t worry be happy!
But we all know that’s easier said than done. Happiness is not always a choice. It’s more of a reaction. When circumstances are bad, we become unhappy. That’s just the way it works. When you’re lonely, or facing difficulty... when your car blows up... or your job stinks... or your health fails... or your children are in trouble... your relationship is struggling... happiness can be illusive.
And add to that the GUILT we sometimes feel when we’re NOT happy! How many of us have ever felt guilty over NOT being happy?
I mean... we Christians are told we’re supposed to be happy, right? We want the world to see that we have something wonderful that they should want, too. If we aren’t happy, that means something is wrong in our fellowship with God, right?
But the truth is... no one can be happy all the time. Not in this world. Not in this life. It’s very possible to be sad without ever doing anything wrong.
The bible is full of examples. How about the prophet Jeremiah and Job? Both were innocent, both loved God with their whole hearts, and yet both of them are famous for their profound and well-justified lamentations... or sadness.
Sadness is a natural result of trouble, and the bible tells us very plainly that while we live in this world, and especially if we’re serving Christ, we will have trouble.
Yet we pursue happiness!
Happiness energizes. Sadness drains. Excessive sorrow is like a disease. It can drain you physically, emotionally and spiritually. It makes you just want to throw up your hands and say, “I’m done!” And we hang our heads and weep in frustration!
The problem seems to be... that happiness never lasts, does it! We all experience peaks and valleys!
And... maybe that’s because we’ve been focusing on the wrong thing! Maybe our endless pursuit of happiness... is an unattainable expectation.
Could it be... that maybe... just maybe... we need to re-tool our thinking... to pursue JOY instead of happiness!
Joy and happiness are similar... but they’re not the same... Joy is much deeper. Joy’s not always visible, nor is it based on our circumstances.
Think of it like this: Happiness is kinda like the fire you’ve built in your fire place! It glows with energy and warmth... so long as you keep feeding it... if you keep adding logs... fuel... the fire keeps burning, giving off warmth. But the moment you stop feeding the fire, it begins to burn out!
Joy, is like a fire, too, but it’s more like the fire of the Sun... there’s nothing you can do to stop it from shining! There no way you can keep it from coming up tomorrow! It’s light, and warmth, and energy are no way dependent on us.
It’s pointless to just look happy all the time. Lots of non-Christians are happy... atheists can certainly be happy. What’s gonna impress others, and what sets you and me apart as followers of Jesus Christ... is when other people see our reason for happiness is GONE... yet we keep going! That’s when they look at you and wonder what it is you have that they don’t.
So how do we tap into such joy?
To answer that question, I think we first need to understand what joy is. It’s not just extreme happiness. That’s not what we're talking about.
Happiness is a reaction to good. Joy is the knowledge of good. I am happy because I’m well fed... I have a roof over my head... clothes on my back. Happiness is a reaction to my situation in life...
Joy is different... as Nehemiah says, “the joy of the Lord is your strength!”
Joy is the knowledge of God... the awareness and assurance that God is Good... not some of the time! But all the time!
And we always find that JOY (practically, realistically, and effectually)... we find the joy of the Lord... when we stop focusing on what makes us happy... and begin to focus on the happiness of others!
A very important point that I cannot stress enough is that if you and I want to truly find REAL and LASTING joy... we cannot allow our primary focus to be ourselves! Lasting joy’s NEVER found in focusing on me, myself and I. It’s found in giving ourselves away... investing our lives in others.
If you’re only focused on yourself, you’ll run out of energy and burn out. But if you focus on others, the joy of the Lord will flow through you, and in you... and you’ll find yourself filled even more joy as you fill others.
There's a simple equation that fits perfectly here (I shared it with our Wednesday Night Bible Study group a few week ago).
That equation, is JOY = Jesus, Others, You.
Jesus must be first, followed by other people, and oneself last of all.
Our challenge, as a church... as a people of faith... is to strive to always be a people of joy!
Look for ways to spread the joy of the Lord to others.
We have every conceivable reason to be happy! 180-years of tradition, ministry and sharing the Gospel of Christ... and a bright future of service to come!
But we have even greater reason to be joyful... because Christ has called, and equipped us, for his ministry... and because of Christ, we know the “joy of the Lord is our strength!”