Monday, July 22, 2013

July 21, 2013 - Nurturing A Healthy Heart: Joy

Galatians 5:22-23, Isaiah 55:1-2, 6-12

This morning we continue our series of messages based on the fruits of the Spirit, as found in Galatians 5:22-23.  Titled Nurturing a Healthy Heart, the messages are based on the idea that what Paul is telling us in these two short, but very powerful verses – how to keep the heart of our faith strong and healthy.
Listen again to what Paul has to say in those verses from Galatians –

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Today we study joy.  A parallel passage to go with the subject of joy is this passage from the prophet Isaiah –

1“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; you who have no money, come, buy and eat! 
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? 
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. 
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

It was interesting to be in Orlando for the General Assembly.  Orlando is the capital of amusement parks, and it’s amazing the money spent on a short time of excitement.  I like amusement parks, but if you think about it logically it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  A lot of money goes into a very fleeting experience.

I want to differentiate between happiness and joy this morning.  When we talk about joy, in the Biblical sense, we are not talking about happiness.  Our culture is on a huge quest for happiness.  Fortunes are spent on happiness – whether for a day or so in an amusement park, in seminars, in books – there are myriad ways that people are searching for happiness.  Happiness is a good thing, but it is also very elusive.

Happiness and joy are not the same.  Happiness is much more fleeting and based on emotion, but joy, in the Biblical sense, is a far deeper sense of life being in order and the resulting sense of well-being that comes with that understanding.

Stop worrying about what others think.
A friend of mine told a story recently about working as a server in a restaurant.  He is a bivocational pastor and works two other jobs.  In May a family came into the restaurant where he works to celebrate their daughter’s graduation from high school.  As he served their table he asked if she had chosen a college to attend.  She had not.  He recommended his alma mater, and began offering some reasons why it would be a good choice and why it is such a fine school.  Her father suddenly blurted out – it couldn’t be too great, look at where you’re working.  I admire the manner in which he kept his composure and continued to serve the family with such dignity.  I appreciate honesty in people, but that was a callous and unnecessary remark.

We worry far too much about what others think.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pay attention to wise counsel from those who are important to us.  What I’m saying is we spend far too much time trying to please other people and trying to do what they think we should do and be what they think we should be.

I find Paul to be one of the most interesting characters in all of Scripture.  I don’t think Paul worried about what others thought about him.

We grant people far too much power over our lives when we allow them to dictate how we will think, how we will live, and what we will do.  If you are living your life according to what other people think, you will never be able to maintain a sense of joy in your life because you will be too busy trying to please others.

Don’t base your joy on what you have or your station in life.
When Isaiah spoke these words – Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? he is really talking about the endless pursuit of trying to find joy in something external to our lives – a car, a house or some other material object; or in a job that makes us feel important or successful; or even in another person.

Why do we expend so much time and energy looking for joy and fulfillment in places and in things that can never bring a real and abiding sense of joy?  For one reason, we are constantly bombarded with messages and images that promise fulfillment and happiness if we will buy a particular product.  But there is no product on the market that can bring a lasting sense of happiness.

We live in a world that is based very much on illusion – here is all you need to make your life great.  And we fall for that message.  We want to believe that kind of stuff, because we desperately want it to be true.  We want to believe there is something we can pick off a store shelf that will bring us peace of mind and joy in our lives, something that will meet every need and desire that is in our hearts, but we’ll never find it on a store shelf.

Isaiah said long ago that no such product exists, but thousands of years later we’ll still chasing that same unattainable dream.

Don’t forget others while you are pursuing your joy.
I believe that one of the reasons why the pursuit of happiness never leads to real happiness is because it is an erroneous pursuit.  The quest for happiness tends to lead us further into our own lives.  Happiness is about me; it’s a self-centered pursuit.  What can I do to make me feel better?  What can I do to become more satisfied with life?  But joy is much different, because joy leads us into the lives of others because joy helps us to understand that life is not just about ourselves.

If your pursuit is leading you to a more isolated life, if it is leading you to a life that is not drawing you into the lives of others in an attempt to help bring them a life of great meaning, you are pursuing happiness, but not joy.

Happiness is fleeting; but joy is a foundation for life.
I love to feel the emotion of happiness; who doesn’t.  Happiness is wonderful, but it is also somewhat fleeting.  Happiness can be with us one moment and gone the next.  Happiness can dissipate simply because the weather changes. 
But joy is much deeper than just a feeling of elation.  Joy comes from knowing you have your life in order, joy is being free from the expectations of others and from allowing yourself to be the person God has created you to be, joy is being calm in the midst of a chaotic world.

It’s easy to be happy when things are going well.  It is easy to praise God when life is going well.  Can we be thankful even when life is crumbling?  Can we praise God even when life is coming unglued?

Life may have dealt you a bad hand as of late.  Maybe you are in the midst of such difficult times and perhaps even in the valley of the shadow of death.  Don’t let the difficulties of life crunch your spirit and rob you of your joy.

That’s when our faith really shines – I Peter 1:3-9 says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,
who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 

It’s easy to have faith when life is good.  It’s easy to be happy when life is good.  But when life is tough is when the reservoir of joy will see us through.

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