Thursday, 6 September 2018

The Importance of Joy. ~ Ganeida

I want to deviate [sort of] for the next few weeks from the Beatitudes; we will come back to them later but the Holy Spirit has been pressing this on my heart & it ties back into the Beatitudes so we are going to *take the scenic route* as my father used to say ~ meaning he was going home the long way!

Shortly before His death Jesus had this to say to His disciples: These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. [John 15:11]  What things? 

Condensed down into one simple statement it amounts to this: Keep My Commands! There is a promise attached to this command: you will abide in my love & your joy will be complete. [V10/11]

I hope you are beginning to see why I have spent so much time on the Beatitudes.  Not only is this Jesus foundational sermon, it lays down the principles by which we can grow in love.  What's more, we are given a measuring stick.  We can asses how we are doing in our spiritual walk by the amount of joy we posses.  I am not talking about happiness.  Happiness is fleeting & dependent on outward things.  I am talking about the joy of the Lord, which is our strength. [Nehemiah 8:10]

Now I pointed out last time there is a really loose linguistic link between joy & grace.  Joy is a grace. In the Greek Joy is chara but the word most closely related to it is charis ~ grace!  Nothing is more detrimental, nothing is so off~putting, nothing is such an anomaly as a Christian devoid of joy! We have got a reputation for being kill~joys & despite the command to neither grumble nor complain [Philippians 2:14] Christians often seem to do an awful lot of both.  I ask you, how on earth are we meant to convince the world that God is real , we are overcomers & nothing is so awesome as being a child of God when we whinge & bicker & grumble & complain about our lot in life just like anybody else & more than some?!

So let's start with gongysmos, variously translated as grumble or complain & containing nothing of joy.  It could be translated as a muttering, murmuring, low and suppressed discourse,  the expression of secret and sullen discontent, murmuring, complaint.  In other words it's a really stinky attitude being verbalised which is rebellion against God & rebellion is as the spirit of witchcraft.[1 Samuel 15:23]  It is the means by which we express our discontent with what God has assigned us as our portion in life!  Not a good place to be!

It is from this place of discontent a lot of other stinky attitudes flow resulting in a people devoid of joy & lacking the life of Christ flowing through them.  Living according to the Beatitudes should result in lives filled with joy but as we pointed out last week most of us have never seen this lived out so we struggle to wrap our minds, let alone our will & our flesh, around the concepts because we just don't know what it actually looks like when it is lived out. 

The biblical book that addresses the subject of Christian joy is Philippians & I am going to use, very loosely because the Holy Spirit has a way of running off at a tangent with these things, Warren Wiersbe's book on the subject. Wiersbe identifies 4 key areas where we can have the joy of the Lord: in spite of our circumstances; in spite of people; in spite of things; defeating worry.

The first principle I am going to give you is found in John 15:  Abide in me as I abide in you...Just as the branch cannot bear fruit fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

We know this.  It gets repeated over & over but how soon we forget & find ourselves wallowing as we attempt to do things in our own strength instead of relying on the Holy Spirit.   Galatians identifies joy as a fruit of the Spirit. That means  it is not a normal, natural human condition.  Joy is something supernatural.  

I am a gardener, not a horticulturalist, but I know, because my grandfather did it, that when you graft a plant onto another plant it will naturally produce fruit just like the parent plant.  In this way my grandfather was able to grow 14 different species of roses on one rose vine.  In order for the graft to merge with the new parent plant, all other food sources must be removed so that all the graft's sustenance is coming from the root. 

When we are born again we are grafted into the body & life of Christ. Paul calls this being  grafted against  nature [Romans 11:24] because we are meant to  allow the full nature of Christ to grow in us.  In order for the graft to take well we need to draw all our sustenance from Christ & cut of anything else that will prevent the graft from taking.  Against all that is natural we will then produce the supernatural fruit of the Spirit.  It is absolutely impossible for us to produce this on our own or to fake it.  It must draw it's life from the root or the graft will wither & die, or merely produce natural fruit. 

This is such a fundamental principle it really should be taught in more depth than I have knowledge.  For example, root stock for most grafted plants is sturdy, pest resistant, disease hardy, adaptable to climate conditions etc but all root stock has one fallible trait;  it will persistently attempt to shoot below the graft so that the plant will revert to it's original form.  This is true of us.  Our old nature will persistently attempt to shoot up again returning us to old habits, old ways of thinking, actions contrary to the new nature we have in Christ.  The only way to combat this is to follow the instructions, resolutely cutting off everything that belongs to the old nature.  This is described in various ways as picking up your cross, crucifying your flesh, renewing your mind but it amounts to the same thing ~ working out our salvation with fear & trembling.

Remember last time we pointed out salvation works on 3 levels: we are saved [our spirit is immediately renewed when we believe on Christ] but we don't get the new body [obviously] @ the same time; that is for the hereafter ~ & we don't get the new mind; we have to constantly work at renewing that. [Romans 12:2] And it can all be just too hard.  We know what we should do but our flesh & our will is weak. We are used to relying on those 2 things because they are made for this world.  It is much harder to rely on the Spirit; we aren't used to doing that & many, many people give up before they learn but it doesn't have to be  so difficult.  

Jesus pointed out helps in His sermon on the mount: So we have a discussion concerning anger, & one on immorality, one about marriage, another about integrity, one on retaliation & loving our enemies.  These are all things that affect our ability to walk out the instructions Jesus opened with. We then find Jesus discussing 5 spiritual disciplines: Prayer, fasting, giving, serving & forgiveness ~the  things that will aide us in our spiritual growth & the things that will hinder us. To this list I would add bible reading, that is reading aloud, because Jesus instructed that His words abide in us.  As He is no longer physically around the only way to follow that instruction is by bible reading. 

Now I will show you something that I find fascinating.  You can read more about it here. Dopamine, serotonin &  oxytocin are the neurochemical drivers of the *happiness trifecta*.  They are released when we help others ~ so serving, giving, forgiveness all release chemicals in the brain that make us feel better! Jesus said it; science proves it!  All sorts of fascinating things happen to the brain when we pray in tongues. Here is one study. Or even when we just pray ordinarily.  

It is no surprise then to find that Paul, writing about joy to the Philippians, references the mind @ least 16 times.  In other words our attitude matters.  How we think, what we think about, how we think about what we think about determines the amount of joy we are going to experience. Proverbs 23:7 tells us For as he thinks within himself, so he is. In other words if we fill ourselves with bitterness, griping, complaining, unforgiveness we are going to release a lot of toxins into our bodies that are not very good for us & will prevent us from experiencing the fullness of joy that Christ destined us for. On the other hand, when we practice giving, serving, forgiveness we release good things into our bodies that are going to help us. 

Many people think that joy is simply something that happens to us but the bible actively teaches that there are actions & attitudes we can foster that will encourage joy to abide in us.  Joy is not the same as happiness. John 16:20 points out  a fundamental aspect of Christian joy:  Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.  Christian joy is something that by definition is greater than ourselves, greater than our circumstances, greater than the people we interact with, greater than those things we worry about.  It is greater than anything that grieves us or causes us sorrow.  We understand that Jesus was * a man of sorrows & acquainted with grief*... Yet, 

who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [Hebrews 12:2]

I don't have time to go over the full teaching [you can find it here] but I will remind you briefly of Jesus attitude as He hung on that cross.  Again & again He referenced scripture, each & every time affirming the goodness of God the Father, the Father's love, the Father's redemption.  Remember to reference one line is to reference the whole in Hebrew thinking so even when Jesus quotes that great cry from Psalm 22, My God, My God, why have you foresaken me? we need to remember how it ends:

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honour him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him

but has listened to his cry for help.

Joy is not the denial of realityIt is assurance even in the face of adversity.

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