The truth is most of us don’t experience all of the joy God intends for us to experience.
Instead, we let the daily grind chisel away at us until we are basically joyless on the inside.
But it can be different. In fact, we can rise above the daily grind to experience joy that transcends circumstances, joy that overcomes fear, joy that perseveres in trials, joy that even conquers traffic jams, computer crashes and other natural disasters.
That’s God’s promise—it is possible.
I want to start by showing you a case study in the life of a guy who struggled—just like we struggle. Yet lived this birthright of Joy.
A man was Born to wealthy and respected parents, he was a brother, an uncle and a scholar…
When he was old enough he moved to a foreign country, but he quickly gained citizenship because of his family prestige and wealth. He studied in the finest schools with the greatest scholars. He was even trilingual. It seemed like he was on the road to happiness in life and yet something shifted in him. He went from being an erudite to a political mercernary. He was caught up with others who approved of violence to bring about the type of society they wanted.
This man went on a premeditated killing spree, but like so many stories of redemption, he found Jesus before it was too late. It has been said: “for some people Jesus’s address is found at the very bottom.”
And it was this bottom that this man began to climb out. He began to share his faith to anyone who would listen – telling people about the forgiveness that he had been offered through Jesus. Eventually he’s arrested for disturbing the peace. He finds himself locked up in a dark, cold prison cell.
He got out on bail and awaited trial for his crimes. While out, he raised money to help care for
the poor in the city. Even though things looked bleak in his life because he had been given much, he had this burning desire to give back. This simple act of caring for those who weren’t being cared for outraged his former group of zealots. His nephew even warned him that they were plotting to kill him.
Shortly afterwards, he’s arrested again because of the uprising his former group created. He is transported to another correctional facility where he spent 2 years in prison. This time he’s facing
the possibility of the death penalty. On the outside, there were people who were trying to stir up
With no money and few people left that were willing to help him, he finds it in himself to write a letter to some on the outside.
I imagine many of you are familiar with this letter. The man’s name is Paul and he wrote the following to the Philippians:
(1:3) “I thank my God every time I remember you. I always pray with joy because of your partnership.”
(1:17-18) “Some…supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter…Christ is [made known]. And because of this I rejoice.”
(1:19) “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”
(1:25) “I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will over flow.”
(2:2) “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”
(2:17) “I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
(2:29) “Welcome Epaphrodites in the Lord with great joy.”
(3:1) “Rejoice in the Lord”
(4:1) “You are my joy and my crown.”
(4:4) “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, Rejoice.”
(4:10) “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me.”
The letter to the Philippians is often called the Joy Letter.
In the midst of adversity, stress, worry, nothing going right, Paul has this incredible joy.
It spills out all over the pages of this letter. Paul has something going on inside of him that isn’t tied to circumstances, fate, fortune, or what anyone else does – it’s unchangable, immovable, because it’s rooted in God. Joy is his birthright. And in Christ, it’s your birthright too.
Now let me ask you – don’t you want that?
Don’t you want to be able to live life above the daily grind?
Above the trivial things that are out of your control?
Above the stress and worry and busyness.
To be able to work hard, and play hard, and live each moment of life with this joy welling up inside of you so much that nothing can keep it back?
How could anyone find joy in spite of our circumstances?
That’s the way I want to live, and that’s the life God wants us to live.
It’s possible for ordinary, struggling people, like me and you to live with a supernatural joy.
But I’m going to be honest with you—sometimes I feel Joy Impaired. I struggle. I can easily read only the bad circumstances and miss reading joy into life.
So let me share God’s promises about Joy and how I have learned that walking with the Holy Spirit is the key to Joy.
What is Joy?
Joy is different than pleasure or happiness.
Joy is not just having a polyanna, positive thinking mentality.
Joy does not deny pain and suffering in the world – in fact Joy can often come in the midst of pain and suffering.
Joy comes in the spirit of a person.
I Thess 5:23 Paul again talks about Joy and describes our nature–body, soul and spirit.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-23
To live in joy, we must understand how body, soul, spirit work. In our bodies, we experience sensation and pleasure.
It feels good to get a back rub. It feels good to sit in a hot tub. It feels even better to get a backrub in a hottub.
Our soul contains our mental cognitive abilities. The soul gives life to the body. When our body dies, it dies because the soul leaves it. It’s the same mass, height, look – but without a soul it’s dead.
In our soul, we experience happiness and knowledge. Happiness is deeper than mere pleasure. Happiness comes from an interpretation of what’s happening to our bodies. For instance, you can feel happiness with the sensation of falling – on a rollercoaster. You can feel happiness through circumstances—someone is kind, or the weather feels good. But you can also feel happiness through pain – like a mother giving birth. (you recent mothers are saying—you’ve obviously never given birth). Joy comes at a deeper level than happiness. Joy comes through the spirit. It’s the spirit that gives eternal life to the soul. That’s why Jesus said in John 3:3, you must be born again. Not just born through the womb, but born of the Spirit. When our spirit comes alive to God, His Holy Spirit dwells in our spirit, and we can receive joy from God. Joy can come even when our feelings are upset. Joy can be in the spirit even without pleasure in the body or happiness in the soul. But usually, a joyful spirit works from the inside out to produce happy feelings and even a healthier body (more energy, more resistance to disease, etc.).
Joy comes from God. Joy is a foretaste of heaven. Most of us drastically underestimate how joyful, even how happy God is. God is the happiest, most joyful being in the universe. God also knows sorrow, it says Jesus was acquainted with sorrow. He gets us. But sorrow, like anger, is God’s temporary response to a fallen world. Joy is part of his character.
“Joy is the serious business of heaven.”– C.S. Lewis
Joy is what God is about, and until we understand this, we will not understand God. When God created, He did so out of joy. He didn’t approach creation like we approach our work. “Well, it’s 9 o’clock, I need to go to work, I guess I’ll make something today – how about stars—now I gotta fill out my TPS report.”
Creation flowed from God like a song flows out of an inspired musician. Jesus last prayer in Gethsemene was this:
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17
God is joyful.
Joy comes as a gift. It comes from God’s Spirit to our spirit.
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Phil. 4:4
In the Lord, is the key—it’s not joy from trying hard to just be positive.
It’s not joy from changing your circumstances, they might not change.
You can’t just muster up joy – it comes to you from God when you are prepared to receive it. But you can find Joy in the Lord.
You can be full of joy from the Lord.
It’s like tuning into a radio station. Depending on where your dial is turned, you can receive different radio signals.
If you tune in to static of the world’s circumstances, you receive noise.
If you tune into God’s Spirit, you can receive Joy.
Tuning into God’s Spirit
We saw this when Paul explained this in such a simple way:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…. Galatians 5:16, 22
How do “walk by the Spirit” or “be filled or empowered by the Spirit of God?”
- We saw in week 1 that the Holy Spirit is God’s presence and power with us.
- He lives in and with every person who turns to God in faith saying “I want what Jesus did to count for me. I want the forgiveness and love and guidance His death on the cross purchased for me.”
- God says your permission is all He needs to forgive you, adopt you as His child, and for His Spirit to be in you and available to you.
- But that doesn’t automatically change the way you read the world.
- We have to tune in and walk with God’s Spirit moment by moment.
We mark that decision with Baptism. Next week we will celebrate Baptism.
Jesus asks us to be baptized as our first act of love for God and as a sign or identification with what Jesus did. When you go down into the water, you’re declaring before people and all Heaven, Jesus died and was buried to pay for my wrongs—it should have been me.
When you come up out of the water, you’re declaring, Jesus overcame death for me, and I have trusted in His cleansing forgiveness, so I can live a New Life with God. If you’ve made a decision to follow Christ, but never marked it with Baptism—I’d invite you to be here next week. You can learn more by going to Gatewaychurch.com/baptism.
And if you’re not there yet, if you’re still trying to figure out what you believe about God and how Jesus fits, you should check out our Alpha Class at gatewaychurch.com/alpha.
So relationship with God doesn’t mean every question is answered, otherwise we would be God, but enough for us to trust in Christ. But trusting in Christ doesn’t automatically change circumstances of life, or the way you read the world. We still have to learn how to tune in and walk with God’s Spirit moment by moment.
Jesus explained this His last night on earth, he talked about what it means to walk through life with His Spirit in order to experience the fruit of His Spirit–His Joy.
He uses an analogy of a branch and the vine.
No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain[connected] in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain [connected] in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. John 15:3-5, 9.
Grapes grow naturally as long as this branch stays connected to the Source of nutrients and life—the Vine.
Disconnected from the Source of nutrients and life, a branch can’t produce grapes no matter how hard it tries.
Jesus is saying “You were not meant to live disconnected from the Source of love and life.”
And when our body and soul, what fills our minds, is disconnected from the Source—we can’t produce this Joy from God by ourselves.
But What it means to walk by the Spirit is to stay connected in our hearts and minds to the love of God and the promises of God letting the Spirit of God guide our spirit, soul, and body.
How to Walk by the Spirit:
1). Stay Connected to His Love
When we do this the fruit of Joy grows from within.
But how do we practically stay connected to His love?
Let Communication Flow – God is the Source of truth about Love and Life and how it all works best. Just like this grape branch must allow life and nutrients to flow from the Vine to the Grapes—we must allow spiritual food—thoughts and ideas and truth to flow through our minds from God.
Communication flow is 2 way—so as you go through the day, you talk to God in your mind about everything.
You may think that’s weird, but you already talk to yourself in your mind all day—that’s even weirder! Right? You’re thinking thoughts to yourself back and forth all day long apart from God.
And if apart from God, you can do nothing (Jesus meant nothing of eternal, lasting significance)—then doesn’t it make far more sense to include God in your constant flow of thoughts?
That’s what prayer is supposed to be—constant contact with the God who loves you, understands you better than you understand yourself, and wants to guide you into Love and Joy from your spirit to soul and body.
So try an experiment.
We’ve called it the 60:60 experiment. John Burke wrote a book called Soul Revolution around this experiment, but it’s really simple. For 60 days, set reminders every 60 minutes, to pause and assess: “Lord, how much did I stay connected, talking over all my thoughts with you this past hour?”
You can set an alarm to go off, we created a Soul Revolution 60:60 app to notify you every hour, or just put sticky note reminders. Even if you realize “Wow, I got all busy and forgot God and shut God out of every thought” -That’s okay – you’re forgiven, now learn and just let communication flow better the next hour. The whole idea is after 60 days, not only will you see God producing fruit in you, you’ll be in a new habit of staying connected better and better.
It’s not just talking at God. It’s two way communication—listening to God as well.
This may seem even weirder than constantly talking to God.
“Why is it that when we talk to God we’re said to be praying, but when God talks to us we’re schizophrenic?”– Lili Tomlin
Jesus gives us the key to hearing God’s voice.
He says it over and over:
For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes…their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. Matthew 13:15-16.
Do you see what Jesus is saying?
There’s a type of spiritual hearing that has to do with the heart—with our willingness to hear from God. We develop spiritual hearing.
Here’s an analogy that’s helped me.
Right now, I’m trying to get my thoughts into your mind and heart, but I’m limited–I’ve got to a microphone, my voice, limited number of words, and the English language, aun que unas pueden escuchar mejor en espanol, si? I depend on your ears, and even still you may be thinking about lunch—completely ignore my thoughts.
A more direct form of communication is if I could just put all my thoughts, directly in your mind, in your thoughts. You may dismiss my thoughts, or you may consider them, but to put my thoughts right into your mind is much better.
We want to hear an audible voice from God. But God can do better than that. God can put his thoughts directly in your mind. You can still ignore or dismiss them, or you can develop spiritual ears that hear. It’s up to you. So..
2). Keeping His Commands
The way we develop ears to hear is with a willing heart.
The more you respond and do what you think God is prompting you in your thoughts to do, the more communication God will give.
The more you ignore or resist doing what God puts in your mind to do, the less communication you’ll get.
Jesus continues that last night on earth saying “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! John 15:9-11
How do we tune ourselves to receive overflowing Joy from the inside out?
We respond with obedience to God’s Spirit prompting our minds.
God’s Spirit will put thoughts in your mind—if you tune your mind to dwell on those thoughts from His Spirit, and to act on what God’s will is, Joy will naturally grow.
So as you grow the habit of Flowing 2 way communication all through the day.
The guy cuts you off in traffic with his 4×4 and waves hello with his middle finger.
Your anger erupts, you start telling him off in your mind….
Reconnect: “God—help me. You know my thoughts, you know what happened. I need to hear Your thoughts. How should I think or act in response to this?”
Then Listen—quiet your mind to listen to God’s truth.
“I’m okay, Lord you love me, you forgive me so I can forgive him and let it go. Show me something good to focus on—to thank you for.”
Paul did this. In his Joy letter in Philippians 4:8 he says:
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Philippians 4:8
In our brains we have what’s called a Reticular Activating System. It’s located at the base of our brain, and it screens out what is not important to you, and prioritizes or sensitizes you to what you focus on. Did you notice last time you bought a car, if you were interested in a 4X4, you noticed trucks. Everywhere you go you see 4×4’s. That’s your Reticular Activating System helping you notice trucks. Once you’ve bought that 4×4 don’t “see” as many 4X4’s (except they’re hard to miss). Your brain tells you what to notice by what you focus on—God wired you that way.
So focus on what God says is true, the promises He gives in the Bible, and focus on thanking God for good things, praising God, listen and focus on those when the Holy Spirit brings them to your mind, and Joy will grow naturally. So
3). Sacrificially Loving Others
This is what produces Joy.
I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. John 15:11-12.
So many of us get stuck trying to get other people to make us happy.
- If my spouse will just change, then I can be happy.
- If my boss will just promote me, then I’ll be happy.
- If I can just get that house, car, boat…then I’ll be happy.
But God’s Joy comes as we learn to moment by moment stay connected to His love, obeying God’s Spirit prompting our minds, and it will always involve loving others in a way that is unnatural to this world.
Love each other “as I have loved you.”
How has Jesus loved you?
He laid down everything a human can…for you. His pride, his ego, his rights, his honor, his validation, his comfort, his desires, even his need to defend himself (he was wrongly accused, slandered, lied about, misunderstood) all for you. Yet he went even further and laid down his life. Love each other as I have loved you.
So where does Joy come from?
It comes ironically, not by getting others to make us happy, but in the middle of a fight with your spouse or significant other, or feeling berated by a boss or coworker, or same old annoying stuff with a difficult family member–you Stay Connected:
“Lord, you love me. I’m your child, I will inherit all you have, I need nothing, and I don’t need to prove anything. Help me love You, and stay connected to Your love, and forgive and love like You loved me. I lay down my pride…for you. I lay aside my rights…for you. Give me the Power to love as You loved me.”
Then quiet your mind, take a walk, do what you need to to meditate on what is good and true, then be quick to listen, slow to speak, and speak only the things God’s Spirit puts in your mind.
I’m not saying that person will come around.
They might still be nasty or hurtful.
But don’t focus on that—focus on what God says is true, good, honorable, in you will come Joy no one can take away.
Walk by the Spirit, connected to God’s great love for you, talking over every thought, listening with a heart that’s willing to obey out of love for God, even in a sacrificial way…and God’s promise is Joy.
Joy that no person or circumstance can take away.
Joy that comes from God. Because Joy is your birthright as a Child of God.
It’s there for the taking God says—take all you need.
We’re going to hear a song from Maverick City about waiting on God’s promises. What have you been waiting for to make you happy? As you hear this song, let these words be a prayer to God. God, I’m not waiting on anything or anyone to find Joy, I’m going to wait on You—I’m going to wait on Your promise of Joy, even in the struggle. Let’s sing that to God as a prayer.