Monday, August 13, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Joy


Galatians 5:22-23
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them.  The Apostle Paul says the Spirit produces the fruit--Christian virtues--of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  For the next several weeks, I will examine one virtu each week.  I challenge you to learn all nine. I know you can.  Most people memorize the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, and that's 31 words.  Surely we can memorize nine Christian virtues.  Here's a song that might help you remember.  Today, lets look at the second virtue Paul lists: joy. 

So What is Joy Anyway?
Some people say that joy is different from happiness.  They say happiness is just an emotion and temporary, whereas joy is somehow deeper and more lasting.  However, the Bible never makes that distinction.  The Greek word for joy in the New Testament is “chara”.  It means cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness, great joy and happiness.  In fact, many places in the Bible use the words joy and happiness interchangeably or link them together.  For instance, in Esther 8:16 (NIV) when the Jews experienced a stunning reversal of fortunes from something very grave and desperate to something glorious, it says, "For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor."  Joy and happiness are linked.   In Jeremiah 31:13, (HCSB), God says, "I  will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief." Proverbs 23:25 (NLT) says, "Give your father and mother joy! May she who gave you birth be happy."  The Bible doesn't distinguish between joy and happiness.  They are just synonyms. 

I've discovered we all really need to know more about joy.  Let's take a deep look at today so we can better understand and seek it in our lives.  I also invite you to come to my church for a study about joy that will start on September 19th.  It's a 6-session study by John Piper.  It will be on Wednesday nights at 6:45.  I invite you all to come.  However, if you aren't able to come, you can watch the videos by clicking here.  I really like John Piper’s definition for joy:  “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”

What Makes Christian Joy Special?
Joy/happiness is a feeling, an emotion.  We don’t produce joy/happiness ourselves.  Someone or something causes the emotion to well up within us.  That may be why some make the unnecessary distinction between joy and happiness.  They try to say happiness is caused by worldly things and that joy is caused by God.  I used to make that distinction, but I don’t think it’s really helpful anymore.  Joy and happiness is the same thing.  It’s  the source of your joy and happiness that determines whether it is eternal or will fade away like green grass in a summer drought.

Christian Joy comes from the Holy Spirit.  It is an eternal well of living water that bubbles up from inside.  It is not turned bitter by the tragedies and sorrows of this life. There are many other things in this world beside the Holy Spirit that can make you happy/joyful.  Some are very deep and meaningful—like the birth of a child.  Others can be quite trivial—like when your favorite football team wins a game.  However, if your happiness/joy is based solely on fleeting, earthly things, it is in great danger.  For earthly things pass away.  Football teams lose.  Studies show fan depression is a real thing; it can even affect entire cities.  When the Atlanta Falcon tragically lost the Superbowl after almost winning in 2017, it seemed like the whole southeastern United States was in a depression fro days afterwards.  Fan depression even leads some to thoughts of suicide.  Significantly more serious tragedies like the death of a child can smash your joy/happiness to pieces.  Joy that is tied to such vulnerable, earthly things is as fragile as a snowflake in August.

Yet, the source of the joy of the Lord—the fruit of the Spirit—isn’t earthly.  It comes from the eternal Holy Spirit of God.  And as long as your faith is in Jesus, the Spirit lives in you.  Your “Spirit Joy” is not destroyed when the world comes crashing down.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  Holy Spirit Joy/Happiness is as eternal as God Himself.  That is why the Apostle Paul could write such joyful letters like Philippians even while he was locked in a dungeon for preaching the Gospel.  He said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

There is a kind of joy that comes from feasting and friends and the things of this world. However, it is temporary joy.  The Holy Spirit invites us to stop expecting our greatest joy to come from people and things that can’t give us ultimate and lasting joy.  Real Joy, Christian Joy, is found through faith in Christ and is produced in your heart by the Holy Spirit.  It is eternal and it never fades away no matter what happens to you.

Now, sometimes you can see the Beauty of Christ in your kids, in your spouse, in your friends, even in the material things of this world.  And when you do—when you see the beauty of Christ in these things—you may derive real joy from the Holy Spirit through them.  And you won’t have to fear the loss of your joy if you lose the things, because you will never lose the Holy Spirit, who is eternal.  And at the end of it all—for those who trust Christ as their Lord and Savior to the end—we will see the beauty of Christ perfectly in all things and for all eternity.  That is why we will praise Him without end.  However, be careful not to confuse seeing the beauty of Christ in things for the things themselves.

Creating a Garden Where JOY Can Grow
The Fruit of the Spirit is produced by the Holy Spirit, not produced by you.  No matter how hard you concentrate or strain your spiritual muscles, you can’t produce these spiritual fruits—and that includes joy.  You can’t make a garden grow.  Only God can make a garden grow.  However, there are some things you can do to help a garden grow.  You can till up the soil to make it soft and receptive, fertilize the soil, plant seeds, water the garden, pull up any weeds that grow, protect your garden from pests, etc.

How can you tend the garden of your heart so the Holy Spirit can grow Joy within you?  Just like with any garden, you’ve got to tend it.  You've got to soften your heart and make it receptive, fertilize your heart through prayer and worship, ask God to plant seeds of joy within you, water your garden everyday by reading God’s Word, and protect your garden from weeds and other pests.

I'm not a very good gardener.  I lack the patience and attentiveness needed to really nurture a fruitful garden.  The first time I tried to grow a garden, I planted some tomato plants.  I was so happy to see those first green tomatoes coming in.  Now, I love a juicy tomato sandwich in the summer!  Everyday, I watched my tomatoes getting ready to pick.  But every time, just before they were ripe enough to pick, some animal (a squirrel or rabbit or something) would sneak in and take two or three bites out of the fruit!  It was so frustrating!  No tomato sandwiches for me!


Get Rid of Spiritual Pests
If you want spirit-filled Joy/Happiness in your heart, you’ve got to protect your spiritual garden from the pests that want to sneak in and steal your joy!  Consider some of the pest that threaten your spiritual garden:

Fear – We fear of what others think about us.  We fear we might miss out on something good if we devote our life to Christ.  We are often afraid we won't measure up and God or others will reject us.  We're afraid of not being loved.  We fear losing something or someone we care about.  Fear is a pest that will sneak in and destroy your garden of joy.  Thankfully, faith is a powerful pesticide against pesky fear.  Jesus said, "Do not worry..." (Matthew 6:25)  Trust God.  Put your faith in Jesus Christ.  Know that he's got your back and if he's for you, nothing can succeed against you.  Don't worry about what people think about you.  Know that the God of the universe thinks you were worth dying for.  Spray your garden with faith and watch the pests flee!

Poor health – Joy is an emotion.  Emotions are biological and chemical and hormonal.  Emotions are affected greatly by your health.  So take care of yourself.  Eat right and exercise.  It will help cultivate a garden where joy can flourish.  A simple 30 minute walk everyday can make a world of difference in your attitude and receptivity to joy.  Everyone's health varies according to many factors that are out of our control.  However, we do have control over somethings.  Be as healthy as you can be and it will help joy grow more in your life.

Negativity – Negativity is one of the peskiest pests that can infiltrate your spiritual garden.  Chase negativity away by hanging around with people who are kind and positive.  Avoid people who criticize, blame, judge, and are driven by fear and negativity.  They will suck you dry.  Now there is always a certain amount of negativity in our lives, but we don't have to seek it out or go for a swim in cesspool of yuk!  Instead, focus on Christ and what he’s done for you and how much he loves you.  This is a powerful pesticide that drives away the negative thoughts that try to sneak in and steal your joy.

Meditation
As we close, I invite you to meditate on the cross of Christ where the Savior of the world gave his life for you, because he loves you SO MUCH.  Spend some time thinking in the presence of the Holy Spirit about how Jesus left the perfection of Heaven to come down into the cesspool of our brokenness, reach out his loving hands to rescue us, and pull us up out of the mire to safety.  Let the truth of his love fertilize the soil of your heart and nurture the spiritual fruit of joy.