This blog post is Part 14 of a series entitled "May I Ask A Question?" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN.
Message Date: August 27, 2023
To what am I in reference?
This is something of which I am in need but potentially rarely place thought. It cannot be purchased, but it is truly priceless. Everyone desires it. Not everyone finds it. With it, life is full. Without it, life is void of completeness. It is better than happiness and more satisfying than riches. To receive it, is to receive the strength of the Lord.
To what do I refer? Joy.
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:24
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place. 1 Chronicles 16:27
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Joy /Greek/ chara = filled with joy; complete
Question: What is the difference between happiness and joy?
Here’s a question within a question... I also received this one: Does God have a sense of humor?
Absolutely. I know God has a sense of humor because I am created in His image. And, I have never met an individual who does not enjoy a good laugh! Imagine life without humor? No Friends, Seinfeld, The Office, or Jimmy Fallon. No famous quotes we love to say over and again. Such as... from which movie was this quote:
“You sit on a throne of lies.” Elf, 2003
“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”A Christmas Story, 1980
“So you’re telling me there’s a chance?” Dumb and Dumber, 1994
“Inconceivable!” The Princess Bride, 1987
“Tina, come get some dinner! Tina, eat. Eat the food!”Napoleon Dynamite, 2004
“That boy’s good.” Coming to America, 1988
“I’ll have what she’s having!” When Harry Met Sally, 1989
“Show me the money!” Jerry Maguire, 1985
Of course there is no worse humor than that of dad jokes:
Why do fathers take an extra pair of socks when they go golfing?In case they get a hole in one!
What do you call a fish wearing a bowtie? So-fishticated.
What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet? "Supplies!”
What do you call someone with no body and no nose? Nobody knows.
And lastly, I was going to tell a joke about boxing, but I figured you guys would just miss the punch line.
The Psalmist wrote: A cheerful heart is good medicine... Proverbs 17:22
God must really like humor. I say that because humor is such an important part of life for us all. We all love to laugh. Mostly everyone I know loves a good laugh. The Bible uses the word “happiness” about 30 times. The words “joy” and “rejoice” appear over 300 times in the Bible. Can one be happy yet be void of joy? I say, “Yes!” Can one have true joy and also experience times of sadness? I too say, “Yes.” Though, I will say I do not see in Scripture a true distinction in characterizing the two.
Consider Jeremiah’s words recorded in Jeremiah 31:13: Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
And Solomon penned in Proverbs 23:25: May your father and mother rejoice; may she who gave you birth be joyful! Proverbs 23:25
In both of these passages, “happiness” or “gladness” and “joy” are used synonymously. Now, there are times when one can experience deep sadness over life’s circumstances or losses, yet still maintain an underlying joy in knowing the Lord has His hand in all things, even in times of tremendous brokenness or mourning. There too can be a time when one might experience a feeling of happiness, say while watching an entertaining movie, yet deep within experience a void of true joy.
There are actually two types of joy, one that is fleeting and one that is fulfilling. Paul warns of the fleeting ways of the world when he writes: He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. Hebrews 11:25
Fleeting pleasures /Hebrew/ proskairos apolausis = short-term joy
And in Galatians 5:22-23, Paul states that joy is a part of the fruit of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23
If I were to characterize the two, I would say that: happiness = feeling and joy = a state, or a choice. What I think is a more appropriate and even more beneficial question is that in considering from where does true joy come? This is why I want to spend a significant amount of our time of teaching today on this next question:
Question: I have a good life; a really good life. My marriage is good. My career is going well. Yet, I seem to have lost my joy. How do I find joy? Help!
I wonder who can relate with this question today? I wonder who too feels as though there is an incompleteness within? To whomever submitted this question... thank you! I believe there are people everywhere who, though having so very much in life, struggle with having true joy - - struggle with being “filled with joy,” as James wrote, and too with feeling incomplete. I too am convinced this is true for so very many Christians: The pursuit of joy is not something in which I consistently place tremendous effort. I should. You and I should actively be pursuing joy in our lives. What do I mean by this?
The discovery of joy is intricately connected and so very important and necessary in sustaining the Christian to live a life that is full and satisfying and complete. Everyone wants joy. Not everyone has joy. (I too presume.) So very many do not know how to find joy. Today I am going to show you how to find true joy. So here we go.
How do I find joy?
1. Joy is found in the Lord.
Social media has changed the way the world does just about everything. On a daily basis, I read via social media announcements of engagements, new jobs, birthdays, global events, a child’s birth and on and on and on. More than half of the world now uses social media. 4.8 billion people around the world post some announcement or statement to social media each day. And every 12 months, 150 million new users have come online. The average daily time spent using social media is 2h 24m. But before social media, making an announcement was much more a chore. Remember the days of stuffing envelopes and mass mailings? Or, remember when you wanted to sale something or by something? You would almost always go to the section of the newspaper entitled the “Want Ads.”
Well, even before then, some 2,000 years ago, such announcements took on an entirely new platform. One out-of-this world announcement, literally, lit up the skies one night when an angel of the Lord told the world this: Luke 2:9-14. The first public declaration of the birth of Christ Jesus was the proclamation that the Lord is joy!
And even before His birth, the Lord’s mother, Mary, has already experienced the joy of the Lord. Luke 1:46-47
We see here that, with the coming of Jesus to earth, so too comes joy. Joy begins in the Lord.
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. 1 Peter 1:8
2. Joy is found in intentional time with God.
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17
There are so very many reasons why we need time with the Lord. Encouragement. Peace. Fulfillment...I can say I absolutely need time with the Lord to give me strength. I am not strong enough on my own. I need the strength of the Lord in my life every single day! Life is so very, very hard. And I can say that, as I spend time with God, I learn what it means to rest in His joy even when the hard is really, really hard! And I will go as far to say this:
If I am not spending consistent and intentional time with the Lord, I am not commanding my full potential in utilizing the strength that is available to me each day.
In February of 2018, I went to Merida, Mexico with my worship Pastor buddy Mike Blackwood. We visited a different village every day. I would preach, and Mike would sing. Witchcraft and voodoo is extremely prevalent throughout Mexico. So, we expected some adversity and needed a little creativity to get people to come listen to what we had to say each night! One day, a freezer truck broke down right outside of a small church where we were having worship that night. The truck was filled with frozen French fries. We used those fries, which are a hot item in Mexico, to promote the night event... Everywhere we went in Mexico: Extreme poverty. Overwhelming joy. I’ve never seen poor like I saw in Mexico. But the Mexican people we met had joy. I mean true joy! They had joy because, as they so proudly told us... repeat after me: He-sus - es me - foo-er-za: Jesus is my strength!
One day we visited the home of an older man and woman. Through our interpreter, they revealed to us that they were the only ones in their village who followed Jesus. They too told us that they had mostly been outcast from the village for following Jesus rather than witchcraft. Other villagers would not even purchase from them nor sale to them various items. He was a farmer and his wife a seamstress. They had been mostly out of work for their decision to choose Jesus and to say “No” to witchcraft. I thought of this couple this week who told me: He-sus - es me - foo-er-za
Read Psalm 119:4-16. This Psalmist is speaking of spending time in God’s Word... and the end result is... Look again at: Psalm 119:14. The end result: Joy! He is rejoicing over following God’s Word.
Let me ask you to answer this question this morning: What steals my joy? There are “joy stealers” in the lives of us each, if we allow it! I became really convicted this week as I thought about all of the things that I allow to steal my joy! Embarrassingly... I’ll share my list with you: Bugs in my pool. Parts of my new fescue sod that have died in the heat these past few days. Boone. Bad tasting iced tea at restaurants! Nashville traffic. I know... pretty embarrassing, right! None of these things matters whatsoever to really anything of importance. How shameful of me... to let silliness rob my joy. And, I too have been convicted this week as I have considered how my inconveniences truly pale in comparison to what the older couple in Mexico have to face each day. As I thought of them this week, I was reminded:
3. Joy is in suffering.
This is a tough one; a really hard one! Because such a mantra is counter-culture to mostly everything we’ve learned in this great nation about life as an American. Am I not correct? We’ve learned at an early age – go to school, work hard, test well, make the grade, get the scholarship, receive the degree, land the job, make the money, buy the house, marry the love of your life, save for retirement, and play golf. None of these things in and of themselves, nor jointly, is wrong. But in the indoctrination of such a way of life, though noble and aspiring, we too have been automated to believe that any hiccup, uncertainty, difficulty, inconvenience, or tragedy along our individual journeys to the “great American life” is either a payback from God for our former sins, or a revelation of personal failure, or a stroke of bad luck. And when hardships and challenges and difficulties come our way, our first response is often to say, “Why me?”, to complain, or to turn to the countless vices of this world to help cope. Of course, much of life’s challenges can be attributed to the fact that we live in a fallen world. But too, as Christians, should we not expect and anticipate that life is going to be hard and even really, really hard?
As I have been reading the New Testament this week, I noticed two patterns that I’ve known, but I have not fully given my attention:
1. Christ followers are often persecuted.
2. Christ followers are not surprised at their persecution.
Additionally, Jesus told His followers about this very persecution that would be coming: John 16:2-4
I received a text this week from one of our members here at DF. He heard the message last week. And he texted me to say: Thank you for not shying away from the heavy topics. I’ll for sure pray for you this week. Satan is not happy with what you are preaching, and I am sure he will be on the attack! My friend is so very wise and right!
My sufferings should not surprise me.
I would even go as far to say: I need to be so expectant of my sufferings that, upon arrival, I should rejoice. I’m reminded of the apostle’s arrest while in Jerusalem, not once but several times. Look at Acts 5. The apostles have been thrown in jail for preaching about Jesus. Read Acts 5:17-42. Wow! What a story. What really stands out to me within this story... Did you notice that when the apostles were beaten and left, they did what? They “rejoiced!”
The apostles have just been beaten, and they have joy! Incredible. And not joy because they have been let go! No! Look at it again: Acts 5:41. The apostles have joy because of: “suffering.” Go to Acts 16. The apostles are once again arrested. Acts 16:22-25. The apostles are falsely accused and arrested for no illegal reason. They are beaten and put into stocks. Stocks in these days would have been extremely uncomfortable. The prisoner’s feet would be cuffed in such a way that would not allow for any movement nor flexibility. Though in excruciating pain, not only from the stocks, but also from the flogging, look at what the apostles are doing - - they are singing to God!
Man, how convicting to me when I allow my joy to be robbed over bugs floating in my pool! I asked myself this week: How can the apostles continue to rejoice and have joy in the midst of such suffering? And, for me personally, I was forced to ask myself this week... and I implore you to ask the same for your life...
How can I choose to respond to suffering with joy?
My suffering will increase my joy when my heart is on Christ Jesus and His purpose rather than on me and my pain.
James reminds us of this very truth: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
Paul offers a similar reminder to “glory in our sufferings” when He wrote: Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
And too it was Christ Jesus who promised us that, though we face tribulations, the day of His return is near: So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. John 16:22
4. Joy is in de-worlding.
Yes, I did make up this word. De-worlding /JDS/ = the act of uniting with the Holy Church while simultaneously separating myself from the ways of the world. Again, one thing I notice about the early New Testament Church – she is often suffering. Yet, she too is healthy and vibrant and united. In the midst of suffering, there is community. There is support. There is unity. Acts 2:42-47. There is this shift among the early Church to devote themselves to one another, not to alienate the world, but to unite though Christ with one another to become less as the world and more as Jesus.
I too recall when Paul hears that some within the Church in Philippi are beginning to quarrel and jockey for position and power, Paul writes to say: Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4
Studies of recent show that less people are attending Church than ever before. Most people are sitting at home, sitting Church out, and not thinking twice of it. Could it be that the Church has become less appealing because the Church has become more inclusive? Rather than abandoning the way of the world in the pursuit of becoming more like Jesus, many in the Church want to become as the world and include “all” over the fear of appearing judgmental, exclusive, and narrow. I fear, in an attempt to reach “all,” we are becoming more and more as “all.” And in so doing, we the Church are becoming as the world and the two are becoming incessantly more difficult to differentiate. Therefore, why would people want to attend church, unite with a church, and immerse themselves into a church when the church, with all of its challenges, often seems to live as the world? They would not. We have all heard stories of someone who has been hurt by the Church; someone who, in their own words, “Will never go to Church again because of Church hurt!”
Could it be that the Church has become more and more as the world, and in doing so, we’ve become less and less joyful and more and more judgmental - - often immersed in backstabbing, in-feuding, gossiping, finger pointing, and parking lot whispering! I am convinced of this so clearly and soundly and confidently:
If the Church continues to be no different than the world, it is only a matter of time before the Church becomes of no use to the world.
Jesus said in Matthew 19:29: And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
Jesus too said in Matthew 7:13-14: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
What the New Testament Church reveals is: There is a direct correlation between the early Church separating themselves from the world, fully aware that persecution is coming for them all. The end result... Joy! Immense joy in the midst of unfathomable circumstances of grief, persecution and death, And I ask myself all week: How?
I will say lastly:
5. Joy is found in obedience.
We have spoken so very many times about the message Jesus gave His followers, the future New Testament Church, about the persecution that was coming once He would die, rise again, and ascend to Heaven. He prepared them and said:
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:10-11
Jesus goes on preparing them for the pain that is to come. And He does so imploring them to stay focused and united, with the promise of the joy that will be theirs: Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:20-24
5 times in this passage Jesus promises to them the gift of “joy” if they but stay true to His teachings and obey... even unto death!
In conclusion, I would then say that:
Joy is less about finding. Joy is more about becoming. As His follower, I become joy as I remain obedient. As His Church, we become joy as we remain united.
Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.