Christmas day has passed. Are you filled with joy, or like so many, do you instead sense that you're not exactly experiencing the full richness of lasting, Christian joy?
Sure, there are joyful moments sprinkled here and there, but maybe it seems that you're often missing some Christian joy that others nearby seem to be experiencing.
It's also a time of year when we have so many activities happening. Maybe you are overwhelmed by all the things—even good things—that you have going on? Do you feel less than joyful about starting the new year because you're completely unprepared for what's ahead?
If so, keep reading...
Earlier in the year, founder and Chancellor Emeritus, Michael Farris, shared a chapel message on Christian joy with students at PHC. He challenged them to broaden the scope of their focus to better see what it means to live with joy in every circumstance. It was a timely message but it also has important application that is quite fitting for this season of celebration of Christ's coming and the start of the new year ahead.
As we'll see below, it's in Luke 2 where the angel of the Lord told the shepherds news that there were good tidings of great joy for all people, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
So, we turned that chapel message into a meditation for Christmastime... Take a moment, and reflect on the faithfulness of God. God will keep the world spinning.
When I give a topical message, the first thing I do is take my Bible computer program and read every single verse in the Bible—if it's possible to do so—on that topic. I started reading on joy from Genesis to Revelation, and while going through the Old Testament I hit a passage in Deuteronomy 28 that just astonished me.
In Deuteronomy 28, there is a long list of blessings if you follow and obey God, and then following that immediately, there is an even longer list of curses for failing to follow God. It's truly an impressive list. There are two core sentences explaining the conditions of why God would send these curses. First, Deuteronomy 28:45: “Moreover, all these curses shall come upon you and pursue and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes, which He commanded you.” Then the verse that really shocked me, 28:47: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything.” Failing to serve God with joy and gladness of heart invoked this amazing list of curses from God.
When you couple this passage in Deuteronomy with the list of the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 where joy is listed as the second of the fruits after love, it is fair to conclude that God views joy as a normal expectation from the people who love and serve Him.
Joyfulness, even when the Christian life is hard
I'm going to start with the observation that joy cannot be faked. I think it's true with people, but especially and most certainly and absolutely true when it comes to God since He knows the very thoughts of our minds and the machinations of our hearts. If you've never felt that the Christian life is hard and solemn and labor intensive, then you're the most unusual believer I've ever met. But the number of Christians I've met that are truly and consistently joyful, frankly, is relatively rare and is certainly not the rule.
Brothers and sisters, this should not be the way. This should not be our experience. We should be people who reflect joy as our consistent regular, way of life. Our attitude of heart.
Joyfulness takes effort
Just as joy can never be faked, joy is not a duty either. Joy is the natural outflow from a proper focus on the nature of God, the acts of God, the blessings of God, and the mercies of God. Stated simply, we rob ourselves of joy when we focus on ourselves and our circumstances rather than focusing on God and His provision.
This approach is signaled here in Deuteronomy 28:47, “Because you did not serve the Lord with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything.” That's an unusual and important phrase. There are two things that we can learn about joy from these very few words. First, joy is the natural reaction to a positive stimulus. God expected the children of Israel to have joy for the abundance of everything. Second, joy comes from simply being aware of what God has done for us—remembering it, keeping it fresh in our hearts, continuing gratitude, and never developing an attitude of, “Well, God, what have you done for me lately?”
Psalm 5:11 says to shout for joy because God defends us. Psalm 35:9 says our souls shall be joyful because we rejoice in God's salvation for us. Psalm 63 says that since God's lovingkindness is better than life, we should praise Him with joyful lips. Psalm 66 says we should shout with joy because God's works are awesome. Psalm 95 tells us to shout joyfully to God and come to Him with thanksgiving. Joy and thanksgiving are inextricably intertwined.
A few more things. Matthew 2 describes the three wise men having “exceedingly great joy” when they saw the star again, knowing they're about to meet the Messiah of God. Luke 2, the angel of the Lord told the shepherds news that there were good tidings of great joy for all people, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 24, the apostles were dumbfounded at the appearance of the risen Savior. Luke 24:41 says, “They still did not believe for joy.” They thought it was too good to be true.
The basics of joy are this: Look at the things that God has done. He made us. He saved us. He provides for us. He's done so much good for us. It's beyond description. This isn't faking it, this is looking at the world with the eyes of ultimate reality and not the narrow focus of our self-centered lives.
That's basic joy.
I want to go beyond basic joy to advanced joy for just a minute. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Though the fig tree may not blossom nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength. He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.”
This isn't faking joy when things are going badly. This is a person who learned to look at the scope of life and eternity as a whole, and reason from that the correct and logical conclusion that in life taken as a whole we see the goodness of God, even the midst of difficulties. It's not faking it, it's looking at the world properly.
The goodness of God lasts and it will overcome those temporary difficulties. That's advanced joy.
James 1:2-4 says, “My brother, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Let's be people of joy.
Patrick Henry College exists to glorify God by challenging the status quo in higher education, lifting high both faith and reason within a rigorous academic environment; thereby preserving for posterity the ideals behind the "noble experiment in ordered liberty" that is the foundation of America.