Saturday, November 17, 2007
SURPRISED BY JOY
Surprised by joy - (C. S. Lewis)
'I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty,' declares the Lord.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.'
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me... Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.
If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed 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. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Jeremiah 31:13-14; Matthew 13:44; Isaiah 52:9; Luke 10:17; Psalm 42:4; 1 Thessalonians 3:9; Psalm 51:10 and 12; Jeremiah 15:16; John 15:10-12; Psalm 126:5-6; James 1:2-4; Hebrews 12:2 -- all NIV)
True joy is a rare experience, it seems. We humans are more prone to think in terms of happiness or pleasure than we are of joy, and those who do cast joy a glance often find it illusory or transient. One sceptic, Stanislaw Lec, has cautioned: 'When you jump for joy, beware that no one moves the ground from beneath your feet !' However, joy, the joy that is one of the fruits of the Spirit, is meant to have a central place in the Christian life, enriching not only our own lives but also those around us. As James Packer has said: 'Joy is like jam, you know: it sticks to you as you try to spread it!'
Sometimes it is easy to be joyful. When our daily needs have been amply supplied, when the relationship of family and friends is sweet, when we have seen God working for us and through us, we can fairly readily identify with the psalmist who testified: 'You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence' (Psalm 16:11 NIV).
But sometimes, sadly, the experience of joy becomes routine and predictable, hardly distinguishable from ordinary human happiness. Perhaps that is because we focus on the joys of life rather than on the Joy of life; or perhaps it is because we are looking for joy in the wrong places. We have forgotten that, in God's way of doing things, the path to joy is often through obedience and suffering.
So sometimes we are surprised by joy! For joy appears when and where we are not expecting it. When our hearts have been moved to confess sin and our lives have been cleansed and renewed; when our ears have listened to God's word and our wills have been set to obey his commands; when we allow his love to flow through us to others -- then we are promised that our joy will be complete. When our hearts are broken by sorrow or persecution; when our faith is stretched to the limit; when our cross is more than we can bear -- then we are offered pure joy.
Happiness turns up more or less where you'd expect it to -- a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking
I'm happy when ev'rything happens to please,
But happiness comes and goes;
While the heart that is stayed on Jesus the Saviour
Ever with joy o'erflows;
Happiness happens, but joy abides,
In the heart that is stayed on Jesus.
Helen Howarth Lemmuel
Different, then, from pleasure and happiness, joy is that abiding beatitude, that deep-down exuberance which comes from God through his Spirit by faith in his Son. Joy is thus supernatural in its source and essence, a foretaste of the face to face communion with God that will be rapture for ever.
Vernon C. Grounds, in an article entitled 'Soar with the Eagles, Sing with the Angels'
True joy is the earnest which we have of heaven, it is the treasure of the soul, and therefore should be laid in a safe place, and nothing of this world is safe to place it in.
John Donne, Sermons, No.28
Life, of course, is not one big picnic. Something has happened, however, to take the trials and troubles of life and turn their little rivulets of sorrow and sadness into a great stream of gladness and joy.
That stream comes not from mere religion, but from Christ, the Saviour of the world. You might say that life was not very good to Christ... Life spat in his face and hung him up to die. Life, however, could not lick Christ. Already ticketed for death, the condemned man entered the city without pretension as a conquering hero. Preparing for death, he organised a victory banquet. His last conversation with the men who had left all to follow him, their hearts now heavy with premonition and apprehension, included this ringing declaration: 'These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full...'
Oswald C.J. Hoffmann, in a sermon entitled 'In the Reality of Joy'
Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be lighthearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride. Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry. Utter abandonment to God is done freely and with celebration. And so I urge you to enjoy this ministry of self-surrender. Don't push too hard. Hold this work lightly, joyfully.
The saints throughout the ages have witnessed to this reality... You know, of course, that they are not speaking of a silly, superficial, bubbly kind of joy like that flaunted in modern society. No, this is a deep, resonant joy that has been shaped and tempered by the fires of suffering and sorrow - joy through the cross, joy because of the cross.
Richard Foster, Freedom of Simplicity
'The fruit of the Spirit is joy,' Paul said. Joy is a by-product of possessing the Spirit and being possessed by the Spirit. It is the conscious possession of power adequate enough to carry us through every trial, every situation, and it will remain ours to the end... In this life, we shall never be free of sorrow. But, then, we shall never be free of joy. And joy is the dominant note. We are in touch with a power that dries all tears, lifts all burdens, satisfies all needs. Our lives are hidden with God in Christ.
John N. Gladstone, in a sermon entitled 'Weeping and Whistling'
So how are we to learn to rejoice in the Lord always? Answer: First, by understanding what the ingredients of Christian joy are, and second (take a deep breath) by choosing it. How does one choose joy? By choosing to practice the art of Christian thinking. By choosing to dwell, over and over, on this fourfold awareness from which the joy flows. Yes, he loves me and accepts me. Yes, my circumstances are sent by God for my good. Yes, I have something supremely worth having: the knowledge of my Saviour. Yes, I am doing something supremely worth doing, in seeking every opportunity to share Jesus Christ with others. As one thinks these things over, joy wells up spontaneously. You choose joy by choosing to think on these things. That is the secret.
J.I. Packer, in a sermon entitled 'Joy'
An orange tree cannot bear fruit in total independence. Sunshine, rain, and soil must play a part if oranges are to be brought forth. So it is with ourselves and joy. We may crave joy and fiercely will to be joyful. But as psychologist Abraham Maslow put it: 'You cannot seek ecstatic moments directly; you must be surprised by joy.' And in saying that, Maslow is endorsing Paul's teaching that joy is a fruit. We cannot directly produce it.
We can, however, cooperate with the fruit-producing forces, and at the same time we can eliminate anything that might blight productivity. An orange-grower prunes his trees, fertilises and waters them, fights insects by spraying, and sometimes, when frost threatens, puts out smudge-pots. Having done his human best, he waits for forces outside himself to produce the desired fruit.
Vernon C. Grounds, 'Soar with the Eagles, Sing with the Angels'
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee:
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
You must help me to understand and to believe, O God, that while the feelings of your nearness may dim or diminish, the fact of your presence is forever secure.
You are always near,
You are with me and you will go before me even amidst the tragedies and dark crises that clutter my course through life.
Thank you, O Lord, for surprising me with joy. May it refresh and recharge my life and my faith in you.
May it result in a deeper dedication to your purposes, and bring some joy to the lives of others who cross my path.
For the sake of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.
Leslie F. Brandt, A Book of Christian Prayer
May our God, in whose presence alone is fullness of joy, be so real to us in all the varying circumstances of life, that we can be confident, however dark the night, that joy will come in the morning.
May our Lord Jesus Christ, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, teach us to pray in his name, that, asking, we will receive, and our joy will be full.
And may the Holy Spirit, through whose power the fruit of joy grows in our lives, give us such motivation and strength to be obedient and faithful servants that we will constantly be surprised by joy.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 140-145