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The Spirit of God in Daily Life: In Our Joy

July 17, 2011
Sermon:  The Spirit of God in Daily Life:  In Our Joy
Text:  John 15:5-17; 16:20-24, 33


Yesterday was one of those interesting days in the life of a pastor.  I went to the hospital in the morning and visited some very sick folks there.  Three of our members are in different intensive care units.  I also met one dear lady who is not a member of our church.  As I talked and prayed with her for just a few minutes, I learned that she has been married fifty-five years.  Her husband, in a very weakened condition in the Neuro-Intensive Care Unit, suffered two heart attacks almost simultaneously.  This woman talked about how good life has been.  I marveled at her attitude of joy even while she waited for uncertain news.

Later in the day at my office, I met with a young man who has been going through a profound grief experience.  I had no answers that would solve his problem, but I listened and reflected on my own grief experiences.

He said, “Dr. Kirk, I don’t understand how Christians go through times like this and still have an attitude that all is right, that God is in control, that God is loving.”

I told him, “I don’t really understand either.  It does not come from within us.  It has to come from somewhere else.  It has to come from God.”

We find in our text for today, Chapters 15-17 of the Gospel of John, the Last Discourses of Jesus.  Jesus spends quite a lengthy period teaching his disciples in the upper room.  We know from John 14 that these disciples are already grieving because they know their Master is going to die.  Jesus tells them in Verse 27, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Neither let them be afraid.”  He assures them about heaven and also tells them that he will give them a different kind of peace, not peace as the world gives.  Then in John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you are grafted into me, if you abide in me, you will bear much fruit.  Apart from me you can do nothing.”  We draw our strength as Christians when we are grafted into the vine that is Jesus Christ.

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22 that a part of the fruit of the Spirit is the experience of joy.  Joy may be one of our most misunderstood Christians traits.  We sometimes identify it with happiness, with that little yellow smiling face.  Those of us who have a little mileage on our odometer know that joy is not the same as happiness.  Joy comes from deep within, and it draws its strength, not from our own resources, but from our living Lord.

Over the weekend, I told Clare that I wanted some fried green tomatoes.  After stopping by the church and visiting at the hospital, I shopped at a little market and bought some.  I had a new recipe I wanted to try.  If I can keep my test kitchen going, I think I will learn to cook one day.  The person who helps me clean up my messes in that test kitchen is not as eager as I am about my cooking.

I fried those green tomatoes, adding a little spice and jalapeño pimento cheese between the layers.  Boy!  They were good!

As Clare and I sat on the back porch eating them, we talked about this Christian experience of joy.  Of course, I have been thinking about this topic now for several weeks, anticipating this very time together.

I have decided that we need to understand some aspects of the Holy Spirit.  I have said before that the Holy Spirit is somewhat like a janitor that comes along and cleans up our messes.  The Holy Spirit is also very much like a gardener, tending to the vines of plants.  The Holy Spirit must cut away non-productive, unfruitful, parts of our lives, and prune even those parts of our lives that interfere with bearing fruit.  The Holy Spirit also cultivates and nurtures within us those parts that help us to be fruitful Christians.  When we understand these roles, then we begin to understand something about the nature of the Holy Spirit in Christian joy.

My grandmother had a muscadine vine, the particular variety that was scuppernong, with big, big juicy fruit.  The only way to really enjoy those scuppernongs was to bite through that tough skin and suck out the innards.  That fruit just about had to be eaten outside because of the mess it made.  I can tell you that using muscadines as ingredients would not work in my test kitchen.

Soon after we moved into my grandparents’ house, temperatures dropped to ten degrees below zero.  The scuppernong vine, which had been trained on a trellis, still contained sap.  That very low temperature caused the sap to freeze, the trunk to split, and the vine to die.  Wild scuppernong vines have since then sprouted all over our yard.  We keep pulling up those vines, which bear no fruit.  I suppose I could train one on a trellis and cultivate it to become productive again.  Right now, they are just a nuisance.

Christian joy, like those vines, requires tending.  Parts of our lives interfere.  The Holy Spirit must prune those parts that interfere with the fruit we know as joy:  the forces of discontent, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness; the desire for more because enough is never enough; the wish that things could be different.

In some ways, we are set up for this interference.  Marriage, we quickly learn, does not ensure that we “live happily ever after.”  Marriage really is “for better or worse.”  If you go into marriage expecting the stuff of fairy tales, you will be disappointed.  Parenting is not all joy either; it is a very demanding endeavor that never ends.  Sometimes the great American dream can be elusive and lead us down the wrong path.  Most of us live hand-to-mouth, trying to make ends meet.  Sooner or later, the people we depend on will disappoint us.  If you look at this sampling, you can see how a spirit of discontent and bad expectations can rob us of joy.

I am fascinated that the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:12 that he had learned what he called a “secret.”  He says, “I have learned the secret of being content in any state…whether living in plenty or in want.”  He called it a secret because there is a mystery about contentment.  Learning to be satisfied requires pruning, pruning of unrealistic expectations.  It requires taking a good hard dose of reality.  It requires learning to accept life and responding to it as we encounter it.  If we do not heed these requirements, discontent will rob us of our joy.

Unresolved conflict will also rob us of joy.  It is so important to end, as quickly as possible, any conflict that really gnaws at us.  A bad relationship with another person, especially someone in our family, must be resolved.  If we have offended someone or if someone has offended us, we must draw that conflict to a close, too.  Otherwise, clouds of anger hang over us.  We become so preoccupied – mentally and emotionally – that we simply cannot experience the joy of life.  Our joy evaporates.

Hebrews 12:14-15 challenges us to live relationships differently.  Listen to these words:  “Make every effort to live in peace with all people and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no root of bitterness spring up among you.”  That root of bitterness can absolutely choke out the wonderful vine that produces joy.  Paul says that we should do everything without grumbling or arguing.

Unconfessed sin will rob of us of joy.  It will just eat away at us, creating within us a constant feeling of guilt.  The Holy Spirit works at the sin in our lives, making us want to confess that sin, making us want to come clean with the Lord. When we do that, God forgives us.  It is as David prayed in Psalm 51:12; God restores to us the joy of His salvation.

Do you have some unsatisfied expectation, some unrealistic expectation?  Do you have some unresolved conflict with a person who really matters to you?  Do you feel God’s hand upon you, calling you to repent, to confess a sin you have never acknowledged?  These three situations will rob you of your joy unless you make them right, unless you prune them from your life.

Soon after I came here to Morningside Baptist Church as pastor, Cliff Barrow gave me a Scripture for this church:  Zephaniah 3:17.  Listen to these words:  “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”  Some of you know this passage well.  Some of you have told me it is one of your favorite verses.

Until Cliff gave me that passage, I doubt that I had ever realized that God experiences joy.  I learned early on that God experiences pain.  I have known for a long time that God experiences anger.  Have you ever thought about God, as a Divine being, experiencing great joy?  What gives Him joy?  The answer to that question really ought to be a no-brainer for us.  His children give Him joy.  Think about the way you feel about your own children and grandchildren.  Consider the joy you receive from just being in their presence.  I know your joy can wear a little thin at times.  We probably wear God’s joy thin a little bit thin, too.  Scripture tells us that God takes great pleasure simply in being with us as His children.

The Holy Spirit wants to cultivate in us this awareness that God is a joyful being, that God is a joyful parent who loves us so much and who simply enjoys being with us.  The Living Bible paraphrases Zephaniah 3:17:  “Is that a joyous choir I hear?  No, it is the Lord himself exalting over you in happy song.”  God is a singer.

When we recognize God as joyful, we are even more attracted to Him.  We sometimes cast God as being stern and disapproving.  We do God a disservice when we depict Him as that light alone.  He is not just an aloof judge waiting to catch us doing something wrong, though He certainly is a judge.  Certainly He disapproves of our sin.  We need to keep in mind, though, that God also takes great delight in us.  It is the reason Nehemiah could say, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10).  Knowing that God rejoices over us gives our life great strength.

Second, the Spirit wants to cultivate the way we respond to this joyful God.  God wants us to respond to Him with a similar kind of joy, a reciprocal joy.  That is the purpose of worship.  We listen to Donna sing a wonderful song about the return of Christ.  We hear the children and Jack sing “This Little Light of Mine.”  What a great example for our children to see that we have to let the light of joy shine in our lives, to learn that our power comes from outside of us, to understand that God is the source of our power.  When we worship together and when we worship privately, we respond to the Lord with joy.  That response pleases God every much.

I have noticed that singing has become more important in my own daily devotion.  Hymns often come to my mind.  I find myself sometimes singing in my backyard, “My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine; For Thee, all the follies of sin I resign; My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou; If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”  My cat does not know what to do with that noise.  Singing as a part of our daily devotion restores joy to our lives.

Recognizing that God is joyful and responding to God in joy are two vertical dimensions.  Consider three other dimensions.

First, the Holy Spirit enables us to promote joy in our own lives by prompting joy in the lives of others.  Paul writes in Romans 12:15 that we are supposed to live so that we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  When we prompt joy in others, we find that it makes us more joyful.  We can do this in simple, little ways:  speaking to others, shaking hands, hugging, acknowledging others’ worth, remembering a person’s name, listening when someone has difficulty.  People seem so appreciative of the small acts of kindness we do for them.  Our attention prompts a sense of joy in them.

Think about a second dimension; the Spirit enables us to share the love of God.  Every person wants to be loved, even the grumpiest among us.  The best way to build the possibility of joy in people who are really hard to love is to increase our own joy by loving them.  The ultimate example of sharing God’s love is by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.  We can all have such joy in knowing that we have had a hand in helping another person come to a salvation experience in which they acknowledge Christ as their personal Savior.

Luke 15 records a parable that Jesus told to illustrate the joy found in heaven when one lost person comes to Christ.  A man who found a sheep that had been lost was so joyous that he carried it home on his shoulders and threw a party that included his friends and neighbors.  They all rejoiced over finding the man’s lost sheep.  Jesus commented on how much more joy there is in heaven when one lost person is brought into the fold.  Could I encourage you to share the love of Christ with others, within the relationships you already have, with people you already know?  You can share the joy of others coming into that saving relationship.

Third, the Holy Spirit cultivates within us the ability to take the issues that really bother us or weigh us down and release them through our Father in heaven.  We talk about letting go and letting God.  It is so much easier to say than it is to do.  People are not exempt from the wear-and-tear of life.  We have all kinds of difficulties.  One of the hallmarks of Christian joy is that we do not feel that we have to carry that load alone.  Real joy is the presence of God, not the absence of difficulty.  It is the ability to release to God those burdens.  Peter wrote, “Cast all your cares on him.  He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).  Scripture tells us that during the time Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi, they were singing at midnight.  Imagine experiencing joy during worship in a prison cell.  They really impressed the Philippian jailor.  I am sure they impressed other prisoners, as well.

Matthew Henry, a Bible scholar, was robbed one time.  He wrote in his diary afterwards, “Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before.  Second, although they took my wallet, they did not take my life.  Third, although they took everything I had, it was not much.  Fourth, it was I who was robbed and not I who did the robbing.”  We can find some good in every circumstance.  The truth is that Christian joy does not depend on external circumstances.  That is why we are told in Scriptures, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2).

In order to have joy, we must be grafted into the vine.  We must abide in Christ.  That simply means that we are to live life in such a way that we stay connected through the life of prayer, Bible study, daily worship, and corporate worship.  When we do that, we begin to experience the real fruit of abiding.  Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (John 15:10).  If we remain in his love, then we can fulfill his commandment to love one another.  When we do that, when we live like that, we experience real Christian joy.  Paul wrote in Romans 14:17:  “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  That joy in the Holy Spirit is my hope and prayer for all of you.

Do you know Christ Jesus as your Savior?  Are you grafted into the vine?  If not, this is the day to make the decision to accept Christ as your Savior.  Uniting with him will give you the opportunity to be on your way to experiencing real joy.

Kirk H. Neely
© July 2011  

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