“Keep company with the more cheerful sort of the godly; there is no mirth like the mirth of believers.” Richard Baxter.
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” John 17:13-14
I have always known I was different. [No comments necessary, please.] First, I grew up in a Pentecostal Preachers home. Preachers were different. They represented GOD-ah! I was a preacher’s son, so was expected to be different, a little more pious than the rest of my friends, which my Mom never let me forget. We lived in a fish bowl of sorts for my Dad’s profession was our life! If my father got voted out, I lost my home, my church family and all my friends. Our church was Pentecostal, considered a little bit on the fringe- loud at times, strange at times, but always interesting. I was also a Christian, which meant I could not “drink, dance or chew or go with the girls that do.” It was something my fellow jocks loved to make fun of in the locker room.
But in spite of all that “separating stuff,” I felt like I was at the center of the world. I had no complaints. I think one of the reasons for that was what I experienced in our home. For me, our kitchen table was the center of joy. My Dad, though weighed down with the weight of caring for the eternal destiny of hundreds of lives, who was constantly critiqued and criticized by the church family that he loved, was full of unhindered joy! He had an inner strength that revealed itself in humor. Our kitchen table was a place of much banter accented with much laughter. Dad led the way and Mom never missed a beat. The joy of my Father rubbed off on me. Although different, I felt safe, secure and privileged. Joy does that to a person.
In our passage of study, Jesus is a few hours away from leaving his beloved disciples. He knows what lies ahead for his dear friends so he prays for them. He fed them the Word and they received it and believed. It not only blessed them with eternal life, it separated them from the rest of the world. But, it did not make them celebrities. It made them enemies. The rest of the world was caught up in darkness and preferred it to the light found in Jesus. Not only does the world prefer the dark over light, it hates the light! Jesus explained why: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” [John 3:18-20] No one likes the evil of their lives brought to light. So, anyone who was aligned with Jesus was by association with him, an enemy of the world.
When you live in the light, and speak the light, and shine the light, those who love the dark are going to get pretty nasty. Actually, Jesus says it with more intensity. They are going to hate the light. That means they are going to hate you! The world that you live in, the nation that you love, the place where you serve, the schoolmates you hang with and the neighbors you live with, have a deep dislike for your truth and they will direct their anger toward you, if you live it. Of course, that is tempered in our culture by a tradition that has elevated Christianity in the past. But, that is changing. Christianity is no longer venerated and is in the process of being denigrated and may soon be relegated to the category of “the hated.”
So, what is the antidote for being a member of the hated minority? The cure is, Joy! Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” [John 15:11] Here he prays that “they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” [John 17:13] Jesus fed us the Word, blessed the Word with prayer, and provided a banquet of His Word, so His joy would be our joy.
So, joy, real joy, wonderful joy, is a unique possession of the followers of Christ. Do a word-search in the Scriptures and you will find that it is found throughout the sacred text. God is a happy God. [1 Tim 1:11]. Who would want to spend eternity with an unhappy, sad and morose God? All that he does flows out of His pleasure of being God. [Matthew 11:26] When we get to heaven we will share in the Master’s happiness. [Matthew 26:21] And, going to heaven means we get to experience joy in His presence, “with eternal pleasures” at His right hand. [Ps 16:11] There will be no room for sad, prune-faced saints in heaven. One man was not far from the truth when he said, “The surest mark of a Christian is not faith, or even love, but joy.”
Nehemiah reminded us that it isn’t just a pleasant state, it is power! “The joy of the Lord is our strength” [Nehemiah 8:10] It was joy that led Jesus to the cross. [Hebrews 12:1-2] It was joy that sustained Paul in suffering. [2 Cor 6:10] It is with joy believers faced trials. [James 1:2] It was out of overflowing joy that the Macedonian Church gave generously in their extreme poverty. [2 Cor. 8:2] The joy of the Lord is power designed to keep us satisfied and dignified even when we are being vilified and crucified.
What is the source of this joy? Surely, it has to do with putting our faith in Jesus. We now have eternal security as members of God’s family. We are bound to the “happy God” who is a fountain of overflowing joy. Nothing takes him by surprise. Nothing thwarts His sovereign designs. Nothing can rob Him of the infinite joy that He has in Himself. Nothing can separate Him from His eternal love of the Son. As His children we sit around His table. We may be alienated and hated by the world, but at His banqueting table, we are separated, secure and satisfied. His joy rubs off on us.
What that means now is that there is a certain freedom and confidence that always finds reasons for gratitude and humor. Like the woman who only had two teeth left but was still grateful because they both “hit,” we can always find reason to be joyful in the midst of adversity. “The joy of the Lord is our strength!”
My father liked to tell the story of another gracious and joyful lady. One Sunday morning a preacher was proclaiming the exciting promise of Jesus return in Revelation 22:22: So, he cried out, “Behold I come quickly!” He then lost his place in his notes, and biding for time, he cried out a second time, even louder, “Behold, I come quickly!” He still hadn’t found His place, so with great frustration and bodily expression, He cried a third time, “BEHOLD. I COME QUICKLY!” Unfortunately, he lost his balance and fell off the platform into the lap of a little old lady. Embarrassed, he picked himself up and profusely apologized to her. To which she replied, “Oh, that’s OK. It was not your fault. You warned me three times.”
Jesus warned us too. He said, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Then added, “But take heart [be joyful]. I have overcome the world.” Sure, there are “tuff” times out there that will cause us to question that truth. But, we always get to go home and gather around the table in the evening. Father is there, still filled with joy, still in charge, with a great meal of faith and hope prepared in His Word.
Because Jesus has won the war and secured our eternal joy, our life has become one exciting adventure after another. Sherwood Wirt makes this point when he writes, “Joy is the new country we are to explore together. It is the land of God’s mysterious ways and magnificent surprises, the land of music and love and laughter, the land of the earliest Christians, the land of Jesus.”
Psalm 34:2 says, “My soul will boast in the Lord; may the afflicted hear and rejoice.” My father had a habit of walking about verbally praising God. At times, I was embarrassed. But, over time, it became a strengthening power in my life. Dad knew Jesus. Jesus was more than enough. His soul always boasted in the Lord. I could too. It is my prayer that my joy in Jesus will multiply as I see the majesty and sovereignty that is found in Him. That is why I pick up the Scriptures and pray: “Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in your law.” [Psalm 119:18] I want my life to become a fountain of joy that bubbles over into the heart of those who are helpless and hopeless. The joy of the Lord is our strength!
Permissions: Permission is granted for reproduction and distribution of this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Dr. Gary Rieben. © Give Me That Book. Email: Grieben@aol.com. Website: www.GiveMeThatBook.org. Postal: GMTB | P.O. Box 1045| La Quinta, CA 92247 USA | 619.829.2390
© Give Me That Book