As darkness crept over the Judean hills and enveloped Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus gathered with His own. Although the terrible gloom of Golgotha lay before Him, listen to the words He gave them, ‘These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full’, John 15. 11. It was not a mere wish He was making, as we might express a desire for the happiness of another. It was the Son of God articulating the will of God for the people of God for all ages, including the believers in our assemblies. It prompts us to ask, when we think about our assembly life, if the word ‘joy’ springs to mind? Before we answer we need to ask ourselves:
What is Joy?
Joy is not the result of Christians finding themselves surrounded by amiable circumstances, nor is it merely the product of having an optimistic bent. It is fruit grown in the life of a yielded believer by the Spirit of God.
What is joy? Leaving technical word studies for more able scholars than me let me suggest simply that joy, like a shock absorber on your car, is the hidden resource that takes the jarring out of the bumpy road of life. It can give even the most difficult lives supernatural buoyancy that the world cannot understand.
An automobile with worn-out shock absorbers has an obvious tendency to jar the occupants – so much so that when it hits a rough spot, it just can’t get over it! It continues to shake them to their obvious discomfort. So it is with those who have lost their joy. If an unpleasant situation arises, they don’t overcome and recover their equilibrium but are shaken by the problem they should have recovered from long ago. Old hurts that could be covered and cleansed under the blood of Christ go on haunting many assemblies and individuals in them, robbing them of joyful interaction with fellow-believers, sometimes for generations.
We should not confuse being ‘sober’ or ‘serious’ with being ‘sour’. The people of God should not be flippant, careless or thoughtless. There should be reverence and dignity about the things of God. However, joy and rejoicing flow from God’s heart, and assemblies of God’s people should be hallmarked by joy as well. Let us then ask ourselves:
How is Joy Lost?
Joy grows on a hardy plant that can flourish even in the most adverse circumstances. Paul wrote from his own experience, ‘As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’, 2 Cor. 6. 10. But the word of God tells us about some creeping influences that can squeeze the joy from our lives. Here are the three most common:
Unconfessed sin:in his moving penitential psalm, David writes, ‘Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation’, Ps. 51. 12. How costly and foolhardy to trade eternal joys for the momentary pleasures of sin! May God help us to come clean with Him. Confession and repentance will weed out the noxious influences that rob us of our joy.
Distractions:a little weed at first but how quickly this one takes over and how hard to uproot! True joy is found in only one place: ‘In thy presence is fullness of joy’, Ps 16. 11. The enemy, in collusion with our fickle minds, will do everything possible to divert us from setting our minds on things above. Life is too short, needs around us too great, and our calling too high to spend our days nitpicking and fussing about matters of no account.
Self-centredness:Nehemiah knew about difficult days. God’s people were outnumbered, fragmented, demoralized. No leaders seemed willing or able to call the people to a new vision or to fresh hope. What could a lone cupbearer do? He could weep and mourn, fast and pray about the condition of God’s people, Neh. 1. 4. He could humble himself and make confession for the collective sins of his people, vv. 6-7. Yet that was not enough to persuade him to leave the place of privilege and comfort in order to suffer affliction with the people of God! The stirring book of Nehemiah could not have been written had he not made himself available to make a difference, v. 11. ‘Lord, send me’, is a neglected response amongst us these days! It’s time to ask ourselves:
How can we cultivate joy among God’s People?
What a difference the man Nehemiah made! Arriving in Judea, he surveyed the damage caused by neglect and unbelief. But he did not waste time on debilitating criticism. ‘Ye see the distress that we are in’, he says (including himself in their need as he did in their guilt) let us build up the wall of Jerusalem’, Neh. 2. 17.
So the work began, over rough terrain, with unskilled workers, rebuilding broken masonry, and working with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other, the people finished the task in fifty-two days! How can we say enough about those like the men of Tekoa? When their leaders bailed out, 3. 5, what did the overworked labourers do? They said, ‘If our nobles won’t help us with our section, we’ll just have to do it without them!’ When the work was finished, Nehemiah said to the people, ‘Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength’, 8. 10.
What good advice! Work hard in the Lord’s construction and restoration department. Joy does not grow from empty platitudes or religious emotionalism. It springs from a job well done. Is this not one of the joys of heaven itself? ‘Well done, good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord’, Matt 25. 23.
Nehemiah 8, verse 10, gives us other secrets of joy as well. Share God’s good things with those less fortunate; sanctify every day to the Lord; banish the spirit of melancholy; seek the invigoration that only comes when you choose to walk home on the sunny side of the road.
You want Joy in your Heart and Life?
Then give it away. If you aren’t enjoying the gospel, or church truths, or the wonder of Christ, the reason why is because you haven’t given it away lately! Truths kept to oneself will disintegrate like leftover manna. We only receive by giving; every organ in the body will teach us that. We get the benefits of truth, love, and joy only by giving them away. ‘Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive’, Acts 20. 35. Go ahead; take the challenge! Can you outgive God? Will He be your debtor? Will you give and not receive again? It has never happened yet and it never will.
Get heaven’s viewpoint: come, brothers and sisters! Be done with wearing the countenance of the unconverted. Did not your Commander say that the gates of hell would not prevail? Is it not emphatically stated concerning God’s Servant that ‘He shall not fail nor be discouraged’, Isa. 42. 4? Lift up your eyes to see fields white and plenteous; there are opportunities everywhere. The floodtide of immigration into our Western lands is nothing less than the mission field moving in next door, if we have hearts to see it. They are even learning our language so we can more easily share with them the blessed news of the gospel!
Look up to be lifted up. Many of us could use some straight talk with our own souls, as David did. ‘What has happened to me?’ He asks. How did I become so despondent? Was it misplaced hope, swallowed up in the quicksand of ever-shifting circumstance rather than being built upon the Rock?’ Here are his exact words: ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance’, Ps. 42. 5. This is real talk, not sanctimonious makebelieve. The psalmist confesses that he might have a hard time praising God at present because things are so difficult. Yet he knows the praising day will arrive. How is he so sure? He has reminded his soul that God can be trusted to do what He said He would do. We know how the story ends; we shall indeed live happily ever after.
Accentuate the positive, not the negative. Don’t let what your assembly isn’t rob you of what it is. The only perfect assembly is in heaven. Look for the good things in others and their ministries. Most of us give away encouraging words as if they cost £1000 each. Go ahead; spread them around lavishly; you can afford it. Tell your brothers and sisters why you appreciate them. Notice Paul’s examples at the beginning of almost every epistle. I can think of, no other understanding of, ‘Exhort (or encourage) one another daily’, Heb. 3. 13, than that each of us should find a way to encourage another believer every day of our lives. We have phones, faxes, emails, greeting cards and ease of transport, in fact we have everything but a good reason not to share encouragement daily with our fellow-believers.
Think about practical ways to enrich others. Listen to some of the sweetspirited calls to care for one another from Paul’s letters, ‘Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another’, Rom. 12. 10. ‘Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God’, Rom. 15. 7. ‘By love serve one another’, Gal. 5. 13. ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ’, Gal. 6. 2. ‘And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you’, Eph. 4. 32. ‘Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye’, Col. 3. 13. What an honour to be a channel through which God Himself enriches other lives!
Little things can make a big difference. Sweeten your words. Smile more often. Express your appreciation for others. Sing lustily. Overlook offences. Think (and speak) the best about your brothers and sisters. Pray together. Decorate other lives with little kindnesses. ‘Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do’, 1 Thess. 5. 11.
Let’s open our arms and hearts to embrace one another and let the joy of Christ flood into the assembly again.
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