Posts Tagged 'joy'

Video Sermon – The Promise of Joy

Last week, I talked about God’s promise of peace, and today I want to get into its twin promise, joy. These two promises are twins in the sense that they are both parts of the fruit of the Spirit. CLICK HERE to find out about this incredible promise of joy.

How Long, O Lord?

Decca label image of "Nobody Knows De Trouble I've Seen" released as part of a five record 78 rpm album in 1939.

Decca label image of “Nobody Knows De Trouble I’ve Seen” released as part of a five record 78 rpm album in 1939.

The Book of Psalms is quoted in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament book. In fact, there are 78 direct quotations from one Psalm or another and over 300 indirect references to the Psalms. Within the large Book of Psalms, there are eight smaller “collections” or types of psalms. Not all psalms are the same. There are Psalms of lament, of thanksgiving, of praise, of wisdom, covenant, of ascent, of divine justice, and Messianic psalms.

The Psalms of lament represents the largest collection of psalms in the Psalter. That’s probably because during Old Testament times there was plenty of lamenting going on. God’s people were in almost constant need or facing one threat after another, and they cried out to God for help and deliverance. That’s what a psalm of lament is all about: a believer desperately pleading with God for help; to come into their lives or their home or their nation. Usually the psalm of lament dealt with some sort of national lament; the prayers of a nation directed to God to fill some need or provide some deliverance.

Over in the New Testament, we see this on a much smaller scale in the ministry of Jesus. There are many examples of blind people, lame people, lepers, poor people, and in the cases of Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter, the families of dead people, pleading with Jesus or summoning Him to come and provide what they need. Here’s a classic example of a New Testament lament:

He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied. (Luke 18:38 – 41 NIV)

“Have mercy on me” is a tiny prayer of lament. Each of the 68 psalms of lament is, of course, much longer than a single verse, but they amount to the same thing: the needy person or the lamenting person trying to bring God into his life so that God will help him. Most believers are taught that God takes all initiative. But is that always true? It certainly is in the case of salvation. Whether you believe in the idea of prevenient grace or the idea of regeneration before salvation, nobody just decides one day to “get saved.” God through the Holy Spirit is calling that lost soul, and somehow makes it possible for him to believe. But in other areas of life, does God always take the initiative? If we look at the example of Jesus and the blind man, the blind man took the initiative to summon Jesus to heal help him. So it is with the psalms of lament: they are designed to summon God into doing something, based on the assumption that if no prayer is offered, God won’t do anything. Getting God’s attention so that He will act is the basic purpose of each psalm of lament.

Karl Barth once wrote something along these lines:

Prayer causes God to do things He otherwise wouldn’t do.

That’s a very simple and primitive view of prayer, but when you are suffering and when your back is against the wall and you’ve run out of options, it’s what you believe because it’s all you have.

Psalm 4:1 – 8, A prayer for mercy

If Psalm 3 can be considered a “morning prayer,” then Psalm 4 is an “evening prayer.” Bible scholars believe that a devastating crop failure is behind the writing of this psalm. That is certainly a problem worthy of a lament! Oesterley remarked:

Written at a time when there was famine, or at any rate a shortage of food, in the land owing to a bad harvest, the psalmist glories in the spiritual satisfaction of joy within him through his love and faithfulness to God; compared with this, material wants do not trouble him.

That’s an important thing to keep in mind: a believer’s joy should never be rooted in anything other than his relationship with God through Jesus Christ. To find joy in anything or anyone else is to settle for at best a temporary second best.

Trial, vs. 1, 2

My faithful God, answer me when I call out to you. Give me rest from my trouble. Show me your favor. Hear my prayer. How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love what will certainly fail you? How long will you pray to statues of gods? (NIrV)

Typical of many psalms written by David, God is reminded of things He did for David in the past. Verse 1 is a very strong verse with no less than three imperative verbs: “hear me,” “have mercy,” and “hear.” Things were bad (or “tight”) for David now, but he could remember being in great distress before, and God helped him (“loosed” him) then. David just knew God could help him again if only He would hear his prayer.

Verse 2 is directed to a human audience, not to God. People (“sons of men”) were discouraging the psalmist, perhaps mocking his faith in God or even God Himself and in doing so, making light of this prayer. They preferred to seek help from other means (other gods). David would have nothing of this idolatry!

Teaching, vs. 3, 4

Remember that the Lord has set his faithful people apart for himself. The Lord will hear me when I call out to him. When you are angry, do not sin. When you are in bed, look deep down inside you and be silent.

This second stanza contains some teaching or instruction for people who don’t have the faith David has. But the truth is, faith is linked to understanding God’s sovereignty. David is teaching a profound truth in verse 3. God has sovereignly set apart the godly – faithful people – for Himself. Coupled with that fact is another one: we are able to call out to God – to plead with Him. So, on the one hand God calls and sets apart, but on the other He hears those who call out to Him. In one instance, God initiates the action, but on the other, people do.

The admonition in verse 4 can be looked at two ways. “When you are angry, do not sin,” or “Stand in awe (of God), and do not sin.” It is quoted in Ephesians 4:26, 27 like this:

Scripture says, “When you are angry, do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Don’t give the devil a chance (NIrV)

Either translation of the rare Hebrew word is possible since the same term may suggest “fear” or “awe” and “anger.” Paul’s advice of not giving the devil a chance is the key to either translation: if you fear God you won’t sin, thus you won’t be giving the devil a chance to trap you. If you are angry yet are able to control your emotions, you also won’t be giving the devil a chance to take advantage the situation to drag you further away from God.

Trust, vs. 5, 6

Offer sacrifices to the Lord in the right way. Trust in him. Many are asking, “Who can show us anything good?” Lord, let us see your face smiling on us with favor. (NIrV)

Lasting prosperity and happiness are not found in any man or man’s ways but in the Lord. Verse 5 is all about public worship. If you are going to worship God – offering sacrifices – then do it the right way! Worship of God without the corresponding trust is of no value. Yet how many Christians do just that every Sunday? They stand in church, singing hymns and worship choruses all about faith and trust all the while they none of those things. This seemed to frustrate the psalmist, and it certainly frustrates the pastor.

Not only that, but works without faith are dead. Going through the motions of appropriate worship while your heart is not in it, again, is useless. That kind of religion leads only to cynicism, as evidenced by the phrase, “Who can show us anything good?” Only faithless, unrighteous people could ask a question as cynical as that. A true believer always knows where good comes from!

Triumph, vs. 7, 8

You have filled my heart with great joy. It is greater than the joy of people who have lots of grain and fresh wine. I will lie down and sleep in peace. Lord, you alone keep me safe. (NIrV)

David has covered a lot of territory in just 6 verses. He has praised God for help and deliverances of the past. He has prayed that God would provide deliverance again. He has admonished people for being faithless in the present distress. In the final two verses of this psalm of lament, there is a sense of triumph or victory. And why wouldn’t David end this psalm on a positive note? He had faith in God. He had seen God’s mighty power firsthand in the past. He had no doubt that he would experience God’s provision and deliverance one more time.

David had something in his heart nobody or nothing could take from him: joy. Unlike the ungodly who find joy in things like a good harvest, his joy was in God. Harvesttimes for the Hebrews and other ancient people were, in fact, cause for celebration and rejoicing. But the joy found in the Lord is greater and will never end.

A New Testament writer, Paul, found the kind of joy David found and wrote a whole letter about it. Joy is the main theme of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The words “joy” and “rejoice” are used some 16 time in this short letter. What’s remarkable about the joyful tone of this letter is that it was written while Paul was under house arrest! That’s right. He had no freedom and no prospects for freedom, yet he wrote verses like these:

Are you cheerful because you belong to Christ? Does his love comfort you? Is the Holy Spirit your companion? Has Christ been gentle and loving toward you? Then make my joy complete by agreeing with each other. Have the same love. Be one in spirit and purpose. (Philippians 2:1, 2 NIrV)

But my life might even be poured out like a drink offering on your sacrifices. I’m talking about the way you serve because you believe. Even so, I am glad. I am joyful with all of you. So you too should be glad and joyful with me. (Philippians 2:17, 18 NIrV)

Always be joyful because you belong to the Lord. I will say it again. Be joyful. (Philippians 4:2 NIrV)

For the true believer, joy is all about having the right perspective. David was a true believer and he realized that his joy would not be hindered by famine or by godless people. When you find yourself in circumstances that seem more joyless than joyful, take a moment to ask God to help you IN your circumstances, then claim your joy IN SPITE of your circumstances. Your lament to the Lord should be based on His ability to provide, not on the size of your circumstances.

The Penitential Psalm, 6

BeFunky_joy.jpg

As you have probably already discovered, Psalm 51 is a most remarkable psalm.  In it, we have the three-fold view of sin, a three-fold blessing, and a three-fold look at the Spirit.  And now, we’ll find out that in the midst of this penitential psalm, David discerns a three-fold joy.

The Bing dictionary defines “joy” thusly:

great happiness: feelings of great happiness or pleasure, especially of an elevated or spiritual kind.

As you might guess, that kind of “joy” is hard to find these days; these days filled with stress, uncertainty, change, and hopelessness.  For too many people, it’s been a long time since they experienced real joy; maybe even since their childhood.  For King David, it had been a year, and a year without joy resulted in some unpleasant consequences.  He wrote of them in another psalm:

When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long.  For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.  (Psalm 32:3  NKJV)

It’s an awful thing to be in that position; of knowing you’ve done something that offended God and now you’re reaping what you’ve sown.  David’s mind was drawn back to the “good old days” before he built a wall between himself and the God he loved so much. And he longed for the joy of those days.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.  (Psalm 51:12  NKJV) 

Notice carefully what David was asking of God.  He wanted and longed for God’s joy, that is, the joy associated with God’s salvation.  He wasn’t interested in feeling better or having a more positive outlook on life.  What David wanted more than anything was God’s joy of His (the Lord’s) salvation.  That kind of joy has nothing to do with the circumstances of life.  It has nothing to do with money in the bank or whom you are married to.  It doesn’t have anything to do with job satisfaction or how healthy your kids are.  It doesn’t even have to do with how you felt when you first found God.  It has to do with how God feels about you.  It has to do with, putting it in human terms, how God felt when He saved you.  That’s what David wanted to experience.

How would you feel today, right now, if you could experience how God “felt” the moment He saved you and placed His Holy Spirit in you?  Quite a thought, isn’t it?  That’s what David wanted to experience, and it’s a testimony to the king’s close relationship to God that he wanted to experience it again!   Yes, he wanted to experience something a lot of us cannot even relate to.

Joy and the ear 

Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.  (Psalm 51:8  NKJV)

In all, David’s quest for renewed joy involves three organs of his body, and he begins, appropriately enough, with the ear.

David had begun his psalm begging God to forgive Him for what he’d done.  By verse 8, he prayed for restoration; specifically, the restoration of joy.  For the believer, joy is the direct result of God working in that person’s life.  When David sinned, that work was halted and the joy ceased.  David wrote of his “broken” bones, bones that had been broken by God.  That, of course, is a metaphor.  What David is poetically describing is how he felt at God’s displeasure; he felt as though God had crushed his bones.

Do you feel like that when you sin?  You should, if you value your relationship with God; if He is that important to you.  This joy is not an emotional feeling but rather a contented resting in God.  David wanted that kind of security back; he felt as though he had lost it.

David had lost the ability to hear the voice of the Lord.  Because he lost the security of God’s salvation and he knew he was responsible for that, the king couldn’t hear God’s voice and discord had entered his soul.  His sin deafened his spiritual hearing.  His adulterous affair and subsequent murder left nothing but a hole in his soul and ringing in his ears.

It was to David’s credit that he realized what was going on.  A lot of wayward Christians are clueless as to the real effects sin has on their ability to speak to and hear from God.  Sin puts the breaks on all communication between you and God and God and you.  If you hide sin in your heart, you’re praying to yourself!  If you’re living in any kind of sin, you may be hearing a voice in your head, but it isn’t God’s.  It’s a serious thing to be out of harmony with the Lord.  Spiritual deafness is an awful affliction that has afflicted way too many Christians.

Joy and the tongue 

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.  (Psalm 51:14  NKJV)

This is actually the beginning of the conclusion of this penitential psalm, and as all penitential psalms end, so does this one; with a promise of praise and thanksgiving.  It’s hard to praise God and give Him thanks when, first, you have a murder charge hanging over your heard and, second, when God can’t hear you!

Here, David knew he was guilty of Uriah’s murder as surely as if he had thrust the spear in the man’s chest himself.  Uriah’s blood weighed heavy on the king’s soul.  He was literally songless; the king was just going through the motions of life.  Have you ever felt like that?  You probably have, and some of you are probably feeling like this is your life.  So many believers live songless, joyless, and basically empty lives because they are guilty of spiritual “bloodshed.”  They may be saved, but the life they are living is hollow.

These believers are this way because they are in David’s boat.  They may not have pulled the trigger, but, for example, they’ve done things like this verse speaks of:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue…  (Proverbs 18:21  NKJV) 

How many people have we slaughtered with our words?

You may wonder if David deserved anything after his disposing of Uriah the way he did.  After all, no amount of praise and worship could bring Uriah back to life.  There was no making restitution for this sin.  And yet, there was something David could do.  He could stop others from committing the same sin through the testimony of his tongue.  We can’t by any number of tears and penitence atone for a single sin we’ve committed.  We can’t bring life back into the people we murdered with our words.  We can’t breathe life back into the person we made doubt their faith by our sinful actions.  But we can, by the grace of God, stop others from doing the things we have been forgiven of.

This is a remarkable verse because it teaches us a profound truth:  the sincerity of our confession needs to be demonstrated by obedient service.  Forgiveness removes an evil stain from our hearts, but there must follow acts of corresponding goodness.  David’s wonderful and sincere promises to God serve to underscore the mission of the Church.  We must bring sinners to saving faith in Jesus Christ and we must praise His righteousness.  Really, we can’t do one without the other!   In David’s case, the proof of David’s sincerity would ultimately be his building the walls of Jerusalem.

Believers are called to similar works of “spiritual construction,” namely, building the Kingdom of God, one soul at a time.  Because we have received forgiveness, we are called to work for the kingdom—it’s not an option.

Stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren’t pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.  (Jude, verse 23  TLB)

Joy, and where it comes from 

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise.  (Psalm 51:15  NKJV)

David just got finished making some promises to God.  He was wise enough to know that he would need all the help God could give him if was to honor those promises.  So he did what he had to do:  he asked God for help!  He prayed what every anxious, hesitant, and fearful Christian ought to pray:  “Lord, help me speak.”

Think carefully of what David asked of God:  he needed God to give him the words that he could give back to God in the form of praise!  Jim Murray, tenor for the Imperials back in the 1980’s, sang a song that speaks about what David was asking of God:

Even the praise comes from you,
Every prayer that I raise comes from you;
Fill my mouth with words of worship,
And I’ll give them back to you. 
 
‘Cause Lord, they’re not my own,
They come from You alone;
Even the praise, every feeling and phrase,
Even the praise comes from You. 

As Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

Man is a lock, the Spirit of God has the key. 

Praising God is not an easy thing to do, which is why it is referred to as “a sacrifice” in the Bible.  Only God can make true praise possible.   You can listen to praise and worship music all day long, letting yourself be moved by the chords and the words, but praising God has little to do with how you feel at the moment.  It has everything to with how you view the God of your life.  We all need to be like David; we all need the Holy Spirit to come and unlock our lips.  How does He do this?  The Holy Spirit unlocks our lips by way of our hearts.  You see, when your heart is full of the joy of the Lord; when your heart is thankful; regardless of the state of your life, the Spirit of God will come in like flood and the praise will flow out of you!

In the end, it was sin that sealed David’s lips and God would open them only after that sin was dealt with.  Now would be a good time to pause and take stock of you your life.  Is it songless?  Does praise seem like a distant memory to you?  Are you always longing for the good old days when praise, apparently, came so easy?  It’s always dangerous looking back; those rose colored glasses taint how we think it was back then.  But, really, God wants to set you free to praise Him.  Won’t you let Him?

 

PHILIPPIANS, PART 2

Five Joys, Philippians 1:3-8

Paul begins his letter to his friends in the Philippian church by thanking God for them.  He did this often, as a matter of fact.  In all but one of his letters, Paul the Apostle was ever genuinely thankful for those to whom he was writing, even if he was writing to discipline or correct them.

Paul had a very special relationship with the Philippians, though.  He doesn’t just thank God for them, he thanks “his” God for them—

I thank my God every time I remember you.  (verse 3)

He says this only of the Philippians, indicating his personal devotion to them.  This departure in style and form shows the depth of the relationship the great Apostle had with the folks in Philippi.

His thankfulness for them was not based on any single memory, just his remembrance of them.

1.  The Joy of Remembrance, 1:3

The literal meaning of verse 3 is:  “on account of the whole remembrance of you.”  Paul is not thankful for a bunch of unconnected memories of their good deeds, but for his total experience with the church in Philippi.

There is an old saying that, hopefully, doesn’t apply to either me or you:

Some people cause happiness when they arrive; others when they leave.

Have you ever stopped to do a “self-inventory” lately?  How we treat people and our general attitude toward life can cause people to think favorably about us when we are gone or have the opposite effect; some people are glad when you leave!  If we live as Christ lived, then people will thank God for us, just as Paul thanked God for his Philippian friends.

2.   The Joy of Prayer, 1:4

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…

One way Paul expressed his love for the Philippians was in intercession for them:  he prayed for all of them.  The word often associated with verse 4 is “supplication.”  This is a word full of meaning that, sadly, means very little to the modern reader, hence the TNIV’s use of milder “pray with joy.”  A “supplication” is a prayer request for a definite need that is keenly felt.  We know that the Philippians had dire financial circumstances sometimes, so perhaps this is what Paul is referring to here.  Perhaps there were other problems in the church—persecution, for example.  Whatever the circumstance, it was keenly and painfully felt by the church and this caused Paul to intercede for them.

Furthermore, a “supplication” is never prayed out of duty or form.  Paul, moved with thanksgiving for the Philippians could easily pray for their greatest needs from the heart.

Notice, also, that Paul says he prayed “for all of” them.  This should not be overlooked, for the welfare of each member affects all members.

3.  The Joy of Participation, 1:5

because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now

Here is the immediate, obvious reason for Paul’s thanksgiving, though the ultimate reason is found in verse 6.

The word “partnership” is a modern way to translate the well-known Greek word koinonia, often seen as “fellowship” throughout the New Testament.  Koinonia carries three distinct meanings, and likely Paul had all of these in mind:

  • The good fellowship all Christians have with each other within the Church;
  • The good fellowship all Christians have with Christ and the Holy Spirit;
  • The sharing of possessions between Christians in the Church.

Koinonia speaks of a living and vital relationship, and here it refers to the quality of the relationship Paul had with the Philippians and the quality of the relationship they all had with God.

It isn’t a stretch to say that the koinonia Christians have with each other should easily transcend the koinonia they have with anybody in the world.   Jesus Christ is like a Magnet that calls people to Himself for koinonia, and as we respond in faith to Him, we meet others who have been called and we are fortunate enough to have koinonia with them as we all approach Him together.  And why shouldn’t Christians have great fellowship with each other?  Have we not all been saved from our sins?  Is not the same Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us?  Are our lives not hid with Christ in God?  We have more in common with members of the Church of Jesus Christ than with sinners in the world, no matter who they may be.

But specifically, Paul writes about the Philippian’s participation in the Gospel.  What does Paul mean?  The word “in” comes from the Greek eis, which is used technically in such contexts to indicate the destination of financial payments.   Paul is likely referring to financial help he had received from them in the past, and such help made them his partners.   The Philippians didn’t just pay lip service to Paul’s work; they didn’t just tell him they loved him; they demonstrated their loyalty to him in giving to his support, often when they could least afford to.  The Philippians understood the Church to be a “workshop, not a dormitory.”

It didn’t take long for Paul to see their loyalty to his work; writing that they were partners from the very first day.  Who can he be referring to except Lydia, the first convert and member of the Philippian church?  How was she his “partner?”  The first thing she did was to open her home up, making it the meeting place for the new church!  She did what she could for the furtherance of the Gospel.

4.  The Joy of Assurance, 1:6

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

If the immediate reason for Paul’s thanksgiving was expressed in verse 5, (fellowship/partnership), then this verse gives the ultimate reason.  It had been God’s presence in their lives that led the Philippians to do the “good works” of verse 5.    What God was doing in their lives was also a “good work,” and Paul knew that God would continue to work in and through his friends.

When we look at verses 5 and 6 together, something strikes us:

–> Because of your partnership…

–> He who began a good work in you…

Any teaching of salvation must contain both these elements or it becomes an unbalanced doctrine.  While it is undeniably true that God begins the work of salvation and that God brings it to completion, it is also undeniably true man is not merely a passive bystander in between! He has work to do for the Kingdom of God.

The fact that God brings His work to completion in believers also tells us that nothing can stop God’s will from being accomplished in the lives of His people or for the world.   It is people who carry out experiments; God has the plan.

This must have been a welcomed bit of encouragement for his friends, who routinely faced hardships and sometimes lived in difficult circumstances.

Theologically, this verse forms the essence of the doctrine of perseverance.  Paul’s confidence is not based on anything other than his personal relationship with God.  God’s character guarantees the success of his life and that of his friends.   God’s nature guarantees that the faithful, regardless of their circumstances, will never be lost as long as their faith is in Him.  Paul is certainly not teaching the idea of “eternal security” here; he later on gently admonishes the Philippians to live right so that his work may not have been a waste of time (2:14—16).

5.  The Joy of Christ-like Love, 1:7, 8

These are some of the most personal verses Paul ever wrote; he held the Philippians close to his heart and he knew, deep down inside, that no matter where he was—even if he was in prison—his Philippian friends would never desert him.

all of you share in God’s grace with me.  (verse 7b)

They were co-workers with him; solidly behind Paul every step of his way.  The koinonia they shared as members of Christ’s Body guaranteed this.  This is why Paul had such deep love and affection for them.

Is this how you feel about members of your church?  It should; it’s how Jesus feels about you!   The people to whom Paul was writing were not sinless and perfect; they had faults and foibles as we all do.  But Paul could feel the way he did about them and he could love them “from his heart” because he was filled with the Holy Spirit and one of the gifts of the Spirit of LOVE.  It was the Holy Spirit loving the Philippians through Paul that led him to write—

I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.  (verse 8)

May the Lord help each of us to have the same attitude toward our brothers and sisters at church as Paul did for his good friends in Philippi.

(c)  2010, WitzEnd

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