Finding Genuine Joy
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How is the joy of the Lord different from the happiness the world offers? Dennis Rainey shows you how to have joy God's way by finding the source of real joy.
How is the joy of the Lord different from the happiness the world offers? Dennis Rainey shows you how to have joy God’s way by finding the source of real joy.
Finding Genuine Joy
Bob: Is this day—Christmas Day—a joy-filled day for you? Dennis Rainey says we may need to recalibrate how we think about what brings us joy.
Dennis: Joy isn't based upon reaching our goals. It's the Christmas syndrome—if we could just get to Christmas morning—there are all those packages there under the tree—and then we can unwrap them—and then we'll have hearts filled with joy. But don't you experience the letdown after the packages are all unwrapped—because our hearts were never meant to be satisfied with presents.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 25th—Christmas Day. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Since this is the day when we sing, “Joy to the World,” let’s talk about where true joy comes from. Stay with us.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition—on Christmas Day. It’s a good day to be talking about joy; don’t you think?
Dennis: It is a great day to be talking about joy. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
Bob: Yes; and we thought here on Christmas Day would be a good opportunity to reflect on that theme. This is actually a message you shared with our staff about a decade ago, but this was a great message on having a proper understanding of joy. Here on Christmas Day—I don’t know if you’re alone, with your family—where you are—but it’s good to reflect on the fact that our source of joy is not our circumstances. Our source of joy is found in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Dennis: Now, a lot of people read the Book of Ecclesiastes, and they look at it, and they scratch their head. It is, indeed, a bit of a riddle.
But it is a great book for today because I think it speaks to three major issues—one of which we're going to talk about today.
The first two chapters of Ecclesiastes speak directly to our need for contentment and how we—as a people—are discontent. In our search for significance, we run to and fro, acquiring stuff—looking for experiences—to make ourselves powerful and significant.
Solomon said, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity." It's like striving and trying to grasp the wind. Living a life denying that God exists and trying to build your life around the pursuit of significance is going to fail if you don't build your life around God.
Solomon goes on to talk about purposeful living. In the last half of the book, he talks about purposeful suffering.
He talks about purposeful living and how we should fear God, be obedient to God, and keep His commandments. Because—as Solomon concludes the book—God will bring every life to accountability. A chilling reminder that we will stand accountable before Him. But it's the section in the middle—a couple of chapters of Ecclesiastes—chapter 3 and 4—that I want us to lodge for a few moments—and to talk about the subject of joy.
Joy is ultimately an issue of faith. Why? —Because life is made up of turbulence. The Hebrew word for joy means "filling of the heart; possessing your soul."
Joy—we're soaring; we're lifted; we're looking up. Joy is hope expressed. It is the ultimate contentment. Now, there are some real hindrances to finding real joy. Let me give you three of them real quick.
Number one—joy isn't based upon circumstances. I love what J. Sidlow Baxter says about this. He said, "You can be miserable in a palace and joyful in a dungeon." Circumstances do not have to dictate your joy. Is your joy circumstantial? —Dependent upon the next experience? —A trip? —A special place to go? —A vacation? —Having more money? —Going to a restaurant?
—A purchase of that item? Is joy found in an amusement park?
Our pastor shared last Sunday that amusement—the word "amusement"—is made up two Greek words: "not think." If you look in the book of Ecclesiastes, the key to the book is finding when Solomon pondered—when he considered—when he thought—and he considered his way, and he considered who God was—and that gave him the insights to living life.
There's a second thing that steals our joy. Joy isn't based upon reaching our goals. It's the Christmas syndrome—if we could just get to Christmas morning—there are all those packages there under the tree—and then we can unwrap them—and then we'll have hearts filled with joy.
But don't you experience the letdown after the packages are all unwrapped—because our hearts were never meant to be satisfied with even unwrapping a bunch of presents—given to others or received for ourselves.
Third, joy isn't based upon people—people will let you down. There will be conflict, hurt, agony. Marriage isn't the source of joy. Children aren't the ultimate source of joy. Joy isn't based upon people. In our time together, I want us to look at three ways to recapture our joy from the book of Ecclesiastes. The first one is found in the familiar passage that's entitled "A Time for Everything."
Follow along with me—Ecclesiastes 3. "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace."
The first principle that Solomon wants to give us in these great reminders is to get your expectations about God—and life—straight. One of the big problems in life is that we forget what's normal. We are constantly expecting life to be easier—to be happier—to be more pleasant than life really is. Solomon here contrasts back and forth reminding us of the polka-dot nature of life. It's checkered with pluses and minuses, successes and soaring achievements—and failures. Life is predictably unpredictable. Solomon wants to unravel our false view of life. He wants to remind us that God is the source of our joy.
Life doesn't owe us anything—it is we who owe God everything. Solomon wants to show us that God is sovereignly in control of life; that there is an appointed time for everything—that only God is in charge—and we are not. Man does not control what is happening. Disillusion occurs in our lives when we think we're in charge—and we find out we aren't.
There is a second point that Solomon has. He says after you get your expectations about God and life straight, I now want you to realize that joy is based upon a confidence in God that all circumstances are purposeful.
Look at chapter 3, verses 12 through 14—"I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before Him."
God’s in charge. He is bringing circumstances to our lives that are purposeful—but the problem is we have a number of things that erode joy. First of all, the wind of doubt—puzzling circumstances of life—rob us of our joy.
Ecclesiastes 4:1-3—When life doesn't seem fair, it creates doubt. I wrote down some of the things that have puzzled me over my lifetime. The murder of an elderly couple for just a few dollars; liars who happen to be politicians—who get reelected; millions of babies aborted; an embezzler who lives in a mansion—and never gets caught.
Circumstances in life that are puzzling; wickedness that goes unpunished; people getting oppressed that shouldn't be oppressed—winds of doubt.
“Waves of envy” is the second one—waves of envy. Look at chapter 4, verses 4 through 6 where this is spoken of.
"Then I saw all the toil and all the skill and work come from a man's envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after the wind. The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. Better is a handful of quietness than two handfuls of toil and a striving after the wind." Solomon is saying one of the things that can destroy your joy is an envy of how other people live. Maybe it's where they live, how they live, what they drive, the relationship they have, the family they have, the job they have, the ministry they have. The green monster of envy erodes our joy.
A third thing that erodes our joy is the undercurrent of greed—the undercurrent of greed.
This is found in chapter 4, verses 7 and 8. We work hard to accomplish something, but we never stop and ask, “Why are we doing this? Is it just to get more—just to achieve more? Maybe we're greedy in terms of power—we want more power—climbing the ladder toward success. That was me in 1973 and '74 in Boulder, Colorado. I will never forget having the wrong kind of ambition—greed—and how it destroyed my joy because I was discontent. I thought life was found by climbing the ladder.
God had to wean me from that and break me. When is enough enough? Whether it's financial greed—whether it's position greed—only God satisfies is what Ecclesiastes says.
The fourth thing that erodes our joy is isolation. Living life solo robs our joy. Ecclesiastes 4, the familiar passage, beginning in verse 9: "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken."
If I had a batch of sticks up here and began to pull them out of that bundle, I could begin to break them in half. But if I took all that bundle and wrapped them up tightly with a rope around them—all of a sudden—those same sticks that can all be individually broken very easily now becomes very stout and strong. That's the picture of the threefold cord—wound together—that provides strength. If you're seeking joy in life and trying to get it on your own, realize God did not design life to be lived in solo.
Look at the description here: there is a good return; you're held up; you're kept warm; you're not overpowered. God designed you not to live life in solo.
That's why before you make a major decision, thinking you're going to experience joy if you just go over here or joy if you accomplish this or you buy this or you move here or you have this—surround yourselves with those who can provide godly counsel. There is a Swedish proverb that says, "Shared joy doubles joy; shared sorrow halves sorrow."
There is one last thing that tears away at joy in the dike that God builds in our lives to keep it inside our lives, and that's storms of pride—storms of pride. In Ecclesiastes 4:13 through 16, you find the story of a pauper who becomes a king and who becomes arrogant—not teachable.
He becomes a fool because he is no longer open to anyone correcting him—no longer open to learn—and to repent. That's why some have to go to a spiritual woodshed in order to regain their joy—because they give in to pride. They are defensive people—people who are haughty and self-sufficient. They don't seek the advice of others. They're hard of hearing. People come to them and provide counsel, provide correction, provide encouragement—but they go ahead and do their own thing.
Those who are not open—they're not honest with themselves. Proverbs 29, verse 1 says that basically the proud of heart “will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.”
There is no joy to that person who is filled with himself. We get our expectations about God and life straight; we then realize that joy is based upon a confidence in God—that all circumstances are purposeful. Third—joy comes by fulfilling God's plan and calling for your life.
The message of Ecclesiastes is that joy is found in being obedient to God in what He has called you to do—there is no joy anywhere else. Resting in God's calling for your life—to get your direction from Him—He is the right source. Resisting the tendency to hope in those circumstances—that next fix—
—and resisting trying to figure out all of what God is doing in your life.
The older I get the less I understand of what God is up to. I sometimes pause before God, and I literally burst out laughing before Him, and I say, "This isn't the way I would have done it—but you are God, and I'm not. I surrender again to You. Where do you want me to go? What do You want me to do? You alone have the words of eternal life."
What's the option? To rail against God in anger? Life is found in who God is. Joy comes from fulfilling His plan and His calling for your life.
Ultimately, joy is a matter of faith. Who will you trust? What will you trust? Where is your hope? I wish it were automatic in my life. I wish I automatically ran to God and not to circumstances, but you know what? I look back over my life, and there's progress. The question is—is there progress in your life? Can you see today that you have more joy because you don't hope in the wrong things, but your joy is being made complete? You are rejoicing in Him.
So, in conclusion, I want you to look back over these three components of joy.
Which ones do you need to fortify—perhaps rebuild or erect in your life? Maybe it's not which one—it's which ones—and maybe it's all three. Is it realigning your expectations? Is it going back to God—realizing that He is the God of all circumstances—and that it's purposeful because of Him? Or do you need to once again embrace the joy that comes from fulfilling God's plan and calling in your life?
Secondly, is there anything that you need to confess before God that is eroding your joy? Is it worry? Is it greed? Is it isolation? Is it trying to get in control and be in control and stay in control? What is the source that is poisoning your joy?
Then the third thing—I just want you to take a few moments after you've gone through both of these things, and just take a few moments and rejoice that God is in control and express to Him your adoration; because at this point, you will have given Him your burden. Some of you came here with burdens unexpressed—you couldn't share them publicly—but you know what? He knows—and He's ready to meet you at that point to minister to you. Just take a few moments quietly and rejoice and just say, "Lord God, thank You that You're in control."
Bob: We’ve been listening to a portion of a message from Dennis Rainey on the subject of joy.
In fact, the entire message is available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. If listeners would like to hear the whole message, they can go there.
Dennis, I think it’s good for us to be reminded that—in those seasons when we are not feeling joyful naturally—we can do something about that; can’t we?
Dennis: We can. What I’d encourage the listener to do right now is get a piece of paper and write down five things you’re thankful for in 2017. Then, I want you to write down five things you wish hadn’t happened in 2017. Then, I want you to give both of those lists to the Lord and say, “You have told us to offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving.”
Thanksgiving is not a holiday—it’s a state of mind that all of us need to practice if we want to experience joy—because God is in control.
Bob: Yes. Good point! There is a connection between being grateful and being joyful.
That’s a good reminder for us here on Christmas Day. We hope that all of you are having a blessed holiday celebration, and we hope you’ll tune in tomorrow. We’re going to have a few laughs tomorrow. In fact, we’re going to go to the archives and pull out some never-before-heard bloopers from the last 25 years on FamilyLife Today. We just think it would be good for us to have a little laughter as we approach the end of the year, so I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. Have a merry Christmas, and join us back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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