Tonight we're looking at 'Exuberant Joy'. This is the third one - I thought we had done more than that, but we haven't. So, 'Exuberant Joy', where are we going to go with this? We're going to pray first of all, and we're going to ask the Lord to come and meet with us. So I want you to pray for yourself right now, would you do that, that God would speak to you? We're not here just to do a Bible study, or to go through the ritual of the hymn-prayer sandwich or chorus-prayer sandwich, we want to encounter God. I don't want to be just going through the motions of church, we want to meet the Living God and know His touch upon our lives. So I hope you're in that position, are you? Do you want that? Well, if you want it, express that, rise up in your spirit now to God in prayer and ask Him to come and meet with you. As I lead you in prayer, would you enter in yourself before God and ask Him to come and meet with you tonight, and all of us together?
Father, we thank You for Your grace. We thank You that You're the God of all grace, and the Father of mercies, and the comforting God. We thank You, Lord, that through Jesus You have revealed Yourself to us as a God of unmerited favour and unconditional love. We thank You that so many in this gathering, even tonight, have experienced a baptism of the love of the Living God. Yet there are those who haven't, there are those who - and all of us to a degree are in this category - have not entered into the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ. We long to do that, Lord, no matter how deep we have been in so far, Lord, we want to go deeper. Whatever we have known of You, we know there is always more - because we cannot exhaust the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God. You're unsearchable, past finding out, and we know that Your love is a four-dimensional love: height, depth, breadth, and length - it's beyond our conception, and we cannot contain it within our intellect, let alone our emotions. Yet, Lord, we want to be lost in that love. In this experience of salvation, we want to be - as Ezekiel saw that vision - over our heads with the river of blessing:
'O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling like a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the fullness of His love...'
That's what we want, Lord, we want to just go under the surface tonight. We pray that the joy of the Lord will come upon us. We ask, Lord, tonight, please deliver us from talking about stuff that we have no conception or experience of - I ask that for myself and all of us tonight. Lord, we want to experience the joy of the Lord - and, boy, do some of us need that! We pray, Lord, that You will come, You will minister to us tonight in the mighty name of Jesus - and everybody said 'Amen'.
OK, we've two readings first of all - we're looking at several scriptures tonight - but the first Scripture we're looking at is Psalm 16, and the second is Romans 14. So if you want to get both of those ready, that would be great. Psalm 16 and we're only going to read one verse there, and then Romans 14 one verse also. OK, Psalm 16, wonderful Psalm worthy of more attention than we're going to give it tonight - but verse 11, for our purposes: "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence", God, "is fullness of joy" - say that with me 'fullness of joy' - "at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore", say that 'pleasures forevermore'. Isn't that incredible? Fullness of joy, who would like some of that? And pleasures forevermore - wow!
OK, over to Romans 14 and just one verse, this time verse 17. This is in the context of a deeper subject, but we'll not go into that right now. Verse 17: "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking", if it was the case some of you would be very religious, isn't that right? But this is the kingdom of God: "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". Do you know what that means? Joy is one third of the Kingdom of God. There is righteousness, peace, but joy - at least in this verse - is one third.
Now, generally speaking, Christianity has not been known for its joy. Would you agree with me there? Certainly in Ireland, the public face of Christendom has not been happiness. So what is the public perception of our faith? Well, to a lot of people it's probably this - have you seen this before? 'Lips that touch liquor shall not touch ours' - let's face it, who would want to? Just in case you're missing the point, zoom in a little bit, there's a bit of a close-up of some of these dears - but that's often the way religion or Christianity has been perceived, isn't that right? A make-up artist by the name of Rosalind Russell once said 'Joy is a woman's best cosmetic', and it's true, isn't it? Joy is the Christian's best cosmetic - there's nothing like a smile to lighten your face. The fact of the matter is: we tend to sing about joy, we talk about joy, but we don't always convey joy - and we certainly fail in conferring joy upon others.
So you might say that we, as the Christian church, have had some bad PR. We have not communicated a third of the Kingdom of God, which is joy. That has turned a lot of people off Christianity. We've got to be real. The German philosopher - he was a godless philosopher - Frederick Nietzsche, he actually said scornfully about the Christians of his day: 'I would believe in their salvation if they looked a little more like people who had been saved'. Now that is very insightful, when you think about it. It was A.C. Swinburne, the English poet and critic, who pictured Christ as 'a pale Galilean who made the world grow grey at His breath'. That's the picture of Jesus that the atheists of that age were spinning out to the unbelieving world. Now, we know that such a description of Jesus is reprehensible and diabolically false, yet that's how some people perceive our Christ - because of how we have conveyed Him, how we have communicated our faith.
We do have to be honest here - most of us are Christians - we have to ask: is all that without foundation? Of course it's not! It's certainly not how things were meant to be, how God intended it, and how our Lord Jesus Christ - if you care to take time just to analyse His own life and His own words - that is not what He communicated when He came into the world. On the contrary, in John 15 verse 11 Jesus said: 'These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full'. The New Living Translation puts it: 'I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!' - will spill over! So everything that Jesus lived and taught was in order that His joy - and He had a lot of it, as we will see in a moment - would remain in us, and that we would experience it to the point that it would overflow so that others would be touched by it.
Incidentally, that phrase 'your joy may be full' is found four times, all in the writings of John. The next time we find it is John 16:24: 'Until now you have asked nothing in My name', Jesus said, 'Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full'. I'm tempted to ask you to say that again - you're good at that - 'that your joy may be full'. Then we find it again in 1 John and 2 John. So this was God's intention, and when we think about it: what did Jesus come into the world to do? He came into the world to reveal the Father. Yes? So, what good Father would not want His child to have joy? Jesus had joy, He was the Perfect Son; and the Father and the Son and the Spirit want all of us to experience this joy. So Christianity, and we will see this as we tease through this study tonight, it was meant to be enjoyed not endured. I hope that has been your experience thus far. William Barclay said: 'The Christian is the laughing cavalier of Christ. A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms, and nothing in all religious history has done Christianity more harm than its connection with black clothes and long faces'. Amen?
We've seen what culture, popular culture of different eras, has thought about Christianity. We've even touched a little bit, briefly, on what Christianity has communicated erroneously to the world. But what does the Bible actually teach about joy? I'm going to go through several points, you may want to take notes or just get the recording - because I believe this is going to be revolutionary for people here tonight. Christianity is all about exuberant joy. The first thing the Bible teaches us about joy is that God is the Author of joy, it all comes from Him. Joy is attributed to God within Holy Scripture. There are several verses I can point you to, but the one I want you to look at is Zephaniah 3:17: 'The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in his love, He will joy over thee with singing'. It says that God rejoices over us with singing - have you ever pictured God like that? I tend to think of it a bit like a mother singing lullabies over a baby, rejoicing in the child, soothing the child. But actually the word 'rejoice' here in the Hebrew, I'm led to believe - you know Hebrew is quite a pictorial language - it literally means 'to twirl around'. The idea is 'dance', that God rejoices in such a celebration over us that He sings and He dances in delight over us - that's incredible, isn't it?
God was the original singer and dancer. Incidentally, Nietzsche again said: 'I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance'. Well, newsflash, our God knows how to dance over us with singing - we've got Him, the Living God of the Bible! When you go into the New Testament, you find that probably the most known parable of them all, 'the prodigal son' as it's called (I like to call it 'the prodigal God' or 'the prodigal father', it's all about the father - and of course the father was wasteful, that's what 'prodigal' means, it means wasteful, the father was indulgent in his love toward the son, even beyond the laws of Moses that said a rebellious son should have been stoned). He runs out to meet his son, he embraces him, kisses him, he gets a party thrown for him - but what was the punchline of the parable? Indeed, what was the punchline of all the 'lost' parables, the lost sheep, the lost coin? That there is great rejoicing in heaven in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repents. Now you're not going to tell me that the angels are all having a party, and God is just sitting there with a long face? That's what some people try to tell you, 'Oh, it's in the presence of the angels that there is rejoicing' - come off it! In heaven there is great celebration over one sinner who repents. So there is happiness in heaven - perish the thought, imagine that! Who would want to go there? There is happiness there! There is joy!
Now, if we pray: 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven', we're saying 'As it is in heaven, so let it be on earth' - we ought to expect some joy to be around, wouldn't we? C.S. Lewis said: 'Joy is the serious business of heaven'. Psalm 16 verse 11 that we read at the outset: 'In Your presence there is fullness of joy, and at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore'. Just in case there is somebody here who is not a Christian - there might be, you're very welcome by the way - you might be searching for pleasure and joy in the most obvious places that this world advertises it to be. OK, in various substances, various extracurricular activities; but you know that whilst there can be a momentary pleasure in those things - and let's not lie, there is pleasure in sin for a season, the Bible says - you do not gain joy, lasting, permanent joy. It is only found in this verse, it's only found with God. But note also, for everybody here, joy is not to be found in the absence of trouble, but in the presence of God. Nobody lives in the absence of trouble - if that's what you're looking for, you're never going to find it. But true joy is found with God, because He is the Author of Joy. Your Heavenly Father, if you're His child tonight, has more joy than anybody you know in the whole wide world. Can I tell you something: He has more joy than you can handle!
So, what does the Bible tell us about joy? God is the Author of joy, secondly: Jesus is a Man of joy. He came to reveal the Father, but let me just pause for a moment - I know I've already sort of hit you between the eyes with this one, but how do you picture Jesus? What picture of Jesus have you inherited? This is an awful picture, isn't it? Now I know we don't know what Jesus looked like, and there is trouble in trying to portray Him - I have never seen Jesus literally, but I'll tell you now: He doesn't look like that. He doesn't look like that, and the reason why I know that is: whoever that is, it's not Jesus, he looks ill. This is what Scripture says, Hebrews 1 verse 9: 'God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions'. Do you know what that means, to paraphrase it? Jesus had more joy than any other human being - that's Scripture. I don't think that's what that looks like, do you? Many portraits, some stained-glass windows, even children's picture books - what have you inherited (and don't tell me you don't have an image of Jesus in your mind, everybody does have some kind of conception of what Jesus was in His human form here on earth), but what have you inherited? One of the things I inherited was, because Isaiah says Jesus was a man of sorrows, that He sort of went about with a cloud over His head all His life; and then that had an overflow into how we worship God. Around the Lord's Table, some had the view that, well, this is like a funeral service because you're remembering the Lord in His death - and it was like a funeral service.
But what does Scripture say? Yes, He was a man of sorrows, that's talking about what He was going to bear on the cross - and it did hang over Him all His life, but it didn't stop Him living in the joy of the Lord! Someone has said that babies learn joy from the lines on their parent's faces as they smile. I don't know if that's true or not, but I know this is true: Jesus learned joy by gazing on the face of His Heavenly Father. There was a stern faced minister who once preached a sermon 'The Tears of Jesus', and he said: 'Three times we read that Jesus wept, but never do we read that He smiled'. A little girl below, forgetting herself, exclaimed: 'Oh, but I know He did!'. Shocked, the minister said: 'Why do you say that my child?'. Frightened, with all the eyes on her, she quietly said: 'Because the Bible says that He called a little child, and he came to Him. If Jesus looked like you, I know the child would have been afraid to come!'. But it's true, isn't it? 'Suffer the little children to come unto Me, do not forbid them, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven', it says He took the little child and He blessed them.
How do you see Jesus? Is that how we imagine Him? Because that's how He was - I'm not saying He was laughing all the time anything like that, but I'm saying that He had more joy than any human being who has ever lived, will ever live. That's saying something! Is this the Jesus you know? What does the Bible teach about joy? God is the Author, Jesus is the Man of joy who came to reveal the Father's heart; and then thirdly: joy is at the heart of the Gospel. The message that we preach, which is Christ, but this message - we read it already, didn't we, Romans 14:17: the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy - joy is one third. But there is a progression here: righteousness first. Now, what is righteousness? It is rightness, or right-relatedness with God. How do we get that? Jesus died, the great exchange, He took our sins on the cross, He was punished, what we deserved He took - why? So that He might exchange our sin for His righteousness. So He gets our sin, we get the righteousness of God in Jesus. He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
Now, you get that by faith, you don't get that by works. This righteousness, it isn't yours, so you can't work it up. It's somebody else's, it's Jesus' - the only way you can get it is by faith. Have you got that tonight? Just out of interest: have you got the righteousness of God through Jesus by faith? You've got to believe He's the Son of God, believe you can't save yourself, believe you're on your way to hell and you need a Saviour; and you just believe Jesus is the One, and you ask Him to save you. That's simple childlike faith. But listen: some of you here tonight are professing Christians, but you believe you're only a sinner. I think I might have told you before, but just in case I haven't, I hate that hymn: 'I'm only a sinner saved by grace'. Sorry if that offends you, but I hate it - nice tune, some good stuff in it, but you're not only a sinner saved by grace! You see, if you believe you're only a sinner, you will sin by faith - think about that for a moment. I can hear the cogs turning right now. Do you understand what I mean? If you believe you are only a sinner, you will sin by faith, you will behave according to what you believe. But you're righteous, when you realise Christ has made you righteous, and if you know you're righteous - do you know how good Jesus was? I was thinking about this during the week: how good was Jesus? I mean, you don't get any better than Jesus. That's how good you are if, by faith, you're living and abiding in Him - that's wonderful! Do you know what that will do for you? It will give you peace, and it will give you great joy.
This is the Gospel, isn't it? Joy is at the heart of the Gospel. Then it follows on from that, therefore, that joy is an essential ingredient in reaching the lost with the Gospel. Would you agree with me? Now, please don't misunderstand me - immediately I go one pendulum direction, people go the other. I believe in judgement, I believe there is a place called hell, I believe it's very serious - that's an understatement. It's important for us to present that to people; they don't understand the good news without understanding the bad news. I get it, I preach it, OK? But what I want us to understand tonight is: good news, which is what 'gospel' means, must have joy in it? We do have to command sinners to repent, it's biblical, the end is near and we need to preach judgement, I'm not belittling that - but if that's all our message has, and sometimes that is all that it has, if that's all that it has, we might think we're being most faithful to the Gospel that has been deposited to us when in fact we are not. You're only telling the bad news and leaving the good news out! The Gospel is the good news, and it's filled with joy. Philip Brooks said: 'The religion that makes a man look sad certainly won't cure the world'.
So an essential ingredient to reaching out to the lost, who are lost, who are hell-bound, who are headed for the judgement, and they do need to know that and awaken to that - but the Gospel that we have is good news about joy in Jesus. Do you know that he who has the most hope has the most influence? The more hope you can have the better in winning the lost. You see, joy is like a magnet that draws people in because it's the one thing that people don't have. A smile is known in every language and every dialect, isn't that right? You should try it some time! It was the Moravians, their joy - you may never have heard of them, but they were a little community of Christians many years ago - their joy convinced the great John Wesley of the reality of their faith, and actually helped bring him a short time later to a state of true conversion which he had never had. He had grown up in a Christian environment, his father was a church minister, he became a church minister, but he wasn't genuinely saved - but it was their joy that spoke to him about the reality of this Gospel. You see, as Christians, we owe it to the world to have a supernatural joy, that's the only way were going to win the world for Christ.
Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, was emphasising to his students the importance of making their facial expressions harmonise with the truth that they were preaching at any given time. 'When you speak of heaven', he said, 'let your face light up, let it be irradiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with reflected glory. But when you speak of hell, well, then your ordinary face will do!'. It's so true, isn't it? Joy is at the heart of the Gospel, and so joy is an essential ingredient for reaching the lost. Have you ever tried that? You know, we've got all these evangelism programs and schemes and new ideas, but what about trying joy? What about smiling at people and showing them that you've got something that they need, and it's great, and it works!
Something else: joy is a secret of endurance, strength, and holiness. Joy is a secret of endurance, strength, and holiness. One of the marks of spiritual maturity is the level of joy that we carry - now, that is counter to what some of us have inherited. The more miserable you looked, the more holy you were - but that's not true. Strength and endurance come from joy. What does Nehemiah 8 and verse 10 say? 'The joy of the Lord is your strength'. Nehemiah had a lot to endure, because he was trying to build these walls and had various enemies coming at him and all sorts of things, enemies within and without and all the rest - so he wasn't having a picnic. That's not what we're talking about, as we said earlier, joy is not in the absence of trouble but in the presence of God. The joy of the Lord is our strength, and we do have to endure, because we have much trouble in this life. 'In the world you will have tribulation', Jesus said it. James Guthrie, one of the Scots worthies, who died for his faith, the morning of his execution he woke at 4:00am, and he spent time with the Lord worshipping in His presence. Then he was asked by a friend, James Cowey, how he felt. He said: 'Very well, this is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it'. Wow. They don't make them like that any more, do they?
I have to be honest with you, there are times when I have felt guilty feeling happy or joyous. I'm being serious, when you consider all that is going on in the world, all the sadness, the heartache, the depravity, the atrocities that have taken place in the world, natural disasters, famines, pestilences, and even persecuted Christians. We can be happy-clappy, imagine, dancing about, and enjoying ourselves in church - and then you think: 'Oh, it's all right for me, but what about these folk in China, these folk in Eritrea, or people in the Middle East, and they're suffering for their faith; oh, that's terrible'. Now don't misunderstand me tonight, there is a time to weep, and there is a time to laugh; there is a time to mourn, and there is a time to dance - but if you allow the devil to make you feel guilty for rejoicing and celebrating, because of persecution, he has sold a lie to you. Do you know why? Because the happiest church in the world is the persecuted church; they are the most suffering, but they are the most joyous.
You know Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad, he said that 'Despite these atrocities, we are such a happy church. When you have lost everything, you realise that Yeshua, as we call Him, is all that you have left'. Don't feel guilty of being joyful one more moment, that's the enemy doing that to you. True joy glows in the dark. Can I say something to you, especially if you're in Christian work to any degree: if you do not have joy, you will burn out. But it's not just a secret of endurance and strength, joy is actually a secret to holiness - did you know that? Holiness and joy would appear to be mutually exclusive in some of our circles. You say 'holiness', and everybody thinks 'Oh', but in fact if you don't have joy, holiness is going to be a problem. You will never achieve holiness. Thomas Aquinas said: 'If a man has no joy, it is necessary that he will become addicted to some carnal pleasure'. If you don't have true joy in God, you're going to turn to a counterfeit. Maybe that's why, as a Christian, you're struggling, because the joy of the Lord hasn't actually been experienced by you. So much of the world's propaganda sown by the enemy is that God is a killjoy, but as John Piper has put it: it's not that God is a killjoy, He just opposes what kills joy. Sin kills joy.
Matthew Henry, the old Bible commentator, put it like this: 'Holy joy is the oil to the wheels of your obedience'. You might have been trying to pull your socks up and do better, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and walk on the clean side of life, and keep your nose clean, and not say anything wrong - and it's all being done out of the right motivation to please Jesus and to do what you feel is expected of you in the Scripture, but what is missing, and why it is eluding you is the joy. The joy is not there! The oil that oils the wheel of obedience.
So God is the Author of joy; Jesus is the Man of joy; joy is at the heart of the Gospel; joy is an essential ingredient for reaching the lost; joy is a secret of endurance, strength, and holiness - but see also: joy is not simply happiness and laughter. It is not simply happiness and laughter, but it includes those. Let me explain myself: joy is more than comedy. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it is clean and wholesome. It's more than earthly pleasure, the pleasures of God are more than that. It's even more than mere happiness - while we can use the word happiness, essentially the etymology, the origination of the word 'happiness' is 'finding your satisfaction in happenings, happenstance', 'happiness'. So when things are going right for you, you can be happy, but when things are going wrong it's hard to be happy. But joy, in the biblical sense, is much more than that. It's not just frivolity, joy is enjoyment of God, the good things that come from His hand toward us.
Now I'm going to talk about the extent of exuberant, hilarious joy in the Lord in a few moments - but I don't want you to misunderstand that all of a sudden this is a switch that you can flick, you can forget all your troubles and be joyous in a supernatural way. There is a cost, there is a cost to know God's exuberant joy. You see, He commands you to lay your life down so that you might know joy. You can't bypass that, I'm afraid. It would be nice if you could, but you can't. So Jesus Himself, and Scripture actually rebukes people that are exuberant in an earthly joy, but have ignored the realities of the spiritual realm and eternity. Let me show you one of these scriptures that was very insightful to me when I looked at it this week. Luke 6:21 and 25: 'Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh', verse 25: 'Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep'. I have to admit to you - I have been reading the Bible for years, I've been a Christian from I was a young child, I've read the Bible several times - I never ever saw, it never sat out to me, that phrase, Jesus saying 'You shall laugh, you shall laugh'. Have you claimed that promise yet, have you? Is it being fulfilled in your life? 'You shall laugh', Jesus said - you never teach the Sunday School that one, sure you don't? 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, you shall laugh', Jesus said 'You shall laugh'.
Do you see the dynamic here? Jesus saying: 'Blessed are those who are hungry, you will be filled. But those who are full' - in other words, full of earthly things, satisfying fleshly things, or those who are laughing in a sort of nonchalant frivolity, carelessness regarding the things of God and eternity - 'you're going to cry one day'. So what's it saying? It's saying there is a cost, you've got to lay your life down in order to find true life. You see it in James 4 and verse 9: 'Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom'. James was speaking to those who were rich and increased and thought they had need of nothing. They were living life and enjoying it all! So that's not the type of joy we're talking about, with the absence of the presence of God and priorities of God and the kingdom in our lives.
So what are we saying? This is not a mindless laughter, but it's coming - this exuberant, hilarious joy is coming from spiritual hunger. Are you spiritually hungry tonight? Do you want more of God? I've got to warn you: a lot of weeping may precede this laughter and this joy, a lot of repentance, a lot of surrender, a lot of sacrifice - people don't want that, people don't like hearing about that. You know, and I'm not going to enter into this, but there has been the phenomenon of 'holy laughter' that has taken place during awakenings and revivals. I'm not talking about stuff that has happened this century or at the end of last century - I'm not ruling that out, but I'm just saying that that's not only what I'm talking about. I'm talking about stuff that happened in the awakenings with figures that you would know, historical figures that you would consider very sound, but holy laughter erupted in their meetings - did you know that? But some of us want the laughter (why wouldn't we?), but not the cross - it doesn't work that way. We've got to go the way of Calvary, we've got to lay our life down to find it - but can I tell you: when you go that way, you get the exuberant, exhilarating, hilarious joy of God as your portion, and it does include laughter and happiness! Some of you are even starting already, maybe it's just looking at me!
The Bible says laughter is a medicine, 'A merry heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones'. How often do you take these tablets? I'm serious now: laughter is a medicine, laughter is a tonic, don't we say that? That's what the Bible teaches! Laughter is the second most powerful human emotion after love. He who laughs lasts, did you know that? It's good for long life to laugh! In fact, listen to this: it reduces health-sapping tensions and relaxes tissue, as well as exercising the most vital organs. It is like, I am told, internal jogging. Laughter enhances the respiratory system and oxygenates the body. Laughter is a painkiller, it relaxes muscles, lowers your pulse and your blood pressure. Laughter effects the hormones - be careful - the immune system, and the brain's natural chemicals, it releases chemicals in the brain, feel-good chemicals. Laughter is - ladies (and men) - calorie free, it's 100% natural, and it's legal. You can get high on it, but you can't overdose. It's contagious - you know that, you remember being in church when they had the long pews, and somebody at the end of the pew started laughing and it moved the whole way; maybe there was a family of five, maybe you were that family of five, and it moved down the whole way and you got a clip round the ear or something like that - but little can be done to stop it when it starts. Think about it: laughter never felt bad, never committed a crime, never started a war, and never broke a relationship. You can't laugh and be angry, you can't laugh and be anxious, laughter is shared with the giver and the receiver. Laughter costs nothing and it is non-taxable - Amen. It's a trend-setter. What I mean by that is: if you've found ways to laugh first thing in the morning, it may in fact set the trend for the rest of the day. In fact, George Mueller - he was Brethren too! - George Mueller (I'm just throwing that in, he was a great hero of mine), great missionary pioneer who fed the orphans, he said he would not go out of his study every day until he found his happiness in God, and he was a very happy man - how else would those children have come to him?
One of the most constructive uses of laughter is when we laugh at ourselves, do you ever do that? If we can laugh at ourselves, we leave little room for other people to laugh at us - we've got it over with already. But listen, this is something very interesting: laughter, even when forced - that seems a strange concept - but even when forced, it results in beneficial effects on us both mentally and physically. What I mean by that is: the next time you feel nervous or jittery, indulge in a good laugh. You know, sometimes the children of darkness are wiser than the children of light when it comes to this. There is a certain phenomenon, you may have heard about it in the media, called 'laughing yoga'. Have you heard of it? It's a form of yoga, but they laugh, and they laugh themselves into happiness. I heard an interview on BBC Radio Ulster about it, and I was thinking to myself: 'That's interesting', but I got cross, because I thought to myself, 'That's ours, that belongs to us!'. Can I tell you: that's what the New Age does, and that's what the devil does - he's got no new ideas or good ideas of his own, but he counterfeits God's ideas, God's gifts, God's blessings, and then do you know what the church does? They see it in the occult, or they see it in the New Age, and they say 'Oh, don't talk about laughing, don't talk about making yourself laugh, that's yoga, that's the devil's!'. No, God created laughter. You say: 'But I'm not sure about this making yourself laugh'. Right, OK, let me give you my final point tonight.
Joy will result in a feeling, joy will result in a feeling, but it often must begin as an act of your will. Eventually the feeling will come, but joy must begin as an act of your will. This is Biblical, because in Philippians 4:4, Paul says: 'Rejoice, again I say rejoice', rejoice in the Lord always, again, rejoice. Now that is an emphatic command. So is Paul commanding that your emotions should involuntarily just rise up at some point, and you rejoice? Does that happen to you? If it does, I think you need to go and see a doctor - that doesn't happen any of us. Joy does spring up every now and again, but it springs up as a reaction to something that we are feeling joyous about, there is usually a cognitive pattern that takes place. But Paul is in prison, these Christians are going through difficulties, and he's saying: 'You've got to make a concerted effort of the will to choose to rejoice in the Lord, you've got to praise the blessings that you have'. We sang it years ago: 'Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done' - what is that only using your will to rejoice, reminding yourself of the blessings of God.
You know, don't you, that joy is not a personality type? Some of us think that way, to say 'Ach, I'm just not a joyful person' - that's nonsensical, that's like saying 'Oh, I'm not a loving person, I'm just not a loving person', or 'I'm just not a holy person, all that sin stuff, I always fall' - would we dream of saying that? Yet some of us say: 'I'm just not about joyful, I'm more of a melancholic disposition' - wise up! The Bible is clear: we can choose to rejoice. This is going to be a breakthrough for some of you, and this is a revelation for most of you: seriousness is not a fruit of the Spirit. Did you know that? It's not there, but joy is! Love, joy, yes? But here's a key: one of the other fruit of the Spirit is what? Self-control. Now let me show you this: you can actually take your self-control that the Spirit gives you to activate your joy - that's what 'Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice' means. Your will is very powerful, and listen: you might think all this talk about exuberant joy, ecstatic joy is all emotionalism, that's what critics will say, it's emotionalism - on the contrary, what I'm saying is: don't listen to your emotions, because your emotions probably will default to depressivenesss. If you're like me, that's probably what will happen to you. The Bible says the sons of God are led by - their emotions? what? - the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God, not by their feelings. Therefore you, as a Spirit-filled child of God, with the fruit of the Spirit manifesting, I hope, in your life; you can take your self-control and choose to be joyful!
You say: 'Oh, I don't feel like it'. Well, you'll not feel like it, that's the whole point. If you wait until you feel like it, you will never do it. Let the weak say 'I am strong', do you see this? It's right throughout the Bible. You don't look at circumstances and interpret them as they seem to be, you interpret them according to what God says about you. Let the weak say 'I am strong', let the poor say 'I am rich', it's a matter of choice - joy is a matter of choice, your joy! You say: 'You don't know what I'm going through'. Well, I don't know what you're going through, and I'm not trying in anyway - if you've got depression, or you've got some terrible, tragic, traumatic circumstances going on in your life, or illness - I'm not belittling you. In fact, this is what you need to hear, it's in the midst of such circumstances that the devil who is a thief, a murderer, who wants to destroy and rob you of the life of Christ, he wants to take your joy - it's imperative, therefore, that you take your self-control and you take your joy back. It's what Isaiah 61 talks about: the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Do you always feel like praising God in the morning? What? Who is there like that here tonight? I would love to meet you, a Saint, you should be canonised if that's the case - none of us, none of us are like that (I know her, I know that's a lie!), none of us are like that naturally. We have to use our will, and what we do? We focus, we meditate on God, that's why we've got the word of God. We meditate on God, and we start to be raised in our spirit to appraise the Lord, to appraise who He is, what He has done for us, what He means to us; and then what happens is our spirit lifts and then we begin to praise the Lord. Appraise - but I often have to, every morning, start praising the Lord just out of pure willpower, and then I break into the Spirit, eventually. Maybe it might take 20 minutes of singing, praising. This is the secret to a lot of Christian discipline, of using our will in obedience to the Lord, and it's no different with joy.
So I've got an exercise for you - not right now, I would love to do it right now, but I think it would push some of you over the edge - but the Bible says 'He who sits in the heavens laughs', that's the Bible, your Bible. Even if you're in the darkest of circumstances, you should try some time - you might want to try it tonight later on in private - laugh at what the enemy has designed for you, have you ever done that? I'll be honest with you - you might think I'm giddy or something, what I'm preaching tonight, far from it - I would be prone at times to little spells of depressiveness, it's hard not to be when you're in the work of God at times. It can be discouraging when you're in spiritual warfare, sometimes the enemy really does bring an onslaught to you. I've had times that I've felt, driving in the car, meditating probably on the problems rather than anything else, but all of a sudden feeling emboldened to laugh at the enemy by will - I don't feel like laughing, but actually to exercise, with my will, laughter at what the devil is trying to do, what he's trying to do in my family, what he's trying to do in my ministry, what he's trying to do through slander and misrepresentation. I start to laugh at him, and it's not very long until I'm actually laughing like proper laughter, and belly laughter. It's great, you feel better for it, and sometimes I've come into the house, and I'm telling Barbara; 'Wait till you hear what happened to me tonight, wait till you hear what somebody said' - and I'm actually still laughing; but that's what the joy of the Lord can do! Normally I would obsess about it, let myself come under it, you see this is the power of joy - and we don't use it. Why not choose to laugh with Him who laughs in the heavens in the face of what the enemy declares over your life, what other people have said about you? Activate your self-control and laugh on purpose, the feelings eventually will come, but it's not about the feelings initially.
We need to strengthen our laugh muscle. Sometimes, do you know what we do when we've got problems, do you know what we do in prayer? Listen to this: in prayer we press into the problem, and God is not in the problem - are you hearing me? When you press into the problem, do you know what you can actually do? You can invite the problem and more problems. What we need to do is: 'I lift up my eyes to the hills - from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. When I am afraid, I will trust in You. The Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run in and they are saved'. You see, our focus has got to lift up from our boots, away from our circumstances surrounding us, and look to God. This is not belittling or underestimating what any of us are going through, but this is the only answer! We need to get our eyes on the Lord, focus on God; and we need to, with our will, choose, even choose to laugh - and that can be priming the pump for true joy and true laughter to come. Why not try it? On a stamped, addressed envelope, give your response to me, and let me know how you're getting on. I'll probably know the next time I look at your face, how you're getting on!
But listen: are you aware, as a Christian; do you believe, as a child of God, in exuberant, extravagant, hilarious joy? Do you believe there is such a thing as supernatural joy? Do you? The Bible teaches it, 1 Peter 1 and verse 8: 'Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable' - say that one, 'joy unspeakable'. The ESV says 'Joy that is indescribable and full of glory' - filled with glory! Wow! Joy unspeakable, joy indescribable, joy that cannot be explained - have you ever had that? You're a Christian, aren't you? Have you ever had that? Do you have it now?
An old saint, many years ago, said 'The Holy Spirit turns to joy whatever He touches'. Has He touched you with supernatural joy? In John 20:20, the disciples were in the Upper Room, they were dejected, Thomas was doubting - and you know what happens. Jesus comes, the doors being shut, into their midst and appears in His resurrected form. He shows them the nail prints in His hands, and the scar in His side, and it says in John 20:20: 'When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord'. They were glad when they saw the Lord. It's upon those words 'then' and 'when' that their happiness turned. It does not say that when they saw themselves they were glad, sure it doesn't? Some of you here tonight are looking internally for a sense of satisfaction in your Christian life by your own achievement, by how good you are or conversely how bad you have behaved, and that's not going to bring you much sense of esteem or being. Nevertheless, that's your problem, you're looking in, you're introspective. Some of you are of a perfectionist mentality, where you continually dissect yourself on your own surgical table, your own performance. You've been looking in too long, it's time to look out and look up. Their joy came when they saw the Lord. It doesn't say they looked at their circumstances. I mean, look at their performance, they're hiding behind locked doors in fear; look at their circumstances, their Messiah has died, they think it's all over, and they think they are going to die now too - so their circumstances weren't anything to look at. But how did they become glad? When they saw the Lord. By the way, not a doctrine about the Lord, some people get high on whatever doctrinal hobbyhorse they have. Doctrine is important, but that's not how we get real joy: we get joy in the face, gazing into the face of Jesus Christ.
So my question to you tonight - and I'm really finished - is: will you choose joy, exuberant joy, extravagant joy, indescribable, unspeakable, hilarious joy? That's a biblical word 'hilarious', it says 'God loves a hilarious giver', that's actually in the Bible. You know, not the person who He has to prise with a spanner their hand open to get the offering out of it - He loves hilarious giving, because He loves joy. Why? Because He is the Author of joy, Jesus is the Man of joy, it's the centre and heart of the Gospel, it's how we're going to win the world, it's the secret of endurance, strength, and holiness - and it's not just laughter and happiness, but it includes those. I want you to choose tonight, will you choose tonight - do you hunger for reality? This is reality! If this could be sold in bottles, I'd be a millionaire many times over! But it's not for money, or for price - 'Ho! You who are thirsty', are you thirsty? Are you prepared to die out? We'll all go for the laughter, but what about that? Are we prepared to come to the foot of the cross and say: 'Not my way any more, not my pursuit of joy and happiness. Lord, I'm sorry, but it's in Your presence. I have done everything but wait in Your presence. I have run everywhere, I have tried everything but the very thing that is before me'. Will you come tonight? Let's pray.
Let's take a moment or two. Let's, in the presence of God, just take a moment. I know when we're talking about these things it can be perceived as jovial, and people laugh, and people get offended. Isn't that interesting, by the way? Just as an aside, isn't it interesting that one of the most offensive things you could do in church is laugh - isn't that interesting? You should try it some time, it might help you get through the sermon! But, honestly, listen to me: this goes deep, this goes deep, really deep, because some of you are going through very traumatic circumstances, and some of you are going through illness, some of you are going through marriage problems, some of you are going through breakups of families. Listen: we are heading in our nation for darker days, persecution is coming for Christians who are bold in witnessing. If we haven't got joy we're not going to survive, we are not! So as we pray, I want you to come to God, you might want to pray something like this - you may want to recite it after me if you mean it: 'Oh Father, I come to You' - just from your heart, you don't need to say it out loud - 'Oh Father, I come to You as the God who created all life, and the God who created joy, laughter, singing, dancing, celebration'. Maybe you might have to say here: 'Forgive me for how I have despised that', or 'Forgive me for how I have esteemed that as unworthy, or unholy, or immature'. Maybe you need to repent of having spoken against people who have been happy in the Lord? I don't know, you do whatever you have to do before the Lord. Maybe you have to repent of having embraced sombreness as holiness? You know, you deal with the Lord.
Just say: 'Lord, I thank You that Jesus is the express image of Your person. Whilst He was a man of sorrows who endured unspeakable agony and the pangs of hell on the cross, I thank You that He was anointed with joy above His fellows. I thank You that in Your presence, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is fullness of joy, and at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore. I thank You that I am righteous by faith in Jesus, that the peace of God is mine, and I ask You now for the deposit of joy that Jesus bought for me on the cross. Lord, I need it, I need it to get through, to endure, to survive, to overcome, to be holy, to resist temptations of this world. So, Father, now in Jesus' name, I ask You for a baptism of joy in the Holy Spirit. Thank You, Lord, that this is Your will for me'.
I'm just going to pray over you for a moment or two, just stay in the attitude of prayer. In the name and authority of the Lord Jesus, I rebuke anything that is binding the emotions right now, any demonic entity that is binding people's emotions: I rebuke you now in the name of Christ, and command you to be loosed and released and leave, right now in Jesus' name. I command all blocking spirits to leave in Jesus' name. I rebuke every spirit of legalism, every spirit of religion, every spirit of false holiness, every spirit of heaviness, every spirit of depression - I rebuke you in Jesus' name. I pray, Lord, now, that You will pour out upon this gathering, just as the anointing is poured out literally when we anoint people with oil, Lord, pour out the oil of gladness as You did upon Jesus, Your Son. Would You pour out the oil of gladness upon heads here tonight, just send the angelic hosts with the oil, Lord, of gladness. Let them come now and minister to the inheritors of salvation here in the building tonight, and pour out that supernatural holy oil, that it would start to spring up, Lord, right now, bubble up within - joy unspeakable and full of glory. Lord, help us also, give us the grace to activate our will in self-control of joy. Help us to choose to be joyful every day, to rejoice, again I say rejoice; to wake up in the morning and say, like we put our socks on, will it be red or yellow today, we decide: will we be sad or will we rejoice? Will we go under the cloud that the devil has sent for me today, or will I choose to get up and say 'This is the day that the Lord has made, we will be glad and rejoice in it'? Lord, give us the grace to choose life, to choose hope, to choose joy; and, Lord, may it be such an overflowing, abundant joy that it will spill over our vessel - 'Fill my cup Lord, fill it up Lord' - that it will spill over to our work colleagues, our families, our friends, our neighbours, and even our church! People will say: 'I want what he's got', 'I want what she's got'; that atheists who don't even believe You exist, Father, will say 'I don't know about God, but there is something different about him or her, they've got something I don't have'. Lord, really, the flag that tells everybody that the King is in residence in the castle of our heart is joy. May the flag fly high! Oh Lord, we love our flags here, but Lord, this is the flag that we need to erect - all of us. This is the flag, we need to be saying to folk, whatever is happening in our country, whatever is happening in our land, whatever is happening in Europe, whatever is happening in the world over the Atlantic: we've got joy! Yes, things are dark, but we've got joy - we've got a reason to rejoice! Lord, would You give us this, because it doesn't come naturally, it doesn't come easy. So thank You, Lord, in Jesus' name we pray, Amen. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Stables in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the third recording in his 'Hunger For Reality' series, entitled "Exuberant Joy" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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