The first thing that came to mind when I sensed that God wanted me to study, write & teach on joy this coming year was, “Oh good!” I knew that whatever He gives me to teach, He first teaches me through life. Joy sounded like something I could use more of. I figured this would be a fun year!
As I began to study, the first distinction God led me to was the difference between “happiness” and “joy.” Happiness – even in its etymology – is related to what happens, i.e., circumstances. Joy is different. Joy is a spiritual force – a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) – it’s stronger, and deeper.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
[Isaiah 12:3 NIV]
[Isaiah 12:3 NIV]
…the joy of the Lord is your strength.
[Nehemiah 8:10b] .
[Nehemiah 8:10b] .
Jesus Himself found strength to endure the Cross in the joy that lay beyond temporary suffering – a joy that flowed from the heavenly reality of His resurrection, which would reunite Him with His Father and bring countless sons and daughters into eternal life and restored relationship with God.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
[Hebrews 12:2 NIV]
.Jesus taught and prayed for His disciples to be filled with His joy (John 15:11, 16:20-24, 17:13), a spiritual force that is greater than any worldly reasoning, trial or opposition we may face in this life.
Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.
[I Peter 1:8 NIV]
[I Peter 1:8 NIV]
I learned a lot about joy on a mission trip to eastern Europe called “Party with the Gypsies 2009,” organized by Global Celebration.* Our team leaders, Georgian & Winnie Banov (known as “apostles of joy”) taught us about Christ’s finished work on the Cross, while we traveled by bus to some of the poorest slums I’ve ever seen in Romania, Bulgaria & Turkey. Gypsies are a persecuted minority, but their hearts were as open as little children to the reality of the gospel. We saw miracles of healing in every village we “invaded” with prayers, love, worship & dancing. We brought them food and clothing, but what I remember most was the power of joy to lift and strengthen… all of us!
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.
[Proverbs 17:22 NAS]
.Oddly enough, one of the first things I faced as I prepared to study joy in 2011 was a “not so great” medical report, beginning with a “shadow” on my annual mammogram 12/30/10. Two sonograms, a biopsy and an MRI later, I was making plans for a lumpectomy followed by 6 weeks of radiation – not the worst that can happen in life, but certainly not my favorite thing so far. It didn't take long to realize that, yes, God teaches you about joy in the face of obstacles and challenges.
A friend of mine - a breast cancer survivor who also knows God - suggested I take time to seek Him for a specific word, a verse or passage of scripture that I could hold onto while walking through the treatment process – which, I figured out after waiting 2 weeks for biopsy results, is not something that's over “immediately,” so I really needed to close the door on worry, fear, self-pity, etc.
I felt God led me to Isaiah 38, the story of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery when he turned to God in prayer; then I felt the Lord gave me this verse, as a personal word of encouragement and comfort:
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
[Romans 12:12 NIV]
.Yes, learning about joy means facing whatever threatens to rob your happiness by reaching deep into “the wells of salvation” for God’s strength, letting His Spirit fill your spirit with His joy & truth. It’s the abundant joy that Jesus shared with His disciples, a joy that is fulfilled through prayer in His Name, and it’s a joy that no one can take away from you (John 16:20-24).
I’m looking forward to this year. I’m reading an 8-week devotional called Possessing Joy by Steve Backlund,** which is giving me lots of good ideas (I’ll be sharing some of these in future postings). Even before I got the biopsy results, I went ahead and signed up for another mission trip to eastern Europe with Georgian & Winnie this coming June*** – I’ve been waiting two years for this trip (which will include Greece, and a half-day in Paris on the way home), and I’m not going to let anything steal my joy. My doctor is on board with helping me to get well and go. I’m feeling a new freedom to be “joyful in hope” because of the good things God is always doing and about to do.
To be continued…
* For more info about Global Celebration, see http://www.riverlution.net/
*** To find out more about this trip: http://www.globalcelebration.com/news/110/61/In-the-Footsteps-of-Paul-Internship-and-Missionary-Trip/
Please email me at email@example.com if you would like to contribute toward my missions expenses for this trip in June – donations received by April 20 & May 18 will help me with payment deadlines.
** Possessing Joy by Steve Backlund is available at http://store.ibethel.org/
Bonus Track :) “You Are Good” from Jesus Culture’s CD Be Lifted High