Growing up in the Bible Belt, it was cool to be Christian. In fact, it wasn’t cool to NOT be Christian. I’ve been back in my hometown for several weeks, and things haven’t changed much. But I AM a Christian, so this should be awesome, right? Except I believe there’s a great danger in religion that requires no sacrifice, danger in adhering to Christian culture because that’s what everyone does, and missing out entirely on the relationship and power of God in your life. So, if going to church every Sunday, voting Republican, and eating Chick-Fil-A on a regular basis doesn’t make us Christian, what does? How do we know we’re saved? I’m certainly no authority on this stuff, and only God knows our hearts. And I don’t believe this is something we can identify for another person. We each have to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). But one question to ask ourselves is, “Am I currently and fully depending on Jesus alone for my redemption?” It doesn’t matter if we can remember praying a prayer in 3rd grade (I did, it didn’t stick). It doesn’t matter if we had an emotional conversion experience. What matters is the posture of our heart. Do we BELIEVE He is enough? If so, then we know we can stop striving to earn heaven on our own, and rest in what He’s already done for us.
And when we’ve entered into this saving relationship, we begin to change, to be sanctified. This process is excruciating, imperfect, downright ugly, and yet beautiful all at once. Our desires change, because our heart has changed. Things that used to be ok aren’t ok anymore. And things that used to bother us are no longer a big deal. I’ve experienced all that, and am secure in my eternity. But what does this relationship with God mean for my life right now? How do I guard against complacency and the tendency to just “go through the motions” in a culture where church attendance is just what everyone does? How do I know that my relationship with Him is growing and thriving, and that I’m not just learning how to be a “good Christian?” Cause honestly, a “good Christian” is the last thing I want to be. I want to be a disciple. I want to be a warrior. I want to live in the freedom that Jesus died for me to have.
So from my understanding, one of the evidences of the power of God working in us is the development of the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. This is totally the work of the Spirit, and not something we can do on our own, no matter how hard we try. But we can ask for it. And we can partner with God, submitting to whatever it is He’s doing in our lives to develop this “fruit.” To this end, I’ve been studying these fruits of the Spirit recently, and was deeply moved by a sermon in Pastor Michael Todd’s series “Fruitfull.” What follows are my notes on his sermon, Your Joy Will Overflow. And I’ll link the YouTube video of the sermon itself at the end.
The Holy Spirit is supposed to DO something in our lives. God gives us the Holy Spirit so that we actually develop these fruits in our lives. He helps us to love those who hate us. To have peace when everything around us is crumbling. People freak out over politics or issues in the world today, and yes- things look dismal from some angles. But God is in control. He is sovereign and He loves us. We can rest in that and have peace. We don’t have to get frazzled and messed up over the circumstances of our lives because the Holy Spirit is inside of us, working to bring us peace.
Do you act like you believe what you SAY you believe?
The JOY of the Lord is our strength. Joy is the fuel to propel us through life when it’s hard.
But if we look at a lot of Christians’ lives, they’re not full of joy. They’re full of worry and doubt and frustration. Happiness is dependent on circumstances. We can never control that. Joy is unmovable. It’s so much deeper than happiness. Your whole world can fall apart, and you can still have joy. So what is this joy? Let’s look at Webster’s definition…
A feeling of pleasure or happiness? Nope, that’s not enough. Paul and Silas sang worship songs while they were in chains in jail. Something on the inside enabled them to have joy and glorify God despite their circumstance. Job lost everything. He didn’t feel good. He wasn’t happy. But he said “Blessed be the name of the Lord. The Lord gives and He takes away.”
The cross wasn’t a place of pleasure or happiness. But Jesus was focused on the joy He knew was coming. God is the One who can give us joy in the middle of the hardest situations. Our feelings are fleeting. How often have we changed our minds in our lives? And what’s pleasurable for us is not always profitable for us. So what was the joy that Jesus was focused on, if it doesn’t line up with Webster’s definition?
Joy is not a feeling. It’s a heart posture. It’s not natural to us. It’s SUPERnatural. It’s a byproduct of the Holy Spirit. That’s why when we spend time with God, when we pray, when we come into His house… He begins to work this out in us.
Joy comes from having a fixed perspective on Jesus. You can’t have joy if your focus keeps changing. We focus on whatever gives us feelings of pleasure and happiness at any given moment… a certain person, a group’s approval, an amount of money, a fun experience, drugs, food, relationships… and then when our feelings inevitably change, we’re unhappy again, and switch our focus to the next thing.
As the Spirit develops the fruits in us, this love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… it shines like a light in the darkness. Others are drawn to it. On some level, they know that they, too, need this light to illuminate their lives.
This joy, this light, His joy, cannot be taken away from us. The world didn’t give it, and they can’t take it away. The reason they can’t give it is because they don’t have it. Believers are no better than someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, but He is working in us. He came so that we would live life to the full. That we would be fruit-FULL.
God’s got it. And I trust Him. This is our anchor.
When I lose my job, when I’m left at the altar, when my kids are acting crazy, when the economy implodes, when my kids are faced with sickness… God’s got it. And I trust Him.
When I’m faced with a lifetime of chronic illness, when my family falls apart, when my parents get sick, when life doesn’t feel fair… God’s got it. And I trust Him.
A situation can come, and I’m chillin’. Cause God’s got it. And I trust Him.
Are my feelings hurt? Yeah.
Am I uncomfortable? Yeah.
Is my happiness up and down? Yeah.
But I still have joy. Cause God’s got it. And I trust Him.
I don’t care what comes. Nothing is bigger than Him. He’s got you. He’s got your kids. He’s got your job. When you KNOW that, it doesn’t matter what comes. KNOW that He’s going to take care of you.
Joy is ONLY Jesus-generated. It’s not external. It can only come from the work of the Holy Spirit inside you.
Some of us have got it twisted. We thing WE’RE the source. We don’t have any ability to make anything happen. We are just a RE-source. But when we remove ourselves from God, we cut ourselves off from THE Source. Whatever we do without God will not last. Because then WE have to sustain it.
God’s like, “Are you ready for Me to step in? Cause I can take care of this, you know? Easy. With my pinky.” But God is a gentleman. He only steps in when He’s asked.
Once a seed is planted, it has to stay in the ground and go through a process before it will bear fruit. We don’t pluck it up every day and plant a new one. How do we expect to bear fruit if we won’t stay planted? Pull up an orange tree every day, every month, every YEAR… and see how much fruit it gives. We can’t be in and out of our walk with Jesus. We have to stay planted in Him to be able to bear fruit.
Jesus paid for a 5 star meal, and all we’re getting is bread. There’s steak waiting for us. We have to take full advantage of the life God wants to give us. Joy is ours.
It’s hard to be joyful naturally when we’re hungry. Same goes for spiritual hunger. God’s word is spiritual food. We need to eat, so we don’t get HANGRY. We’re so malnourished that we think this is normal. The word of God satisfies.
Joy is not an option. It’s an outcome. An outcome of the richness of our relationship with God.
You want joy? Get to know Jesus.
It’s an outcome of KNOWING Jesus. If you want that thing that nobody can steal from you? If you want that thing that’s better than happiness? Know Jesus. And in the face of hard circumstances and broken situations, you’ll be able to stand. People will see the power of God in your life and He will be glorified.
No matter how dark our lives get, He sends joy constantly. No matter how long the night feels, joy is coming in the morning. And many times, joy comes in our MOURNING. When we experience loss and tragedy. But God brings joy in the midst of it. Unexplainable joy.
Because He’s got it. And we trust Him.