Many only hear this psalm read and expounded upon at funerals, but how many of you know that this is not just a psalm to comfort us in death? This is a psalm also meant to encourage us in life!
As one looks at this psalm honestly and objectively, he or she must conclude that it not only contains promises from the next life, but contains God’s will for us in this life. For example, when David says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” that is not talking about after one dies - for there will be no evil to fear then. No, it is talking about now in this life when the prospect of death does face us and when the temptation to fear would be present. Another example is when David writes that God prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. Well, there will be none of our enemies in heaven, so that must be talking about now, in this life too. Amen?
No, saints, this psalm is not just a good passage of Scripture to be read at someone’s graveside; it is a good psalm with many good promises for us to embrace while we are still above ground. Amen?
BACKGROUND OF THE 23RD PSALM
Now I believe the position of this psalm is divinely strategic as well - for it follows the 22nd psalm which is called by some, “the Psalm of the Cross,” holding many prophetic truths regarding Jesus’ crucifixion. So, why is that significant? It is only because of Jesus going to the Cross that we have all of these promises of protection and provision that we are going to see in Psalm 23. In other words, it is only through our Good Shepherds’ death, burial and resurrection that we have these exceedingly great and precious promises spread on the banquet table of the Lamb. Amen and glory!
Now it is an undisputed fact that King David is the author of this psalm, which I think is interesting in that he personally lived his life doing these very things that he attributes to God here - namely, being a good shepherd in his early years and a hospitable and honorable king in his latter years.
You see, Psalm 23 is divided into two basic descriptions of God: Verses 1-4 use the analogy of the Lord being like a shepherd caring for His sheep, and verses 5-6 use the analogy of the honor bestowed by a wealthy and hospitable king or noble - both of which we see in the life of David.
Did you know that the Lord wants us to learn about His love and care for us through the natural things we experience in life? For example, marriage is meant to teach us about Christ’s love and care for His church and how we are to respect and honor Him as our Provider (see Ephesians 5:32). Parenthood is meant to teach us about the great love and provision that our Heavenly Father has in His heart to give us. Jesus even used the illustration of how the natural things of this world like the birds and flowers, which have all they need, to show us how we never need worry - for God will take care of us.
How do you treat your children, grandchildren and even your pets? As good as you are to your babies, you ain’t gooder than God (pardon the poor grammar)!
So, you could say that many of the natural things we are surrounded with in everyday life illustrate to us God’s nature. Amen. Likewise, David taught us about the nature of Jehovah through the things he lived through in this world. We would do good to learn from his wisdom.
So, renew your mind to that truth today - that God is good and He wants (more than you) for you to live the good life He has for you! In fact, he has already prepared this good life for you and I to walk in.
Look over at Ephesians chapter 2…
THE GOOD LIFE
In the Amplified Version of Ephesians 2:10 it says, “For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].”
Now, what the Lord did for us in Christ - spiritually speaking - is absolutely the most important part. His providing us with the new birth to where we become His own handiwork, His masterpiece and His work of art is the cornerstone of this blessed life. But how many of you know that no one displays a valuable piece of artwork in some broken, shabby, substandard frame? No, they want that precious piece of art being displayed in something that is equally precious. Amen?
So, God has a “good life” which He has already prearranged for us to live and wants us to display all of these spiritual blessings that we have in Christ to the world we live in. In other words, He wants our natural lives to display His goodness, living the good life. This is that exciting life of faith where we are enjoying our personal relationship with God, where we are introducing people to His presence and power, and we are partaking of all the good things He has for us in this life. Amen.
THE GOODNESS OF GOD NOW!
Now I want us to look at Psalm 27:13 because it is a verse that both reiterates what the Amplified Bible says in Ephesians 2:10 and also perfectly encapsulates what I believe the Lord wants us to see through the 23rd Psalm…
In this verse, King David says, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Notice what some other translations say:
I want you to notice that David put his faith of experiencing God’s goodness in the land of the living - which is the opposite of the land of dead. In other words, he didn’t, like so many Christians, push off the glories and promises of God into the “sweet by and by”; no, David expected the manifestation of God’s goodness in the “rotten here and now”!
He goes on in the next verse to say, “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!”
The word used for “wait” in these verses does not mean what we commonly use the word “wait” like today. When we say that we are “waiting,” it might mean that we are just enduring and passively letting the time pass by, but this word meant something else in their days. It meant to earnestly expect something to happen, to where we are looking for it and desiring it. In other words, it is not a passive kind of waiting; it is a neck-stretched out, looking for something kind of waiting. Amen.
So, in context, what David was encouraging all of God’s people to do was EXPECT the Lord’s goodness right now in this life! Look for it, earnestly desire it, and believe for it in the land of the living.
“But what if I get disappointed, pastor? I don’t want to get my hopes up.” That’s why David said, “Be of good courage!” because it will take courage for some of us to put our hope in experiencing God’s goodness in our lives.
And that is exactly what I believe God wants to challenge us on as we enter this new year: He wants us to start expecting good things in our life starting this year. He wants us to start living the “good life” that He has always wanted us to have here in the land of the living. Amen?
So, let’s begin looking at this 23rd Psalm and begin seeing what this good life that He intends for us all to live looks like…
JEHOVAH, MY SHEPHERD
King David begins this Psalm with, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
Now, again, David knew a little bit about shepherding, right? So, through his personal experience as a shepherd, he saw how the Lord was that way towards us.
The title “Lord” comes from the Hebrew word YHWH, and has been transliterated as Jehovah. This is also one of those names God gave to Himself that describes His covenant relationship with His people - Jehovah Ra’ah. Thus, Psalm 23:1 describes the Self-Existent One as “The Lord our Shepherd”- that is, “The God who leads, guides, feeds and watches over us.”
Now this of course is not the only name given to Jehovah:
Now the “name” of God represents His authority and His power; it describes His person and His characteristics. His name declares to us who He is and what He does - His integrity, personality and nature. So, God gave us all of these names to reveal to us His nature and the core parts of who He is - to show us who He is to us. Amen.
But not just who He is to us, but who He is to you and to me on an individual level. Amen. In other words, He is not just the Lord our Shepherd; He is the Lord my shepherd! Yes, we need to make who He is personal to us. Amen?
In fact, notice all the personal pronouns David used in this psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
That’s a lot of “me’s, my’s and I’s,” isn’t it? But it is significant that he didn’t once say, “us, we, our, etc.” It is because He is our personal God. He didn’t just send Jesus to die for us. He sent Jesus to die for you and for me on an individual level too! Amen. Praise God!
You see, David was confident in his God to where he personalized these promises! Plus, he was not “wishy washy” either. He apparently really knew and believed what His God was going to do.
You know, if this Psalm were not a part of the Holy Scriptures and say, I wrote these words, you might be tempted to think I was being little high-minded, brash and over-confident, right? But we know that these confident statements by David were inspired by God. Therefore, they are right on!
In fact, he even made other statements throughout his life that people misunderstood and was even accused by his brother Eliab in 1 Samuel 17:28 as being arrogant. But in that situation, David turned from him and kept saying the same things. Yes, he said things that many would consider presumptuous and arrogant - saying things to Goliath, “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand…” (Verse 46)
Where did David get this confidence from? We don’t have any reason to believe that God told him any of these things. Where did his obvious persuasion come from? His confidence came from knowing his God.
The same sentiment is revealed in Jeremiah 9:23-24: Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; 24 But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord.
You see, David knew his God, and this is what produced all this boldness and confidence that we see. And I can guarantee you that I know exactly how he knew his God so well: It was because he was a praiser, and the Bible says that in Judah (Hebrew for “praise”), God is known (Psalm 76:1). And we know that David was well versed in praise by all the psalms he wrote. In other words, God is known in the arena of praise. Amen.
You see, David did not just know what He believed; he knew whom believed.
KNOWING MY GOD
You see, in 2 Timothy 1:12 the Apostle Paul made a similar, profound statement: He said, “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”
Notice that Paul did not say here, “I know what I have believed.” And this is a big problem with many Christians - that they are trying to adhere to a principle or a promise and not to a person. They are trying to follow a formula and the problem with that is that we can get the results of the seven sons of Sceva to where the devil turns on us and eats our lunch and pops the bag. But if we know HIM like these people like David and Paul did, it will produce faith.
No, Paul knew God as a person and this produced, what? Him being persuaded that His God would be able to keep Him. Amen. Church, truly knowing God produces persuasion. This word “know” here means to perceive or to see. And this is the problem with so many Christians - they have not really “seen” God. Their vision is blurry. They see an abstract version of God, but have never truly seen His true nature.
But the fact is, Paul knew His God personally. And this even produced the confidence that made him say in Philippians 4:19- “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
Why would he say, “And my God?” Wasn’t He also the God of the Church of Philippi? Sure, he was, but what Paul was saying was, “And I am confident that my God - the One who has proven Himself to be faithful to me in my life - He will supply all your need too.”
You see, this was a statement that reveals that He knew his God! Amen.
Church, it is critical that we likewise believe in our hearts and declare with our mouths who our God is to us personally just like David and Paul did. In fact, this is what you see throughout the Bible - that the ones who came to know Him as their own personal God, made professions that to some might seem a little arrogant.
For example, the Apostle John declared time and time again in his gospel that he was the disciple whom Jesus loves. But for someone to say that this is not being humble would have to say that the Apostle John was in pride - and I can assure you the apostle of love was not a high-minded person.
You see, Daniel 11:32 says that it is the people who know their God that will be strong and do great exploits, not just the people who know about their God. We must see His face and become intimately acquainted with Him. Then, and only then, will our confidence level be where it needs to be. Then, and only then, will we become persuaded in Him backing us up and being our shepherd.
I WILL SAY OF MY GOD
However, just as it is important to personalize His promises, it is also just as important to then speak them.
We see this in Psalm 91:2, where after the Psalmist describes this whole Psalm in a nutshell in the first verse, he goes on to say, “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”
So, let me ask you a question: Is what you say important? I can assure you, it is!
There are countless Scriptures that teach us the power in our words. What is most notable is how the Book of Wisdom itself - Proverbs - has so many Scriptures that reveal to us the importance of our words. Therefore, we can simply conclude from just this that a wise person watches what he or she says and a fool doesn’t.
You know, the world will tell us that we are weird if we talk to ourselves; Well, the Scriptures indicate that we are weird if we do not talk to ourselves.
For instance, when you have those times where your emotions are screaming at you - Fear, Panic, Worry!!! Well, what should you do? Just give in to the anxiety? No! You should SAY! Remember, never run at your giant with your mouth shut!
But do you know one reason why people do not do this? It is because they are afraid of nothing happening and either being disappointed or having egg on their face before other people.
THE PEOPLE THAT KNEW THEIR GOD
But the main truth I want to convey to you this week is that it is the one who knows their God that will be strong, bold and courageous!
We all remember the instance where Abraham began to bargain with God over the righteous that dwelt in Sodom. I mean, who actually tries to strike a deal with God? Someone who knows their God!
In another instance, when God told Moses that He was going to wipe out all His chosen people, Moses stood between Him and the Jews and basically told God to repent. Now who does that? Someone who knows their God and knows who they are in Him - that’s who! (See Exodus 32:7-14) You see, the people of Israel knew His acts, but Moses knew His ways!
Saints, every born-again believer is now a friend of God. Notice what Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:14-17: Here, Jesus tells His disciples that he no longer calls them servants for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.
So, we are now the initiated. We are not outsiders - peeking in from the outer court. No, we are insiders - initiated into the mysteries of the kingdom. And as God’s friends, (notice what Jesus went on to say at the end of verse 16) “whatever we ask the Father in His name He may give you.”
So, we should no longer communicate with God with this mentality that we are on the outside looking in. Saints, we are in covenant with the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ! This means we are joint heirs, and no longer strangers to the covenants of promise! So as the friends of God, we can talk to God rather frankly. Of course, not being disrespectful because He is still God, but we must find the middle of the road where we are not communicating to God like we are still lost and without God in the world.
But the good news is that the same confidence that David, Abraham, Moses and Paul had, you and I can have because, under this new and better covenant, we all can know Him from the least to the greatest (Hebrews 8:10). Amen!
So, when we see here in Psalm 23:1- “The Lord is My Shepherd”- what should be our response? We should boldly say, “I will say of the Lord: The Lord is My Shepherd. I shall not lack! He will provide for me! He will take care of me! My enemies are His enemies, and He will deliver me! Amen!”
Get Caught Up:
Click here to read Part 1 of this series: An Attitude of Gratitude
Click here to read Part 2 of this series: The Perspective from Paul's Pulpit.
Click here to read Part 3 of this series: Think Yourself Happy
Click here to read Part 4 of this series: Fulfilled Through Fellowship
Click here to read Part 5 of this series: Abiding in His Love
So, let’s quickly recap what we’ve talked about over the past few weeks…
KEEPING HIS COMMANDMENT
But I want to draw your attention back to another part of what Jesus was saying in John chapter 15 - because this is another big part of having our joy and happiness remain full…
After Jesus told us to abide in His love in verse 9, He then goes on to tell us one of the ways in which we remain, stay or live in His love. He says, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
So, evidently doing what the Lord has told us to do plays a big part to remaining in that place of experiencing God’s love for us.
Now, of course, Jesus was not talking about keeping all the jots and tittles of His commandments. How many of you know that the Pharisees and other religious folk have done a decent job keeping all those commandments, yet they were certainly not happy people. In fact, being a strict observer of a bunch of rules and regulations will actually produce the exact opposite in us. Those people are miserable and detestable.
So, no, Jesus was not referring to keeping a bunch of rules and regulations. Rather, He specifically tells us what His commandment is in verses 12 when He said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” He goes on in verse 13 to say, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
So, the commandment that we keep that keeps us in the love of God is loving one another as He has loved us. Amen! Yes, like receiving God’s love causes His joy to remain in us, giving God’s love likewise causes His joy to remain in us and our joy to stay full. Amen!
The reason you see these as the keys to unlocking the joy of the Lord in our lives is because it is just how God has set up His kingdom to operate. In His kingdom, less equals more. In His kingdom, the last will be first. In His kingdom, the servant of all will be considered the greatest. Yes, in His kingdom, it is more blessed to give than to receive. This was the message that Christ Jesus came to deliver to us - how His kingdom is the upside kingdom that is really right side up.
LIVE TO GIVE
So, let’s look over at a passage of Scripture where Paul quoted that oh so powerful lesson that Jesus taught us. Ironically enough, these were the last words Paul preached to these elders of the church of Ephesus like this is the last message of this book.
In Acts 20:35, the Apostle Paul concluded his exhortations to these elders by saying, “And remember the words of our Lord Jesus, that said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Now according to what we have recorded in the four gospels, we do not have a record of Jesus ever making this exact statement. Of course, this does not mean He did not say it. In fact, I will give three reasons how we know Jesus said this:
Therefore, based on these three points, we should be firmly convinced that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” was an accurate quote from the mouth of our Messiah.
Regarding my third and final point of how we can be certain that this is a quote from Jesus, let’s look at some of these other sayings of Jesus that are recorded in the gospels that reinforce this truth: Jesus said that in the kingdom of God, the last will be first and the first will be last (Matthew 19:30 & 20:16). What this means is that the believer who is self-seeking and self-promoting will not end up becoming first in God’s kingdom; it will be the one who lays down His life and seemingly has made himself last who will be considered first in the kingdom of God. In other passages of Scripture, Jesus said that it is he who becomes a servant of all who will be considered the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 20:26 & 23:11). In other words, the one who truly learns to empty Himself of His own self-centeredness and pride, learning to serve others more than they serve themselves, is the one who will be considered the greatest in the kingdom of God.
When Jesus explained how His kingdom operates, He was not only showing how one will be considered first and greatest in the kingdom of God; He was at the same time showing how one will experience the fruit of God’s kingdom. Thus, His statement of it being more blessed to give than to receive.
Now when Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive, what did He mean by “blessed?” Well, the word “blessed” also carries with it the idea of being happy. So, you could translate this statement like so - “You will be more happy when you give than when you receive.” Ah! Now we are seeing the important role that being a giver plays in experiencing joy, aren’t we?
My friend, this is a law that works no matter who you are. You will be happier, fulfilled, and satisfied in your heart when you are a giver than you ever could be if you are only concerned about getting. Sure, receiving is fun and can bring some temporary enjoyment and pleasure, but true and lasting joy is only experienced in giving, not receiving. And it doesn’t matter whether they deserve it or are thankful - Agape love, God’s kind of love, has nothing to do with the recipient, but with the decisions of the one loving the other. And don’t forget: you can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving. And when I give in love it produces joy in me.
The world has tapped into this principle to a measure. That is why you see individuals and groups who enjoy contributing to charities and supporting other humanitarian projects. The world likes to do things like this because they like how it makes them feel. It makes them happier and causes them to feel more at peace on the inside. Why is this? It is because they are tapping into this principle that God set in motion when He created man in the beginning, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
So, let us ask ourselves the following question: how much more, should a born-again, child of God, who has Christ’s joy resident in their spirit, experience the joy of giving? We should experience it much more than the world around us, right? But I can promise you that we will not experience it to the degree that we could if we do not cooperate with this spiritual law of giving.
Friends, do not be mistaken - an unbeliever who lives to give will be happier than a selfish Christian. Yes, even though the believer has more of the capacity to walk in the fullness of joy, if their focus is only on their own needs and desires, they will not experience any more joy and happiness than the ungodly around them.
How do I know this, you ask? It is because the Lord taught me this first hand:
FINISHING OUR RACE WITH JOY
I remember early in my Christian walk being dissatisfied with the level of joy I was walking in. I was growing by leaps and bounds and learning more and more about the Lord, but I witnessed in others a joy that I did see in my own life. This prompted me to ask the Lord, “Lord, why do these other individuals seem to have more joy than I do?” To which the Lord responded, “It is because you count your life dear to yourself.” Then He took me over to a passage of Scripture in the Book of Acts where the Apostle Paul made a powerful and most revealing statement.
Again, in Acts chapter 20, as the Apostle Paul was summarizing his message to a group of pastors saying that he was aware of the chains and tribulations that awaited him in Jerusalem. Then he said, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy…” Through this simple, yet profound statement we see a major cause for the joy that the author of the book of Philippians obviously had.
The way the Lord taught me this was that the reason Paul was able to finish his race with joy was because, number one, he did not let anything move him and, number two, because he did not count his life dear to himself. But He showed me that it was specifically because he did not let things move him that he was able to finish his race. And the same is true for all of us. If we operate in faith - not letting circumstances or situations move us because we are not moved by what we see, hear, or feel, but we are only moved by what we believe - then we will finish our race. Yes, it is only in allowing ourselves to be swayed by the tribulations of life that we will be hindered from finishing our race and completing our course. But just because we are strong in faith does not automatically mean that we will enjoy the journey to the degree that we can. It is only when we learn to not count our life dear to ourselves that we will finish our race with joy. In other words, while letting nothing move us through trusting and believing in God will enable us to finish our race; coming to the place where we become selfless and focused more on the needs of others is when we will possess joy in the midst of that race. Amen.
So, what the Lord was saying to me was, sure, I was growing in faith and knowledge, among other things, but the key to joy coming alive in my life was found in dying to myself.
Friends, this is where happiness is found for all of us. It is found in the laying down of our lives daily and living to give. Again, Paul said, “I die daily”- meaning he had learned to die to himself on a daily basis. And it was in this learning to “die daily” that he truly learned how to live daily - for, as the Master taught us, the more one loses their life, the more they will find it. This was undoubtedly the reason that Paul possessed so much joy even in the midst of his horrific situations; he had learned the secret to satisfaction - to live is Christ. Amen.
You see, if we are going to experience fullness of joy, we must learn to become givers - to give of our time, our service, and yes, of our resources too. Sure, it is important that we cooperate with these other spiritual laws of God’s kingdom that we have looked at in our prior chapters, but in order to experience joy, being a giver is what I consider to be the single most important key that we have to unlocking joy in our hearts.
Now I want to encourage you to not just look at it from the viewpoint of giving finances. While being a giver of money is a part of this, there are other ways in which we need to excel in giving as well. We need to be better givers of our time - from giving a simple listening ear to someone to giving others our attention. We also need to learn to give our services - which can range from volunteering at our local church to doing kind acts of service for others that the Lord would lead us to do. Simply by adopting a lifestyle where we “live to give” in every area of life is where we will experience the fruit of God’s kingdom.
So again, do not just think of giving in one particular area, but rather think of giving in every way - the giving of your time, deeds, attention, money, help, etc. Think of the giving of your life.
But as wonderful as this promise is, by far the greatest benefit of being a giver is not this financial harvest that you will reap from your monetary seeds; the greatest benefit is how your cup will also overflow with joy when you give sacrificially and extravagantly. When a believer begins giving like this, they will experience the same net-breaking, ship-sinking, cup-overflowing provision of joy and happiness in their lives. This most definitely beats any other reward or harvest we could receive.
Church, there is no greater joy than being used by our gracious God to help meet someone’s need, grant their desire or be an answer to prayer. This is not only the privilege of every believer, but it is our duty as well.
So today, begin to think of ways that you can be more of a blessing - more of a giver to your church, more of a giver to other ministries, more of a giver to your neighbor, more of a giver to the simple stranger in the marketplace, and on and on. When you live your life to be blessing to others - sowing of your time, energy, and resources - you will reap the fruit of joy in your life. It is a principle God has set up here on the earth, and it will last for all eternity. Live to give today, and reap a harvest of joy, bliss and happiness in your heart. Amen.
Get Caught Up:
Click here to read Part 1 of this series: An Attitude of Gratitude
Click here to read Part 2 of this series: The Perspective from Paul's Pulpit.
Click here to read Part 3 of this series: Think Yourself Happy
Click here to read Part 4 of this series: Fulfilled Through Fellowship
Well, it is Christmas Eve and I have been reminded of how this season tends to bring out the best in people and the worst in other people. To some, Christmas is a time of rejoicing - of fun, food and family, of gifts, decorations and lights. To others, Christmas serves as a reminder of the things they no longer have or never had to begin with.
So, today, it seemed good to me to continue on with a series that we have been doing here over the past couple of months on the subject of joy & happiness.
For those of you who have not been with us, our series has been titled “How to Be Happy” (and you can add, “Especially during the holidays.”)
The Lord gave us the following statement which we have been basing this teaching on - that joy is a gift, but happiness is a choice. Yes, joy is a fruit of the Spirit and was deposited into our recreated spirit the moment we were born again. But just because we have this fruit in us does not mean we automatically will experience it in our lives. We must choose life and we must choose blessing just as our Lord told His covenant people in Deuteronomy chapter 30.
But many do not see happiness as a choice. They think their happiness is contingent on their circumstances because of how their situation affects their emotions. But no, we can line two people up who have identical circumstances and one person is happy and the other is depressed. Why is this? It is because of how both individuals view their circumstances.
So, that is what we have been looking at in this series - how do we choose happiness?
We have found that it is a product of our perspective, our attitude and the way we think. We have seen how happiness is not a state of being, it is a state of mind. Therefore, happiness is a choice, us choosing to have a certain mentality!
We have looked at how important being appreciative, grateful and thankful is regarding happiness, because if you show me someone who is unthankful, I’ll show you someone who is unhappy.
The Lord shared with us that those who see the glass as half full instead of half empty are the ones who have the capacity to be full of joy. Therefore, it is a certain mentality and a different perspective that yields happiness.
We looked at the Apostle Paul and saw how radical his perspective was. He thought on things from an eternal perspective. He viewed his afflictions completely different than most of us because he saw the eternal and spiritual benefit in them.
We saw how our thought life directly determines our joy level by looking over at Paul’s statement to King Agrippa - “I think myself happy.” We saw that the word used for “count” in James 1:2 is the same word used for “think” here.
Now what do you have to do to count something? You have to use your head! In other words, your thinking faculties are involved. So, like that phrase “I think myself happy,” we have to use our head to calculate any, all and every joy. Amen! Therefore, our thought life is certainly involved in experiencing all the joy that is available to us. Therefore, when we fall into a trial of our faith, we don’t need to just let our emotions take us down whatever road the situation dictates. Rather, we should settle ourselves down, sit down, and calculate everything like we would do a budget. We should add up all of our “spiritual income” and all of “natural expenses” and count all our blessings versus our difficulties. If we would just do this when we fall into these various trials, oftentimes we will come out of that budget meeting rejoicing because we will again see just how blessed we truly are! Amen!
You know, we have verses in the New Testament that encourage us to set our minds on things above, being spiritually minded, etc. This is a major key to consistent happiness - learning to set our mind on happy things. Amen!
Let me give you an example: Say you had someone unexpectedly betray you. Your heart is hurt. Your emotions are in a mess. How can you not let that situation steal your joy? Well, you set yourself down and get yourself together and then you begin to channel your thoughts in a different direction. You might do this like so - “Father, even though I am extremely hurt right now, I am deciding to count it all joy right now. So, I am asking for the grace that I need right now to do so… Lord, thank you for forgiving me when I’ve betrayed you. I thank you that my sins were what put Jesus on the Cross, and you forgave me of all of my sins that brought more hurt on your Son. Father, and I thank you that not only did you give me a new start, but you “loaded me up” with benefits! God you’re so good, and I just want to take a moment to praise and worship you for your goodness in my life….” This is how you settle down those emotions.
So, if our emotional state is directly tied to the way we think then we ought to be thinking on the Word of God like the Lord encouraged us to. And the Lord gave us the truth concerning this that if you don’t like your emotional make-up, then the process of changing it begins with washing your face with the washing of water by the Word!
I have made the point in this series how one can hear bad and alarming news that is false and experience the emotions that would come if those things were true. So, if someone can make you unhappy by convincing you of things that are untrue, then why can’t you make yourself happy by believing things that are true?!?!
So, last time we transitioned from our state of mind, perspective and thoughts to a couple of very important and practical things that we can add to our lives that will yield more happiness in our hearts.
Last time, we looked at the important role that our fellowship with God plays in our happiness and joy level. We looked at 1 John 1:3-4 and saw where the Apostle John said, “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”
So, we saw how John was declaring these things to them so that they would both have fellowship with them but truly our fellowship is with Father God and the Lord Jesus, but the ultimate purpose of his writings was so that our joy may be full. Therefore, our joy level is evidently tied to the quality of our fellowship with God.
I explained how this has been something that the Lord has constantly communicated to me - the importance of staying connected to Him.
Early on in my Christian walk, when I would take everything from struggles with my flesh to desires to grow before the Lord, it seemed as though the only response I would get from Him was - “You need to be spending more time with Me.”
It was during this season that He was teaching me about the importance of my fellowship with Him. He pointed me to the truth that spending time with Him is where we exchange our weaknesses for His strength. It is where we become spiritually strong. It is where we find the fulfillment, the peace and the joy that we need. Yes, times spent in simple fellowship with the Lord is where most of our answers are found, and that certainly includes joy. So our fellowship with God is how we experience the joy we desire. And our fellowship with God is the foundation of our Christian walk.
So, we learned last time the secret to contentment - how the Apostle Paul learned this important lesson as well and how his joy remained full.
So, this week, I would like to continue along these lines, but for all of you who prefer to have a Christmassy type message today, let me preface today’s message with this…
When one reads the Christmas story in both the early chapters of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, they can easily not consider the way things truly were.
For example, in Matthew chapter two we see how the wise men rejoiced with exceedingly great joy when they saw His star. They blessed and worshipped Him. How many of you know that these kings were happy on this night?
How about Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, who had her baby jump for joy on the inside of her when he heard Mary’s voice?
Then Mary rejoiced by singing her song that began with “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
This was indeed a happy time for Mary and her family, amen?
Then we see how the shepherds in Luke chapter two were glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen from the hosts of angels that appeared to them (see Luke 2:20).
Even some time after his birth, we see how Simeon and the Prophetess Anna had their moments with the Lord which likely caused much happiness in their hearts.
My point, you ask? It is that although these initial encounters with the Lord produced much joy and happiness in those who saw Him, did this mean that they stayed happy every subsequent day from that point forward? No, I would venture to say that people like the wise men and the shepherds returned to their own way of life and dealt with the same ups and downs of life that we all experience.
ABIDING IN JOY
But my point today is this: Are we doomed to just having joy on these special encounters with the Lord, when we go to special meetings and have these periodic experiences with Him? No, and again I say, NO!
Jesus taught His disciples and us how we can abide in Him even when we don’t physically see Him. Let’s look over at John chapter 15 and see where Jesus exhorted them regarding His imminent departure…
In John 15:1-8, we have Jesus teaching His disciples how we can actually “abide in Him” even when He is physically gone.
Now let’s first camp on what it means to abide in Him: What does it mean to “abide” in Him and He in us?
Abiding in the Lord is different than being “in Him.” The word “abide” itself means “to stay, remain, live or dwell.” You see, the “in Christ” realities that the Apostle Paul brought to the table in his epistles were not even a reality when Jesus directed us to abide in Him, as Jesus had not yet gone to the Cross. So what Jesus was saying here in this passage to His disciples is that we need to stay, remain, live and dwell in Him, not just merely visit Him from time to time or be around Him one day and then the next leave. No, He was telling His disciples to stay close and connected to Him.
What is interesting about this is that He was telling them this on the heels of Him talking about going to the Cross and then being raised to His Father. So Jesus was letting His disciples know, in His last and (you could say) most vital words to them, that they must make sure that they stay in His presence - even though He would soon not be present.
This is such an important lesson for us, because with our tendency to be carnal, we want something tangible and want to feel something. Jesus was exhorting His disciples in the wake of Him leaving them to where there will be no more physical Jesus around anymore, to make sure they “remain in Him.” And He uses the analogy of a vine and its branches to describe this principle of abiding. So, what would be some words or phrases you would use to describe a branch abiding in a vine? You might say, “a branch staying connected to the vine” or “a branch remaining attached to the vine.”
What if a branch did not stay connected to its trunk? What if one day it was attached and then others, it was off doing its own thing? What would become of that branch? It might not completely lose its life, but it will never be able to produce its fruit. Why? Because as is with everything in life - in consistency lies the key. We can’t be planting seeds one day and digging them up the next. We cannot be connected to the Lord one day and then disconnected the next. And another important point is, if there's a true vine (Jesus), there's also a false vine - the deceit of the devil. If we don’t choose to abide in the true vine, we end up abiding in the deceitful things of this world.
This is what Jesus was teaching them and us in this parable - being consistent, connected and attached to Him.
As we’ve seen, abiding in Him is what Jesus exhorted His disciples to do probably because He was about to leave them. In other words, because they had been abiding in Him through His physical presence in their lives for the past three years, now He is telling them to remain in Him - especially in the wake of Him leaving.
So, we saw how we can stay in His presence even if He is not physically present. Amen! This was what Jesus was teaching His disciples.
But we must come into this truth with this foundational understanding - that Jesus is always present with us! He said, “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the world.” Other Scriptures teach us that He will never leave us or forsake us, and even describe Jesus walking in the midst of the church.
So, we need to understand that God is always present, but that does not mean that we are abiding in His presence. There is a big difference between these two positions. Sure, God is omnipresent - meaning He is everywhere, all the time. But that does not mean that He is tangibly felt and experienced everywhere, all the time.
You see, our feelings and experiences are directly tied to our thoughts and focus. So when we fix our eyes on Him - His greatness, glory and power - we begin to sense, become aware of, and feel His tangible presence. It begins to affect our emotions too!
ABIDE IN MY LOVE
We will see this in the following verses of John chapter 15…
Continuing in verse 9, Jesus said, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you, abide in My love.”
Now this statement “abide in My love” is a phrase that has been much misunderstood. You see, just as abiding in Him does not mean that we are positionally going in and out of His presence - for He has said that He will never leave us nor forsake us - it just simply means that our experiencing of His manifest presence is what He wants us to stay in. Likewise, abiding in Christ’s love is not us earning His love one day and then losing it the next. No, it simply is an encouragement by Christ Himself to stay, live, remain and dwell in the experiential knowledge of His love for us.
Now while He does go on to say in verse 10 that if we keep His commandments then we will abide in His love, I want us to focus this week on what it means to stay, remain, live and dwell in the Savior’s love and then next week we will come back to what He meant in this verse…
In verse 11, Jesus again says, “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may remain (same word for “abide” in the rest of these verses) in you, and that your joy may be full.”
What things is Jesus referring to? All of the things that He had been speaking on for the past ten verses regarding abiding.
So, that question of how do we keep ourselves in the joy of the Lord and have that joy abiding within us is found in the truth concerning abiding in His love.
Now this goes back to our fellowship with Him because if we do not spend time with Him - simply loving on Him through prayer, praise and worship and learning more about Him through reading, studying and meditating the Word - then we are not putting ourselves in position to abide in His love. Why? God is love! So, to abide in Him is to abide in love and vice versa.
Saints, I have yet to see someone who was basking in the love of their Savior and truly has their attention set on His love and was depressed, discouraged and despondent. No, when God’s people have lost their joy it is always (and I mean, always) because they are focused on what is natural, carnal and temporal. These who are unhappy are those who are thinking about what they have that they don’t want or what they don’t have that they do want. But never have I found someone who is truly abiding in His love to be unhappy.
And why would we? If we just kept this oh, so powerful truth of how much He loves us ever before us, no one could wipe the smile off our face. It is such an important truth that we should never graduate from - for it keeps us centered and grounded in this love relationship called Christianity. Amen?
You see, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). So why did God the Father give us His only begotten Son? It was because He so loved us!
And it is important for us to realize when He loved us to start with - it was when we were still in the world! It wasn’t when we were in the “Word;” it was when we were lost in our sins and destitute of the truth.
The Apostle Paul gives us a clearer description of what this love did in Romans chapter 5…
In verses 5-11, he said, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
In essence, what the Holy Spirit was communicating to us through this passage was how God’s love was poured out on us while we were still without strength, when we were still ungodly, and while we were still sinners. Wow! And the point is - that if He loved us enough to give us Jesus when we were still in this deplorable condition, then how much more will He love and save us once we have received reconciliation with Him?!?! Amen?
Again, this is not something that we see and understand and then move on from. This truth needs to abide in us and us abide in it. Then, we are positioned for a happier posture, amen?
In fact, this is what Paul said in verse 11 - “And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” In other words, by keeping His amazing love of God and the glorious reconciliation with God ever before us, we will rejoice! Amen!
Church, it is not about just knowing this in our head. I am not talking about mentally accenting to the fact that God so loves us. I am talking about having this truth living in our hearts and abiding in His love.
When we are truly abiding in His love, the smile will be there. Our heart will be full of joy. His joy will remain in us as we remain in His love.
Get Caught Up:
Click here to read Part 1 of this series: An Attitude of Gratitude
Click here to read Part 2 of this series: The Perspective from Paul's Pulpit.
Click here to read Part 3 of this series: Think Yourself Happy
So, let’s quickly recap what we’ve talked about over the past few weeks…
So, today I would like us to transition from our state of mind, perspective and thoughts to a couple of very important and practical things that we can add to our lives that will yield more happiness in our hearts. Amen?
So, lets turn over to 1 John chapter one and look at a practical way to be happy.
FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD = FULL OF JOY
This has been something that the Lord has constantly communicated to me - the importance of staying connected to Him.
Early on in my Christian walk, when I would take everything from struggles with my flesh to desires to grow before the Lord, it seemed as though the only response I would get from Him was - “You need to be spending more time with Me.”
It was during this season that He was teaching me about the importance of my fellowship with Him. He pointed me to the truth that spending time with Him is where we exchange our weaknesses for His strength. It is where we become spiritually strong. It is where we find the fulfillment, the peace and the joy that we need. Yes, times spent in simple fellowship with the Lord is where most of our answers are found, and that certainly includes joy.
The Apostle John made this point in chapter one of his first epistle. In 1 John 3-4, he says, “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”
Notice that he refers to this fellowship with the Father and the Lord Jesus and then says that these things were written to us that our joy may be full. So, our fellowship with God the Father and God the Son is evidently a big factor in experiencing the fullness of joy.
Other translations describe this fellowship as “relationship and communion,” and this is precisely what the word used to translate fellowship means. It comes from the Greek word koinonia which describes a “communion, fellowship, relationship, partnership or sharing.”
The Amplified Bible describes this fellowship with the Godhead as “a distinguishing mark of born-again believers.” In other words, having this personal relationship with God is what Christianity is all about. What we have is not another religion; Christianity is a relationship. Therefore, if we do not fulfill our primary purpose - which is fellowship with Him - then do you think we might lack some of these basic things that our heart yearns for? Sure, we will.
This is why John then said in verse 4 that these things he was writing to us were for our joy to be full. In other words, if we do not apply this foundation of fellowship with God, then our joy will never reach its full potential. Sure, we might be able to experience some joy from time to time by following other Biblical principles, but having our joy reach its full potential comes through having an active, living relationship with God. Amen?
The Amplified Bible went on to describe this fellowship with God as sharing “in the joy of salvation.”
The Amplified Bible translates these verses like so: “What we have seen and heard we also proclaim to you, so that you too may have fellowship [as partners] with us. And indeed our fellowship [which is a distinguishing mark of born-again believers] is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things to you so that our joy [in seeing you included] may be made complete [by having you share in the joy of salvation].”
3 We are telling you what we have seen and heard, so that you may share in this life with us. And we share in it with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing to tell you these things, because this makes us truly happy. – CEV
This is the life we have seen and heard. We are reporting about it to you also so that you, too, can have a relationship with us. Our relationship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing this so that we can be completely filled with joy. – GODS WORD TRANSLATION
Again I say, we are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may share the fellowship and the joys we have with the Father and with Jesus Christ his son. 4 And if you do as I say in this letter, then you, too, will be full of joy, and so will we. – THE LIVING BIBLE
We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy! – THE MESSAGE
FULFILLED THROUGH FELLOWSHIP
So, since our fellowship with God is what yields joy and happiness in our lives, I want us to go to Philippians chapter four and delve into a good description of how our connection to Christ accomplishes this.
I believe the truth contained in this chapter to be one of the most life-changing truths that you could ever hear. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way and I believe when you hear it, you will find that you too have occasionally fallen subject to this condition as well.
Now I will warn you that this might not seem like the most exciting message to you, but I believe that if you will really hear my heart (and the heart of God), applying these biblical principles to your life, you will experience such a wonderful state of satisfaction that no one or nothing can ever take away. Amen?
WHAT IS CONTENTMENT?
In Philippians 4:10, we see a transition from Paul’s teaching on walking in the peace that passes all understanding to the main reason that he wrote them this letter - which was to show his gratitude for their financial and material support. But in verses 11-13, he pauses to make a point that I believe teaches an invaluable spiritual lesson.
He begins by saying in verse eleven, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
By making this statement - “not that I speak in regard to need,” Paul was clarifying to them that his joy and contentment was not based on the offering that the Philippians had sent to him. He did not want to give the impression that the provision that they sent him was the source of his joy that he repeatedly mentioned throughout this letter. Yes, he wanted them to understand that he had already learned how to be truly content before he ever received their gifts.
Then he went on to explain this by saying in this verse - “for I have learned…” This phrase is extremely important to understand because the supernatural contentment that he possessed was not something that just fell on him like an apple out of a tree. No, consistent and unwavering “contentment” is evidently something that is learned.
You see, contentment is not a state of being; it is a state of mind. That means that you have to learn to be content in your situations and circumstances just like a child has to learn that they are not always going to get their way in life. This is what the Apostle Paul had to learn, and this is exactly what each of us will have to learn as well: Your circumstances are not to dictate your contentment; you are to learn (i.e. to be trained) to be content despite your circumstances.
So, what does it mean to be content? How do we define contentment? The word “content” literally means “to be satisfied and independent of circumstances” or “to be self-sufficient (or in our case, Christ-sufficient).” So, Paul had learned to be satisfied despite his circumstances. He had learned to live a Christ-dependent life where the difficult things that happened to him did not steal his joy because his contentment was not based on the situations that he found himself in. You could say, Paul was less dependent on his circumstances because he was more dependent on Christ!
Now I feel that I need to say this lest I be misunderstood: While I believe that we must learn to be content as we are taught here, I am not referring to being a doormat for the devil either. Some things that come into our lives are inspired by Satan and his cohorts. Therefore, if we adopt the mentality that we are going to just be content during these demonically inspired attacks and do not actively resist him, then he will just walk all over us. No, we must resist the things that are brought into our lives by the devil! No, what I am referring to by this term “contentment” is our attitude as it pertains to these undesirable circumstances.
You see, if we lose our joy over a negative situation that comes into our life, then we are failing to be content from a biblical perspective. However, this contentment that Paul was referring to is not having any ambition or desiring something better for ourselves. These desires to grow and excel are natural and God-given; but at the same time, we are not to become so dissatisfied with our current state that it is negatively affecting us emotionally. Paul goes on to explain this further in verse twelve…
INDEPENDENT OF CIRCUMSTANCES
He went on to say in Philippians 4:12- “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” In this verse, the Apostle Paul explains the extent of his circumstances…
In the first part of verse twelve he said, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound…” The word “abased” means “to make low or to be humble.” You could say that being abased is living a lower standard of life. On the other hand, the word “abound” means “to overflow and to live in prosperity.” So, by his own testimony, Paul was saying that he knew what it was like to experience both abundant prosperity and abject poverty. He experienced both extremes throughout his ministry. But in the midst of all this, he never let his circumstances affect his joy because he put his hope in the Lord and not in his natural condition. We would do good to learn this as well.
He then said, “everywhere and in all things, I have learned to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Here, Paul was saying that he had experienced both ends of the totem pole of life in general - which included “everywhere and in all things!” That means that wherever he went and whatever he did, he had highs and lows.
We too can experience good times and bad times in any situation. It is inevitable. We can count on having the highs and lows in anything we do and everywhere we go because, as Jesus promised us, in the world we will tribulation (John 16:33). There will be times of happiness and bliss and there will be times of sorrow and grief. So, if this is to be expected, then we are going to have to learn to be content no matter what our circumstances are in order to live the life of perpetual joy that we are called to live.
So, allow me now to paraphrase verse twelve: In essence, Paul was saying, “I know how to live in both abundant prosperity and abject poverty. In every place I have been and in every situation, I have learned to live free from my circumstances, having my stomach full and having my stomach empty, having all my needs and desires met and seemingly having none of them met.”
Now that, my friends, is the epitome of having fluctuating circumstances, isn’t it? Yet Paul maintained a life of joy and contentment in the midst of the most extreme of circumstances.
But again, Paul had learned something! As a matter of fact, the Greek word used for “learned” in verse twelve is a different word than the one used back in verse eleven. This word means “to be initiated into a secret.” Paul had, through his experiences of poverty and prosperity, learned to live independent of his circumstances because he had been initiated into the secret of contentment. Amen!
So, would you also like to be initiated into the secret of contentment? Then we need look no further than verse thirteen where this mystery is revealed!
THE SECRET TO CONTENTMENT
In Philippians 4:13, Paul went on to give us one of those truths that many Christians love to quote and post on their wall. He said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I just love the Amplified Bible’s translation of this verse… “I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me: I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency].”
Now this is a very popular verse and every one of us probably thinks we know what it means, but the important thing to understand here is that, in order to see what Paul was referring to here, we have to keep this verse in context. As we have already seen, Paul was speaking of the wide range of circumstances he had experienced and how he had learned to be content in them. Therefore, he was attributing all the things he could do through Christ to him learning to be content in all things. So, the reason that the great Apostle Paul could be content in his difficult circumstances was because Christ Jesus gave him the strength to be content! Amen!
So, we could flip this truth around and see another reason for discontentment in our lives: We will become discontent in all things if we are not drawing the necessary resources from Christ to be content. Amen? You see, if we are not abiding in Him - letting the spiritual strength that comes through Him to flow into us - then our natural response will be to attempt to draw those resources from other things. That is such an important truth to understand, my friend.
You see, we are all looking for happiness and if we do not put ourselves in the position to receive it directly from God, then we will automatically try and get it from something or someone else. That is just the way we are built. For example, many people simply cannot be alone. They have to be around friends or a significant other at every waking moment. Most of the time, the reason for this discontentment, is because they are not satisfying that part of themselves by having a healthy relationship with the Lord. The same principle can apply to other things as well. A lot of times we can become physically tired because we are not resting spiritually. We can have physical cravings because our spirit is malnourished. Sometimes our natural state is a reflection of our spiritual condition. If we do not let the Lord become our source for everything, then our joy, happiness and contentment will be based on whether or not we have all of these other things.
As a matter of fact, the word “content” is also defined as that which is contained. This shows us an invaluable truth: that our contentment is based on what we already have contained within us. In other words, in order for a Christian to be content in all circumstances he or she must learn to live from the inside-out, and not from the outside-in. If we learn to draw from the spiritual resources that we have contained on the inside of us, then we can become consistently joyful. Amen.
FILLING THE VOID
If you recall, I made the point that every one of us has been created like a puzzle, and there is one large void in the middle of our heart that only one thing will fit, and that one missing piece is Jesus Christ! He is the only thing that can complete the puzzle of our lives. Amen?
You see, the world tries to cram everything from sex, drugs, success, and family into that void, but none of those things can totally fulfill them. Sure, they might have some temporary happiness when they gratify those lusts for natural things, but it does not bring them that everlasting contentment that I am talking about. In fact, those other things just make the void bigger and worse.
But the truth is, this is not just true for the world: Even believers can digress in their Christian walk to where they attempt to satisfy themselves with the things of this world instead of through their personal relationship with the Lord. I am not saying that those who do this have lost their relationship with Jesus altogether; I am simply saying that we can walk in the flesh like the world, and when we do, our desires will be for natural and carnal things above spiritual things. In other words, when we walk in the flesh, like those who do not know God, we will try and fulfill ourselves through relationships, recreational activities, financial success, etc.
I have found in my own personal life that when I have walked in the flesh, my heart has gravitated to things other than the Lord. For example, at one point when I allowed myself to become distracted from the things of God, I turned to the game of golf to try and fulfill that inner hunger for joy and peace. Now, I did not exactly know what I was doing at the time; I just allowed that void back in my heart through not making the things of God my priority and was seeking that contentment in something else. I would find myself playing golf every spare moment I had, and when I did not play well, it would affect me emotionally. Why would I let my poor play disturb me so much? It was because it was far too important to me. I was trying to fulfill myself through this hobby, so when it was not working out too well, it robbed me of my joy.
But, thank God, there was a time after this, that I could go play a round of golf and, because I had the Lord back on the throne of my heart where He was supposed to be, I did not get upset when I did not play well. That’s right, it did not seem to affect me the way that it did when I was not abiding in Him. And why? It was because I was content through Christ! I was simply satisfied with the presence of the Lord that surrounded me once again. I was fulfilled and my joy was full, which nothing, including my “sub-par” golf game could steal! Amen.
Now I know that might be a petty example to some of you, but I use it to illustrate how even small, insignificant things like our hobbies can becomes idols in our hearts - thus being the source of our happiness and contentment.
Another example I can use from early in my Christian life that most of us can better relate to is relationships: During these early days, where I was walking in the flesh more than in the Spirit, one of the main things that I tried to fulfill that void with was with other people. For example, when I was abiding in the Lord and He had preeminence in my heart, I did not have to be on the phone talking to someone all of the time. I did not need to be hanging out with my friends and family constantly. The reason was because my relationship with God was where it needed to be, so I was not trying to fulfill myself with these natural relationships. I was simply content in the acceptance and goodness of my Lord and did not have to have the acceptance of my friends, co-workers or family.
Not only that, but I was also content with my single life. I was not driven to find a “significant other” because I lived in the reality that I already had my “Significant Other,” and that was Jesus. This was all because my focus was on the Lord and not on the opposite sex. I was simply content with my relationship with Him and was truly willing to wait on the Lord to bring my wife to me! (And, thank God, He did!)
Now, don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying that if you have desires for anything in this world other than the Lord that you are not abiding in Him. I am just saying that if you are truly abiding in Him then those desires for natural, carnal things will not steal your joy and you will not be bent on finding fulfillment through them. Your contentment will be found solely in your relationship with Jesus, and you will simply be satisfied! Nothing more and nothing less!
But the truth is, when we are abiding in Christ and He is abiding in us, the ups and downs of this life will not dictate our joy. We will not feel like we have to have something more or something better to be happy because we know that we are right in the middle of God’s perfect will for our lives which is in communion with Him. Therefore, if Jesus is on the throne of our heart, unfulfilled desires for these natural things will not rob us of our joy because our joy is found in the Lord.
Let’s take a look at a powerful passage of Scripture out of the 36th Psalm that teaches us more about this blessed state of contentment and satisfaction.
In the beginning of verse eight, David says, “They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of your house...”
The “they” being referred to here are the ones that draw near to God in faith and are putting their trust in Him (see verse seven). So, what does he say is the benefit of drawing near to Him? They are “abundantly satisfied with the fullness of God’s house.”
You see, to the Jews under the Old Covenant, the “house of God” was symbolic of the “presence of God.” So, the way David says that we become abundantly satisfied (i.e. extremely content) is by abiding in the fullness of God’s presence. This, of course, corresponds to Paul’s secret to contentment that we found in Philippians 4:13 - for our contentment and satisfaction level is directly tied to the amount of the Lord’s presence that we are currently abiding in. Amen?
In Psalm 16:11, King David put it this way: He said, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” So, if we want to be full of joy and satisfaction in our hearts, then the answer is in learning to abide in the fullness of God’s presence. You could say it this way: the more of the Lord’s presence that we are abiding in, the more content and satisfied we will be.
There is no substitute for His presence, saints! It brings fullness of joy, contentment and satisfaction! The only reason (yes, I say that as an absolute), the only reason that we ever become discontent in life is because we are not drawing the strength for our contentment from the presence of Christ. For instance, if we ever feel like we need anything other than Christ, then we are showing signs that our heart is gravitating towards other things. If a circumstance causes you to lose your peace, God is not on the throne of your life at that time. Jeremiah describes this situation: “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns That can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13
The rest of verse eight goes on to say, “And you give them drink from the river of your pleasures.”
Didn’t Jesus say that if anyone thirsts, let them come to Him and drink (John 7:37-38)? You see, true satisfaction comes nowhere else other than being close to Lord and drinking from His well of salvation. He alone can satisfy our deepest needs - not a spouse, a job, or a hobby - just as water is the only thing that can satisfy us when we truly thirst. There is no substitute for Christ in our spiritual lives just like there is no substitute for water in our natural lives.
Then notice what David says in verse nine - “For with You is the fountain of life; In your light we see light.”
David goes on to say here that it is only being with Him (i.e. in His presence) that you and I can experience the fountain of life - that is, the life of God continuously flowing through your very being making us perpetually satisfied and content. He also said that in His light (i.e. in His presence - because God is light), we see light. In other words, when we are in His presence, we can see more clearly and our perspective will change. The things we used to think were important and that we had to have will no longer be our focus. We will be able to see what is important with an unclouded perspective and realize that all we need is the love of the Lord.
Church, let me reiterate this point: we do not need anything or anybody to be happy; all we need is Jesus. He is the secret to being completely content and abundantly satisfied. Amen!
So, the message in this chapter is evident: Learn to draw your strength and satisfaction from pursuing a relationship with Christ. Know that if you ever feel you have to have anything other than His presence and those wanton desires are causing you to lose your joy and peace, you need to check the condition of your fellowship with the Lord. Plug into your power source through spending time with the Lord and watch how abundantly satisfied you become. You will be able to say as Paul did, “I have learned the secret to being content; the secret is found in Christ! He is truly all I need!”
Get Caught Up:
Click here to read Part 1 of this series: An Attitude of Gratitude
Click here to read Part 2 of this series: The Perspective from Paul's Pulpit.
So, let’s quickly recap what we’ve talked about over the past couple of weeks…
So, I want us to continue looking into the life of this great apostle whom I deem the “professor of perspective.” These first three lessons are based on the fact that happiness is not a state of being; happiness is a state of mind. In other words, we are not a product of our circumstances; we are a product of our choices.
THINK YOURSELF HAPPY
Do you remember the story in Acts chapter 26 when the Apostle Paul was brought before King Agrippa? We see Paul’s response to King Agrippa’s invitation for him to speak for himself in verse 2. He said, “I think myself happy.”
The word used to translate “happy” here is makarios and Strong’s defines it this way: “blessed (receiving God’s favor), fortunate, good (in a position of favor), happy (feelings associated with receiving God’s favor).” The word used for “think” literally means to count or consider. So, yes, this phrase would be better translated like most of the other translations do, as so: “I consider myself fortunate and blessed…”
However, I believe there is a lot of truth to the way that the King James Version’s translated it - “I think myself happy”- because how many of you know that this is exactly how happiness comes - through our thought life. In other words, if someone is thinking on good, positive things like all the grace, mercy and forgiveness that they have obtained in Christ, the glories of heaven and the rewards that they will receive there, how much they have to be thankful for in their lives, etc., etc., etc., they will just naturally be happy. But on the other hand, if that same person is worrying about tomorrow, murmuring and complaining about all the negative situations in their life, etc., then they will be unhappy. And the only thing that you can attribute that happiness or unhappiness to is what they are setting their minds on. Amen?
You see, when we think on things that the Bible teaches us to think on, a natural by-product will be that we are happier people. Why? It is because we are thinking only on happy thoughts! How can we possibly be unhappy when we are only thinking on these things? No, we only experience unhappiness when we deviate from thinking these happy thoughts. This is certainly not as easy as it sounds, but it certainly is this simple.
So, this is good news! Because if you don’t like your emotional make-up, then the process of changing it begins with “washing your face” (i.e. cleansing your thoughts) with the washing of water by the Word! Amen.
You see, when this life’s winds and waves are crashing into our boats, it is easy for us to give them our attention. This is certainly when our joy begins to sink. But what if we could just learn to fix our focus and channel all of our mental energy over on the things of God? I can guarantee you that our joy and happiness would walk on water, baby! In other words, when we learn to fix our minds, our focus and our attention on the Lord, like Peter, we can do things that we never thought were possible, including be happy all the time! So, begin to today to “think yourself happy.”
On a side note, let’s consider this - Why did Paul consider himself happy and fortunate? Wasn’t it because he had the opportunity to testify before this king? Likewise, we should consider ourselves happy because we get to stand with and before the King of kings all the days of our life! Amen?
FALLING INTO TRIALS
Pastor James said something similar in the first chapter of his letter: In James 1:2 he said, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials…”
First of all, allow me to make an important point regarding these various trials that James is referring to: Notice that James refers to us “falling” into these various trials. Now most of the time when one “falls,” it is unintentional. There are, of course, those crazy people who intentionally throw themselves off of cliffs or out of airplanes and “fall” for recreational reasons. But when most people fall, it is unexpected and they don’t mean to. Well, that’s the way these various trials come into our lives. They sneak up on us. They catch us off guard. If we would have seen them coming, we would have done something to avoid them, if at all possible.
Well, this is how trials and tribulations come too. We “fall” into them. In other words, they come unexpectedly. They usually catch us off guard. They pull the rug out from under us. The list could go on and on. And if we let them take us by surprise like this - meaning we are not mentally prepared for them and understand that in the world, we will have these tribulations - then they can devastate us.
This is why the Bible says do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you. 1 Peter 4:12. What this means is that we shouldn’t get caught off guard when we fall into various fiery trials because it comes with the territory.
No, we are supposed to be sober and vigilant, knowing that the devil is all the time trying to destroy us. And if we are not “mentally alert and watchful” then we are susceptible to letting him shipwreck our faith. Amen?
Then, notice how James called these things that we fall into, various trials.
Have you ever considered why the adversity, suffering, persecution and tribulation that we go through are sometimes called trials?
The word that is used here for “trials” is defined as “experiment, attempt or proving.” So, you could translate James 1:2 as- “…count it all joy when you fall into different kinds of experiments.”
Now that provides a totally different slant on that word, doesn’t it?
In fact, other than the religious usage of this word, what do you think of when you hear the word “trial”? You think of a court case, don’t you? And did you know that is all life’s difficulties really are? They are trials that determine the truth of the case in question. Amen! Likewise, the adversity and afflictions that we fall into can either condemn us or prove us.
If we allow ourselves to be overcome by the trials, we can be condemned and are guilt-ridden. However, if we successfully overcome those trials, it has “proven” our faith. And this is the whole point.
Let’s look over at 1 Peter 1:6-7 and see how Peter tells us to view these “trials”…
He begins by saying in verse 7- “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” Notice that Peter said that “In this you greatly rejoice…” In what? In the fact that God knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb, that He chose, selected and picked you out, that He set you apart, washing you in the blood of the Lamb (verse 2). In the fact that He showed you great mercy and that you are a born-again child of God (verse 3). In the fact that you have an inheritance in heaven to look forward to (verse 4). In the fact, that God is keeping you even right now, protecting and sheltering you (verse 5). In this you can and should, greatly rejoice!
Then, he goes on to describe the “various trials” as being “for a little while.” In other words, they are temporary in comparison to eternity. And this is the way we must learn to view the difficulties of life or our joy and happiness will be up and down like these temporary afflictions. Amen? So we are not products of our circumstances; we are products of our choices, and how we have chosen to think and believe as a result of our circumstances.
Then, Peter adds this short little phrase- “if need be.” What did he mean by this? As his letter will go on to explain further, some “trials” we go through are not necessary. In other words, we cannot blame every struggle and difficulty of life on the devil. Some “trials” we are going through don’t “need be!” Amen. Some are self-inflicted because of dumb decisions we make and are not a part of God’s plan for our life nor are they devices from the kingdom of darkness that Satan is using to oppose us.
But then notice how Peter acknowledges that they had been “grieved by various trials.” Now the same terminology is used here as in James 1:2 (i.e. “various trials”), but here Peter says that their various trials had “grieved” them. The word “grieved” literally means “to be sorrowful, sad, distressed or sorry.” But notice that the “grieving” here is in the past tense; the “rejoicing” is in the present tense because the realized joy of the coming salvation makes present grief seem like something of the past. It also indicates that there is a time for the grief to be referred to in the past tense and not to always stay in the present tense. Amen!
So, when are these things that cause grief and sadness going to be in the past tense in our lives, and when is rejoicing going to be in the present tense? When we choose for it too!
But then in verse 7, the Apostle Peter goes on to teach us what these various trials’ purpose are…
He begins by saying, “that the genuineness of your faith.” The word “that” implies the reason and purpose for these trials, namely that our faith “may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The word “genuineness” comes from the Greek word dokimion and describes “the act of putting someone or something to the test with a view of determining whether it is worthy of being approved or not.” The test being made with the intention of approving if possible. It was used of the act of examining candidates for the degree of a doctor of medicine. In other words, the purpose of these trials is to find out what our faith that we profess is made of.
In fact, he goes on to describe our tried and true faith is “much more precious than gold that perishes” In other words, our faith is more valuable than anything of this world because it’s benefits will last eternally, wherein the things of this world are corruptible.
The next phrase is, “though it is tested by fire.” So just as gold is tried in the fire to remove impurities, to test durability, and to test genuineness, likewise our faith passes through the fire to bring to the surface our impurities, imperfections, and defects for the purpose of going from glory to glory and faith to faith. Therefore, just as it is not the taking of a test that makes you smarter, it is not the going through trials that make you stronger. It’s passing them by using what you know that makes you stronger.
It has been said that the Eastern goldsmith kept the metal in the furnace until he could see his face reflecting in it. Likewise, God watches us closely to make sure the fire doesn’t get too hot but just hot enough that He will eventually be able to see Jesus reflecting in us.
Therefore, the various trials that we go through are just that - they are trials. They either prove us as worthy to go to the next phase of God’s calling on our lives or they condemn us to going around the same mountain.
You see, the devil is a gambler, and he will bring circumstances in our lives betting that we will give up and quit. But he knows that if we make the correct choices and respond the way God has led us to, our faith will be refined. Amen.
Then if you look ahead to verses 8-9 you see practically how we can get from the beginning of our faith to the end of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls…
Now, while this phrase “the salvation of our souls” obviously is referring to cashing in on the salvation package we possess in Christ once we die or Jesus returns, let’s look at it from the standpoint of our souls including our mind, will and emotions. What would the salvation of our mind, will and emotions be? How about the deliverance of our mind, the healing of our emotions and the freedom of our will?
You see, this is something we would all desire to have - complete victory over every part of our soul and the experience of having total freedom, wholeness and salvation in our mind and emotions. This would obviously cause us to be us be supremely happy people, amen?
So, how do we get there? Well, look at what is sandwiched between the beginning our faith and the end of our faith? It is joy unspeakable and full of glory! Amen! Yes, our mind is delivered, our emotions are freed and our soul delights itself in happiness when we learn to rejoice all along the journey.
So, this answers that question of: What is the correct response to these various trials? It is choosing to rejoice with super exuberant joy! James echoes this sentiment back in James 1:2…
COUNT IT ALL JOY
Here, James is referring to our choice to think a certain way even when we have fallen into various kinds of trials - and that attitude is “all joy.”
In fact, the word used for “count” here is the same Greek word that was used in Acts 26:2 when Paul said, “I think myself happy.”
Now what do you have to do to count something? You have to use your head! In other words, your thinking faculties are involved. So, like that phrase “I think myself happy,” we have to use our head to calculate any, all and every joy. Amen! Therefore, our thought life is certainly involved in experiencing all the joy that is available to us.
Therefore, when we fall into a trial of our faith, we don’t need to just let our emotions take us down whatever road the situation dictates. Rather, we should settle ourselves down, sit down and calculate everything like we would do a budget. We should add up all of our “spiritual income” and all of “natural expenses” and count all our blessings versus our difficulties. If we would just do this when we fall into these various trials, oftentimes we will come out of that budget meeting rejoicing because we will again see just how blessed we truly are! Amen!
Do you remember the story of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles chapter 20? How he got the bad report that these nations had united against him? And how they were positionally very close? Well, what did Jehoshaphat do? The Bible says he feared. But then he didn’t stay there. It goes on to say that he “set himself to seek the Lord.” This means that he got control of his natural emotions and settled himself down so that he could seek the Lord. This is so key.
Well, a good question is, “How did he set himself?” Practically, how did he get control of his emotions? The Lord gave me the following statement - You set yourself by setting your mind.
You know, we have verses in the New Testament that encourage us to set our minds on things above, being spiritually minded, etc. This is a major key to consistent happiness - learning to set our mind on happy things. Amen!
Let me give you an example: Say you had someone unexpectedly betray you. Your heart is hurt. Your emotions are in a mess. How can you not let that situation steal your joy? Well, you set yourself down and get yourself together and then you begin to channel your thoughts in a different direction. You might do this like so - “Father, even though I am extremely hurt right now, I am deciding to count it all joy right now. So, I am asking for the grace that I need right now to do so… Lord, thank You for forgiving me when I’ve betrayed you. I thank you that, although my sins were what put Jesus on the Cross, You forgave me of all of my sins that brought more hurt on Your Son. Father, and I thank You that not only did You give me a new start, but You “loaded me up” with benefits! God You’re so good, and I just want to take a moment to praise and worship You for your goodness in my life….” This is how you settle down those emotions.
This should be obvious to us for two reasons:
Psalm 144:15b (Amplified)- Happy (blessed, fortunate, prosperous, to be envied) are the people whose God is the Lord! Christians should be the happiest people on the planet. It should be this, but obviously it is not this way. And there are reasons why? This is why the Bible gives us statements like “I’m saying this to you that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:4; John 15:11, 16:24)
Joy & Happiness - it’s what everyone is looking for. The problem is that so many look for joy and happiness in all the wrong places - alcohol, drugs, relationships, possessions, careers, etc. The Difference Between Joy & Happiness: Joy is a Gift; Happiness is a Choice. If you won’t do it for yourself, then do it for your spouse, your children, your roommate etc. Smiling makes you more attractive.
We entered into the gates of this series with the subject of thanksgiving. Amen! You show me a thankful, grateful person and I’ll show you a happy person.
We looked at two passages of Scripture in the New Testament:
Ephesians 5:20- “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18- “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Then, we went back to the Old Testament and saw how the giving of thanks was how we enter into His presence:
Psalm 100:4- “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” Psalm 100:4
Psalm 95:1-2- “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.”
Psalm 16:11- “You will show me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Compare with Psalm 21:6)
EXAMPLES: Why can’t I just have a church with heat!?! Why can’t we just thank God for what we do have instead of what we don’t have? In case you haven’t noticed it, the tendency of our flesh is to magnify all that we don’t have instead of what we do have. For example, if one of our legs is in excruciating pain, what is our tendency? It is to complain about the pain we have. But what else can you do? You can be thankful that it’s not both legs! But yeah Pastor both my legs do hurt! Well, thank him that your nerves are working fine. You see, there is always something to be thankful for.
Now that leads me to my next point in how to be happy. Since happiness is really a choice, then how do we choose it? We choose to be happy by choosing the proper perspective regarding the things of life. We know this is true because you can look at two people who have gone through similar circumstances, and while one loses all their joy, the other one still seems to be happy. Again, the same situation but totally different responses. How could this be? It is because the situations and circumstances we encounter in life are not the ultimate variable; our chosen perspective in them is the variable. There is perhaps no greater example in the Bible of this than the Apostle Paul!
THE PODIUM PERSPECTIVE
As we enter into the Apostle Paul’s most personal and triumphant letter, it is important that we first understand its background. The reason for this is because as we look at the Book of Philippians from the podium from which Paul preached this colorful message, we can gain more insight into this blessed virtue, called joy.
You see, by understanding the situation Paul was in when he wrote his Epistle of Joy, we can see how our circumstances do not have to dictate our joy. The Apostle Paul’s situation was incredibly difficult. At the time that he penned this letter, he was enduring a far more difficult situation than the majority of us have ever dreamed of experiencing. Yet, in the midst of what he deemed to be one of his “light afflictions” (see 2 Corinthians 4:17), Paul preached the importance of maintaining a joy-filled attitude while expressing joy himself throughout the four chapters of this, his Epistle of Joy.
His personal testimony was “I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (1:18) and his call for others was to “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice” (4:4). Yet, although he practiced as well as preached this joy-filled attitude, this perspective of his came during unfavorable circumstances.
THE PRISON UNDER THE PALACE
It is commonly understood that when the Apostle Paul wrote his letters that we have the privilege of reading today, many, if not all of them, were written during his many imprisonments. But more specifically, when he penned this letter to the church at Philippi, it is commonly believed that it was written during one of his imprisonments in Rome where he was locked up in a prison which lay directly beneath the palace in Rome. (see Philippians 1:13)
However, this prison was a far cry from the palace which was above him. Historians tell us that this prison was basically just a hole dug out beneath the palace’s foundation. So, get that image out of your head that the worst part of his imprisonment was just the fact that he was in chains. The bars, shackles, and chains were the least of his concerns. Not only was the prison where he was held similar to a dungeon, but it was also believed to be one of the main holding areas for the sewage of the city of Rome. That’s right. The sewage of the city was contained in the same place where Paul was being confined! So, picture this: Paul was locked up in a cave, with no light to speak of, and possibly had human waste all around him. That sounds like a situation you might hear of if someone were describing something similar to hell, doesn’t it?
Now here is the point I want you to understand: It was in this horrible situation that he preached to the Philippians this message of joy and exultation. It was in this discouraging predicament that he declared his own joy, twice in the same verse. This is remarkable, isn’t it? Paul used his pulpit of stones and chains to preach joy to his children in the faith. He used his podium of human waste to testify of his own joy. This is so amazing to me! As it was so poetically stated in a commentary I read:
“As we read the exultant stanzas of the Epistle to the Philippians, we might think that Paul was in a palace, not in a prison. He mentioned his chains again and again, but we do not hear them clanging dismally. We hear them chiming like Christmas bells.”
- The John Phillips Commentary Series / Exploring Ephesians & Philippians
As a matter of fact, if you look closely at the book of Philippians, you will see that Paul made references to “dung” (3:8) and “sweet smelling aromas” (4:18). Obviously, Paul had odors on his mind, and there is little wonder why. He was surrounded by “dung” yet he found a way to preach about it instead of complaining about it. He was surrounded by what I can only imagine was the worst smell imaginable, yet he focused more on the offering they sent him, saying it was a sweet smell to him.
So, from this example, the Apostle Paul evidently walked in something that every one of us needs to strive to attain to ourselves. He did not experience this awesome joy because he was an apostle or had some other unfair better advantage than you and I do. Paul was a regular human being who was tempted, tested, and tried like all of us. Yet he attained a higher walk than most of us ever even dream of attaining.
MIDNIGHT IN MACEDONIA
Not only was the church of Philippi familiar with Paul’s current situation, they were aware that Paul practiced what he preached when he first entered their province. You see, not only did he experience this particular imprisonment in Rome, he was also imprisoned in Philippi when he first preached the gospel to them. We are probably all familiar with this account.
In Acts chapter 16, we see how Paul and Silas entered into the region of Macedonia preaching and teaching the Kingdom of God to them, and when they caused an uproar by casting the demon out of the slave girl, they were beaten and thrown into prison. And you need to realize that their beating was extreme. It says they were “beaten with rods” and then that they were “struck with many blows.” This beating with rods involved beating their feet and breaking all the bones in their feet, so you can imagine the pain they were in as they were in the prison, shackled in the stocks.
But what was Paul and Silas’ response to this difficult situation? Acts 16:25 says that at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Now if this were the majority of believers today, the only reason you would have heard them singing hymns to God in this fearful situation was that they were trying to get God to deliver them. But you would have to add to the Bible to say that this was Paul and Silas’ motive here. I personally believe that they were praying and singing, not because they wanted God to do something for them, but because they were genuinely focused on all that He had already done for them. In other words, they did not have to make themselves pray and sing through gritted teeth, but it simply overflowed out of sincere hearts that were full of joy. But on the other hand, we do see a principle here - the key to getting out of bondage is genuine praise and thanksgiving for what we do have.
Paul and Silas had genuine joy in that Philippian jail after they were beaten for their testimony of Christ. In fact, it was at midnight - symbolic of their darkest hour - that they experienced the joy of the Lord. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that our afflictions and tribulations do not have to dictate our joy level. Saints, we can have joy in whatever situation we find ourselves in. Not that we are necessarily happy about our current situation, but we are simply happy in our God. We are focused on all that He is and all that we have in Him. This should be enough to keep our joy tank filled up and overflowing all the time.
But this is the point in the message where an argument usually arises. People will hear what I just said and respond with: “But you do not know what I am going through! It’s just too difficult and depressing!” But what those who think this way need to understand is that it does not matter how bad we have it; our afflictions will never compare to the Apostle Paul’s. Just the two imprisonments that I have briefly described far surpass anything that most of us have or ever will endure.
The Apostle of Faith did not exhort us to always rejoice and practice the same because he lived a life of comfort and ease. This should already be rather obvious. He had multitudes of trying circumstances that go well beyond the imprisonments I have briefly described already. In fact, he had more problems in this life than you and I could ever dream of having. The great Apostle Paul had many other afflictions and suffered many other things before and after his imprisonment in Philippi, and in 2 Corinthians chapter 11, he gives us a list of these hardships. Beginning in verse 23 Paul begins to give us the resume of his ministry. He said he had been beaten with stripes, beaten with rods, stoned, sleepless, hungry, thirsty, cold, shipwrecked, imprisoned several times, etc. The Apostle Paul had it rough, just like the Lord told him he was going to right after his conversion on the Road to Damascus.
Yet, earlier in his second letter to the church of Corinth, he called these painful situations “light afflictions” (see 2 Corinthians 4:17). The word he used for “light” here literally meant “non-burdensome” and was a reference to the weight of his trials. Therefore, Paul was saying that the afflictions that he suffered were not heavy, weighty, or burdensome at all. How could he say that? A better question might be, how could he view all of his incredibly difficult problems as just being light, and we view our much smaller problems as enormous? The reason Paul could view his circumstances like this is found in the same verse - 2 Corinthians 4:17.
He went on to reveal in this powerful verse two very important truths regarding his light afflictions: Number one, he said that they were “but for a moment.” This means that they were temporal - only lasting a short while. But what we need to understand is that many of these afflictions were not just momentary, naturally speaking. Many of them lasted weeks, months and even years. Therefore, Paul could not have been referring to them just being “for a moment” according to this present life. So what was he referring to? He was saying that they were “but for a moment” in comparison to eternity.
You see, to say that our life in this body is extremely temporal would be an understatement. If you compare the average lifespan of a human being to eternity, our life on this earth is just a brief moment. This is why you see the Bible compare our life to a vapor and to a blade of grass. It uses both of these examples because one appears for a moment and then vanishes, and the other appears one day and is gone the next. Saints, our life on this earth is but a speck of sand in the beach of eternity.
But Paul does not stop there. He goes on to describe the main reason that he was able to devalue his afflictions so much. He said that they are “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” The Apostle Paul was saying that his difficulties could in no way compare to the reward that awaited him for successfully enduring and overcoming them. In other words, he saw his afflictions as light because he saw the glory he would receive in exchange for them as heavy. So, in comparison to what he would receive in the kingdom of heaven, his problems were not problems at all for two reasons: Number one, because the reward would be so glorious and magnificent. And, number two, because this awesome glory would be eternal.
When we see the riches of His glory in this light - as awesome and eternal - there is truly no comparison. Therefore, our afflictions must be viewed as light and non-burdensome. Thank you, Jesus, for this living and blessed hope we have!
YOUR SITUATION IS NOT UNIQUE
So, taking to heart these afflictions that the Apostle Paul endured, how can we honestly view our trials and tribulations as burdensome? One of the wiles of the devil is to convince us that our situations and circumstances are unique. In other words, he is good at tricking us into believing that nobody understands what we are going through and that our situation is different than everyone else’s. For example, these people who have bought this lie of the devil will respond to, for example, the exhortations contained in this book with statements like: “Well, you just don’t know what it feels like” or “You just don’t understand what I am going through right now.” And while it might be true that the person they are speaking to might not have ever experienced what they are experiencing, what they are implying is that nobody knows or understands their situation. Therefore, when we receive the lie that our situation is unique, we feel justified in becoming down and depressed.
If we were honest with ourselves, we could find someone who has not only gone through the same thing we are going through but who also has walked through it victoriously. But what the flesh loves to gravitate towards is the self-centered belief that we are “special.” And while we most definitely are special to God and are loved passionately by Him, this mentality that “nobody knows what I am going through” and, therefore, “this situation is special” is rooted in self-centeredness. The truth is that while we as individuals are unique, our situations and experiences are not unique. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man…” This means that there is absolutely no trial or tribulation that we have been overtaken by (surprised with or fallen into) that is not common to man. This phrase “common to man” denotes something that is regular or repeated among the human race. In other words, any and all temptations that we suffer are common and are not unique. Saints, someone else (and likely many others), have certainly experienced what we are going through.
A key word in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is “temptation.” You see, just because we are going through a trial does not mean we have to let it steal our joy. These circumstances are simply temptations to be down and depressed. We can choose joy amid even the most difficult of circumstances. We can resist discouragement and submit to the joy of the Lord that is resident in our hearts. Yes, and amen!
1 Peter 5:9 also gives us this powerful key to resisting the temptation to feel discouraged and depressed. Many of us are familiar with 1 Peter 5:8 where Satan is described as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, but verse 9 goes on to exhort us to “resist him, steadfast in the faith [How? By] knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” In other words, by understanding that the same sufferings that we are currently experiencing are being experienced by other Christians presently in the world right now, we will be better equipped to resist the temptations that accompany those sufferings. Amen!
Did you get that? Let me say it this way: by understanding that you are not alone and that others are dealing with the same temptations, you will be better equipped to resist the temptations to be discouraged and give in to the devil. Evidently, there is a crippling power in buying the lie that our particular circumstance is unique, and no one understands the things we are going through.
Saints, the Bible teaches us that what you and I are currently dealing with is common to mankind. I know it might be difficult to see that when you are in the middle of a trial, but the bottom line is many have dealt with similar and even far worse things than you or I are dealing with.
You see, the danger in not understanding this truth is that we will tend to fantasize about the “other guy” and be tempted to think that the grass is greener on the other side. People fall into this fallacy time and time again, thinking that if they just had a different job, a different spouse, or a different church that they would be happy. No, my brothers and sisters, a change of scenery is not going to necessarily make you happy. That is a lie. You must learn to be content in whatever your situation might currently be - and as we just learned, our perspective has a lot to do with our attitude.
THE PROVERBIAL PALACE
Allow me to remind you where the Apostle Paul’s current imprisonment was when he penned the Book of Philippians. It was in a prison directly beneath the palace. Do you suppose that there might have been a temptation for him to fantasize about the palace above him, thinking that dwelling there might make him happier? I am sure that if any of us would have been in that exact same situation, many of us would have entertained those thoughts.
You see, most of us think that we would have joy if we dwelt in our own proverbial palace. In other words, if our circumstances were perfect and our conditions were ideal, we believe we then would be happy. My friends, nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of the world believes that if they just dwelt in their “palace” - that is, their place of perfection where all their dreams and desires were being fulfilled - then they would be happy. This, of course, is a total lie. Saints, that “Never-never land” that the world paints for us will never fulfill us. It will never bring us the joy and contentment that we think it will. But the media feeds us this lie, painting a picture for us that there is a perfect life out there where dreams do come true. A fairytale, if you would.
The enemy is proficient in getting people to believe this too. He deceives countless people into believing that if they just had more money or possessions, then they would be happy. He also aims at convincing people that if they just had a different job or a different spouse, they would be happier. These are all lies that he has fed countless people for generations, and he has been extremely successful with it. But if we just understood that no amount of money, no number of things, and no change in any other area of our life is going to bring us the true joy that we are seeking, we would not allow the devil to get us out of God’s perfect will for our lives.
The truth is that your circumstances do not dictate your joy; your focus and attitude dictate your joy. You can have nothing and possess more joy than those who have everything. This is the gospel truth, my friends. It might seem that having more, better and different will make us happier for the time being, but in the long run, we will be just as discontent and unhappy as we ever were after we have accumulated all these things that we thought we needed to be happy.
However, the fact remains that you can have more joy in your “prison” than your “palace” can ever bring you. I know of a man who had more joy in the prison beneath the palace than all of those who dwelt in the palace above him combined: and his name was the Apostle Paul. He dwelt beneath the palace, in prison, and I guarantee you that he possessed more joy than the most wealthy and regal individual that lived in the palace above him. The vast difference in circumstances would indicate otherwise, but I can assure you that true joy is experienced and maintained independently of our circumstances.
But this is not understood by the natural mind. The carnal mind equates favorable circumstances with joy and justifies discouragement and depression through undesirable situations. This is not the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ focuses on the spiritual circumstances, not the natural circumstances. If you are a born-again Christian, your reality is: You are blessed all the time! God is with you, never to leave you nor forsake you! You have been forgiven, shown mercy, and stand in His righteousness! If this weren’t enough, you are a citizen of heaven and will rule and reign with the Lord Jesus for all eternity! That is our reality as children of God, friends! Those are our “circumstances” that we should be focused on - the spiritual and eternal ones. Thank you, Jesus! Sure, our natural circumstances - the ones we can see - hurt and are uncomfortable, but victory is found in knowing that they are temporal and subject to change. Yes, our spiritual circumstances - the unseen ones - are eternal, unchanging, and far outweigh our natural circumstances. They are wonderful realities in the spiritual realm, never to change, and never to fade away. Praise the Lord!
You see, the Apostle Paul understood something that is vital to living a joyful life. There were things that he understood and applied to his life that enabled him to be full of joy despite his circumstances. So, what were his keys to gaining and maintaining such a joy-filled life? What can we glean from his example that will help us to experience more joy in our lives? Those keys are laid out plainly in his letter to the Philippians. Perhaps, we will explore them more in the weeks to come.
Psalm 144:15b (Amplified)- Happy (blessed, fortunate, prosperous, to be envied) are the people whose God is the Lord!
Christians should be the happiest people on the planet. It should be this way, but obviously it is not. This is why the Bible gives us statements like “I’m saying this to you that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:4, John 15:11, 16:24)
JOY IS HAPPY
A common misconception in the church is the belief that there is a difference between joy and happiness. The way it is explained is that you can have joy and not be happy because, while joy is not based on your circumstances, your happiness is. Therefore, you can have joy and not be happy. That is just plain wrong! I have never seen someone in the world who is currently experiencing joy and has a frown on their face. No, if you are walking in and experiencing the joy of the Lord, it will be obvious! Your countenance will be lit up! You will be smiling! You will be experiencing emotions of happiness and exultation more often than not when you have joy.
Now, of course, I understand that joy is a fruit of the Spirit and is product of our newly reborn spirit that is created in Christ’s likeness and image and, therefore, is not an emotion or a feeling. I know that. But what good is having joy resident in my inner man if it does not regularly reflect in my outward man? Sure, we have all of the fruit of the Spirit contained within our spirit, but those “wells of salvation” are meant to overflow and affect our outward man. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Out of his heart (i.e. spirit) will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). The joy of the Lord is supposed to flow up out of our spirit and into our soul and body. This is when the fruit of the Spirit is produced - when it goes from seed to fruit!
So happiness is available for us all the time. The real difference is this - joy is a gift, happiness is a choice. It’s a choice we have to make every day, and one that we should at least make for the sake of others, like our family and friends, if we don’t want to do it for ourselves. And a side benefit is, you look better when you're smiling.
Jesus was anointed with the oil of gladness more than his companions Psalm 45:7. This was evident because kids flocked to him. Children like to be around people who are happy. Get to know God and He will teach you joy.
Happy and blessed are the people who are in such a case; yes, happy (blessed, fortunate, prosperous, to be envied) are the people whose God is the Lord! Psalm 144:15 (AMP)
The Bible says, "you shall BE witnesses" not “you should go witnessing.” Our joy, peace, etc. should be our witness. The (manifestation of the) goodness of God (in my life) leads man to repentance.
THE MISSING PIECE TO JOY
If there is one thing we could all agree upon, it would be that everyone is looking for joy in their life. I doubt that there is anything else higher on the list of man’s deepest longings and desires than possessing this one virtue. In the world today, countless multitudes turn to a variety of things that offer them what I would call “counterfeit joy.” Some turn to drugs and alcohol in order to give themselves an escape from the pains of reality; others turn to less destructive things such as careers, hobbies, or relationships in a quest for fulfillment, happiness, and contentment. But the truth is, whether they realize it or not, all are looking for just one thing: the genuine and perpetual joy that only the Lord Jesus Christ can give them.
Some time ago, the Lord gave me an illustration concerning this: He showed me that every person’s life is made up of a puzzle. Some people appear to have all the pieces put together. They have a good marriage, are comfortable financially, and are fulfilling their career goals. But although they may appear to have it all together on the outside, there is still one vital piece of the puzzle that is missing in the center of their heart. People often think that if they can just obtain more money, greater fame, or better relationships, then they will be happy. The truth is, however, that none of these things can fill the void they have in their heart.
Of course, this just describes the few people who seem to actually have all the pieces of their life in place. What about the majority of people who actually lack several, if not all of these things? What these tend to do is spend all their time and energy trying to find the pieces that they lack. Their search for things such as wealth, fame and relationships is unending because they believe that if they could just find that “missing link” they will be satisfied and happy.
The problem, however, is they are looking for the missing piece of the puzzle, but are looking in all the wrong places. Friends, Jesus and Jesus alone is that missing piece of the puzzle of life, and only He can fit into that empty area of our hearts and fulfill us. Yes, He is the only person, place or thing that will ever make us feel complete and content. Everything else will simply feel like we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Those of us who have received Jesus as our Lord and Savior already know this very well. For many of us, when we were born-again, a joy immediately flooded our soul. It was as if we were baptized in the very essence of joy and peace, thereby causing a complete change in our attitude towards life. But as is the case with most legitimately born-again believers, the joy that we experienced initially in our salvation is oftentimes not consistently maintained throughout our walk with God. The reason for this is that we only continue to experience this joy if we continue to allow Jesus to reign in our hearts throughout our Christian walk.
You see, as I am sure most of us who have been saved for some time have experienced, there is a tendency for the joy that we tasted in the beginning of our salvation experience to lessen as we progress in our Christian walk. Some have, in their ignorance, attributed the joy we experience in the beginning of our relationship with Christ to a “special grace” that we are given when we are baby Christians. Therefore, many erroneously believe that as we grow out of that infant stage, God removes this special grace and requires us to walk on our own. I could not disagree with this popular Christian philosophy any more emphatically.
I believe that the reason we experience the joy of the Lord so much more in the beginning of our walk is because we choose to experience it more. It is not that the joy that filled our hearts at salvation was God endowing us with more joy; rather, it was because we made certain decisions at that time which positioned us to obtain the joy that has always been available.
Just take a moment to consider your walk with God in the beginning when your eyes were opened to His love and salvation. In those days, no one could keep you from being involved in your church or being active in various Bible studies or prayer groups. You were not involved in these things out of obligation; you actually loved being involved in them because your heart was inclined towards the things of God. You also joyfully read and studied your Bible because the truth and the revelation were fresh and exciting. Your prayer times were also Spirit-filled to where the time just flew by. Most of your conversations with other people revolved around the Lord too, didn’t they? You loved to talk about what you were learning about Him and the revelation you were receiving from Him.
Now I understand that what I described above might not perfectly describe your early experience with God, but I would venture to say that you experienced some of these things either when you were saved, filled with His Holy Spirit, or had that “Aha!” moment with God. My point, however, is that something seemed to happen between the time you first tasted that joy and when life got in the way. Perhaps a more seasoned Christian even told you that was to be expected. However, the truth is that your joy began to diminish when your focus shifted from God and His Kingdom to yourself and your kingdom. When that happens, it does not matter how long you have been a Christian or how much joy you have experienced in the past, your joy will wane.
This is not something we should condemn ourselves over either. It is a natural progression that can easily take place in all of us because of the weakness of our flesh and because the lure of this world ever seeks to pull us down from those mountain-top experiences with God. But the truth I want to instill in you is that it does not have to be this way. I repeat, it does not have to be this way! It is possible to maintain the same level of joy that we possessed in the beginning of our walk with Christ all the way to the end. This is what the Bible teaches us. We can have joy unspeakable and full of glory all the way from the beginning of our faith to the end of our faith (see 1 Peter 1:8-9). Jesus provided us with joy everlasting, not just joy in the beginning. Hallelujah!
JOY VERSUS HAPPINESS
Now it is important to understand what the Word of God is referring to when it speaks of joy. It is not referring to feeling happy, although true joy will oftentimes produce happy emotions. Any person can experience happiness from time to time because happiness is dependent on having good experiences and favorable circumstances. Everyone, whether saved or not, will experience feelings of happiness from time to time. The difference between the happiness that the world can bring you and the joy that the Lord already brought you is the former is inconsistent and the latter is constant. Happiness is based upon the circumstances that the world throws at us. The world may offer us pleasurable circumstances one day and dissatisfying ones the next. Therefore, these inconsistent situations and circumstances will create in us emotions and feelings that are likewise inconsistent.
Herein lies the difference between happiness and the joy of the Lord: joy is not based on our natural circumstances. The joy that the Lord gave us is based on spiritual realities that are eternal and not subject to change. That means that your joy never has to change! Yes, joy can remain and reign constantly in our hearts because it is based on a God who never changes, and on His Word that will never pass away. Amen! Moreover, joy is a product of the part of us that is not based on our feelings anyway. Joy originates in our spirit and it is the Holy Spirit who gives us perpetual joy as a fruit of our recreated and regenerated human spirit (see Galatians 5:22). So as children of God, we have this everlasting joy within us and available to us all the time. As Jesus said, “our joy no one will take away from us” (see John 16:22). We can and should experience the joy of the Lord 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Amen!
THE BIG QUESTION
So, the question that begs to be answered is this: if we have this everlasting joy on the inside of us, why do we walk in it so inconsistently? If we were honest about it, we would have to admit that we have not always experienced the level of joy that the Bible teaches is available to us. But why? What keeps us from consistently experiencing the joy of the Lord as we should? The Bible gives us some specific reasons for this, and that is precisely what we will talk about in this series. We will take a journey through the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians and answer this big question - How can we walk in fullness of joy all the time?
You might well ask why I chose the Book of Philippians to expound on the joy of the Lord. It is because in this letter, the Apostle Paul uses around seventeen references to joy and rejoicing. Seventeen references to joy in four chapters, for an average of some four references per chapter. That is amazing! It is for this reason that the Book of Philippians has been affectionately referred to as “The Epistle of Joy.”
But what the Lord has revealed to me is how this 2,000-year-old letter is more than just an epistle that contains many references to joy; it is also a Holy Spirit-inspired book that contains the keys to unlocking that life of joy that is available for all of God’s children. That is why I am so excited to be able to put these truths into your hands as we go through this series.
THANKFULNESS IS A KEY
Being thankful is a catalyst to being joyful. You show me a thankful, grateful person and I’ll show you a happy person.
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:18-20
The theme of this passage is thankfulness, and it’s not a suggestion - it’s a command. Having melody in your heart produces joy. Getting full of the Holy Spirit will also produce joy in you.
And here’s a word of wisdom on “giving thanks always for all things to God” - we give thanks for the things God gives to us, not the things the devil gives to us. We need to live a lifestyle of thanking God for all the things He has given us. We do this by thanking Him directly and by telling others what He has done, bragging on our good, good Father. When we let our eyes get on our circumstances, we start to lose our joy. But if we focus on Jesus, our joy remains and increases. This is born out in Hebrews 12:2, which says, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” So make a habit of thanking God for what you DO have, even when you are going through stuff.
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” Psalm 100:4: Notice here again that the Word commands us to be thankful to Him. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a command. We are commanded to approach the Lord with thanksgiving. In this Psalm we find the proper protocol of entering the presence of the King of Kings. The illustration of the Tabernacle is what is being used. We are to begin our approach of God with thanksgiving. That beginning approach is described as the gates of the tabernacle. Then we are to walk down the courtyards through praise. This Psalm ends there but now under the New Covenant we all who can enter through the gates and courts of the Tabernacle can enter into the Holy of Holies. And that is done through worship because we now can worship God in spirit and truth.
Here are two more great passages from the Psalms on thanksgiving and joy.
“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.”
“You will show me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11
But what is our natural tendency? To complain about what we don’t have. Like, “Why can’t I have a Church where the heat works?” We could focus on the blessing of such great teaching at our Church from a variety of people instead of what’s not right or to our liking. Look at the Pilgrims. They went through really trying times, but chose to give thanks for being freed from religious oppression and for the harvest they had just reaped.
Now there is a difference between being thankful and saying thank you. How many of you remember your mom telling you to say thank you to someone, and you begrudgingly said the words? You can say the right things and still be miserable. What I am talking about is having a heart of gratitude, or an attitude of gratitude. This is what changes our emotional makeup and allows us to live in joy.
So if we want to be fully pleasing to the Lord and have God’s best, we must cultivate a lifestyle of thanksgiving. That means we have to work at it. Genuinely being thankful does not just happen. It is a product of your perspective. We must choose to be thankful every day, and by doing so, we can purposely and aggressively pursue happiness. It starts with being thankful, giving thanks for what He's done, naming specific things. Then it continues with praise, moving into the courts. And then moves through worship into the Holy of Holies.
When you do what God says, even if you don't feel like it, the walls come down, just like in Jericho. So your pursuit of joy can bring down walls of depression, anxiety, doubt, fear, etc. The end result is the joy-filled life that everyone wants. Amen!