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.