Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Real Joy
Pastor Steve Schell
Isaiah 9:2-6; 35:10; Luke 2:8-14
Joy is an elusive prize. The more I pursue it, the more it flees from me. When I try to grasp it, it disappears. But oddly enough, in moments when I’ve forgotten all about it, and am actually preoccupied with someone else, not thinking about myself at all, it arrives unannounced and bathes my soul in its healing warmth.

Joy is so elusive it’s not even easy to explain what it is. Generally you could say it’s a feeling of present well-being and celebration. That means it’s an emotion. But the joy the Bible talks about isn’t based on mere human emotion. It isn’t just our response to the circumstances around us, whether good or bad. Those feelings are tremendously fickle, and only occasionally include joy. No, God’s joy comes from a totally different source. It’s actually a spiritual gift He offers to everyone, but which can be received only when a person’s heart is in a certain condition.

Given how much sad news there is in the world and the afflictions life brings to each of us, we all live in an atmosphere that makes us want to pull inward and hide. Pain makes us selfish. We want to feel well before we turn our thoughts to others. We want to feel strong before we help someone who’s weak. So we wait for joy to arrive… and it doesn’t. Time passes and we just grow more lonely and withdrawn. That is until we decide to love in spite of how we feel, to give in spite of our poverty, to help in spite of our weakness… and the most surprising thing happens… the joy we’d been longing for floods in, and along with it, a new sense of strength.

Real joy
God’s joy is an inexplicable happiness that comes from the spiritual realm, not the physical. And it’s very counterintuitive. We find joy when we’re not looking for it, when our thoughts have turned to someone else. This is because joy is actually the sweet fruit of love, and sorrow is the sure fruit of selfishness. When I pursue joy it flees, but when I pursue love, joy arrives unbidden. It’s when, out of love, I seek to bring joy to someone else that I find it. It’s when I long to bring joy to God that He gives His joy to me.

Our model (Heb 12:2)
We might assume that our greatest source of joy comes from loving people, and as we’ll soon see, loving people is an essential part of the process. But there is a deeper love than this, and Jesus shows us this love. It’s the delight we feel when we discover we can help bring those He loves to Him, or when we let Him minister to those He loves through us. Somewhere in the midst of what we’re doing we realize we’re bringing Him joy. Imagine that you and I can actually bless God and give Him a gift that delights His heart. When we understand how deeply He longs for people to be saved and be with Him forever (Ro 8:29; 1Ti 2:4; Heb 2:10; 2Pe 3:8, 9), and how compassionate He is toward those suffering from poverty, disease or injustice then our labor becomes our gift of love to Him. We long to please Him because we love Him, not to earn anything for ourselves, just the pleasure of knowing He’s pleased.
• Lk 15:1-10
• Jn 3:16 God so loved the world that He sent His Son, and the Son so loved the Father that He came.

Joy and suffering
Here’s one of the most surprising truths of all: over and over again in the Bible suffering for God is connected with joy. In fact, Jesus told us to rejoice and be glad when we’re persecuted because of Him (Mt 5:10-12). This is because suffering is necessary for redemption to take place in this fallen world.
“… I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24)

The moment a believer becomes effective in bringing people to God, opposition arises. We are left alone and largely ignored by the devil so long as we make no impact, but begin to reach just one person and hostile forces awaken, often from the most unexpected sources. We’ve been drawn into the deep, primal struggle between Jesus and the world, between God and the devil, for the souls of human beings. Jesus warned us this would happen:
• Jn 15:18-21; 7:14

So, when this kind of persecution arises we realize we must be doing something right. God is at work through us and we have the honor of suffering for Him (Ac 5:40-42).

Moments of heaven (Ps 16:11)
It’s hard to imagine how a God who knows all things and sees everything that takes place on earth can be joyful. The volume of sin and suffering He must behold is staggering. Yet joy is not just an emotion He gives on occasion, it’s actually part of who He is. He doesn’t have joy, He is joy, so when we come into His presence we find “fullness of joy.” The pressure and sorrow of the world is suspended and we enter into His gladness. Just as I become warm standing next to a fire, I become joyful when I am close to Him. The thought of an eternity in that condition is unspeakably wonderful. But here on earth we can’t stay in that place yet. There’s still work to do so we must go back down the mountain (Mt 17:1-9, 14). David said it this way:
“In your presence is fullness of joy; In your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps 16:11).

Wearing His yoke (Mt 11:28-30)
To every house there is a front door, and this invitation from Jesus is the first step we must take to enter into God’s joy. There’s no other way in. He calls to those who are weary and heavy laden and invites us to take up His yoke and put it on our own shoulders, in other words surrender ourselves to His calling. He invites us to labor in His harness, accomplishing the work he wants done, and to surrender to His leadership over our lives. He promises to be a gentle, humble master. If we do, He says we’ll find rest, not exhaustion; we’ll find freedom, not bondage. Our hearts will know that we are finally doing what we we’re created to do… and that’s real joy.

1) Have you felt God’s joy? Tell us when and what it feels like.
2) Have you ever been persecuted because of your faith in Jesus? Did you sense joy in the midst of it?
3) Tell us about the time you first took Jesus’ yoke on your shoulders. What difference did it make? 

Return to Sermon Notes