• How to Live and Die Happy: True Joy

    Part 3 in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit

    If we want to know how to live and die happy, we have to define happiness. I believe that happiness is knowing that your life matters, that you have a purpose, that your life counts for something. Does your life mean something? Do you know that you have a higher purpose than living day to day? In the end, will it make any difference whether you were here or not?

    The real measure of a life is not how smart you are -- you will never find true happiness by pursuing knowledge -- the more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn; it is a bottomless pit. Happiness also has nothing to do with much money or stuff you accumulate -- in fact, some of the happiest people in history have been the poorest of the poor with no possessions.

    Real happiness is not found in pampering the body either -- who talks about how beautiful or healthy a corpse is? Nobody. There is no pot of gold at the end of these rainbows: health, wealth and knowledge. Life will be punishingly disappointing if you choose to base your happiness on these things. The world says you need to chase after them to be happy, but God’s spirit respectfully disagrees.

    So, how can we be happy? As I said earlier, you can find happiness -- real happiness, lasting happiness, if you look to things that don’t rust like our earthly treasures, don’t grow flabby and wrinkly like our earthly bodies, and don’t fail us in our later years like our earthly minds. The Bible lists the marks of a meaningful life -- and therefore the source of real, lasting happiness in Galatians 5:

    “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness,
    faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  (Galatians 5.22-23)

    These are called “the fruit of the spirit,” and that is a wonderful metaphor. Just as you can tell how good an orange tree is by the quality of its fruit, you can measure your life -- and therefore and your happiness! -- by the quality of this fruit, the fruit of the spirit, in you life. (Of course, this list in Galatians 5 isn’t a complete list of every sign of spiritual health and happiness, but it is a great starting point!)

    The Bible promises that one day, God will measure your life, and he will measure according to this standard: the quality of the fruit in your life. Not by how many diplomas you’ve tacked to the wall, not by how much stuff you’ve stockpiled for moth and rust to destroy, and definitely not by how many diets you’ve pushed yourself through or how much weight you can lift! God your father doesn’t care about any of those things. Instead, he is going to look for something so simple, so easy, that even a child can understand it. He is going to look for the fruit of His Spirit in your life. That is how he will measure you. Do you love deeply? Do you bring joy to those around you? Are you a peacemaker? Are you good and kind and self-controlled? And so on.  

    Last week we talked about love -- in depth. This week I want to take a closer look at the second fruit of the spirit,  joy. Let’s begin with a landmark scripture on joy from the apostle Paul:

    “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
    Let your gentleness be known to all men.
    The Lord is at hand.”
    (Philippians 4.4-5)

    This scripture and others like it in the Bible reveal some shocking truths about joy. I say they are “shocking” because they turn our man-made, human definitions of joy completely upside-down. Here is what I’ve learned from the pages of this amazing Book. See if this disrupts your definition of joy; see if God challenges you today!

    First: True Joy is a Decision.

    Listen to this very carefully:  joy is not something that randomly happens to you. It is something you must choose each day. For a true believer in God’s promises, there is no such thing as “waking up on the wrong side of the bed.” True joy decides to wake up on the right side of the bed -- and when you feel like you might wake up on the wrong side of the bed, true joy decides to turn over and chooses joy anyway.

    If true joy is a decision, what does it decide? I will get to that, but for now I want to focus on this very important aspect of joy: it is a decision; and not just anyone’s decision -- it is YOUR decision and your decision alone.

    The most important secret to lasting joy is this: Your joy is entirely in your hands!  Real joy cannot have anything to do with your external circumstances, and has everything to do with an internal decision to be joyful.

    But you say, “Pastor Steve, you don’t understand. My husband is making me so depressed.” Or “My homework is so hard!” Or “I have such a heavy burden to carry.” And I say to you: choose joy. It is in your hands to do so. You choose victory or defeat each moment you’re alive -- choose victory. You are not alone in this. You are not the first person to go through what you’re going through. More than that, God knows what you’re going through and he cares about you very deeply. He has even given you people right here in his family who have walked down the same road who can help you carry that burden. Don’t let external forces or other people steal your joy.

    Pity the poor soul who pins their joy on other people or external forces! Nothing could be more injurious to your happiness. If your joy depends on your next paycheck, watch out! If your joy depends on political outcomes, get ready for disappointment. If your joy depends on the attitudes of your lover, your children, your friends, your mom, your dad, your dog or cat … you are in big trouble. I mean BIG trouble!

    Don’t blame anyone else but yourself for your lack of joy. Your joy is always in your hands. You can choose to allow your spirit to be overwhelmed by the trials of the moment, or you can overcome the trials of the moment by choosing joy.  Joy does not land on you randomly. You land on joy intentionally.

    True joy cannot be given or taken away by any external influence or threat. True joy comes from deep within, and is unshakeable in life’s rumblings, unquenchable in life’s hurricanes, inexhaustible in life’s firestorms, and incomprehensible by those whose joy is determined by outside forces. True joy is first and foremost a decision.

    “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4.4)

    Second: True Joy is a Contagious Decision.

    What happens when a joyful person enters a room full of gloom? Their joy spreads to others! I have seen it time and time again -- true joy is an overwhelming power, and it is highly contagious. And why is that? Because God knows we thrive on joy! Your joy is designed to inspire and encourage everyone around you. When you come on the scene at work or at home after a long day, see what happens if you choose to be joyful rather than plead defeat. You don’t have to do much -- just a smile and a kind word is all it takes to brighten any dark room.

    When I finished high school I worked as a bagger in a grocery store. I met a lot of people in that job; about one every two minutes!  After a month or so, one of the checkers told me that I should smile more, that I looked better when I smiled. So I started an experiment. I chose to smile. Good days: I chose to smile. Bad days? I chose to smile. Tired, bored, no matter what, I made a decision to smile. I wanted to see if it made any difference -- and guess what? It did! First of all, I felt better -- on days when I started out tired or discouraged, the decision to smile made me feel happier.

    But more surprising to me was the effect that the decision to simply smile had on other people. I would watch mothers come through the checkout with a cart full of loud and nasty kids, and then I would look them in the eye, smile and say hello. Nine times out of ten I could see that weary mother’s countenance change from droopy and worn out to happy and energized. All from a smile! And sometimes I didn’t feel like smiling at all, but I had to wrestle with all my might to choose.

    Do you believe that joy is a good thing? Do you want to live in a world where there is more joy? Do you want to be part of a church where there is more joy? Then be a part of the solution! Make your joy contagious! Choose to smile a little bit -- it wouldn’t kill you -- and it might just turn someone’s day around. God is the author of joy. He wants you to spread his joy like a life boat to a world drowning in sorrow. Paul says in Philippians 2: “Make my joy complete.” Your joy gives joy to others! Joy is contagious. Let’s give joy to one another and to the world by choosing joy for ourselves.

    “Let your gentleness be known to all men.” (Philippians 4.5a)

    Third: True Joy is a Contagious Decision to Live in Victory Today.

    Now, I said earlier that true joy is a decision, but I didn’t say what the decision was. This is extremely important, because joy can be faked -- it is possible to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, slap on a smile, and have all the appearances of having true joy, without actually having it. If we were to approach joy this way -- deciding to be happy for no reason, we would be nothing more than hypocrites -- imposters -- counterfeiters of true joy.  

    In order for joy to be true and complete, it must be based on truth, and not on sheer willpower or emotion. And this is where Christians have the only advantage over the rest of the world. We can have true, lasting joy, because we have a true, lasting reason for joy: we are victorious. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been given a free gift that no one else can claim: we have been assured of victory at the end of the race.  This victory is not something we have earned, concocted or cooked up; this victory is something that Jesus himself provided for us. It cannot be lost, stolen or taken away. The victory belongs to all who believe and trust in Christ. And that is where true joy comes from -- a decision to live in victory today.

    This is a strange victory, because it is “already, but not yet.” The victory is already won, but we are not yet across the finish line. We may be buffeted by the trials and storms of life today, but we know that we will one day cross the finish line as victorious. We may be victimized by our present circumstances, but we know and are assured that we will be victorious over all the flaming arrows of the devil and all the troubles of this life. One day soon, we will set aside all of these light and momentary trials and tribulations; we will boldly step onto the victor’s stand, and receive the victory crown, purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, and granted to all who will call upon His name. THAT is the reason we have joy today -- not because of our present circumstances, but in spite of our present circumstances. We know that no matter what happens today -- we may lose everything and everyone we ever held dear -- but we can never lose the victory that God has prepared for us.

    True joy has eyes fixed on the One who is waiting just across the finish line.  Temporary obstacles cannot distract true joy from the eternal promises of God. There will come a moment when the burdens you carry today will be laid down. Either He will come from heaven to take you home, or you will laid to rest and sleep in the dust of the earth. And that moment will be a realization of ultimate victory over the trials of this world. True joy is a decision to live -- not in this moment -- but in that moment.

    “The Lord is at hand.” (Philippians 4.5)

    How Deep is Your Joy?

    You may think joy is childish and naive, but that is the devil’s lie. True joy is never out of reach -- it is available to anyone who believes. God’s Spirit is calling you to make your decision. What will you choose?

    “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
    fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
    For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame,
    and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
    (Hebrews 12.1b-2)

    “Console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning,
    The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness,
    The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61.3)

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