读经：诗119:9-16 帖前2:17-3:13 耶21:1-23:8
Surprised by Joy
‘Surprised by joy’ is how C. S. Lewis described his conversion from atheism to faith in Jesus Christ. He had never expected that there was any connection between God and joy. If anything, he had thought it would be the opposite: ‘For all I knew, the total rejection of what I called Joy might be one of the demands.’
Convinced that it was true, Lewis ‘admitted that God was God’. At that moment, he was ‘the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England’. To his great surprise he found that following Jesus was the very opposite to what he expected. He experienced great joy through his new-found faith. He discovered that ‘the heart of reality’ is to be found in a Person. He was surprised by joy.
Many people confuse pleasure, contentment and joy. ‘Pleasure’ can come from a good holiday, a pay rise or a box of chocolates. People can become pleasure addicts – always seeking the next fix. But these experiences of pleasure come and go.
‘Contentment’ is longer term – being satisfied with your life, your home, your job and your relationships.
But there is another kind of happiness that we call ‘joy’. It is not an emotion. It is a way of being and a state of mind that is available to everybody. It is not found in things, but in a Person.
1. Joy in studying the Bible
Psalm 119:9-16Neither Pippa nor I have a very good sense of direction. We often get lost on car journeys (even with a satnav!). There is great joy when we find someone who is able to give us good directions.
The Bible gives us the best directions for life. It helps us to avoid straying (v.10) and getting lost. There is such great joy in finding directions to abundant life.
Reading the Bible is the last place in the world that most people would expect to find joy. Yet, as the psalmist points out, God’s wisdom and his promises are a source of delight, rejoicing andgreat riches. He writes, ‘I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches… Idelight in your decrees’ (vv.14,16a).
In the Bible we find the path to purity: ‘How can the young keep their way pure? By living according to your word’ (v.9). He writes, ‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you’ (v.11). Learn verses, meditate on them (v.15) and speak them out (v.13). These are some of the ways in which you can avoid straying and getting lost (v.10).
As you sense the Holy Spirit speaking to you through a particular verse or passage, you are able to say with the first-century Church Father, Origen, ‘This is my scripture.’ You have the joy of hearing God’s voice and rejoicing in following his statutes (v.14).
Lord, thank you that your words bring me such joy. Help me to hide your words in my heart and to recount your words with my lips.
2. Joy of leading others to faith in Jesus
1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13Paul had led the Thessalonians to encounter Jesus Christ. There is great joy in seeing people come to faith in Christ. I think this is one of the reasons people love to lead or help in an Alpha small group. They have the joy of seeing people come to Christ, being filled with the Spirit and getting excited about Jesus.
The Thessalonians were Paul’s ‘pride and joy’ (2:20, MSG). There was such a close bond with them. He had an intense longing to see them (v.17). He writes, ‘For what is our hope, our joy, orthe crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy’ (vv.19–20).
Rewards are not wrong in principle and seeing others put their faith in Jesus is a great reward (‘crown’). How different is our glory from that of the world. The world glories in money, success and power. But we glory in Jesus and in those we have been privileged to see drawn to him through our words and our prayers.
Paul’s joy had nothing to do with his own circumstances. He was in the middle of trouble and hard times: ‘stress and crushing difficulties’ (3:7, AMP). Paul’s concern, amazingly, was not about his own situation, but about the effect the trials and persecution might have on the faith of the Thessalonians (v.3).
Paul’s joy came from their joy. He had found the secret of happiness. He was able to find joy in another’s joy. It really is true that ‘happiness is making someone else happy’.
Paul writes, ‘For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord’ (v.8). His quality of life is deeply affected by the relationship that they have with the Lord. He is filled with joy: ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our Godbecause of you?’ (v.9).
This joy flowed out of the depth of relationship that Paul had with the Thessalonians. His love and concern for them is so clear. That love and concern continued after he left. He longed to return to them (2:18; 3:10–11), sent Timothy to help them (even though it meant his being alone for a while, 3:1–2), and prayed ‘most earnestly’ for them ‘night and day’ (v.10).
Committing deeply to the lives of those around you can seem daunting and it may involve hard work. Yet, as Paul’s example shows us, it is also a source of joy and celebration. It was joy ‘in the presence of God’. As Paul was praying, his heart must have been filled with joy as he thought about them. So much of Paul’s letters are filled with thanksgiving and joy. As we enter God’s presence, our hearts are unburdened and we see things as God sees them: ‘You will fill me with joy in your presence’ (Psalm 16:11).
Lord, thank you so much for the joy of seeing people come to Christ. May I increase and overflow with love, and be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father (adapted from 3:12–13).
3. Joy in the friendship of Jesus
Jeremiah 21:1-23:8As we stay close to Jesus, his joy flows into us and our joy is complete. As Gordon Fee writes, ‘Unmitigated, untrammelled joy is – or at least should be – the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus.’ The ‘righteous Branch’ which Jeremiah speaks about in this passage (23:5) is going to be the source of complete joy.
The Lord says to his people through Jeremiah, ‘I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death’ (21:8).
He calls them to ‘administer justice’ (v.12). He says, ‘Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!’ (22:3, MSG).
The kings should have acted like Josiah: ‘“He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord’ (v.16).
Here we see God’s concerns, both then and now. He is concerned about justice. He is concerned about the poor and the homeless. He is concerned about widows and orphans. He is concerned about victims of injustice. How we treat the marginalised in our society matters to God.
The people of God were under his judgment for failing in these areas. They had become an ‘evil regime’ (21:14, MSG). They were about to go into exile. Yet, in the midst of these prophecies of doom and exile, there was a ray of hope.
‘“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness”’ (23:5–6).
As we read this through the lens of the New Testament we can see how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy about the ‘righteous Branch’ (23:5, see also Isaiah 11, Ezekiel 17 and Jeremiah 33:15 onwards). He was descended from David, King of the Jews, a Saviour, The Lord Our Righteousness.
Jesus is the one in whom we find complete joy. He is the ‘righteous Branch’ (v.5) out of which every other branch should come. Ezekiel 17 links the righteous Branch to a vine. Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener’ (John 15:1), ‘I have told you this so that my joymay be in you and that your joy may be complete’ (v.11).
Lord, thank you for the joy that comes from being close to Jesus. Help me each day to stay close to the ‘righteous Branch’ so that the joy of Jesus may be in me and my joy may be complete.
‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.’
It is wonderful when the right verse comes to mind in a particular situation. I wish I had learnt many more verses when my memory worked better. Now the only way I can learn new verses is when they appear in a song we sing regularly. The children’s songs are often the best!