THE brand of Christianity that we see around us may not be an accurate reflection of what Christ envisaged. A few days ago, I saw a commercial for a ‘Christian Cruise’. It said: “It’s more than a cruise. It’s a life-changing, boat-rocking experience that brings people closer to their Creator. Spiritual batteries are recharged. New directions are taken and lives are never the same after. We have found the right recipe for spiritual journeys of a lifetime.”
Sadly, Christianity today has turned into a cruise ship. We are on a quest for choice locations floating on a multibillion dollar ship filled with exotic food, drinks and great speakers. Everyone’s in a pursuit of happiness and joy. We want to create this ‘family friendly bubble’ and set ourselves afloat, away from this ‘crazy’ world filled with sorrows and sufferings. We want to live in a surreal world of being perpetually ‘high’ with the goodies that life has to offer.
We have televangelists whose one agenda is to arouse people with false promises of health, wealth and prosperity attached to Christianity. They live in multi- million dollar homes built on the evangelism industry run by money-thirsty men and women. For them, happiness is a result of health, wealth and prosperity and they make people believe an abundance of these will lead to perpetual joy. The lure of prosperity is not only found among televangelists but also among church leaders. Amidst this web of deceit there are also committed, God-fearing men and women ready to die for the gospel, the real gospel.
Long time ago, one evening our Savior sat down on a mountain side. He had a group of people who were beaten up in life and reeling under the tyranny of an oppressive state. He told them happy and joyful are the humble and the poor – the people who consider themselves to be insignificant, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
He said fortunate, happy and joyful are those who hunger and thirst for peace for they shall be completely satisfied! He asked them to be joyful when people reviled them, persecuted them and spoke bad about them. He said: ‘Be glad and supremely joyful, for your reward in heaven is great’ (Matthew 5:12).
Isn’t that interesting? Jesus said happiness can be found not in the absence of stress or conflicts but in their very presence. How can we be joyful when people persecute us, revile us and life seems to be heading towards a canyon?
The answer is quite simple: A believer’s joy is different from the world’s concept of joy. Happiness to the world is exclusively based on ‘happening’. If something good is happening, then you are happy like it’s portrayed in the ‘Christian Cruise’ commercial. (Their ‘goal’ is to make sure everyone is happy all the time). On the other hand, a believer’s joy is generated from being in the presence of God and not necessarily the result of his external ‘happy’ circumstances.
In essence, for a believer pure joy occurs even in the midst of trials – even when the car breaks down, or the kids get sick. When you lose your job or your relationships are affected. When there is death or catastrophes. That is why James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
Let’s get it straight now: Joy is the product of God’s Holy Spirit shed abroad in our hearts and our yielding to its guidance. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and not influenced by external factors.
Sure enough the devil would be able to attack us (after all, he is the god of this age) but he has no power to steal our joy. Joy is a spiritual fruit inside us. Satan can touch our body, finances, jobs and family as the book of Job teaches, but he can’t touch the Holy Spirit that resides in us. God’s Holy Spirit is off limits to the devil. And since he can’t touch God’s spirit in us, he can’t rob us of our joy.
That is why Paul asks believers to ‘rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice’ (Philippians 4:4 ). True rejoicing comes in the Lord. King David writes in his Psalm ‘You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever’ (Psalm 16:11). Joy is an experience that can be enjoyed only in God’s presence.
An example of this experience is seen in the early church. The believers sold all their possessions and goods for the church and in their homes they broke their bread and ate together with gladness. How can you sell all your belongings and sit together with gladness? Is there something wrong with these people?
No, there is nothing wrong with them. Again the biblical perspective of joy is not the product of the natural mind influenced by external circumstances but the product of the supernatural Holy Spirit of God who is not influenced by external circumstances. Let me repeat this: A believer’s joy is generated from being in the presence of God couched in His love and not the result of our external ‘happy’ circumstances.
Another example of this experience is seen in Acts 13. While Paul and Barnabas are preaching in the synagogue, the Jews are filled with hatred for these men. They incite some high-standing women and leading men to unleash persecution against them. The two were expelled from their region; but amidst all this verse 52 says “and the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Since Christian joy is not a product of the natural mind, pursuing it apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit will produce only very limited and pale imitations of what God experiences by nature and greatly desires to be in us. King Solomon, the wisest and the richest king who ever lived, conducted a series of experiments and analyses to determine how to make the most of life. But at the end of all his experiments, the answer was ‘everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
Nothing outside of God can bring us real joy. There is a natural urge in each one of us to enjoy life outside God, pursue happiness outside God’s range. Adam and Eve initiated this process by biting on the fruit which was outside God’s purview and they bore the consequence of their action.
As long as we exist in the human realm, there is nothing outside God that can give us everlasting joy. Perhaps you have bought a new car, or a new home or a new electronic gadget, but after a few weeks, months or years you find out that the ‘joy’ you once had when you first made the deal has slowly reduced before finally disappearing.
A spouse or a friend who bring us joy may die before us. Good health may cease, comforts may vanish, social tragedies and natural disasters may destroy our loved ones. Properties that are precious to us may depreciate and wear out. Our senses may become so dull that we cannot see, hear, taste, feel or smell as we once did.
I love the verse in Habakkuk 3:17: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crops fail and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls…” Look at the next verse: He says, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my savior.” His response to adversity is based not on the possible consequences of his crisis but his confidence in his position before God. How do I know that? Look at verse 19: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”
You see, Habakkuk is confident of his position before God and that is what generates unspeakable joy in his life and that joy brings him his strength.
Do you know joy in the Lord and our health are related? That is why Nehemiah cries out in his book ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8: 10).
Do you have this joy in you? Are you always swaggering in the happiness that the world has to offer? God has invested His best in us by giving us His Spirit. The best of God resides in us so that the worst of man cannot reign in us. The choice is yours. My prayer is you will choose the best of God and jettison the worst of man.
Rev. Mathews George is a pastor at Tucker Street Church in Greater Memphis Area in the US. He has mentored many people around the United States and India. He believes that only in understanding and accepting Jesus into lives true healing takes place. He can be reached at his email ID: mathewsown [at] gmail [dot] com