Sources of Joy
1. The character of God. It is my understanding of the character and nature of God that anchors my joy.
2. Appreciation for the work of Jesus Christ. My favorite definition of a Christian? Somebody who worships in the Spirit of God, rejoices in Christ Jesus and puts no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3)
3. The ministry of the Holy Spirit. How can I not rejoice when I know the Spirit of God is leading me to understand the truth?
4. Spiritual blessings. Paul tells the Ephesians that God gives us everything we need out of the abundance of His riches. There’s only one reasonable response to that and that is joy, deep down joy.
5. Divine providence. Because God is a God of absolute sovereign providence, I rejoice because nothing is outside His plan.
6. Answered prayer. I rejoice that God answers prayer (John 16:24). That in itself is enough to keep the joy flowing.
7. The truth of Scripture. When the Word of Christ dwells in me richly, I end up speaking in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody and rejoicing in my heart because of the truth (Col. 3:16)
8. Christian fellowship. I don’t mind being around unconverted people, but I prefer to be with believers because there is a level of joy that I don’t experience with non-believers (1 Thess. 3:9)
Thieves of Joy
Macarthur says, “If you’re not rejoicing, there are maybe some reasons.”
1. You’re not a Christian: If there’s no joy in a Christian’s life that may be good evidence that that person is not a Christian, because this is a gift from God through Christ planted in the heart. There’s a well of joy in the believer.
3. False expectations will steal your joy. If you expect Jesus to make you always healthy, wealthy, and happy, these are false expectations and a deadly set up.
4. Forgetfulness will steal your joy. It’s really good to just remember and remember and remember and remember the history of God’s goodness throughout redemptive history as well as throughout your life because it helps you draw from the well of joy.
5. Self-absorption will steal your joy. If you start worrying about all the little things in life that aren’t the way we want them that will steal your joy. Narcissistic self-centeredness and self-analysis, getting all caught up in trying to interpret every little thing in your life – that will steal it.
6. Being ruled by your feelings will steal your joy. Instead let truth control you and your feelings.
“The joyful Christian thinks more of his Lord than his personal difficulties, more of his spiritual riches in Christ than his poverty on earth, and more of his glorious fulfillment in heaven than his present pain. Therein lies our joy.” John Macarthur.
I recently wrote about being motivated to pursue biblical friendship, but how do we actually go about making and keeping friends? Thankfully, Jonathan Holmes’s excellent new book on biblical friendships is packed with tips on how to make, cultivate, and keep friends. Here are a few I picked out.
1. Cultivate the greatest friendship
“As the first and most important step, be encouraged in your friendship with Jesus Christ. Our Savior died for you so he could call you a friend! He is the faithful friend, the supreme friend. So cry out to him. Ask for the ability to understand biblical friendship better, and as a result to receive the grace and courage to pursue others with a glad heart.” (28)
Cistercian monk, Aelred of Rievaulx said: “[Friendships] take their beginning from Christ, advance through Christ, and are perfected in Christ.”
2. Don’t make an idol of friendships:
“When we make a good thing into an ultimate thing, it becomes a bad thing. (39)
3. Change the measure of your life
“When we reflect on our lives, they are measured not by our incomes or good works, but by our relationships— by our friendships.” (Ed Welch quoted on p. 13).
4. Beware of substitutes
“There are three substitutes we frequently take for the real thing: social media friendships, specialized friendships [based on a common interest or activity], and selfish [purely what I can get out of it] friendships.” (32)
“Technology, social media, and common interests are helpful contexts and tools to help facilitate friendship, but friendship itself is always more than these.” (41)
5. Prepare for disappointments and discomfort
The book opens with typical stories of Christians who have been disappointed and frustrated in finding, making, and keeping Christian friends.
“This begins to get to the core of the problem: our sinful desire for control. We want friendships on our timetable, our terms of agreement. We do not want friendships that would move us out of our comfort zone.” (34)
6. Give the grace you have received
“If our individual walks with the Lord are so characterized by instability, imperfection, and weakness, why should we imagine that biblical friendships must somehow be seamless and perfect to be legitimate?” (97)
7. Read the Proverbs
- Flee jealousy (Prov. 6:34; 27:4)
- Be loyal (Prov. 20:6; 18:24)
- Be truthful/honest (Prov. 28:23)
- Keep confidences (Prov. 11:13)
8. Seek and promote spiritual good
“The willingness to engage in biblical candor for the sake of another’s spiritual good is one way in which biblical friendship is obviously and dramatically different from those worldly substitutes that typically ignore unpleasant subjects.” (53)
9. Ask good questions
Here are some practical kickstarter questions, best asked thoughtfully and graciously:
- How can I pray for you?
- Where are you struggling?
- Where have you experienced God’s grace in your struggle?
- Where has God been up to good in your life recently?
- What is bringing joy to your heart?
- Where do you see me growing spiritually?
- How can I be a better friend to you? (69)
10. Work it out in ordinary life
“By ‘redeeming ordinary moments,’ I simply mean that some of the regular activities of daily life can be enhanced as we do them with others. Everyday life can be experienced on a different level when shared in the context of biblical friendship.” (98)
11. Recognize your psychological bandwidth is limited
“In his humanity, Jesus had limitations on his time and “psychological bandwidth,” just like you and I do. God chose to show us in his Word that even the divine Son could only maintain a limited number of what we are calling biblical friendships.” (84)
12. Dedicate time
“In his book A Meal With Jesus, Tim Chester records a 33 percent decrease in families eating together over the last 30 years and a 45 percent decrease in friends doing so.” (67)
“If we want to have biblical friendships, we need to be people who relish the opportunity simply to talk. Ask yourself, Can I really expect to have a decent friendship of any kind— much less a biblical one— with someone I rarely talk to? Or someone I don’t talk to about my actual joys and struggles?” (66-67)
Our friendships should be better, deeper, richer than anything the world enjoys.
The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship by Jonathan Holmes.
Over at RealClearPolitics.com Frank Donatelli analyzes why the Republicans are doing so well in swing states and how the GOP can build on this to win the White House in 2016. One of his points is the power of optimism:
Stay positive. The country faces problems at all levels, but candidates who project an optimistic attitude usually prevail. Democrats are hunkered down, ignoring Obama and seeking to deflect attention from him. In the swing states, they are spending massive amounts of money running negative ads against their opponents. The GOP must answer the charges, but not be dissuaded from their determination to offer hopeful solutions in contrast to those who now run Washington.
In The Optimistic Republican Story Everybody is Missing, Larry Kudlow anticipates the first 100 days of the expected new Republican Congress and suggests two Big Think thoughts.
First is optimism: We know what the problems are, we know what the solutions should be, and we can make these changes quickly. Second is a re-energized evangelism by the Republican party for pro-growth, market-oriented, consumer-driven, pro-family policies.
Later in the same article Kudlow again calls for an optimistic attitude and agenda:
But the key here is that the GOP regains its footing as the party of optimism and growth. A new Republican Congress should message that they’re tired of obsessing about Obama’s mistakes. Everybody knows about those. The trick now is to focus on solutions. On change. On saying, “We can do this. We can fix this.”
President Obama used optimism to great effect in his 2008 Presidential campaign. “Hope and Change” anyone? It didn’t take long, though, for him to slump into a deep fatalistic pessimism about himself, Congress, the country, and even the American people. His hope seems to have turned into despair, and most of the change has turned out for the worse.
His grim, negative, angry, and depressing demeanor has spread throughout the Democratic party, leaving a big open goal for Republicans, if they have the wit and savvy to take advantage of it. The American people are in desperate need of an injection of confident, upbeat, can-do, let’s roll leadership and policies.
But optimism isn’t only a winning political strategy; it’s also compelling and persuasive evangelism. In such a negative and discouraging culture, surely the Christian church should be standing out as a beacon of real hope and lasting change. But is it?
Too often we are simply reflecting the culture rather than renewing it. Our spirits (and sermons) soar and sink with political success or failure. Our prayers seem to be driven by opinion polls more than the Holy Spirit. We hunker down in defensive mode, expecting little from God and getting even less.
I’m not for everyone buying Joel Osteen masks and teeth tomorrow, but surely the Gospel gives us far greater grounds for optimism than any political party or movement. The question is, are we projecting that? Are we communicating our solid and joyful hope in our lives, our families, our churches, and our communities.
Our hope is not in people, in ourselves, in the church, or in the world. Our hope is in God. He is able to change the worst person, the worst situation, and the worst nation. And even when he doesn’t change what’s going on around us, He can change us so that we are not dragged down like everyone else, but rather stand out as counter-cultural evangelists. As Martyn Lloyd Jones said:
The first thing the Bible tells us is that happiness is possible. And I emphasise that because this is the most staggering, the most surprising thing of all in a world like this; but it is the great message of the Bible. It comes to us as we are, and it says, ‘Happiness, blessedness is possible (True Happiness: An Exposition of Psalm 1).
Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research have just published the results of a survey that measured Americans’ theological knowledge. The aim was to “help to point out common gaps in theological knowledge and awareness so that Christians might be more effective in the proclamation, teaching, and defense of the essential truths of the Christian faith.”
I’m deeply grateful to these Christian organizations for funding and carrying out this research. It’s true, there are some discouraging findings; but I was surprisingly encouraged by some of the results.
First, though, the bad news, in three particular areas:
The Doctrine of The Trinity
Although there was evidence of good Bible knowledge in some areas, there was also significant doctrinal confusion. For example, more than 6-in-10 Americans deny the doctrine of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. 64% say the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being. There’s also widespread uncertainty about the equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It could be argued that these are fairly fine points of doctrine and that we shouldn’t expect accuracy among the general public about such sophisticated doctrines. Even mature Christians can struggle to understand and articulate the doctrine of the Trinity.
The Doctrine of Salvation
For me, the most alarming findings were found in answers about the doctrine of salvation:
- Only 16% agree with the doctrine that says “People do not have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative.”
- Instead of acknowledging depravity, the majority of Americans believe the good in people can outweigh the bad.
- 67% agree “Everyone sins at least a little, but most people are by nature good.”
- 4-in-10 agree “God loves me because of the good I do or have done.”
- 71% of Americans agree that “an individual must contribute his/her own effort for personal salvation.”
- 64% of Americans agree “a person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with grace.”
The church clearly has much work to do in teaching more effectively about total depravity, spiritual inability, and that “salvation is [totally and completely] of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9; John 1:13).
The Doctrine of the Church
The third area of major concern was that 52% of Americans agree “Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid
replacement for regularly attending church.” That’s horrifying, and perhaps reflects the historic American traits of independency and individualism. But we also have to face the possibility that it may indicate the poverty of spiritual nourishment on offer in many churches.
The Good News
But it’s not all bad news, Sure, if we’re comparing the statistics with the America of 20 and 50 years ago, then yes there’s a serious slide in biblical knowledge, faith, and practice. I don’t want to underestimate or minimize that and the work that’s needed to change this.
But if we compare the findings to almost every other country in the world, the picture suddenly looks a lot brighter. I’d be delighted if some of these statistics were true in places like Scotland or England – it would be considered a revival! I’d be surprised if most Western European countries would even make it into double figures compared to these quite stunning American statistics:
- 60% agree that Jesus is fully God and has a divine nature, and Jesus is fully man and has a human nature.
- 71% agree that there is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
- 47% agree that God is the author of Scripture.
- 61% agree that hell is a real place, not just a concept
- 67% agree that heaven is a real place, not just a concept.
- 42% agree strongly that there will be a time when Jesus Christ returns to judge all people who have lived.
- 43% agree that the Bible is 100% accurate in all that it teaches.
- 53% agree that salvation is found through Jesus Christ alone.
- 61% agree that God has authority over people because he created human beings.
- 66% agree that God continues to answer specific prayers.
- 68% believe the biblical accounts of Christ’s resurrection
Of course, we can flip these round and highlight where the glass is half-empty, but in many cases the glass is more than half-full! So let’s not discourage and depress ourselves too much.
Yes, lots of room for concern, some strange inconsistencies, and many areas for the church to focus attention and resources on. But to me these are also massively encouraging statistics. I doubt if there are many places on earth, or even in all of history, that would have such high numbers.
Considering all that we know about human nature, about the unceasing malice of the devil, and about the fanatical anti-Christian cultural pressures over the last fifty years, these figures are remarkably strong and resilient and give much cause for thanksgiving and motivation as we continue the work of teaching, preaching, and evangelizing both the world and the church.