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Sermon Series: “Summer Tune Up”
“Charge Your Battery: Joy”
Philippians 4: 4 – 7
June 13, 2021
Today is the second sermon in our Summer Tune Up series! As I explained last week, this summer, just like we do with our cars, we’re going to give our lives a spiritual tune up, checking our lives of discipleship to make sure that everything is functioning the way it should be. Our tune up checklist is the passage from Galatians 5 about the fruit of the Spirit. Today we’re going to talk about the second thing on the list, which is joy.
Joy is like the battery of a car. The function of the battery is to start the car’s engine, right? What happens when the battery dies? The car won’t start. The energy to ignite the starting process is lacking.
Joy is necessary to keep starting our engine. Joy gives the “juice” to the life of faith. We can’t run the way we are supposed to without joy!
One thing that is crucial in understanding the spiritual fruit of joy is that joy is different than happiness. Joy is different than happiness.
There’s a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown and Linus are having a conversation. Linus says, “Charlie Brown, what do you want to be when you grow up?” And Charlie Brown replies, “Outrageously happy.”
Most of us can relate to that sentiment. Growing up, we all read fairy tales that ended, “And they lived happily ever after.” But as we mature, we realize that living happily ever after, may, indeed, be a fairy tale. Life does not always turn out the way we think it’s going to. Some dreams are not fulfilled, and we find that life involves things like illness and loss. Instead of living happily ever after, we may find that a more realistic perspective is like the line in the Jimmy Buffett song: “I just want to live happily ever after every now and then.”
It is a myth that Christians should always be happy. But there is such a thing as joy, a deep and abiding joy, that can live in our hearts even in the most difficult circumstances.
The words “joy” and “rejoicing” are found again and again throughout the Bible. If you search for all the times the words joy and rejoicing are used in the Old and New Testaments, I think you would be surprised at the number of times—hundreds and hundreds of times—those words appear.
When we look at passages that talk about joy and rejoicing, we see the difference between joy and happiness. There’s a saying: “We are happy BECAUSE OF, we are joyful IN SPITE OF.” We see in scripture that joy does not depend on external circumstances. Instead, joy has to do with our relationship with God. We rejoice “IN THE LORD!” Joy has to do with the deep and abiding knowledge of the good news, that God loves us, that God became incarnate to dwell with us and to save us, and that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.
We see this clearly in Paul’s letters, especially his letter to the Philippians. Paul did not have what we would call a happy life. In the course of sharing the gospel, he was run out of town, he was ship-wrecked (three times!), he was beaten, stoned, persecuted, and arrested for his faith. But despite his hardships, Paul had a joy that nothing could shake.
Do you know where Paul was when he wrote the words we heard this morning from Philippians 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice?”
He was in prison! Paul was in prison, and he knew that the end of his life probably was near. And yet the letter to the Philippians has been called “the letter of joy,” because it is filled with the idea of rejoicing. In fact, in this letter, the word “joy” appears in various forms sixteen times! Paul encouraged the Philippian Christians—and all of us--to practice living in joy the way Paul himself had learned to live—joy in the Lord regardless of trials or hardship, joy despite loss or difficulty.
So if we know that joy is different than happiness, that it is a characteristic that should mark our lives as Christian people despite our circumstances, how can we have joy? What can we do to re-charge our batteries, so to speak, so we can be filled with joy?
Today we’re going to focus on three practices that spark joy in our lives: counting our blessings, keeping the Sabbath, and committing to worship.
The first thing we can do to re-charge our joy is to count our blessings.
This is what Paul did in his letter to the Philippians. Paul followed up the encouragement to “Rejoice in the Lord always” with the admonition “Do not worry about anything.” Paul knew that worry can rob us of joy. Rather than dwelling on his hardships, Paul gave thanks for the good things God was doing. He gave thanks for the people who loved and supported him.
Don’t you think it would have been easy for Paul to bemoan and complain about his situation? But instead of wallowing in misery, he chose to count his blessings.
Even secular psychologists tell us that if we want to have joy in our lives, we should count our blessings. Some have suggested keeping a “gratitude journal” or a “joy journal.” Often in life, especially in difficult times, we tend to focus on the negatives, failing to see the good. When we keep a joy journal, we take note of the blessings in our lives. We notice the little things, like someone stopping to hold a door open for us when our arms are full of groceries, or someone pausing to let us into traffic. We notice the patience of our spouse, or the sweet way a child gives us a hug, or the kindness of a thoughtful friend.
As we count our blessings, over time we recognize the pattern of God’s goodness, the way God is always at work in our lives and in the world. And joy grows within us.
Counting our blessings is one way we can charge the battery of joy in our lives. A second way we can spark joy is to keep the Sabbath. Now when I say, Keep the Sabbath, I’m not talking about just observing worship on Sunday. I’m talking about the ancient Sabbath principle of rest. There is a reason God gave us the commandment to keep the Sabbath. Human beings were not made to run non-stop, like the Energizer bunny, never taking a break. When we fill our lives with constant activity, busyness robs us of joy.
Those who study societies and families say that busyness has reached a crisis, because our society does not acknowledge the importance of rest. The pandemic has worsened this. With so many people working from home, the lines have blurred between work and personal time. Studies show people actually have been working many more hours than when they were in the office, starting the day earlier and ending much later. In a news article, one woman reported she was working 12 to 15 hours a day, staying at her laptop until well past midnight and failing to take breaks even for meals.
Another worker said her evenings were filled with calls at all hours, because “colleagues and clients assumed she would be available for work calls at all times.”1
Our busyness leads to feelings of stress and pressure, strained family relationships, and stress-related health problems. But even more than that, busyness has become a spiritual crisis. Busyness has become a spiritual crisis. One of the foundational Biblical principles is that it is in the Sabbath, in the stillness, in the silence, that we find God. In this passage Paul reminds us that when we pray instead of worrying, “the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” When we cease our busyness, stop our endless running, our constant activity, we feel God’s presence in a powerful way, and joy has room to grow and blossom in our lives.
So to cultivate joy, we should count our blessings; we should keep the Sabbath, and finally, we should commit to worship. Several years ago a sociological study came out proving that human beings are hard-wired to seek God. Scholars conducted 40 separate studies all over the world and found that human beings have an instinctive tendency to believe in a higher power, to believe that there is life after death, to believe there is a force greater than ourselves at work for good in the world.2 This is a fascinating study, but theologians have known this for thousands of years.
In the 1600’s the philosopher Pascal said that human beings have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that nothing else can fill. We were made with a need to worship; we were created to be in relationship with God, to recognize God as the ground of our being, and to give God our praise. Without worship, that God-shaped hole remains empty, and we are without joy.
Worship during the pandemic has been different, to say the least. Now that in-person worship is resuming, churches are asking the question: will people return?
While MPC has been blessed with the ability and technology to provide worship online, and we will continue to offer live streamed services for those who are not able to be here in person, we know that online worship it is not the same as being together in person. We rejoice that next Sunday, we will resume worship in our sanctuary again, and I encourage those of you who are able to join us here. There is something unique that happens when God’s people come to a sacred space to gather communally. From the earliest days of faith, people worshipped God TOGETHER. The Psalms give voice to this: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord!’” Worship allows us to sense and experience what Paul says in this passage: “The Lord is near.”
In a sermon on this passage for Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, John Buchanan said of Paul’s words, “This is no superficial, Pollyannaish, phony cheerfulness. This is something that wells up out of the depths of a person’s soul, something grounded in a reality more real, more powerful, than any jail cell, any physical torture; more real than death itself. ‘Rejoice [in the Lord] always; again I say, Rejoice.’”
Buchanan went on to say, “When, on a dark night long ago, shepherds were startled by a sky full of light and singing, they heard an angel, a messenger from God: ‘Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.’” He noted that at the end of his life, at the Last Supper Jesus said, “I say these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.”
“From his birth to his death thirty-three years later and his resurrection three days after that, the story of Jesus Christ is the story of joy,” Buchanan said.
Then Buchanan quoted Frederick Buechner: “’Joy is home. God created us in joy and created us for joy, and in the long run not all the darkness there is in the world and in ourselves can separate us from that joy,’” he said.2
That is our great joy: our relationship with the God who loves us, who seeks us and finds us, who saves us and claims us as his own. When we have that relationship with God, whatever our external circumstances might be, we can have the deep and abiding joy that comes from living in the love of God.
So to charge the battery of joy in your lives, do these three things:
- Count your blessings
- Keep the Sabbath
- And commit to worship
And you will be fully charged and filled with joy. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- Natasha Meah, “Working from home becomes a nightmare when lines are blurred and boundaries trampled,” Todayonline, October 17, 2020.
- Richard Allen Green, “Religious Belief Is Human Nature,” CNN, May 12, 2011.
- John Buchanan, “Rejoicing,” Fourth Presbyterian Church-Chicago, December 13, 2009. (The Buechner quote is from Secrets in the Dark,p. 240).
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church