As we approach the Christmas season, over the next several weeks we will walk through several principles to practice joy.
- Joy – A Fire. “Joy,” Helen Keller would say, “is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.” Paul urged, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Remember, this is a prayer passage! Look at ‘the context’ of the passage. Every verse should be interpreted by the verses around it (context). Paul connects the idea of “prayer requests” to the larger image of our behavior before a watching world. He urges us to adopt the disposition of joy. We come into prayer loaded with pressing needs, and yet, Paul directs us to “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” It is a command, not even an option, if you are a serious disciple. He even repeats the command for emphasis, “Again I say, ‘Rejoice.’”
Here is joy in the face of some urgent need, some pain or some plaguing problem. “The surest mark of a Christian is not faith, or even love, but joy,” according to Samuel Shoemaker. This joy is an expression of faith. It is evidence of our confidence that God will provide. Rather than being worried and anxious, we pray. This is a Biblical template for offering prayer requests to God that will garner an answer. And the process begins with joy.
- Joy – A Fragrance. Richard Würmbrand wrote the book Tortured for Christ. No one seemed to believe the degree of horrors perpetrated by the Communists on Christians until he escaped from Romania and testified before a congressional hearing in Washington. He removed his shirt and revealed the ghastly scars from multiple beatings and persecution. His crime? He was a Christian pastor. His message, out of suffering, is convicting:
A flower, if you bruise it under your feet, rewards you by giving you its perfume. Likewise, Christians, tortured by the Communists, rewarded their torturers with love. We brought many of our jailers to Christ. And we are dominated by one desire: to give Communists who have made us suffer the best we have, the salvation which comes from our Lord Jesus Christ.
It was “for the joy that was set before him” that Jesus endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2). “Into your hands, I commend my Spirit.” Physically, he was on the cross and headed for the grave. But, spiritually, he was in the hands of the Father. You and I may face such measurable and palpable adversity that it seems tangible. The only relief is to see what is beyond it, that which God has set before us in another world, and to smell the fragrance of that place and here now, to put ourselves into the hands of God. Incense is the stuff of heaven; prayer is the means by which it produces love.
- Joy – A Contrary, Subversive Force. Joy is subversive. When we might weep, instead, we sing. When others are fearful, we are steadied by faith. When others are despairing, we are confident and resolved. We don’t know how. We don’t know where. We don’t know when – but we know God. Joy is the Spirit’s noisy fruit, evidence of the Christ-life within us. We are noisy Christians who make ‘happy sounds.’
There is such a thing as legitimate “holy laughter!” God’s people are to be, as Demos Shakarian, the founder of Full Gospel Businessmen was fond of saying, “the happiest people on the face of the earth.” When Sarah laughed at the announcement by the angel that she would have a child in the Spring, at the appointed time, the Angel of the Lord confronted her, “Is there anything too hard for God?” (Genesis 18:14). Abraham had believed, but Sarah had never allowed herself to believe that she would have a child. Sarah’s laughter was doubtful optimism at best, or worse yet, cynicism shackled by unbelief.
People have dreams that could change their world, alter their lives, even redirect history, and their native response is cynical silent laughter. Messages of hope are met with silent sneers of disbelief. “It’s okay for a preacher to believe that sort of thing. He lives in a different world than I do anyway.” The cynical laughter assassinates the dream. It assails belief. It fractures faith. It immobilizes.
This time it would be different. Sarah’s spontaneous burst of uncertain joy – “It can’t be, could it be?” – was met with the angelic confrontation: “Did Sarah laugh?” It was enough to dislodge her from the place of utter unbelief. The long delayed child would be named Isaac – “laughter.” Joy is often the means by which God nudges us out of silent cynicism. It is the means by which He breaks off the fetters of debilitating skepticism. Sarah’s joy was an audible gasp, something reflexive from deep within that urged her to step over a line she had never dared to cross. It was a divinely planted longing, buried deep within her, one that was aligned with God’s will, but had been repressed by uncertainty and doubt. She simply could not believe it was possible. Abraham dreamed; Sarah did not. He believed; she would never allow herself to do so. But deep inside, she too longed for the promised child. She longed to have the deadness in her live again. To dance with the impossible.
Is God calling you to deeply laugh? To embrace the dream you thought was dead?
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.
 Martin H. Manser, The Westminster Collection Of Christian Quotations (Westminster: John Knox Press, 2001), 214.
 Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ, 30th Anniversary Edition (Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Book Company, 1998), 63.
 P. Douglas Small, Entertaining God (Kannapolis, NC: Alive Publications, 1992, 2009).