Power Up - Week Nine: Consider it Joy
This week we are going to be concluding our summer sermon series entitled "Empowered." We've been studying how the Holy Spirit of God empowers us to be the people that God longs for us to be.
What we didn't tell you---is that we've been outlining what is commonly known as the Fruits of the Spirit from Galatians chapter 5. The nine ways that the Spirit works to help us follow Jesus more fully, and live into our most authentic selves.
And today we are going to be talking about how the Spirit empowers us to experience joy no matter what.
We're going to do a little group exercise...
Think of the worst season of your life. When you went through the most incredibly difficult, challenging trials you've ever experienced...
Maybe you are going through it right now...
So if you could sum up that time in one word... what would it be? Think carefully about it. You've only got one word. And listen, if that word is not repeatable in public, then just keep that to yourself.
Let me ask you something---that word that you picked to describe the worst season of your life... it probably wasn't joyful was it?
And yet that is what we are talking about today. How the Spirit empowers us to experience joy---no matter what.
Our conversation partner today comes to us from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 5 verses 40-42.
I need to give a bit of backstory here so we can set the scene.
This whole story in Acts 5 happens after the apostles are arrested by the Sanhedrin--the same Jewish religious council that had Jesus arrested and executed.
They command the apostles to stop preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus, but Peter speaks up and says to them,
"Uhhhhh... we'd really like to comply, but---who am I kidding, we wouldn't really like to comply. To heck with you people. You killed the Son of God, the Holy One, the One who was raised from the dead despite your best efforts. And between you spiritually dead religious types and someone who was actually raised from the dead... we'll take our chances with Jesus. Do your worst."
At that point, one of the wisest men on the council speaks up and basically says to the group, "Guys, if these dudes are for real---we'd be contending against God if we opposed them. I mean... they're not for real, but honestly... we give them more credit than they deserve by making martyrs out of them."
Then we read this:
They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.The way this verse reads, it feels like the apostles got off with a warning. But they end up getting flogged. This is a word that is loaded in the Ancient world.
To be flogged means that you were beaten within in an inch of your life with either flexible rods that would open your back up, break ribs, fractured vertebrae, you name it. Jewish law would only allow someone to be hit 39 times because it was believed that 40 times would be too much for someone to endure.
Frequently people would die from their wounds after being flogged.
In Jesus' case, he was probably struck between 100-120 times because the Romans didn't have the 39 times rule, and they kind of hoped they would kill you if they flogged you.
These guys go through all that, and then they left "rejoicing." And then they kept right on doing what they were doing: teaching, preaching, proclaiming, healing... joyfully.
They go through all that, and then basically said, "Is that all you've got?"
This seems kind of impossible, doesn't it? To rejoice in suffering?
Most of us think that to rejoice in suffering is a good and noble thing. We hear the stories of people who do that sort of thing and we admire them, but clearly, most of us would have to admit that when we are in the middle of suffering, there is no way in hell that we would ever be able to do the same.
There's a reason why we think this way.
In ancient Judaism, the rabbis struggled to explain why human beings could contain both the capacity for great evil in addition to great good. They developed the idea of the Yetser Hatob and the Yetser Hara.
Basically, it goes like this, God created evil (Yetser Hara) as well as good (Yetser Hatob) within human beings and then gave them the Law to guide them to the good.
This idea stemmed from their understanding of a sovereign and all-powerful God who must have created those evil impulses within us all---but then in an act of love and grace gave the Hebrew people the rules and regulations to live by so that they could be an example of what it looks like when people choose good over evil, life over death.
It's a compelling concept. So compelling, in fact, that it seems to have pervaded the very way we have come to understand God, good and evil--and even the bad things that happen to us in our own lives.
The logical end of this argument is helplessness and hopelessness. It's why people will excuse their poor behavior with words like "It's just how I am... it's my nature... it's how I am wired..."
And when we start excusing our bad behavior, and our poor reactions to trials and tribulations by saying it's just how we are---it becomes even easier to then begin blaming God himself.
In other words, you might find yourself struggling to have faith in the middle of a bad time in your life and instead of saying, "God--it's not you, it's me." we find ourselves saying, "God--it's not me, it's you."
LOTS of Christians believe that God causes trials and tribulations. That God is the author and finisher, not merely of our faith, but also of our pain. And then the really church-y people in our lives will try to tell us that "God has a plan," and somehow that we won't be worthy of God's love unless we just accept this and soldier on...
So, does God really cause all trials and tribulations?
Compare these two statements:
"If God brought you to it...He'll get you through it."
"God doesn't cause all things, but God is revealed in all things.
That first statement is grounded in that ancient belief about Yetser Hatob and Yetser Hara.
Your loyalty, your faith, your worthiness is defined by how you respond to the many tests you have to take... the hoops you have to jump... the hills you have to climb...The tests, hoops and hills that God has set before you to prove yourself to Him.
In this belief system, you better choose wisely. Your relationship with God depends on it, my friend.
Here's a passage of Scripture that speaks right into this. James 1:2-4
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James is outlining a new way of seeing trials and tribulations. Their origins are not in God. But they serve a purpose. And we can also see God in the midst of that purpose. Because God doesn't cause all things, but God is present in all things.
But it's only through the power of the Spirit that we are able to reframe suffering and begin to experience joy in the midst of it. And here are some simple ways for you to find openness to the Spirit and begin to experience joy when times are tough.
First, you need to realize something very, very important:
If you ain't dead you ain't done.
You laugh. But that's the truth. If you ain't dead... you ain't done. Meaning, you have purpose. You are here for a reason, and that reason is to do everything you can to help bring heaven to earth.
You ain't done loving... You ain't done showing Jesus to the world... You ain't done sharing your gifts with the world... You have music in you and the worst thing you can do is to die with your music still in you.
Second, and this is critical to your experience of joy in suffering:
Your joy is a choice that only you can make.
No one else is responsible for your joy. They can't steal it from you without you letting them. They can't give it to you either without your permission. If you have placed all of your expectations for joy on others--you have to give that up.
The same thing goes for circumstances. Circumstances are not out to get you, no matter how bad they seem. Stuff happens. You have a choice to make about what happens to your joy in the midst of struggle. And it's your choice, no one else's. If you choose not to seek joy, not to see God in the midst of it... that's on you, and no one else.
Finally, and you need to pay close attention to this:
It may take time to experience joy in suffering... and it may take a helping hand.
Here's the reality of all of this. You may not immediately find joy when you are suffering. It may take some time. You may have to come to grips with the first two things I mentioned. You may have to grieve a little. You may have to be patient.
But here's where you will find some help. It may take support as well. And in this, we find the work of the Spirit because it's the Spirit that will often lead people to our side right when we need them.
How many times have you been in the middle of a struggle with depression, illness, futility, failure... and a friend contacted you and said, "I don't know why, but I just felt I needed to call."
It's like when we open ourselves up, put our call for help out into the universe--the Spirit, the energy between us carries that message to where it needs to go.
You can experience joy, my friend. It is possible, regardless of what you are going through right now.
Because the Spirit empowers us to experience joy no matter what.