Monday, May 25, 2009

The Gift of Joy

In spite of suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

                        1 Thessalonians 1.6

In Spite of Everything

So far our discussions leading to Pentecost looked at how the Holy Spirit clothes us in power and floods us with hope, making faith possible. We discover another ministry of Its office in 1 Thessalonians 1.6, which says the Spirit gives us joy. Every believer possesses the Holy Spirit’s gift of joy, regardless of her/his immediate emotional state. Faith produces joy, inuring it to natural conditions. Per Galatians 5.22, it’s a fruit of the Spirit, which 1 Peter 1.8 confirms: “Even though you do not see [Jesus] now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” Through the unction of the Holy Spirit, faith changes joy from feeling to fact. Believers can’t explain why they remain joyful regardless what they encounter, or how their joy exists independently of sorrow. Yet in spite of everything we carry from our past and face presently and in our future, we still have joy. Peter nailed it. The joy given by the Holy Spirit can’t be adequately expressed in human terms because it defies earthbound logic. It’s supernatural, which makes it altogether glorious.

The Message and Two Mysteries

Think back to when you welcomed the message of Christ—not when you first heard it, but when you consciously embraced it and redirected your life to follow His path. Whether by a momentary “come-to-Jesus” epiphany or gradual awakening to His purpose, do you remember the joy accompanying it? I’ve yet to meet a genuine believer who didn’t experience an inexplicable commingling of happiness, peace, and optimism after accepting Jesus as Lord of his/her life. Paul describes this profound sense of confidence and contentment as “the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” It’s like falling in love, only better, since its purpose exceeds emotional bliss. The Spirit’s gift of joy erases all doubts about a lifetime commitment to Christ. The initial joy inspiring us to welcome His message stays with us, continuing to grow and solidify, as we walk with Him.

Faith made possible by the Spirit and the joy It gives are two mysteries we’ll never comprehend in this life. They operate symbiotically, constantly proving and sustaining one another. According to 1 John 5.5-6, joy in rising above life’s trials springs from confidence in Christ. And, once again, the Spirit plays a crucial, if mysterious, role in facilitating this. “Who is it that overcomes the world?” John asks, answering, “Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God… And it is the Spirit who testifies [of Christ], because the Spirit is truth.” Spirit-given joy fuels Spirit-driven faith in Christ’s power to overcome our problems, which in turn refuels our joy by rewarding our faith. The cycle is never-ending and self-perpetuating.

In the Asking

It’s the Holy Spirit’s task to give us inexpressible, glorious joy. Once we accept it, however, responsibility falls on us to nurture it by faith. Like every other aspect of following Christ, successfully maintaining our joy relies entirely on our reliance on Him. In John 16.24, Jesus tells us: “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” If our joy’s running on empty, it’s because we’re handling too much on our own and depending too little on Him. The more we include Him in our daily living and decisions, the more joy we’ll find in our days and choices. It’s just that simple.

It pleases Christ to be involved in our lives. Tying the joy we possess to the degree we look to Him creates an extraordinary incentive we can’t ignore. Everything about us—our needs and challenges, hopes and dreams—is significant to Him. Being God, He knows all about us; having lived among us, as one of us, He’s intimately aware of our physical and emotional concerns. Hebrews 4.15-16 encourages us to bring our problems to Christ, saying, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Not turning to Jesus with lowly problems lowers our joy by tacitly expressing doubt in His care. The Holy Spirit gives us joy to increase our faith to ask for anything. Receiving what we need increases our joy. We can’t explain why, but that’s how it works.

The Holy Spirit gives us joy to welcome Christ's message. After we accept it, we maintain joy's fullness by faith in His promise we can ask and receive what we need from Him.

(Tomorrow: The Right of Inheritance)

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