If everything you love and hold dear was taken away from you tomorrow, could you still have joy?
Every single day we are inundated with “gospels” that tell us what we need to find true lasting joy. Tyler McKenzie, lead minister at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville KY has compiled a list of some of these popular “gospels” that each of us are tempted to put our hope and trust in:
The Pursuit of Happiness
Make America Great Again
Living the Dream
The American Dream
Restore the Soul of America
The Good Life
And the list could go on. Every single day, we have thousands of companies, individuals, and thought leaders competing for attention and our loyalty. And if we can just climb to the next level of society, if we can just buy this latest technology, or this new car, then we can be happy and have true joy.
But how’s that working out for you? As you continually climb the ladder of societal success, have you found more joy? Or are you still chasing it?
Paul, the apostle, had everything. He had status, power, and reputation. But he learned that those things didn’t matter. They promised joy, but they left him empty. Instead, Paul had learned a secret about joy that many of us would do well to learn as well.
Paul had learned that the secret to joy lies in something beyond what this world can offer. Here’s how he puts it in his letter to the Philippians:
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little (Philippians 4:11-12).
Paul lets his readers know that no matter his circumstances, whether he has plenty or nothing, he’s found the secret to joy no matter what. Isn’t that something we all long for? A secret to joy that isn’t stolen by a pandemic or political unrest? A secret to joy that isn’t tied to a political leader or the success of any particular political party? A secret to joy that isn’t in bed with wealth and power?
If Paul has a secret that promises joy in all circumstances, then I want in on the secret. Lucky for us, he shares it with us.
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).
Ahhh… This famous verse. The one that is often taken #straightouttacontext. Notice how the meaning of this verse changes in light of Paul’s circumstances. This verse isn’t about learning to fly or winning the game… Paul’s secret to joy is about staying close to Jesus who gives him strength to endure every situation in life. Paul’s secret to joy is THE GOSPEL that promises perfect love with God the Father for all of Eternity.
And when that is your goal and purpose in life, you can have joy no matter what… Because the worst thing that could happen to you is death. But death, in the kingdom of God, leads to resurrection and eternal love with the Father.
So, if you want true lasting joy, you won’t find it any of the “gospels” listed above… It will only be found in the world changing love of Jesus. Cling to that and you’ll find joy.
I read a lot… But I don’t necessarily enjoy it. I really have to force myself to pay attention and I can only tackle small chunks at a time (unless I’m reading Harry Potter… that story gripped me like no other!). Given my need to endure through reading, it’s ironic that I’m currently reading a book called Endurance.
It’s written by Alfred Lansing and if you’ve read it, you know that it’s a page turner. It’s the story of Ernest Shackleton and his team of men who set out to explore Antartica in 1914. The title of the book is fitting for two reasons… First, the ship upon which they sailed to Antarctic (specifically engineered to withstand and battle the arctic elements) was called the Endurance. Second, because the mission quickly failed, the Endurance sunk, and the men had to endure the harsh elements for months on end floating on a giant piece of ice.
As I’ve read through the story, I’ve been blown away at the lengths to which these men went in order to survive. From eating seal blubber to sleeping in soaking wet clothes in sub-zero temperatures, these men endured to the very end.
This story fascinates me because I’m not sure this will to survive and endure is something many of us exercise anymore. We switch from show to show until we are satisfied. We move from relationship to relationship until we feel loved. And we jump from job to job until we finally “arrive” at whatever status or income we are chasing. You don’t see too many people sticking it out with the same spouse for 50 years or staying at the same job for 30+ years. We don’t know how to endure anymore.
Even more, we are often weakest when it comes to spiritual endurance. Maybe you tried to get sober, but the temptation was just too strong. Maybe you tried to quit watching pornography, but our sexualized culture keeps pulling you back in. Maybe you want to spend time with God everyday, but something always comes up. Maybe you’d really like to love your neighbor, but there’s too many other things fighting for your attention. Spiritual endurance is tough.
But it’s worth it.
Why? Because the reward of being with and knowing Jesus is far better than any temporary relief of pain we might experience by not enduring. It’s far better than any temporary dopamine rush that might satisfy our appetites for a few quick seconds. The reward of knowing and being with Jesus is eternal.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians knew why he endured. According to chapter 3 verse 12, he endured so that one day he might receive the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. And later, in verses 20-21 we see that the prize is not only being with Jesus, but a total renewal and redemption of our world and bodies. Paul knew that the pain of endurance was worth the prize of Jesus.
But how do we endure? The best way I know to answer that is to keep your eyes on Jesus. We endure only when we can see beyond our current circumstances to our future reward. For many of us, this will require a change in mindset. We can no longer only be focused on the Here and Now, but rather we need to think Here and There. A Here and There mindset acknowledges the reality of the pain we experience here everyday… But it looks forward to the day when that pain is no more (Philippians 3:20-21).
So, in a year that’s been rough and tough and full of hardship, can I encourage you today? I want to encourage you to endure. To set your eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him ENDURED the cross. And what was the joy set before Him?
Well… He died for you.
Which leads me to believe that the joy for which He endured the cross was reconciliation with you. Jesus endured the most humiliating painful death, because He wanted the joy of being with you for eternity. He endured to experience the joy of no more evil, the resurrection of the dead, and new life to all who believe. And when you know that He is the reward waiting for you, hopefully you can endure as well.
Humility is hard. It’s not something that comes naturally but is something we have to work at and daily decide to pursue. If we don’t intentionally choose humility, we will often make life about ourselves. We will focus on number one, before we can even think about you. And we will worry about Me, Myself, and I before we can worry about someone else. Humility is hard.
But according to the apostle Paul, it’s necessary for joy. In Philippians 2, Paul tells us to make his joy complete by being unified (v. 2). Then, he tells us how to be unified. By being humble. By not trying to impress others. By loving others (v. 3-4).
Sometimes I don’t like Scripture. Because it confronts me with areas of personal weakness. And if I’m being honest, I don’t like what Paul is telling me I need to do as a follower Jesus. Because humility is hard.
He surely doesn’t mean that I should hold back on what I share on Facebook? Surely, he doesn’t mean that I should engage in civil conversation rather than attacking and demonizing those I disagree with. Surely, he doesn’t think that I should slow down so that my calendar has pace to love others. Surely, he doesn’t think that I should make other people my priority over my own priorities. Please, Paul, tell me this means something else.
Nope. It’s pretty simple this time.
There’s no getting around this with fancy literary analysis and “this only applies to the first century” rationalization. No…Paul wants us to be humble. And why? Because it’s the way of Jesus (Just read Philippians 2:5-11 and you’ll see). So, how do we do that? How do we fight against our natural disposition to think of ourselves and be humble towards others instead?
Let me suggest a few ideas that you can begin implementing today.
#1 Shut Up
You don’t always have to be the one talking. You don’t always have to make sure your opinion is heard. Next time you want to respond with a zinger and let people know how smart you are, just don’t. Stop typing and close your mouth. When we shut up, it allows us to actually hear and listen to the other points of view and perspectives that are out there. So, try listening… Maybe you’ll learn something.
#2 Reach Out
Have you ever received an encouraging note or compliment that made your day? You know why it made your day? Because someone took the time to notice you. And it feels good. Repay the favor. Reach out to a friend. Compliment a stranger. Let someone know you’re thinking and praying for them. This seems simple, but it helps move your focus from yourself to someone else.
#3 Look In
Sometimes we aren’t aware of how we are feeding our pride. To recognize and understand ourselves, sometimes we have to do some soul-searching. Spend some time with pen and paper and write down the things in life that fuel your pride. These are things that you would feel lost without. Maybe it’s personal or family image (we often put so much pressure on our loved ones to be a certain “type”). Maybe it’s a career, finances, or status that we’ve worked our whole life for. What is it in your life that you prioritize above all else? Awareness of those things can help you control and manage your pride around them.
Basically, just don’t be obsessed with yourself. Listen to what others say. Admit that you might not have all the answers. Take an interest in others. Compliment them, love them, and serve them. Finally, be honest with yourself about what you love and what you prioritize, because that may be the source of your pride.
One final thought that I’m stealing from Michael Todd, Lead Minister of Transformation Church in Tulsa, OK.
1 Peter 5:6 (NLT) says,
So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.
Notice the action is on us… We are told to humble ourselves. Because when you humble yourself, you never have to be humbled. We can avoid a lot of pain and give others a lot of joy if we just focus on humbling ourselves in same way as Christ Jesus.
It’s pretty obvious when you love something or someone. Talk to me for any amount of time and you’ll be sure to hear about my love for Eric Church Music, a nice canvas or leather bag, Apple Products, The Andy Griffith Show, my son Griffith, or my wife Bailey. When you love someone or something, you express that love. You let the world know, “Hey… This is my person. These are my hobbies. This is what I do. This is what I love.”
Or, to quote Buddy the Elf, “I’m in love! I’m in love! And I don’t care who knows it!”
Here’s the deal, our love should be accompanied by expression. If I say I love my wife, but don’t remember her birthday, don’t take her on dates, don’t do the dishes after a hard day, and generally disrespect her, do I really love her? Love should always be accompanied by action.
If you’re familiar with the story of Peter in the Bible, you may know that Jesus essentially tells him the same thing. Right before Jesus was crucified, Peter (who had professed love over and over again) fails to stand up for Jesus in His greatest hour of need. In fact, he flat out denies knowing Jesus.
Then Jesus came back to life and greeted Peter. Talk about awkward. But, Jesus was not trying to make Peter feel bad. Instead, Jesus asks him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” And every time Peter replied, “Yes.” Here’s how Jesus responded; “Then feed my sheep.”
In other words, “Don’t just say it… Show it.”
Love is always accompanied by expression. Years later the apostle Paul would write in his letter to the Philippians, “Work hard to show the results of you salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.” This is not about working to earn God’s salvation, but about working because we love God. Because He has saved us.
So the question goes to you, now… Do you love Jesus? And what are you doing to show it? What action is accompanying your declaration of love?
Here’s my encouragement for you today: Make it a point to show your love for Jesus today. You can do this by serving someone else, by being generous, by spending time with God in prayer and Scripture, or by connecting with a friend and letting them know what Jesus means to you.
“Do you love me?” Jesus asks… “Then feed my sheep.”