Fruit of the Spirit: JOY.

Galatians 5:22-23 - "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Against such things that is no law."

No doubt you've heard the term killjoy or been called it for that matter.  A joyless life must be the greatest joy of our Adversary.  To know that we exist and persist in a life without joy, without delight, must bring elation to his dark heart.  If he can't keep us from salvation, he we keep us from the joy of our salvation.

David said in Psalm 51, "Restore to me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit in me."  My spirit can go wrong and my joy can be gone in no time.  I can know God and be known by him and find myself crestfallen and melencholy as I rise to meet the day.  I felt it this morning actually...I call it "mourning in the morning".  Before the day begins I am seiged and siezed with dread at the prospect of the day.  I don't even need a pronounced reason, but I can feel the banality in my bones and it eats away at my joy.  So David cries out for that lost spirit of joy to be renewed and restored.  He doesn't just want salvation, he wants joyful salvation.

This is Neo-Christianity in my mind...a belief and passion for more than the assurance of salvation or the promise of eternal life.  This Christianity wants joy-filled salvation and supernal life, now.  It cries out for a change at the level of pathos.  It has ethos and logos, it seeks redemption of pathos.  Passion and Compassion to return to the dry bones of belief.  Oh, how the church needs a renaissance of joyful salvation and passionate discipleship.

But so many feel like the prophet Jeremiah who said and sighed, "There is no joy left in our hearts." (Lamentations 5:15)  I've met many people who have come to accept this is their lot in life.  A joyless job.  A tedious task.  A life to be endured, not enjoyed.  Work ends and this spirit accompanies them as they walk into their houses and interact with their families.  Their kids catch the fever, the spirit permeates the place and hovers like smog over every interaction.  Words lack life, silence is the dehydrating agent turning hearts from plump grapes to shriveling raisens.  Good news is shared and met with "meh", a modern way of saying 'who cares'...what does it matter, tomorrow will come and with it probable struggle and suffering.  The boy is stipped of joy.  The girl has lost her twirl.  No laughing, no dancing...seriousness at best, sadness at worse.  My brothers and sisters, joy matters.

There was a time in Israel's history when they were exiled in Babylon and the song-leaders lost their songs, they lost their joy.  They couldn't muster the music, the harps of hope, and the nation suffered devestating losses as the leaders stopped singing 'songs of joy'.

The Scriptures give us a chilling peek into this depressing time in their history...

"There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there are captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion!'  How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" - Psalm 137:2-4

They 'hung up their harps'.  Have you ever hung it up.  No more fight left in you.  Your conditions seemingly making it impossible to see anything but gloom and doom.  Your circumstances having captured and tormented you for one too many days. Breaking you back, your spirit.  Like these Levites who stopped singing joy and hope over people, you give up and in that moment everything and everyone around you begins to die.

Joy is life.  Joy is hope.  Joy is not happiness.  It is not being ok.  It is not succeeding.  Joy is having a spirit of hope in the middle of the mess.  It is being the voice of victory as the jaws of defeat seem to have the final say.  It is singing in the dungeon like Paul and Silas.  When people lose their spreads like an apocalyptic virus.  Joy is contagious for the good and the loss of it is no less viral.

That's why I love Nehemiah, another prophet like Jeremiah, but with a different spirit that spills and spreads to the people looking to him for hope.  Instead of of saying, "There is no joy left in our hearts" and watching the blood flush out of people's faces, he spoke into the madness and messiness of life: "The joy of the Lord is our strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)  Similar circumstances of exile, but a leader who saw what could be instead of what was.  A person who was armed with hope in the possibility and potential that existed in spite of their circumstances.  He saw that strength could be drawn from the very joy of God.  When human joy was all but gone, the joy of God remained and this became his song.

He essentially grabbed the harps that hung all around him on the poplars of popular reactions, and sung and the top of his lungs: "Until the joy of God is gone, I will sing.  I will not sing of my joy, I will sing of His.  The hope is that His holy and happy heart will fill mine with the strength I need to carry on and keep the song alive."  Inspiring.  The fact is that Nehemiah allowed every void and vacuum of his life to be filled with the joy and hope and strength of God regardless of what his circumstances told him.  He was opposed daily.  The task before him, impossible.  The people following him, vulnerable.  The critics around him, diabolical.  But he tapped into the giddiness of God to strengthen his feeble faith.  He lived out of His Joy when he had none left.  It changed everything.

I'll be honest with you, joy doesn't come easy for me.  I see the bad in life instinctively.  I don't think you have to be a pessimist to be this way; you could be a realist.  Seriously.  Just watch the news, check your email, open your social media, engage politics, peruse current events happening worldwide and you don't need to make anything up.  The real stuff that is really happening is downright depressing.  You could be happy as a clam and the next minute feel completely overwhelmed with where to begin overcoming evil with good, sorrow with joy.

So I get it, I live on this planet and I'm not suggesting a clever denial-type of that pretends pain doesn't exist or hides away insulated from the world that appears to be wasting away.  Jesus didn't do that when he was here and to follow him is to crash into the despair, trading beauty for ashes and replacing depression with a garment of praise, announcing the year of the Lord's favor, his JOY. (Isaiah 61)  This is what evangels do, they herald an alternate reality that exists just beneath what people see and feel.  They lead them to the source and force of joy to embattle them for all that life will throw at them.  Like Elisha and his servant, they acknowledge that they are, in fact, surrounded by the enemy, but reminded them that that surrounding enemy is surrounded by the army angels of God and that brings comfort, joy even.

So even if love comes easy for you, the next fruit of God's Spirit is joy, and that is a tall order for a good many people I know.  But our hearts are hungry to say with David, "Restore joy to me again" and to declare with Nehemiah, "The joy of the Lord is my strength today."

I don't know that there is a virture that captivates and attracts the world to what's going on in our lives like unexplainable and unspeakable joy.  It's intriguing and causes a stir in people's hearts to explore the source of where this rarified joy comes from.  Joy makes people stop and pay attention.

The Christian tribe has a long way to go in discovering the 'joy of the Lord' and being strengthened and stablized by that spirit--moment by moment--down here on earth.  We are often just as cynical, negative, and depressed as anybody else, hopeless as all get out.  But if the Spirit truly dwells inside us, joy will be one of the ripe fruits of our life.  But joy doesn't just grow, it as to be cultivated.  Nourished and nurtured into existance by a disciplined and surrendered life.  A "not my will, but yours be done" kind of life.  The Jesus life.

Fill me with the Joy of Jesus.

P.S. - Let this verse pour over you today.

"Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.  Then it was said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.'  The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.  Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them." - Psalm 126:2-3

I could talk for a month of Sundays on this verse, but I'll let the Spirit talk to you about it.


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