Releasing Hindrances to JoyBy Nathan Mates
[Note: This is an expanded version of a 10-minute speech I gave at the Hope Chapel Singles Alive beach bonfire, 9/2/00. The Zacchaeus and Saul examples below were originally planned for the speech, but trimmed for time.]
Thank you all for showing up to this beach bonfire, and dodging falling airplane parts. [Note: a week before, a 747 taking off from nearby LAX dropped an engine cowling onto that beach.] What I'd like everyone to do now is to take one piece from this bag of charcoal here, and hold onto it. The purpose of this exercise will be made clear shortly.
What I'll be speaking on tonight is something that may be surprising with a lump of coal in hand: joy. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit-- as Galatians 5:22-23 says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." As a Christian, following God, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, we are certainly to have joy. And why should we have joy? Quite simply because Jesus said we would have it. Before his death, Jesus said this "So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." [John 16:22]
We as Christians have the knowledge Jesus died for our sins, to wash us completely of them, and he rose again as the first example of what is in store for us. We know that we will live eternally with God in heaven, worshiping him. We know that God is for us, and who can be against us. We know, in part, how great the breadth, length, depth and height of the love of God, and what he's poured into our lives. All those things are reasons to be joyful, to be thanking God for what he's done in our lives.
But, just as the dust from the charcoal in your hands obscures your natural self from shining through, so can our radiant joy be blocked by things getting in the way. Many things can get in the way of our joy, but I'll be focusing on just a few here. The ones I'll be talking on tonight are forgetting what God's done in our lives, sin, and busyness.
For an example of the first, forgetting what God's done in our lives, take a look at Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. Many are familiar with this story from children's Bible classes, but let's review the situation. Zacchaeus was a tax collector-- the modern-day equivalent of the cross between an IRS agent and a mafia boss. Empowered by the Roman government to collect a certain amount, anything extra they collected lined the tax collector's pockets. But, as Jesus passed through near where Zacchaeus lived, Jesus made the surprising announcement that he would be a guest of Zacchaeus that evening. Once again, for a modern equivalent, imagine the Pope saying that he and his pontiffs would have dinner at the Lewinsky's.
Zacchaeus's response was one of pure joy to that call. He knew that despite his previous sins, Jesus accepted him. He was forgiven, and he immediately set about changing his ways, saying "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." [Luke 19:8] There was joy in his life, and it shone through. That immediate repentance accompanied with God-glorifying joy should be in all of our lives, but if we forget the things we did at first, we lose that joy.
Sin can also keep us from joy. David noted in the Psalms that "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;" [Psalm 66:18] Beyond not having God hear (and act upon) our requests, when we have sin in our lives, it eats like a cancer. David knew this principle firsthand: King Saul had lost God's favor because he refused to follow the explicit orders in dealing with the Amalekites, and also offered sacrifices when he had no authority to do so. As a result, the author of Samuel notes that "Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him." [1 Samuel 16:14] David's harp playing was what comforted Saul through that period. Saul never repented of his sins, and never is recorded as having much joy after that.
Another, New Testament example of sin preventing joy is the case of Judas Iscariot. I believe it is truthful to call him a sinner-- the authors of the gospels almost invariably called him "the scumbag who betrayed our Lord" [New American Streetlanguage Bible] whenever his name came up. Traveling with the disciples, Jesus visited the home of Martha, who took a very expensive bottle of perfume, and washed Jesus's feet with it. That perfume was reported to be worth a year's wages-- how many females here have a bottle of perfume worth $30,000? $50,000? $80,000? That's the modern equivalent of such an action.
Jesus was pleased with the use of perfume to wash feet. John notes, however, But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." [John 12:4-5] Hardly the sound of a joyful man, right? Why wasn't he joyful? The next verse in John explains the reason why: "He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." [John 12:6]
Judas's theft is obvious sin. But, there was more to it. All of the 12 disciples-- Judas included-- had hung out with Jesus. They'd heard his teachings. They'd seen all the miracles he'd done-- the healings, the casting out of demons, the feeding of thousands, the walking on water. Judas, more than most, had an opportunity to see that Jesus was the real deal as a prophet and one who changed people. And yet, Judas rejected him. Judas didn't want anything to do with Jesus's power in his life. Judas wanted to stay in his sin, in his bitterness, away from joy. His loss.
If you find yourself in such a situation, with unconfessed sin in your life, the Bible is clear on this: confess your sin to God and get it over with. 1 John 1:9 is clear on this situation: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." You have the opportunity to wipe out your sins and restore the right relationship with God, one full of joy.
So, we can forget what God's done in our lives, and have sin in our lives keeping us from joy. Finally, the third area that can keep us from joy that I'm focusing on tonight is this: busyness. Looking at another New Testament example, we can see this in action as well. In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus is visiting Mary and Martha's house. Yes, this is the same Martha as the one who'd go on to wash Jesus's feet as we just covered.
But, unlike Zacchaeus, Martha had a different take on the visitor: work needed to be done. At the time, being a good host to visitors was essential. So, Martha was running around, making sure the house was clean. Mary was sitting down. Martha was making sure there was food to eat. Mary wasn't. Martha was making sure there was drink as well. Mary wasn't. This continued for some time until Martha blew her cool and cried out "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" [Luke 10:40b]
Here, Martha had fallen into the devil's trap of busyness. Had Jesus fed thousands? Yes. Could he have handled the food there? Yes. Had Jesus turned water into wine? Yes. Could Jesus have taken care of the wine for dinner as well? Yes. Had Jesus calmed the raging seas and controlled nature? Yes. Could Jesus have spoken the word and removed the dust from the house? Yes. Jesus was more than able to take care of every problem at hand, but Martha refused to acknowledge that.
In our own lives, we can fall into the same trap. We can buy into the lie that our work right now is absolutely essential to God's work, and if we don't do X, Y and Z, preferably by yesterday, God's plans will all come crashing down. That wasn't true for Martha, and it isn't true for us-- God's plans does not require our work. God may have someone else handle a situation, or let it "fail" to help teach a lesson. But, in all things, God's will will be done.
It is necessary to adopt some humility at times, delegation at others, or prayer at others to get out of the trap. Above all, we need to do what Mary did, sitting at Jesus's feet, worshiping, adoring, and learning from him. "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." is not just a nice comment from God in Psalm 46:10. It's a command to do that, to get rid of the busyness in our lives.
There are certainly many other aspects in our lives that can rob us of joy, but I don't have the time to cover them all now. What I'd like us all to do now is, as the worship team plays softly, to spend some time in prayer to God as to what, if anything, you've got in your life that keeps you from joy, and confess that to God. Once you're done, throw your charcoal in the bonfire, and we'll experience the joy of marshmellows and smores roasting over them.