Community Group Study Notes

1. Have someone in your group provide a brief, 2-minute summary of Sunday’s Teaching.

2. What is the difference between happiness and joy? Why should we be more concerned with one than the other?

3. Why does the Spirit want to produce joy in our lives? What difference does it make in our relationship with God? What difference does it make in our relationship with others?

4. Why is practicing the presence of God necessary for us to experience joy in God? What would it look like for you this week to practice His presence?

5. What is one action step that you can take in light of Sunday’s message and our conversation today?


Sermon Transcript

Amen. So glad that you're here. Thank you for worshiping with us, whether you are watching us online or whether you are here on our campus live or whether you're watching on television or maybe you're listening to this by way of WDCX. We're really glad that you're here. Thank you so much for being here.
Now, a quick question for you. I know those of you who are on radio, you won't be able to tell this real quick. But, I want to understand if you recognize who this particular cartoon character is. Everybody? Some of you do. If you need some help, maybe I could throw in another character, and it would help you understand who that is, right? We've got Road Runner here, obviously, but this is Wile E. Coyote. Let's appreciate his name. It's spelled W-I-L-E, then middle initial E, and then Coyote. Wile E. Coyote. Brilliant name. I love it.
Can we just pause for a half second and appreciate the irony of his name, Wile E. Coyote? This is a guy, a coyote. It's not a guy. It's a coyote. And he's named Wile E. Coyote. The word wily actually means cunning, sly, artful, crafty. Do you see the irony here? For 70 years Wile E. Coyote has been going after Road Runner. 70 years. And he has yet to apprehend him. He has chased him around the entire desert of the southeastern United ... or the southwestern United States. He has done everything in his arsenal to somehow apprehend Road Runner. And for 70 years, he's so wily, he's so crafty that he never actually apprehends the Road Runner, but instead ends up on the business end of an anvil every single time. Can we appreciate the irony of Wile E. Coyote? He has been chasing. He's gotten right next to him. He's talked to the Road Runner. He's touched the Road Runner. But he has never fully apprehended him.
Now, I don't tell you that just because I really like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, which I do, and everybody should, but that's when cartoons were cartoons. Anybody know what I'm talking about?

Yeah, thank you very much. Every younger person in here's going, "Thanks, Boomer." Nonetheless. Here's why I'm telling you that. The reason that I'm telling you that is because it reminds me of what humanity's relationship with joy looks like. We chase it. We even chase it into places where it doesn't exist. We try to find it around every corner. It feels like we've been next to it. It feels like that we have touched it. It feels like we have talked to it, that we have experienced to some degree, but it feels at most of the time that we haven't apprehended it. That's kind of how we feel around joy. 
We get a little bit tired of talking about it, particular if you're brand new to all of this. Maybe you're checking us out online because a friend of yours asked you to do that. Or maybe you're in person for the first time in a very long time. Maybe you're not real accustomed to the Bible, or to faith, or to church, or any of those kinds of things. First of all, super glad that you're a part of what we're doing. Thank you. You're welcome here. But, maybe you've been doing that, maybe you're kind of looking into God, and the Bible, and church, and all of that because you've been chasing joy in a bunch of different places and you haven't apprehended it. You're trying to figure out where that might be and you're thinking, "Well, I'll give this a shot." 
Well, at the very least, I'm really glad that you're here today. I think it's a good time for you to be here because I know that you may be thinking that joy feels fleeting, like it's not something you can get your hands around, that it feels temporary, and that it just kind of comes and goes. Maybe for some of the rest of us you've got some history around the church. You've got some history around faith. Maybe you've been following Jesus for some length of time. But still, when it comes to talking about the idea of joy, it can feel at times both hopeful and a little bit apprehensive. 
So when we get into what we're looking at, when Paul talks about how we can have sweet fruit in the midst of sour times, as we began our study last week in Galatians chapter five, and we think about that idea even more when we talk about the fruit of the Spirit, we read what Paul has to say. And in Galatians 5:22, he says, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy." 
Now, when we hear that, for those of us who have been following Jesus for some time, we hear that word joy and Paul saying that the fruit of the Spirit is joy, we're both hopeful and we're apprehensive. We're hopeful because in the deepest places of our lives is what we long for. We long to be able to experience joy. I'm talking about in the deepest places this is what we really, really long for, this idea. We want to experience, and to live in, and to bask in joy. But, we're apprehensive because we too who've been following Jesus for some time may at times feel like it's fleeting, like it's something we can't get our hands around, like it's something that is evasive to us, elusive to us.
Maybe when we talk about this idea, we might want to start talking about it in ways that we can understand, like what is joy. What can we understand about joy? Now, my goal isn't necessarily to give you just a formal definition of joy because it's joy. And it's not always easy to simply define. Sometimes we can hear that through music. Sometimes we see it in poetic language, and it helps to inform at least around the idea of joy.
There was an early 19th century poet named William Blake. He was extraordinarily famous, for those of you who study that kind of thing. He actually began to get toward this idea just a little bit when he wrote one of his poem, very short, four lines. But, the title of the poem was Eternity. Listen to what William Blake said in his beautiful poem. He said, "He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy. He who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity's sunrise." 
Now, let me pause there for just a minute. Some of you are going, "Man, I didn't know I was going to poetry class today." I realize that, nor am I trying to necessarily do that. But, I could break this down for just a second. Because what Blake was inspired by was a butterfly. As he saw this butterfly, there was just a sense of transcendence in watching this butterfly flitter all around. He saw this, and he thought to himself, "This is such a joy to be able to see. But if I took that joy and I caught it or I captured it, then I've destroyed what that joy was actually trying to do," which was fly. 
Does the winged life destroy if you bind to yourself a joy. That's what he was talking about. But he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity's sunrise. In other words, let joy be what joy is, he's saying. Because in this experience, what we're talking about right now, we may not be able to fully apprehend the idea of joy. And if we try to do that, it might ruin what we actually are trying to do. But as Blake did, he gave a shout-out to that which is to come, eternity's sunrise, where there was a forecasting of the hope of a joy that's truer and more full.
I think he was actually beginning to get at this idea. Because too often, when we talk about joy in the world that we live in, what we're really talking about is happiness. By the way, happiness is a perfectly acceptable word. It's a perfectly good word. In fact, the Bible even uses the term as well. In fact, many times in the Bible when the Bible is using the term blessed, that can be translated very simply as happy. And that's a perfectly acceptable understanding, but the culture that we live in in this day and age doesn't usually use the term happiness the same way it's describing in the Bible. Usually, it's about my happiness. Typically speaking, in our culture, that's what we generally talk about.
Now, joy and happiness do have a tendency to overlap, but I would assure you that there is some distinction in them. But, there are kind of ways of viewing joy that are common to everybody. It's not just for believers in Jesus or followers of Jesus, but there's ways of viewing joy that are true about everybody. Maybe what we would call natural joy. For instance, natural joy is when circumstances align themselves in such a way that you're just happy. So for instance, your team wins. Joy. It's a natural joy. You don't have to be a follower of Jesus. You can be whoever you are, and everybody can experience that same kind of joy. Or maybe you're about to be on an international flight and you got upgraded out of nowhere, joy. 
It's a natural joy. It's circumstances aligning. Maybe your whole family is planning to come in town from out of town for the holidays, and everybody makes it in safely, and everybody's under one roof, and you're just like, "Joy." Circumstances align themselves, and we can all experience that. That's natural joy. 
Then there's moral joy. Moral joy is when we do something that we would consider the right thing to do, and we feel good, we feel happy about what we've done. Somebody's car gets stuck in the snow, and in Buffalo you pull aside and you give them a hand, and you help them out, and then you get back in your car, and you feel good about what you did. That's kind of moral joy. Or maybe you're a high school student or a college student and you find some money laying on the ground in your class or in the hallway, and you turn it in to the teacher or the professor so that the other poor college student or poor high school student can get their money, too. Instead of pocketing it, you give it, and you do that, and you feel some sense of satisfaction. You feel good about having done that. That's moral joy.
Or maybe you tell the waitress that had been waiting on you that the check that she gave you at the very end, the bill that she gave you at the very end, it wasn't right. And in fact, she gave you the wrong bill, and they way undercharged you. So you have her give you the right bill, which actually means you're going to tip a little bit more because you've got a bigger bill, and you feel good about that because you did the right thing.
Those are wonderful things, by the way. All of those are good. But, those are things that anybody can experience at any time. It doesn't matter who you are or what you believe. Everybody can experience those things. They're natural or they're moral joys. But what's being talked about by Paul here when he says the fruit of the Spirit is joy, he's talking about a Spirit-given joy. Remember, this isn't the fruit of the Galatians. This isn't the fruit of our lives. This is the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, it's the produce of the Spirit. It's the harvest of the Spirit. It's something that the Spirit of God actually gives and shares with us. And if that's the case, what does a Spirit-given joy actually look like? Well, it means this. It means a Spirit-given joy is something that emanates from God's presence, something that attracts us to God's promises, something that speaks to God's activities, something that gives evidence of God's trustworthiness. In other words, it's the deep abiding assurance of God's presence, and God's work, and God's trustworthiness in our lives. That's a Spirit-given joy that's different in substance and in essence than just a natural joy or a moral joy.
You see, some have said it this way: Happiness is like the moon. It waxes and wanes. But joy is like the sun. It shines whether there's a cloud cover or whether we are experiencing darkness. None of that changes the fact that the sun is shining. See, this is important for us to understand because the moon is actually dependent upon circumstance. It has no light of its own. It reflects light. But, the sun is always shining all of the time even if there's cloud cover and we don't see it, even if it's the darkness of night and we don't see it. The sun is still doing what the sun does. It is this unshakeable, shining thing. That's what joy is. Joy's not dependent upon circumstance because this joy, this Spirit-given joy is the fruit of God's life being shared with us. That's why the fruit of the Spirit is joy. God is sharing his very life with us, and it's joy.
Now, this is important for us to understand. And maybe you would write down this idea because I think it'll help frame what I'm talking about today, and it's this. Because God is eternal, so too is joy. Because God is eternal, so too is joy. Now, I could actually say that about all of the ideas related to the fruit of the Spirit. Because remember, it's the fruit of the Spirit. God is Father. God is Son. God is Spirit. In other words, this is very God sharing his very life with us. But because God is eternal, so too is joy. I think that's important for us because joy feels fleeting to us. It feels temporary at times to us. It feels difficult for us and evasive for us. So, I want to settle our minds on the idea that because this is the fruit of the Spirit, this is God sharing with us his life, that because God is eternal, so too is joy. 
Now, I wonder what comes to your mind when you think of God. A.W. Tozer in his book Knowledge of the Holy opens with a line that's probably one of the great lines, the great opening lines of any, basically, theological book that I've ever read when he says this: "Whatever comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you." Kaboom. It's a brilliant statement. But I wonder if in what you conceptualize when you think of God, do you think of joy? For some of you, the answer to that would be no. And for many people that haven't really tasted and seen, they probably would say no as well because they're thinking to themselves, "I don't know if God has joy. I think maybe God's job is to stifle all joy. I think maybe God's job is to crush all joy. I think God's job is to maybe make joy go away because God seems like he just wants to blue bolt me out of the sky." 
That's where a lot of people are. And I think it's one of the great hindrances for people coming to actually enjoy God, for actually coming to God to enjoy Him is because they think that maybe the God that they're coming to doesn't even have capacity for joy, capacity for enjoyment. I think we'd find that to be extraordinarily opposite of who God actually is.
I read many, many years ago, and I've reread on probably one or two occasions, a book called The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. In that book, he actually says something about God's joyous being. I've quoted it here so that you can see it as well. He said this: "We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life and that He is full of joy." Think about that for a second, right? Sometimes we don't even conceptualize that God leads a really interesting life, an exceptionally interesting life, and that He is full of joy. Undoubtedly, God is the most joyful being in the universe. The abundance of His love and generosity is inseparable from His infinite joy. All the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy God continuously experiences in all their breadth, and depth, and richness. 
We are enraptured by a well-done movie sequence, or by a few bars from an opera, or lines from a poem. We treasure our great experiences for a lifetime, and we may have very few of them. But, God is simply one great, inexhaustible and eternal experience of all that is good, and true, and beautiful, and right. This is His life. Some of us haven't thought about that. We haven't thought about God as the most joyous being in the universe. And so, if we struggle with joy, what exactly is hindering us? What's hindering us from being able to experience the joy that God gives and the joy that God shares with us? I've got a really easy answer for that question. We can't experience it because we're not practicing the presence of an eternally joyous God. It's that simple. 
When we struggle with joy, it's because we're not practicing the presence of an eternally joyous God. And you say, "Jerry, that's an interesting phrase to use, practice the presence of God." Yeah. Somebody, and it wasn't me, but somebody had said at one point, when you practice the presence of God, His presence will change your practice. You see, ultimately, God, who is the most joyful being in the universe, wants to share the joy of His life with us by His Spirit because the fruit of His Spirit is joy. But when we are hindered in understanding, and embracing, and experiencing joy in our souls, it's because ... Listen, it's not because the sun has stopped shining. It's because we are not availing ourselves to practice the presence of this eternal God.
See, King David understood this really well when he said this in Psalm 16. He said, "God, you make known to me the path of life. You will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Do you see what he did? He connected the idea of joy to the presence of God. This is talked about all throughout the scripture, the idea of joy being connected with the presence of God. The joy of the Lord is our strength, the scripture says. Not our joy, the joy of the Lord. The fruit of the Spirit is joy. I find joy in your presence. Why? Because this is His life. God is eternally joyous. As Father, Son, and Spirit before anything ever existed, not only did God, listen, have capacity because His essence was love, but He also enjoyed relationship among the fullness of the godhead. Joy. 
This is a good word for us in the midst of sour times. Because in the midst of sour times, we don't often focus on this idea. We feel like it runs from us during times like this. But, this is what Paul was getting after in Galatians chapter five. He was getting after how the Spirit of God is sharing God's life with us and that we should be people who avail ourselves to the presence of God. In fact, after he talks about the fruit of the Spirit and lists those out, in verse number 25, Paul says this: "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." What does it mean to keep in step with the Spirit? Listen, to practice the presence of God. That's what it means to keep in step with the Spirit. We practice the presence of God, and He will share His life with us.
Now, what I want to do for the balance of our time, just the few minutes that we have left, I want to actually unpack for us for just a few moments some aspects of what happens when we practice the presence of God and how joy is imparted into our lives as a result of that. All right? Here's the first idea is that when we practice the presence of an eternal God, we better understand God's capacity for eternal joy. Now, it means we understand better, not you better understand. I'm not saying that, right? We better understand. We understand better God's capacity for eternal joy. 
Let me explain what I mean here. If God is eternal, and He is, and if God is joyous, and He is, then that means God's capacity for joy is infinite. Sit with that for a second. God's capacity for joy is infinite. Do you know that God is the only being in the cosmos, the only being in the universe of whom it can never be said, "That's it. That's all there is." He's the only being in the cosmos that we can say, or we could never say, "That's all there is." Because everything, given enough time, can be counted. Everything, given enough time, we can find an end to. Everything, given enough time, this is what we can realize.
Think about it this way. We can actually count the cells in a human body. Do you know how many there are? 37 trillion. How long did that take them to do that? I don't know. I didn't want to sign up for that if they were running a little test thing to do. I don't want to be a part of that 37 trillion. I'd be dead by the time I finish counting that, right? Particularly starting now at 50. 37 trillion. But everything, if given enough time, we can count. What about the stars in the universe? In just the galaxy there are 100 billion stars. I don't know how long it would take to count those, just if you started one, two, three, four, right? You got to get to 100 billion. I sound like you, Joe. Five. 100 billion of those things, right?
But, here's the thing, that's just in one galaxy on average. How many galaxies are there? Scientists tell us that there's approximately 10 trillion galaxies. 10 trillion galaxies with 100 billion stars on average per galaxy. But given enough time, you could count them. But, not God. Do you know why? God is limitless. God is inexhaustible. God is infinite. And so too is His capacity for joy. Can you imagine that? I want in on that life. This is the life that the Spirit of God is sharing with us. It is a life that says the fruit of the Spirit is joy coming from an eternally joyous God whose capacity for joy is infinite and inexhaustible. 
So when we get into God's presence, we begin to better understand that. You know what else we begin to better understand? Our capacity for eternal joy. Now, some of you are going, "Wait a minute. I don't know that I've got that kind of capacity. In fact, knowing what I know about God's infinite capacity for joy, all I can think about is if I get into His presence, He's going to overwhelm me with joy. If He's inexhaustible in His joyous nature, how in the world could I possibly stand up under that? It's going to be too much for me to handle." Well, that's true. Pretty much.
Now, you see, we live in kind of these broken, fallen vessels. I know that looking at me you're thinking to yourself, "There's nothing fallen about that." Boom. Boom. Right? I know. Just take it easy. Believe me, everything on me hurts these days. I don't know what it is. Sleeping, I get up, what's wrong with me? My wife calls it the ailment of the week, and it just happens. What did you do? Were you involved in some massive adventure race? No, man. I slept, and now my shoulder needs surgery. I don't know how that happened. 
But, we live in these finite bodies, don't we? We live in these finite, failing vessels that cannot fully experience everything that God's intent is that we will experience, yet we still can experience His joy, but maybe not as fully as we're going to. That's why when the apostle John writes these words, they're so encouraging. In 1 John three, he says, "Dear friends, now we are children of God. And what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." 
You see, what we learn, when we get into the presence of God is we recognize and we are filled with joy. Listen to this. We're filled with as much joy as we can handle in our finite existence. Because what we know is that God is actually going to fit us to be vessels who can experience His joy in fullness. We are going to experience that upon our faith in Jesus and what he has done, and paying for our sins on a cross and rising from the dead, and the transformation that the Spirit of God gives us, that when we die, and to date, to date, the statistics are one still out of every one does so, when we die, we will ... Our souls will go to be with the Lord. But when Jesus returns ... And he will. As surely as he came, he is coming again. And when he does, the dead in Christ will rise, and we will be given resurrected bodies like his that are immortal and imperishable and beyond decay, and we will now be able to experience the joyous life of God in its fullness.
And when we get into the presence of God, we feel this joy begin to stir up in our hearts because we not only understand God's capacity as an inexhaustible fountain of joy, but we also understand that while we can experience joy to some degree in this life because of the work of the spirit in us, we're also going to experience it in full because of the kindness of God to us. This is a remarkable treasure. But you say, "Okay. Well, that's coming in the future. But, what about now? What about my joy right now?" When we get into the presence of God, we will embrace the joy of eternal salvation. 
Let me explain what I mean. What happens when we get into the presence of God is we become enamored with the beauty of who God is and what he's done. We're able to put aside all of the things that are constantly vying for our attention and we put our focus on the treasure of all treasures, God, and what He has done for the world in Jesus. See, what Jesus has done for the world is he has modeled for us that there's a difference between happiness and joy, that happiness is like the moon. It waxes and wanes. But, joy is like the sun. It will always be shining. 
Because Jesus in his most difficult time, when he goes to a cross and something so extraordinarily mind-bending for us to comprehend, that words would never give justice, when Jesus feels a breach in the fellowship that he has had with the Father from all eternity past, the one Jesus, the Son who has revealed Him as Father to us all but now says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," that even in these moments that he is facing the cross, listen to what the writer of Hebrews describes. He says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, our pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scoring at shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." 
In other words, listen to this. Jesus in that moment would not have said, "This is happiness." Circumstances were awful. He was naked, and beaten, bleeding, and crucified, not to come down again alive, dying a miserably, horrible death. The circumstances were awful. Nobody would call that happy. But for the joy set before him, he endured it. There was this abiding joy inside of him that said, "I trust the Father, and that joy will be made complete when the Father raises me up by the power of the Spirit. I will be, while now I feel abandoned and/or cut off in fellowship from the Father because I am becoming sin and taking upon myself the sins of the world, there is coming a time wherefore the joy set before me I will endure this so that I will experience the joy of fellowship once again. The joy set before me says that people who cannot rescue themselves can now be rescued."
The joy set before him said that death is the last word in everybody's life but doesn't have to be anymore because he has gotten up from the dead. The joy before him says, "I will create for myself a people, and I will bring them to myself, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." The joy set before him says, "All of these old things are going to go away, and I'm going to usher in a completely new creation where all the broken things will be made better and all the wrongs will be made right." This is the joy of ... Listen to this. This is the joy that Jesus modeled for us even when circumstances and happiness weren't there.
And do you know what happens in our lives? We can tap into that. Because what we do is we fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning at shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endures such opposition from sinful men so that you won't grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your own blood. That's what Hebrews 12 says. 
Jesus, even in his earthly ministry, he told us what to take joy in and what not to take joy in. There was a time when he sent out 72 of his disciples and he said ... Remember, he had the core 12, and then he had a greater group. He sent them out, and he wanted them to go do ministry in his authority. And they did, and it was awesome. Demons were obeying these people. Normally, it was just Jesus, but now they were talking to these demons saying, "In the power and authority of the name of Jesus, you be gone," and they were gone. They came back to Jesus like, "What is up? Demons are tracking out of here. This is fantastic." They were fired up.
Listen to this, how it records this in Luke 10. "The 72 returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.' Jesus replied, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I've given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and overcome all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you. However, do not take joy in the fact that the spirits submit to you, but take joy that your names are written in heaven.'" 
At that time, Jesus full of joy through the Holy Spirit prayed, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do." Do you hear Jesus? Here's what he's saying, don't build the foundation of your joy on the authority you have to cast out demons. The foundation of your joy is what I am going to do to secure that you will be eternally with me in salvation. This is remarkable for us. Because what that means is when we have truly come to faith in Jesus Christ and had our lives transformed by the power of his own spirit, nobody can touch that. Nobody can steal that. That will be a sunshine that is shining in your life regardless of what you face. No matter what successes you have, no matter what hardship may come, this is something that there will be a joy because of the eternal salvation of Jesus. 
Even the apostle Peter who traveled with Jesus for so long, once Jesus had died, risen from the dead, ascended to the Father, and years later when Peter's an old man, listen to what he wrote when he opened up his letter. He said, "Though you have not seen Jesus, you love him. And even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith." Which is what? The salvation of your souls. 
You see, ladies and gentlemen, when we find ourselves in the presence of an eternal God, we will embrace the joy of eternal salvation. You know what else will happen, though? When we find ourselves in the presence, when we practice the presence of God, we'll embrace the joy of God's eternal work in others. This is a great word for us in this day and age. We live in the day of social media. We live in the day of putting our best face forward on Instagram. We live in the day of filtered pictures and filtered and curated lives. And it becomes difficult because we want our lives to look as good as the other person's life. So, we see what's going on with them, and then we start to get jealous. We start to be upset. Starts to make us feel inferior or we get competitive. But when we find ourselves in God's presence, do you know what we'll do? We will take great joy in God's work in the lives of other people. We'll take great joy in it. 
I mean, that's exactly what Paul did when he was writing to the church at Thessalonica. Paul could've said, "You guys are pretty good, but you ain't no apostle." But, he didn't say that. Listen to what he said in 1 Thessalonians chapter two. He said, "But brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time in person, not in thought, out of our intense longing, we made every effort to see you, for we wanted to come to you. Certainly I Paul did again and again, but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy."
Then, in the next chapter, chapter three, says this: "For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?" Listen, when we practice the presence of God, do you know what that does? That causes us to rejoice in the work of God in other people's lives, as opposed to saying, "Man, I can't believe God blessed them. They don't really deserve that," as if we do. God, you know who really deserves all the blessings around here. I don't know why I go into this southern redneck voice, but whatever. Right? We get into this comparison. 
By the way, pastors need to hear this word as well. Because too often what happens in Western Christianity is pastors are trying to carve out for themselves celebrity or carve out for themselves market share or carve out for themselves an empire built around their name instead of celebrating what God is doing in the lives and ministries of so many others. Now, there are many that do that, and I thank God for that. But, we have to experience this word as well. I preach this to myself and to all of my friends in Western New York who are watching as well. We celebrate. We celebrate the work of God that's happening in others' lives? Why? Because when we're in the presence of God and the Spirit of God is sharing the life of God with us, the fruit of that is going to be joy and we'll be able to celebrate and take joy in God's work in other people.
But lastly, let me show you this. We'll embrace the joy of God's eternal word. When we practice the presence of an eternal God, we will embrace the joy of God's eternal word. Say, "Jerry, why'd you use the phrase God's eternal word?" Well, because that's what the scripture does. Psalm 1:19 says it this way: "Your word, Lord, is eternal. It stands firm in the heavens." How's that for clarity? Your word, Lord, is eternal. It stands firm in the heavens. 
Then, when Paul is talking, by the way, to the Thessalonians again, he commends them because in the midst of sour times that they're experiencing, listen to what they did. 1 Thessalonians chapter one. Paul says, "You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. You welcomed the message in the midst of intense suffering with the joy of the Holy Spirit." You see, we find joy in sour times even as the Spirit brings life to us through the word. 
Can I just say this? Over the last five and a half months, six months, whatever this timeframe has been that we've been in in the world, I'll be honest, it has been difficult, and exhausting, and the circumstances have been terrible, and all of those things. We all acknowledge that. But, I can say this without exaggeration. My sanity was saved by the word of God. That's what happened. I spent three weeks just ruminating in Psalm 1:19. Three weeks. You say, "Jerry, you're a really slow reader." No, no, no. It's not that I'm a slow reader. I'm just sitting with it and sitting with it. 
Psalm 1:19 saved my sanity. It rescued my life. You know what happened? I began to get into the presence of God, and the Spirit of God appropriated the word of God in my life and convinced me of the truth where I was maybe bringing in and breathing in some things or some things were breathed on me that weren't true. My sanity was saved by the word of God. There's a reason that when we get into His presence there is fullness of joy because the life of God is enacted when we get into His word in His presence because the Spirit of God is mediating that to share with us the life of God. 
See, because God is eternal, so too is joy. It endures. Joy endures through sour times, through tragedy, through heartache. But, listen carefully. You're not going to find that joy outside of His presence. This is where you'll find it. You see, if life for you has been lived for happiness as opposed to joy, could I ask you to bring that back before the Lord and ask Him to shift something in you? I would encourage that because there are consequences. 
For instance, we start buying into a narrative that we're being told and that maybe seems common to everybody but actually isn't what God desires, like this. This statement, I hear it all the time. All I want is for my kids to be happy. Really? Is that all you want? That's all you want, moms, dads, grandparents? All you want is for your kids to be happy? Because they may define happiness in ways that are inconsistent with the nature of who God is. What you should want is for them to experience the joy of knowing God, the joy of the life that only God can give. 
So if you've been living life for happiness, which usually means my happiness as I define it based on me being the boss of the world, that's usually how it goes. If that's what we've been living for, I would ask you to ask God to maybe reshape that in you. Or maybe if you've been going through a trial or a difficulty, would you allow God's presence to give you an inexpressible joy so that it would be a witness to the people around you? I'm not saying you have to put on a happy face. Fact, that feels super weird when circumstances are really awful. Yeah, everything's fine. Everything's not fine. You're weird. That's not what we're hoping for. But what we are hoping for is when people see that the circumstances of our life are really bad that we can acknowledge those for what they are but that we can also say that I'm still filled with joy because of who God is, because of what God's promised, because of God's activity in my life, the circumstances reek, but I've got joy, and nobody can touch it.
I would encourage that in your world because you'll only find that in the presence of God. Or maybe could I say this finally? Maybe stop trying to chase things like Wile E. Coyote. Maybe stop trying to chase things that can't bring you joy. Because all those things that you're chasing, they're temporary. Joy's not. It's eternal, and it can only be found in the eternal God who has showed us grace in and through His son, the Lord Jesus Christ. So because God is eternal, so too is joy. The fruit of the Spirit is Joy. Let's bow our heads together.
In a moment, we're dismissed. Thank you so much for listening. If you're here in this room or maybe you're even listening by way of radio, just thank you for listening. Could I simply say this? If you need to entrust your life to Jesus, then when we dismiss in a moment, if you need to know that relationship, know that joy, we'd love it if you'd just come right out the doors across the atrium into the fireside room. We got some pastors and prayer partners there who'll be glad to stay distanced, wear a mask. They'd love to pray with you, talk to you about what it means to know Jesus.
Father, for those of us who maybe have walked with you for some period of time, I realize, God, that joy can feel so hopeful because we long for it for so much and so elusive because we don't spend enough time practicing your presence. I pray that you would press us back into the reality that joy, fullness of joy, is found in your presence because you're the most joyous being in the world, a true joy. And I pray that we would learn what it means to cultivate your presence in our lives so that people can see the fruit of your life and be impacted by that. We trust you to do that in Jesus' name. Amen.

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