Back in May of 2009 the animated movie UP was released. My family loves this movie, which begins on a sour note, as Mr. Fredrickson’s (the old guy) wife has recently died. Shortly thereafter Mr. Fredrickson meets Russel (the little boy). Russel, who begins as the old man’s worst nightmare, becomes Mr. Fredrickson’s best friend. The image to the right clearly shows two characters in the same circumstances with two very different emotional reactions. Russel looks at every new horizon as an adventure to be explored with joy. Mr. Fredrickson looks at every new circumstance with cynicism and contempt, whining about how it will prolong his drive toward his goal. In these two characters we see two very different emotional streams from the same circumstances. From Russel we encounter a steam of joy; From Mr. Fredrickson we encounter bitterness. Lets look at the stream of “joy” from a biblical context.
Joy is a word which believers are not only to define and understand, but also walk in consistently and abundantly. While Jesus was speaking to His disciples in John 15:11, He declares “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you and that your joy may be full”. Jesus’ declaration gives us the foundation of our joy, which is His own joy. When recalling that it was Jesus’ joy “set before Him” that enabled Him to endure the cross, we can see where our joy begins.
Jesus’ joy arose from the promises of the word of God concerning His resurrection and all that meant for Him, the disciples, and the entirety of the world of lost men. For us it is similar. Our joy arises from our faith in the Person and work of Jesus, His presence with us in all circumstances, and His promises yet to be fulfilled in us. Our joy arises by the Holy Spirit as we hold to His person, presence and promises.
The word for “joy” in its original language means to be cheerful arising from calm delight. In addition joy is also to be cheerfully praise-minded about Jesus’ faithfulness to His promises; especially concerning the Blessed Hope (Titus 2:13; I Peter 1:8-9; I John 3:1-3). Joy can be seen as a person leaping for joy with exuberance or as confident and calm delight in difficult circumstances. It is for this reason that joy is not happiness, which is based on favorable circumstances and is temporary at best. Joy, on the other hand, is consistent and best seen in the most contrary situations to the human condition. Let’s consider the words of Jesus…
Matthew 5:10-12 (NKJV) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad (leap for joy), for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
John 16:33 (NKJV) These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
In the two passages cited above we see persecution and tribulation serving as necessary conditions for manifesting true God powered joy. James 1:2-4 validates Jesus’ teaching commanding us to “count it all joy” when falling into difficult circumstances, for these trials will build Christ-like character. I Peter 1:6-9 further explains that even if the trials are for the purifying of our faith from carnality, we are to rejoice greatly. We are to have joy consistently and to the FULL, as Jesus spoke declared “that your joy may be full”.
It is in the word “full” in reference to “joy” that we see the far reaching effects of “joy”. For our “joy to be full” means we are stuffed and crammed to overflowing with joy, to the point where it is diffused or sprayed forth, permeating everything it touches. This fullness is not generated by our efforts, but the power of God’s Spirit. To illustrate the power of joy which is full, imagine a regular garden hose.
When the water is turned on, with no nozzle on the end of the hose, the water can flow out rapidly. This diffusing of water is good but to a smaller area with limited reach. Now imagine that same hose now with a sprinkler on the end. Due to the increased pressure from the closed end with multiple smaller holes to diffuse the water, the spray covers a greater distance soaking a larger area. By analogy, tribulation forces (through greater outward pressure) the joy given by the Holy Spirit to diffuse far and wide permeating and influencing everyone it touches.
When we consider that joy is a manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, we can see how its presence is an identifiable trait of the Spirit filled Christian. Let us once again consider Jesus’ words “If any one thirsts let Him come unto Me and drink. For he who believes on Me, as the scriptures has said, out of him will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).
By way of analogy, we can understand that the lost world gets its first encounter with the Living Water, in those who are filled with living water. It is for this reason that believers should seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit continually, manifesting His joy to the full in all circumstances. Manifesting joy is like a magnet to the people around us, because it is one of the things people cannot experience without Jesus Chris. Sadly, for many “Christians”, it can be easier to tap into a different stream in the trials we face; a stream more like Mr. Fredrickson. Make no mistake, if chosen, this second stream will permeate whatever it touches as well.
We may laugh a little when looking at the image to the left, but we must ask ourselves if our emotional response to trial looks more like Mr. Fredrickson than the joy of Jesus. Remember that the old man and the boy were in the same circumstances but had two different seen responses. The reason for this consideration is that the same circumstances that amplify and reveal joy can also amplify and reveal bitterness. Let us once more consider the word of God from Hebrews 12:15 “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this may be defiled”.
Bitterness is the opposite of joy and is the potential state of man in unfavorable circumstances. In a general sense, men outside of Christ encounter bitterness when not happy or in unfavorable circumstances. In these times those without Jesus lament, moan, rage, and whine about how unfair it all is. We must also admit the potential is very real for Christians also. It is troubling how often a “man of God” or a “woman of God”, who has all the answers for others who suffer, will fall into whining, raging, moaning, and despairing when trials press upon them. We can go from smiling with the joy of the Lord to a sour disposition in a short time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to convince people of my joy through a face that looks like it has been sucking on lemons or imbibing bitter water.
To understand how to avoid this potential, we must understand that Hebrews 12:15 is at the end of a long passage that deals with the need for believers to rejoice when being disciplined by God. In Hebrews 12:2 we are reminded of Jesus’ example of enduring trails with joy, while being encouraged to do the same in circumstances that have not approached His suffering. In Hebrews 12:5-6 we are told to see our trials, even in painful chastisement, as it is a manifestation of God’s Father love. In Hebrews 12:7-11 we are reminded that although the pain affiliated with these trials does not seem to be joy producing, they actually are. In Hebrews 12:12-14 we are instructed to assist one another in enduring this correction for our own good, and be what he called us to be: at peace with others and holy as He is holy. All of these verses are a emotional, physical, and spiritual preparation, that we may have joy instead bitterness.
We might ask how we avoid bitterness and have full joy, when both dispositions grow out of the same circumstances? It is quite simple. We must choose the proper perspective and response to these necessary tribulations. The proper perspective is that God our Father is not allowing or ordaining the events for our harm, but for our good and His glory. This perspective is under girded with the knowledge that we are not victims of random circumstances, but upheld by God Himself, as we are enfolded in His presence. Our response is gratitude with thanksgiving. If our trails are for His immediate glory, we are thankful and praise Him for the privilege of being in His service, as well as the promise of glory to come with Him in eternity. If our trials are for our sanctification through heavy chastening, we are thankful for His loving correction, as He conforms us into the image of Jesus. When these trials are specifically for our purification, we choose repentance and praise Him in the pain.
Joy is a gift that gives to many. Bitterness is a plague that defiles everyone it touches. We believers in the United States of America will have ample opportunity to manifest joy in the near future. Prepare your heart now by choosing joy in all circumstances.