Saturday, July 14, 2012

Robbed of Joy - Restored by Grace
My Saturday morning men's bible study group is going through the book of Philippians.  We are using a study help authored by Warren W. Wiersbe titled, Be Joyful.  The subtitle is "Even When Things Go Wrong, You Can Have Joy."  It's a good study on a great epistle from the Apostle Paul.  He wrote this epistle to the Philippian church while imprisoned in Rome.  Philippians is Paul's testimony of his joy, peace, contentment, and gratitude in Christ, in spite of his circumstances.  It is an excellent exhortation to a church that was caught up in strife, discontent, and quarreling.  If anyone had reason to be bitter and discontent, it was Paul.  However, Paul knew who he was in Christ.  Through Godly wisdom, Paul grasped what it meant to have abundant joy in any circumstance. Paul was a prisoner of Rome but he had surrendered his very life to Jesus long before his imprisonment and that is how he was able to say, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."  (Philippians 4:13 KJV)

Our study group leader challenged us with three study points based on our study of Philippians chapter 1:
  1. What thief has robbed you of joy and what have you learned from the Apostle Paul on how to eliminate the joy stealer?
  2. How have you been able to increase your joy during tough times?
  3. A short testimony of a time when you were dealing with a difficult situation but were at complete peace knowing and trusting that God was in control.
 The following is my response to those study points:

The most common thief that I battle is pride when it comes to robbing me of my joy.  I have expectations of others (whether rightful or wrongful is really of no consequence) and when those expectations are not met, my circumstances and the negative situations that are born out of them become self-focused.  Sin creeps in subtly at that point and my flesh begins to demand justice.

The first thing this thief does is suppress my joy which is Christ in me, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)  Then, if that sin is not repented of, it starts to sweep me away down a path of anger and bitterness.  My takeaway from Paul's example in Philippians is to remain single minded about Christ.

It seems to me that whenever I am doing well it's because I am living for Jesus.  However, the mistake I sometimes make is that I labor for God's approval which gives birth to pride but what I really ought to do is focus on what Jesus expects of me instead which is the path of humility in the presence of a Holy and Just God.  You see, when I sin, I find myself focused on others and what they're doing (and not doing) instead of being focused on Jesus and what He expects of me.  That's when self-examination yields to selfishness which is sin.  Therefore, getting my heart off of myself and my expectations of others is the beginning of repentance and reconciliation for me.

Don't misunderstand me.  Jesus has high expectations of me and I've not always come through.  Oftentimes, I fall short of His expectations.  It is then that I am thankful and rejoice that He is not like me at all.  When I fall short, He gives more grace instead.  (Romans 5:20)  I rejoice.  I rejoice because He doesn't demand justice for my short comings.  No.  His only demand is my heart (Deuteronomy 6:5) and repentance is the vehicle that brings me back home again to a right relationship with Him.  He is always there waiting for me.

Confession of sin and prayer always brings me back to Jesus and the joy of the Lord.  Also, I have spent the lion's share of my walk with the Lord meditating on the following two verses:
Luke 9:23-24 KJV
[23]  And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
[24]  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
This is the one teaching from Jesus that my flesh hates the most.  My flesh opposes it while my spirit simultaneously rejoices in it.  These words have the power to bring me back to repentance every time.  I sometimes wonder if my Christian brothers feel their bowels twist when these words are spoken or read?  Well, I wonder because mine sure do.

I've been saved by grace through faith for a little over 10 years.  Jesus has done a work in me for the salvation of my soul (John 3:16) and He continues to work in me to conform me to the image of His son.  (Romans 8:29)  Much of that transformation includes my willful submission to Him regardless of circumstances that occur in my marriage, my family, my friends, or my job.

Jesus has taught me that humility trumps pride (James 4:6, Proverbs 29:23) and that mercy is better than justice (Psalms 145:8-9) because without it no one would ever be able to stand before the Righteous One and live.  (Psalms 130:3-4)  But most importantly, He has taught me that it is grace that restores the joy that is stolen away by unrepentant sin and love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)  No one can be won for Christ in any other way.
Psalms 51:10-17 KJV 
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  (11)  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.  (12)  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.  (13)  Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.  (14)  Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.  (15)  O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.  (16)  For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.  (17)  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
If there was no Holy Spirit there would be no strength for me to endure the heartache that comes when I am sinned against by others.  But God did provide the Holy Spirit, and so, I endure.  On those days when the going gets tough and my pride robs me of my joy, I confess it to Him and He delights to clean me up of that sin and then He restores that joy that can only come from having a right relationship with Him.  Here is a journal entry of mine from November 2011 after I repented of my sin:
"November 11, 2011
I have great joy in my heart today.  I do not have any particular reason for it other than I confessed to God in prayer that I was lacking in joy and that I was sorry to Him for being such a lousy person about it.  I didn't say it in my heart to Him.  Rather, I confessed it to Him with my mouth in prayer last night.  Well, I think God took my confession and just delighted Himself in giving me great joy today.  I know that this joy is not from my self or my own doing.  It's like a well flowing over from within my heart, filled to the brim with joy.  As I walked to lunch today, filled with spiritual joy, this is what the Holy Spirit witnessed to my spirit:

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding shall guard your heart in Christ Jesus.  Joy in the Lord!  Your emotional fuel tank runs dry but grace abounds towards you.  Jesus prays for you;  the Spirit groans forth for you on your behalf to pray as you should.  Yeshua.  The Lord saves.  The Lord saves.  The name is Yeshua.

That really blew me away today."

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