It's Sunday again, so I am sharing another Christmas devotional. This is one I wrote in 2001 after I was asked to share at our ladies' Christmas fellowship. I was given the theme of Joy and Peace. It was a time in our lives and in our nation's history when we sorely needed both joy and peace. These were the thoughts and Scriptures God brought to my mind as I prepared:
JOY AND PEACE
The other day, on a radio news program concerning holiday shopping, I heard a very interesting item. The subject was the decorating of holiday windows at Filene’s in Boston. Shop windows and how they are decorated have always fascinated me, so I picked up my ears. The whole broadcast was interesting, but what really stood out to me were the themes of this year’s windows: peace, joy, love, and hope. The window decorations are based on the art of Mary Engelbreit. If you are familiar with her work, you will know that her illustrations are bright and cheery, lifting the spirits of all who see them. The themes of these windows were decided on and planned a year ago, but they could hardly be more timely or appropriate for the 2001 holiday season. Everyone, this Christmas, is hungry for comfort, for hope, and especially for joy and peace. As I thought about these things, a line from the Christmas carol,”God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” came to mind: It speaks of “tidings of comfort and joy”. Oh, how we need that this year! The good news is that joy and peace are freely available to us. Tonight we are going to take a closer look at the joy and peace God offers us.
Let’s look at joy first. Dictionary definitions of joy leave much to be desired; they speak simply of “happiness” or “delight”. The joy available to God’s people is something much deeper. This joy rises above circumstances and focuses on the very character of God. Here’s a definition of spiritual joy: It is not “an experience that comes from favorable circumstances, but is a sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows that all is well between himself and the Lord.”
The Bible instructs us to rejoice. If you have your Bibles, please turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:16. “Rejoice evermore.” That means always. One of my favorite Bible study helps is Believer's Bible
, by William MacDonald. His comment on this verse is that joy can be the constant experience of the believer because Christ is the source and the subject of our joy, and Christ is in control of the circumstances.
For another helpful Scripture, let’s turn to Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice.” There’s that “always” again! Sounds impossible, you say? How can we possibly rejoice in the Lord always? Especially in dark times like those our nation is going through right now? Yet we are commanded to do so. It’s true that we can’t just decide to be joyful and then begin to feel joyful. But if we are God’s children, if we have accepted Jesus as our personal Savior, such joy is freely available to us. William MacDonald has an interesting comment on this verse, too. He says, “The secret...is found in the words in the Lord
. No matter how dark the circumstances of life may be, it is always possible for the Christian to rejoice in the Lord. “
This joy is produced by the Spirit of God. Galatians 5:22 and 23 says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance...” This kind of joy looks beyond the present to our future in Heaven. It looks to our sovereign God,Who works all things out for our ultimate good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).
In John 15:11, we see that joy was important to Jesus. Before He had to leave His disciples to go to the cross, He spent much time teaching them and preparing them for the time He would no longer be on earth with them. In this verse, He told His disciples, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” Jesus wants those who love Him to have joy in their lives. It’s to be a basic part of our Christian lives. In spite of that, we see a lot of Christians who are not joyful. But we have every reason to be!
Let’s look for a minute at some of the many reasons we have to be joyful.
1. Our joy does not depend on circumstances, but on the spiritual realities of God’s goodness, His love for us, and His ultimate victory over sin and darkness.
2. Our joy is not based on anything we have done or can do, but on the truth about our relationship with God through what Jesus has done.
3. The joy that God gives is not merely an emotion, but is the result of choosing to look beyond our circumstances to what is true about our forgiven, redeemed life in Jesus.
This is all very interesting, isn’t it? And it’s all completely true, because it’s in God’s Word. Psalm 119:160 says: “Thy Word is true from the beginning: and every one of Thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.” But what are some practical ways we can experience God’s joy every day, no matter what’s happening in our lives? Here are some suggestions that have helped me:
1. Give thanks in everything. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Whatever may be happening in your life -- good or bad -- you can give thanks to God for His sovereignty, His perfect plan, and His perfect timing. On September 11, I remember thanking God that all of this was no surprise to Him and being so thankful that He was in control. Things may look out of control to us, but they are not. They are in God’s control, and He makes no mistakes.
2. Focus on the truth of God’s promises. When you find precious promises in His Word, mark them with a highlighter. Memorize the ones that are especially meaningful for you. Having God’s promises in our hearts and minds will give us much to thank Him for when we are trying to obey the verse we just looked at and give thanks in everything. Just an example here; one that’s familiar to some of you but not to others. In July 1996, one month after my youngest daughter graduated from high school, her best friend Emily was killed in a car accident. Emily was from Florida, but had gone to high school here in New England. She had spent many hours in our home and considered us her New England parents, even signing letters to us “#3” as in daughter number 3. We loved Emily like our own child. And yet, when Emily’s mom called to tell me she had been killed instantly, somehow I was able to thank God that He had not allowed Emily to suffer. I was able to focus on God’s promise, found in 2 Corinthians 5:8, that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
3. Look up. Take your eyes off your circumstances and focus on God instead. Listen to Psalm 121:1 and 2: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” God is in control and He is working all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11).
4. With God’s help, obey His command to be joyful always. As author Jerry Bridges says, “We are not to sit around waiting for our circumstances to make us joyful. We are commanded to be joyful
always...we should continually be growing in joy.”
Now let’s look at peace. We are not thinking here of world peace, but personal peace, peace in our hearts. People often think of peace as the absence of problems, or the feeling we experience when life is going well for us. Sometimes we try to achieve that feeling for ourselves, in varying ways. We might choose to try and make ourselves feel better by spending money. Ever heard that saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping”? I’ve done that! Sometimes we try to ignore problems and just hope they will go away. Sometimes we turn to other sources to help us feel better. Chocolate, for example, or other “comfort food”. I heard a very interesting story from my friend Karyl. She wrote me: “A...friend who lives in NYC, Greenwich Village, said she went to her
favorite neighborhood cafe´a few days after the [terrorist] attacks for a cozy lunch or supper, and just wanted macaroni and cheese so badly. The waitress told her they were out of two things -- macaroni and cheese and brownies. She almost cried.”
But we don’t need to try to make ourselves feel better by these or any other tactics of our own. God’s peace is readily available to us, despite our circumstances. In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I
leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” The peace that Jesus spoke of was a combination of hope, trust, and quietness of mind and soul, brought about by a reconciliation with God. Let’s look at this wonderful peace a little more closely.
1. Our peace has nothing to do with our circumstances, but comes with knowing we have a right relationship with God. Romans 5:1 says: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2. Our peace has nothing to do with daily challenges or crises, but with the certain knowledge that our times are in God’s hands (Ps.31:15)
3. Our peace has nothing to do with the conditions of our life, but with the fact that God is all-sufficient. Philippians 4:4 says: “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” We will never have a real need that God is not able to meet.
4. Our peace comes with knowing that our heavenly Father is always with us. He is omnipresent -- He can be everywhere at once -- and He is fully aware of every detail of our lives. We can never be anyplace where God is not with us. Hebrews 13:5 reminds us: “...for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
This peace of God is amazing, isn’t it? And it’s freely available to us whenever we need it. But we have to do our part by actively trusting God. I heard a great illustration once, concerning how little children trust their daddy to catch them when he tosses them into the air or when he says “Jump to Daddy!” My husband had a classic thing that he did when our kids were little that we still laugh about. If we were hiking, or on top of a mountain, he would invariably pose the kids on the edge of a precipice to take a picture. They didn’t enjoy being out there, but they knew it was perfectly safe or he wouldn’t have put them there. They trusted his judgment. The point is, if we can trust our earthly fathers -- who are fallible -- that much, then we certainly ought to be able to trust our heavenly Father, who is infallible.
Let’s look at some practical ways to take hold of the peace that God so freely offers us.
1. Before we can know the peace of God in our lives, we first must know Jesus as our Savior. His death on the cross for our sins is the only bridge between a holy God and sinful human beings. In Ephesians 2:14 we read, “He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.”
2. When a difficult situation comes into your life, don’t fret, worry, or panic. Instead, make the choice to trust God. In Luke chapter 8, we find the familiar story of how Jesus and his disciples were crossing the sea of Galilee in a fishing boat. Jesus was sleeping in the back part of the boat. A terrible storm came up suddenly, a common experience on that body of water. The terrified disciples woke Jesus up. Another account of this story, in Mark 4, tells us what they said: “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?” You will remember that Jesus calmed the wind and waves. And then, in Luke 8:25, He asked the disciples a question: “Where is your faith?” He would probably ask us the same question when we fail to trust Him. Next time a scary situation comes up in your life, choose to trust God. He will give you His peace.
3. Pray about your concerns rather than fretting or worrying about them. Let’s turn to Philippians 4:6 and 7. “Be careful [or anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” If you will do this -- if you will pray and commit your concerns to God, thanking Him for all He will do, you will experience the peace that passes all understanding. Pour out all your requests, all that burdens your heart, and leave the outcome in God’s capable hands. Worry has never accomplished anything, and it certainly does not contribute to peace. In fact, worry is sin. Here is a great quote from Believer’s Bible Commentary
: “Worry is sin because it denies the wisdom of God; it says that He doesn’t know what He’s doing. It denies the love of God; it says He does not care. And it denies the power of God; it says that He isn’t able to deliver me from whatever is causing me to worry.”
4. Stay your mind on God. Look at Him rather than at the circumstances. Focus on the truth: that He is with you, that He is in control, that He loves you and is working all things together for your
good and His glory. Isaiah 26:3 promises: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee.” Very recently I was reminded of this truth as we traveled back from South Carolina. One thing we enjoyed along the way was the encouraging, often patriotic signs and billboards that have sprouted up since September 11. On our return trip, we were on somewhat of a tight schedule since we needed to catch a ferry from Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, NJ where we planned to spend the night with friends. We stopped at a scenic overlook at the end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and inadvertently locked the keys -- both sets! -- in the car. Yes, we prayed first, we did get help quickly and were eventually able to open a car door, but we lost a half hour, and time was tight. As we drove tensely along, I spotted one of those ever-present billboards. But this one was different, and its message was just for us. Here’s what it said: “Keep your focus on God. He can be trusted.” And He can! How did the story turn out? Well, we were late. But you know what? The ferry was running late too. And we easily made it onto the ferry we’d
hoped to take.
In closing, I’d like to share an illustration that sums up all we’ve talked about. It’s a story about Paganini, a great violinist. One day he came out on a stage to face an audience. Just as they ended
their applause, he made the discovery that there was something wrong with his violin. In fact, it was not his famous and valuable instrument at all. Here’s what happened, according to the story quoted in the devotional book Streams in the Desert:
“He felt paralyzed for a moment, then turned to the audience and told them there had been some mistake and he did not have his own violin. He stepped back behind the curtain thinking that it was still where he had left it, but discovered that someone had stolen his and left that old second-hand one in its place. He remained back of the curtain a moment, then came out before his audience and said:
‘Ladies and Gentlemen: I will show you that the music is not in the instrument, but in the soul.’ And he played as he had never played before; and out of that second-hand instrument, the music poured forth until the audience was enraptured with enthusiasm and the applause almost lifted the ceiling of the building, because the man had revealed to them that music was not in the machine but in his own soul.” Mrs. Charles Cowman, the author of Streams in the Desert
, added this challenge to her readers:
“It is your mission, tested and tried one, to walk out on the stage of this world and reveal to all earth and Heaven that the music is not in conditions, not in things, not in externals, but the music of life is in your own soul.”
That’s your mission. That’s my mission. We are to go out into our daily lives and show the world that true peace and true joy are not found in circumstances, not in possessions, not in external things of any kind. True joy and peace comes from within, and its only source is God Himself. Let’s go out from here tonight and show the world what “tidings of comfort and joy” are really all about.