I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! John 15:11
Yesterday Tom and I attended Linworth United Methodist Church with John and Jackie. It was good to worship in a familiar place with our family. There were baptisms and new members joining the church and the praise songs brought me to tears. I was filled with joy in worshiping.
The sermon was on happiness. Happiness is a good thing – the Declaration of Independence says that all people have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some people think this is a guarantee for happiness and blame others when they are not happy. The most popular course at Harvard University right now is a psychology course on “How to Be Happy.” But how many people do you know that are really happy? Are you?
In the sermon, Pastor Gene Folden gave us the biblical perspective on happiness from John 15. Jesus said, in order to be happy, we have to give up our lives for others. We have to be servants of God and serve others as well. Pastor Folden told us a good story from WWII when the American troops were occupying Italy. The Captain in charge of one town was trying to teach the fascist leaders of the town about democracy. When the police chief arrested a woman because she complained because he cut in a bread line, he had her arrested. The Captain told the town leaders (including the police chief) that they were no longer the masters of the town. As leaders in a democracy, they worked for the people, and being a servant (of the people) would make them happier than they had ever been.
Happier than they had ever been. This sounds like what Jesus said in John 15:11, “Yes, your joy will overflow!” Of course, Jesus uses a word that is translated best as joy, not happiness. I have found joy to be a very different thing than happiness. Happiness is momentary, transitory – I am happy now, I am happy (or not happy) with you. Chocolate chip cookies make me happy. Joy is a deeper, more constant emotion. The joy that we find in Jesus fills our souls and overflows. Joy is not dependent on happiness: we can be filled with a soul-deep, constant joy even when we are sad or lonely or hurt. Joy comes from knowing Jesus, knowing our place in God’s plan, and living out our place through serving others.
Pastor Folden suggested that cynicism is the antithesis of happiness because cynicism insists that happiness cannot exist. We must guard against cynicism as Christians and the way to do so is to keep ourselves open to the Holy Spirit in the moment. When we can see and feel the Holy Spirit moving now, we are open to the joy that can fill our hearts and sustain us in times of trouble.
I think we all would like to be filled with joy. We would like our joy to overflow onto others (instead of the mess and yuck that often overflows from us). We want to be a witness to the love of Christ and the joy it gives us. So – to be filled with joy – turn away from cynicism, remember that you are a servant not the master, cultivate an attitude of gratitude, and let the love of Jesus Christ fill you and bless you until it overflows.