It’s missing in so many churches today and in so many lives of believers, but it is not missing in the Bible. I’m talking about joy and there is an abundance of it in the Bible. It is seen in the Old Testament as Nehemiah declares, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” It is seen in the life of Jesus Himself as He told the disciples, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be made full.”
In the book of Philippians we see that joy has nothing to do with circumstances, but everything to do with Christ. Joy is a permanent contentment in spite of circumstances. Consider the fact that as Paul writes this letter that is all about joy, he is a prisoner in a Roman dungeon. Obviously, Paul’s joy was not based on circumstances. The second attribute of joy we see in the book of Philippians is that joy is not a matter of action, but rather a matter of attitude. The third most used word in the book of Philippians is the word “mind” which Paul used 10 times. He then uses the word “think” 5 additional times. You see, the secret of Christian joy is found in the way a believer thinks – his attitudes”
According to Ephesians 6:18-20, we will see that in order to survive our daily spiritual battles we must have a proper prayer life. This includes five characteristics.
First, we must pray in the SPIRIT. To pray in the Spirit is to pray in agreement with the will of God. To survive our spiritual battles we need to discover God’s specific will for our lives as outlined in Scripture and pray for these things.
Second, we must pray without STOPPING. In other words, we are to pray at more than prescribed times. We tend to limit our prayers to prescribed times (meals; bedtime; etc.), but we must live in a constant attitude of prayer.
Third, we must pray with SENSITIVITY. The command, “be on the alert” is the idea of chasing away sleep or being watchful. In other words we must continually be on the alert. We should constantly be asking the Lord to reveal to our spirit things that we need to be praying about at that moment!
Fourth, we must pray for the SAINTS. Part of our defense in our spiritual battles are the prayers of other saints.
Finally, we must pray with SPECIFICS. The word “petition” refers to specific requests. You will be amazed at how you see the miracles of answered prayer taking place and the spiritual battles being won.
I remember when my Grandpa Distler, who pastored churches for over 40 years and ended his ministry as a superintendent of a rescue mission in California, was on his death bed. I flew out to spend a final few days with him. In one of our final conversations my Grandpa took my hand and led it over the numerous tumors on his body. He wanted me to have some sense of what he was dealing with. I asked him if these large lumps were painful. He readily admitted the severity of the suffering he was enduring. He then said these words to me. I will never forget them. He said, “Scott, for over 40 years I have preached Proverbs 3:5-6…‘Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.’ But for the first time in my life I really understand what that passage means!” Most of us who have grown up in the church learned those verses when we were quite young. But I wonder if we will ever be able to really understand the meaning of those incredible words until we are staring serious, painful and perhaps terminal suffering right smack dab in the face.
One of the most well known verses in the Bible can be found in Proverbs 3:5-6. You can break this verse down into four statements. The first three statements fall on our shoulders of responsibility. First, we are to trust in the Lord with all of our heart. The word “trust” speaks of being totally dependent on God as a newborn baby is completely dependent on its mother. Second, we are not to lean on our own understanding. This is so hard. We want to know why bad things happen and we want to understand from a human perspective every detail behind our circumstance. The truth is we will never understand until we get to heaven. Third, we are to acknowledge Him in all of His Ways. In others words, we are to recognize Him. We are to recognize His presence in the loneliest times of our lives. We are to recognize His power in the darkest times of our lives. And we are to recognize His purpose in the most painful times of our lives. The fourth statement is God’s responsibility. He will make our paths straight. He will remove the obstacles and fulfill His will for us. We will get even more messed up when we try to do what God has promised to do.
In Galatians 6:1, the Bible tells us that when a brother or sister in Christ is overtaken in a fault that we who are spiritual are to restore them in a spirit of gentleness. Paul here is describing a Christian who has been taken off guard and as a result has fallen into sin. Over the course of church history, the church has widely been known as one of the few organizations that tends to step on or shoot their own wounded rather than helping to see healing and restoration come into their life. Our goal and purpose anytime that another believer faces a spiritual struggle is to “restore” that brother or sister. This is a word that was used to describe the mending of a torn fishing net so that the net once again becomes useful and effective in its purpose. It is also used to describe the setting of a broken bone so that healing takes place and the limb is again returned to its effective usefulness. When a believer finds himself in a spiritual jam and admits their mistakes and repents, we must make it our heartfelt passion and purpose to see that precious person restored to a place of effective service for the Lord. And we must do so in a spirit of gentleness.
Imagine that I was taking you out to the world’s greatest smorgasbord. Now imagine that when we got there, this unbelievable spectacle before you included your most favorite foods and the taste of each would be far greater than anything you have ever digested. Now imagine that a waiter carried your plate for you as you loaded it up with all the delectable morsels. He then he carried it to your table for you. As you sit down and tucked your napkin into your collar, this waiter surprisingly places an empty plate in front of you. He then proceeds to take your plate of food and bite by bite he places it in his mouth, chews it up 36 times, and then spits it out on to your plate. He then continues until every speck of the food you so relished is now laying in saliva piled mound on the once empty plate in front of you. My guess is, that with the exception of a few Junior High boys I know, you would not put one bite of that pre-chewed food into your mouth. Yet, that is the only way many people eat spiritually? The only time they take in any of the Word of God into their heart and mind is listening to the pre-chewed principles that come from someone else.
As read through the book of Exodus, I am greatly encouraged as I get to the final verses of chapter two. Israel is in a state of slavery. They are being worked to the bone. The description of their turmoil is nothing short of agonizing. They were being afflicted with hard labor and their lives were bitter. As a result of this horrible agony, the Hebrews, according to Exodus 2:23, “sighed” and “cried out” to God for help. Wouldn’t you? In fact, I bet you have. Think back to a time in your life when you were in agony whether it was physical, emotional, marital, financial, relational, occupational, spiritual, or whatever. What did you do? You sighed and you cried out to God for help. But does that really accomplish anything? Exodus 2:24-25 says, “So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel and God took notice of them.” Take note of the actions of God. God HEARD. God REMEMBERED. God SAW. And God TOOK NOTICE. The same is true today. When we cry out to God in our agony, He will HEAR us! He will REMEMBER His promises to us! He will SEE us in our agony! And He will TAKE NOTICE and minister to us in our need!
When God first ordains marriage he talks about the need for a man to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. This involves severance as well as permanence. There's a leaving and there's a cleaving. God's plan for marriage from the very beginning was one man with one woman for one lifetime. I know that culture has changed that. Over 50% of marriages today end in divorce. But the truth is that though culture has changed that plan, God has not changed His plan. Jesus quoted the same words in Matthew 19 as did Paul in Ephesians 5. If your marriage is struggling, don't give up on your marriage. Along with severance and permanence there is also a unity involved. Scripture says, “And they shall become one flesh.” What does it mean the two become one flesh? The only analogy I can come up with is that the moment you say "I do" you become a two-headed monster. You see, marriage is not dependence or independence. It is interdependence. In other words, it's no longer how do I see it? It's now, how do we see it? It's no longer what are my dreams? It's now, what are our dreams? One of the greatest aspects of marriage is that we get to this journey called life together.
As God creates the first man, Adam, He says that it was not good for the man to be alone. That tells me that God created Adam with a need for companionship and He knows exactly what to do – He was going to make a woman. But first God has Adam name all of the animals. That seems strange but it had a purpose. Adam got to see every animal that was created up close and personal. How magnificent. But when He is finished, the Bible says that for Adam there was no helper suitable for him. So why did God have Adam name the animals? I think God wanted to show Adam that what He was about to give him, a wife, was going to be the crown jewel of His creation. He wanted Adam to see all these animals and go, “God, this is amazing! You are so creative. But I got to be honest, God, I'm still lonely. There's got to be something even better.” I really do believe that the reason God waited and had him name the animals first is because He wanted to make sure that Adam understood what a special gift he was about to receive in a wife. Men, one of the greatest mistakes we make in life is taking our wives for granted.
As God creates marriage in Genesis 2 he says that “a man shall leave his father and his mother.” A man leaving his father and mother (and reciprocally a woman leaving her father and mother) shows us the purpose of severance involved in marriage. Before you were married the most important human relationship in your life was without question your parents. That is why the Bible says so much about our need to honor, love and obey our parents. But once you say “I DO” there is a new sheriff in town. Once you get married your spouse must become more important to you than any other human relationship including your parents, your best friend or your children. In other words, husbands, if you have to make a choice between pleasing you spouse and pleasing your parents, you should choose your spouse very time.
Think about God saying those words to Adam and Eve who were, at that time, the only two people on earth. Adam and Eve must have looked at each other with a quizzical expression and asked, “Excuse me, what’s a parent?” So why would God give these words to Adam and Eve who had no parents? I think God was speaking to them as future parents and to every marriage that would take place in the future!