by Bobby Ware
The night Jesus was born, the angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy…”
I think over the years, we have so “Christmas-ized” these words that we have lost their vital meaning in our lives. This joy at the coming of Jesus still today has the power to transform our lives, set us free from whatever holds us captive, and give us a strength that can be found nowhere else in this world.
“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This is what Nehemiah said to the Israelites when they realized how much they had failed God. If you have failed God in your life, I believe God’s word today is the same. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. In this article I will share some of the insights I have gained through the failures in my life.
One thing about life: you never know what it’s gonna throw your way. All sorts of things come into our lives—good things, bad things, things in our control and out of our control, things we deserve and things that we don’t deserve.
When I was asked to write this article, the first question that arose within me was, “What is joy?” I mean, really—what is it? First of all, there’s a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is basically pleasure, enjoyment, or being glad because of something. Joy is much deeper. It comes from God’s Spirit. It is the deep delight that comes from knowing God’s favor towards us. Strong’s Concordance calls it “grace recognized.”
So, I spent several days thinking about what to write about this topic of joy. I thought about those closest to me: my wife and my son. My wife and I have been through hell and back over the last 30 years. After our divorce and re-marriage, and more dysfunction than I will elaborate on here, God has brought to us a healing and restoration that I would not have thought possible 15 years ago.
My son is 22, autistic, and the most authentic person I know. His unfettered honesty and his genuine compassion and, actually, his insecurity—the person he is—these make me love him all the more. And the love that God has allowed me to have toward my son makes me appreciate the love of my Father in heaven toward me, screwed up as I am.
These two most precious people on earth to me, they demonstrate to me the goodness of God. I am so thankful that even with all my own imperfections and failures, God has shown me the grace and mercy of having them to love, to protect, and to nurture. But even they, by themselves, cannot produce in my life the satisfaction, destiny, and true joy that I need if I am to live the vibrant life that God wants me to enjoy.
True life originates in God. Actually, knowing Him is what makes us alive. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God.” (John 17) So, while I may find some fulfillment and happiness in the people who are in my life, they are not the source of the joy, the deep spirit-satisfaction, that I need.
It’s the same with the things in this world. There are many substitutes on this earth for the things of God. The Bible clearly says that Satan is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4). And, Satan hates with a passion the freedom and forgiveness that Jesus has given us.
I recently heard a young woman in my life group at my church refer to hydrocodone as a bottle of “check-out.” That’s a good description of much of the flesh-addictiveness that arises in us: drugs, overeating, lust, phone and tv screen time, smoking, etc. These are “lower pleasures” the devil substitutes for God’s gifts. They provide diversion from the true want and hunger of our deepest being, but for a moment. However, the true hunger of our spirit can only be satisfied by Jesus.
I know this to be true, but so often it is easier to partake of some “check-out” which makes me, for a moment, forget about the hunger of my spirit. And making provision for the flesh (Romans 13) (i.e., holding onto opportunities to “check-out” for later) keeps me in a state of double-mindedness (James 1) with divided affections. The result of this is spiritual ineffectiveness, which translates into life ineffectiveness.
And while holding onto an opportunity for the flesh may not seem like such a big deal, if the enemy can get me to hold onto a “provision for the flesh” each day, before you know it, the days string together into months and years and are squandered away. We have a choice to either feed our flesh or feed our spirit (Galatians 5).
Psalm 69:33 says, “For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His own people who are prisoners.” I looked at this and said, “Why are His own people prisoners?” Well, it’s because we put ourselves there! But even in the midst of our self-inflicted bondages, His loving kindness and tender mercies are there, and He waits for us to jump into His arms, to trust in Him, to believe in Him. The bondage we experience is, I believe, the result of misplaced trust and errant belief. “He who comes to Me will never hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (John 6)
So, those words to those shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy…”—this was the proclamation of the actual Key to Life! The joy that Jesus alone brings to our lives is the very strength that we need in order to overcome in this life.