How Then Shall We Fight For Joy?
We are at point number seven about, which is how then shall we fight for joy? I’m assuming at this stage there are a lot of you thinking, “Okay, I see all those texts. I see that Christian Hedonism teaches God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him, and that the Bible calls us to be satisfied in him in all those reasons you gave, but my heart doesn’t seem very engaged and I grew up in a church where they didn’t talk much about that.” That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing here. These are practical, how questions. I have 15 answers, and I’m going to blaze through them, I hope, to get through as many as I can.
1. The Gift of Authentic Joy
Realize that authentic joy in God is a gift.
Yes, it’s commanded, and it’s a gift. Do you remember Saint Augustine? He got converted when he was 32. He lived with a mistress for 16 years, and was sexually in bondage, as he said. He had one child out of wedlock, and after he was saved he never married. He became the bishop of Hippo in the 4th century. God gave him a victory over his sexual bondage, and he said, “You command continence. Oh Lord, command what you will and grant what you command.” That’s a famous sentence of Augustine, and it’s right. It’s absolutely biblical. It’s a gift. He said, “Grant what you command.”
The fruit of the Spirit is joy, and so we pray, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12). He’s asking God to do it. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). It’s a gift to have joy in God. All of our how to questions have to keep that in mind. Because you might think, “Well, if you ask, how do you get it? Then there must be a way to get it. And that implies it’s not a gift, but something you can go out and get.” No. There is a strategy to pursue it, but it’s a gift. This is the mystery of the Christian life — how you pursue something which is a gift.
2. The Relentless Fight of Joy
Realize that joy must be fought for relentlessly.
You can fall off this fence on either side. You can fall off on the fight side, or you can fall off on the gift side, saying, “Oh, it’s a gift. We don’t need a fight.” Or you could say, “Oh, it’s a fight. It’s not a gift.” It’s a fight and a gift.
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy . . . (2 Corinthians 1:24).
I love that definition of a pastor. He says, “I am a worker with you for your joy.” It describes the goal that I should have as a pastor, and it describes the fact that it’s very hard work. It’s a fight to be fought. Paul says in another place:
I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith . . . (Philippians 1:25).
Faith has joy at its heart. It is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. Therefore, the good fight of faith is a fight for joy. Paul says:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
So, fight the fight of faith. And this is all about how to do it.
3. A War Against Sin
Resolve to attack all known sin in your life.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).
If you don’t see God, you can’t enjoy God. If you’re not pure in heart, the lens through which you see God is going to be clouded. Therefore, if you want to see God and enjoy God, you start taking aim at every known sin in your life. And taking aim is the right word. Look at this in Romans 8:13:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
So by the Spirit, putting to death the deeds of the body (that means sinful deeds), you will live. You take aim and you kill it.
John Owen said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” And the way it kills you is by obscuring your capacity to see and enjoy God. When you’re walking with God in cleanness of heart, you see him, you love him, and you enjoy him. When you begin to pursue sin, your eyes become clouded. Your desires for God shrivel up. So if you know a specific sin in your life, take aim at it and kill it by the Spirit.
This is a gift. We’re talking about a gift here. You can’t kill any sin unless you do it by the Spirit. The Spirit has given us one offensive, deadly weapon in Ephesians 6, remember? Paul speaks of the belt of truth, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, shoes of readiness to run with the gospel, and the sword of what? The Spirit, which is the word of God. There is one weapon with which you can kill something.
And you’re told to kill, to put to death, the deeds of the body. You do it by the Spirit, and the Spirit has given you the sword, so you do it with the Word. That’s another seminar called Future Grace, and it’s on how you kill sin by the word of God. The short answer is that sin always has power by the promises it makes. Therefore sin is killed by the power of a superior promise. And you get those from the Bible.
4. The Secret of Gutsy Guilt
Learn the secret of gutsy guilt, and how to fight like a justified sinner.
Now, this may be the most important of the 15 points. So, linger here for a minute with me and think hard. I was just talking with a brother about what’s been unsaid so far. We’ve talked a lot about pursuing joy, and we’ve said almost nothing about the cross, which is terrible if I leave it there. So here we are talking about what condition you are in as you pursue joy in the reward. And my answer is, if you’re a Christian, you’re in a totally secure position. The reward of being with Christ, being forgiven, and being justified is secure because it’s all rooted in something he did for you in the past.
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication (Micah 7:8–9).
I love that text. Man, it is so realistic. All right, here’s the situation. He says, “I have sinned.” Let’s say that’s you last night, or sometime. You have sinned against him. What’s the result of that? He’s mad. The passage says, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned.” So he’s indignant. It’s not the whole story, but it’s true. He’s indignant. It says, “Therefore I have fallen.” There’s another way to say it. And then it says, “And I dwell in darkness.” There’s a cloud. God is angry, and he seems distant. I’m contaminated, and I’m in darkness.
The Lord is a Light to Me
Now, in that darkness, in my willingness to bear the indignation Lord, I’m not making any excuses. I’m saying, “I feel horrible, darkness is over me, and God is clouded. And in that darkness, God is a light for me.” The passage says, “Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.” It’s still dark, he’s still indignant, and yet there is light. This is what I mean by gutsy guilt.
You’re feeling guilty. You know you should be feeling guilty because you just sinned. But in that, you’re not collapsing. You’re not saying, “I guess I’m going to hell,” or, “I guess I’m not saved,” or, “I guess it’s all over for me.” You’re getting in the face of your sin and saying, “God is light to me.” And there may be darkness, and he may be indignant, but he’s my God, and there is light in this darkness. And so you bear the indignation of the Lord, as the passage says, “until he pleads my case.” Now, wait a minute. He is indignant. He’s indignant. And you’re saying, “I’m going to sit here, and bear this darkness until he pleads my case, and executes judgment for me”?
Well, I thought he was indignant and against you? No. He’s not against you. You can be angry at somebody, and not be against them. Have you ever gotten angry at your kids? Every other day, maybe. Are you against them? No. You would die for them in a minute. Your longings are huge for these kids. God’s anger with us in Christ is not punitive anger. It’s not anger that is sending us to hell. It’s a displeasure at our failure to live the way we should live. But he’s coming at us with grace in this anger, and that’s underlined in these two phrases. He is going to plead my case. He’s not going to be my accuser; he’s going to be my defense attorney. And when judgment falls, he’s going to be for me and not against me. And therefore, he’s going to bring me out to the light, and I’m going to see his righteousness. So the passage says, “Therefore don’t you rejoice over me, oh my enemy.”
When I Fall, I Will Rise
Oh, the devil is tricky. He trips you up and gets you to sin, and then he whispers, “See, you’re not a believer. You’re not in Christ. You’re not going to make it to heaven. You thought you were so holy.” That’s the way the devil talks. And humans will talk that way too. If you say you’re a Christian, and then they hear you say some sarcastic word at work, they come and say, “Hey Christian, you sound just like everybody else.” And then you’re devastated. But this is all rooted in Christ, who’s coming.
The reason Micah could talk this way is that there was going to someday be Jesus Christ, who comes into the world, bears the sins of his people, and dies in their place so that we can say what Paul says in Philippians 3:12. He said:
I press on to make it my own (namely, perfection, heaven, and reward in Christ), because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
I love this picture. It could feel like, “Well where are you? Oh, there you are.” All the while he’s got me right here. That’s our only hope. All this pursuit of joy is only possible because he has made us his own. He bought it for us. You don’t earn it by the pursuit; you receive it as a gift. The way we pursue it is by faith.
It’s like this. I desired something I shouldn’t desire. I stumbled, I fell, I sinned against him, he’s upset with me, and he’s disapproving of what I did. He’s angry. I’m sitting in darkness. I’m going to bear my reproach. But while I sit here, I’ve got gutsy guilt. And I’m saying to the devil, and to my own soul, and to anybody else, “Don’t rejoice over me, O my enemy. When I fall, I will rise, and I’m going to rise because he is going to plead my case, and he’s going to execute judgment for me. And I’m coming out of this situation very soon, and I will see his righteousness.”
The whole Christian life is learning how to do that. Because you’re going to sin, I promise you, before the day is over. What are you going to do with it? Cave? Let the devil get the upper hand by accusing you and making you feel absolutely hopeless because you’ve sinned again? There is hope only in Jesus because Jesus has paid for those sins. And he will advocate for us and not against us.
5. A Fight to See
Realize that the battle is primarily a fight to see God for who he is. The fight for joy, the fight for faith, the fight to get out of that experience there, is a fight to see. Psalm 34:8 says:
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
And 2 Corinthians 4:4 says:
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
That’s what’s happening in the world. We are by nature, blind and dead, and the god of this world, the devil, is continually throwing a cloak of confusion and deceit over the world so that the world can’t see Christ for who he is. Our whole job as Christians is to throw those off, defy the devil, speak the truth, pray down the Holy Spirit, and see people awakened. That’s our job. It’s what the Word does. The Word pierces the darkness, and people then, by grace, are awakened.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
If you want to be changed gradually into Christ’s likeness what should you do? Answer: behold glory. That’s why I’m so glad at Bethlehem we’re preaching our way through John’s Gospel. That’s the point of the whole book:
We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
That’s what every story in John’s Gospel is about. It’s revealing the glory of the Son. So my prayer is that Bethlehem will be changed from one degree of glory to the next, week after week, as we behold the glory of Christ.
6. Meditation on God’s Word
Meditate on the Word of God day and night.
Now, this is where seeing happens, mainly. We do see God in the theater of the world. The heavens are telling the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). You walk out today, if the sun’s shining, and you should see God. Remember the illustration I gave you in the sermon where you take a little one-year-old, and you want him to see a toy, or a puppy, or something, and you point and say, “Look, there it is.” And he doesn’t know what “point” means yet. So all he does is look at your finger. And that’s the way the world looks at the sky. The heavens are telling the glory of God, and scientists look up and see something to be studied. Well, there is something to be studied, but it’s a finger. Go where it’s pointing to! Creation is pointing at something. So it is out there, but I want you to meditate on the word of God, mainly.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul . . . (Psalm 19:7).
If you want your soul restored, go to the Word.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart . . . (Psalm 19:8).
If you want joy in your heart, go to the precepts.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart . . . (Jeremiah 15:16).
So if you want joy and delight, eat the word of God.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11).
If you want your joy to be full, listen to what Jesus has spoken.
His delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither (Psalm 1:2–3).
You want to be the kind of person who has roots down deep. When the drought comes, your leaves remain green while everybody else’s leaves are shriveling up. Why? Because your roots are down, delighting in the law of the Lord.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing . . . (Romans 15:13).
In believing what? The word of God.
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
Do you want to live? Eat the Word.
Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).
Do you need faith? Hear the word of Christ.
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).
If you want life, believe these things, and so on. You get the message.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17).
If you want more sanctification, go to the truth, and on and on. This is all about the preciousness and the power of the word of God.
Waiting on God
Maybe I’ll just give a story or two. Here’s Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. He was great saint and missionary from 150 years ago or so.
It was not easy for Mr. Taylor in his change for life to make time for prayer and Bible study. And he knew that it was vital. Well, do the white writers know..." This is I think his son and daughter are writing this book. This is coming from Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret:
It was not easy for Mr. Taylor, in his changeful life, to make time for prayer and Bible study, but he knew that it was vital. Well do the writers remember traveling with him month after month in northern China, by cart and wheelbarrow with the poorest of inns at night. Often with only one large room for coolies and travelers alike, they would screen off a corner for their father and another for themselves, with curtains of some sort; and then, after sleep at last had brought a measure of quiet, they would hear a match struck and see the flicker of candlelight which told that Mr. Taylor, however weary, was pouring over the little Bible in two volumes always at hand. From two to four A.M. was the time he usually gave to prayer; the time he could be most sure of being undisturbed to wait upon God.
Now, if an old man, traveling by cart in Northern China, can find two hours to spend pouring over his Bible, you can find time too. Yes, you can. And so can I. We all have exactly the same number of hours in the day. What we do with them is a statement of our priorities. That’s what it is. And I’m encouraging you, if you want to pursue joy, go to the Word.
Nourishing the Inner Man
One more story. This one had a huge impact on me about 25 years ago or so because I felt I was doing the same thing he was. This is from George Müller, the founder of the orphanages in Bristol, England 150 years ago or so. He was a great godly man of prayer:
The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.
Now that’s an amazing statement. It sounds very selfish. Doesn’t it? And it would be if we didn’t have the last hours behind us, explaining that you can’t be of any use to anybody, if you’re not happy in the Lord. What are you going to give them? Yourself? A duty religion? What are you going to give people? So he knew that he had to fight for his soul first. He continues:
The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in the right spirit.
What he said that was so practically helpful was that the way he, early on in his Christian life, tried to do those devotions early in the morning, to get his heart happy in the Lord, was by praying first. He would come to his place and he would begin to pray. He’d pray for himself. He’d pray for his wife and children. And he’d pray for the orphans in ministry. And he said, “I found myself so distracted in prayer, that I could hardly get anywhere.” And so he said, “I shifted it. I whispered a prayer to the Lord that took maybe 10 seconds, asking his blessing upon my time, and he would come and teach me. And then I began to read the Word, and turn the Word into prayer.” That’s what was so practically helpful for me 25 years ago because that’s the way I do it to this day.
It is very difficult for me to pray for an extended period of time without being guided by the word of God. My mind tends to wander in all kinds of ways. And the Bible keeps me focused and tells me what I should pray. So I’m reading, praying, reading, praying, reading, praying, for however long I have. So go to the Word.
7. Earnest Prayer
Pray earnestly and continually for open heart-eyes and an inclination for God.
You go to the Bible dutifully. Here it is. You put it on your table, or on your lap, or on your bench, you put your elbows on either side, you start reading, and nothing happens. What should you do? You should do this:
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24).
Ask for help. Where is it? Here we go. This is the one I start with. Psalm 119:36 says:
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
And then the second thing I pray is:
Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119:18).
Do you see what those two are? The first one is praying that my disinclination to read the Bible would be taken away. I find it amazing that the Psalmist prayed that, because it means that he was disinclined to read the Bible. He wouldn’t have prayed that otherwise. He said, “Lord, my heart is tilting towards money, or towards efficiency, or towards the internet, or towards whatever, and I don’t want to pray. Frankly, I’m really eager to get to work, or play, or TV, or newspaper, or coffee, or whatever.” The Psalmist is experiencing that, and against it, he says, “Incline my heart to your word.”
That means he can’t make it happen by himself. You can’t. It’s a gift. If the means that God uses is the word of God, and you are disinclined to go to the word, what are you going to do? You cry out, “Oh God, incline my heart.” I pray this virtually every day.
The Miracle of Spiritual Affections
I don’t assume that because I’ve been a Christian for 57 years I will get up desiring to read the Bible tomorrow morning. I don’t assume that. I cry out to the Lord, “Incline my heart to your testimonies.” And the second prayer is, “Open my eyes to behold wonderful things out of your law.” I’m praying, “All right, I’m here and I’m reading, and nothing’s happening. And I’m not seeing anything exciting, glorious, or life-changing. I’m bored.”
What do you do then? You pray this. You plead it. Because if I sink into that frame and I stay there, I’m out of the ministry. My life and this church, in large measure, are at stake, in whether this prayer gets answered daily for me. Because if this doesn’t get answered, I’m dead. I can no longer be a pastor. There would be nothing to preach. If I’m not seeing anything wonderful in the word, let’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
Here’s another prayer:
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days (Psalm 90:14).
Now you’ve gotten there. You’ve prayed that you would see wonderful things, and you’re starting to see something and you pray, “Oh God, now satisfy me with what I’m seeing here. Satisfy me with your lovingkindness.”
That’s the way you’re going to keep from being grumbly at the breakfast table, from honking your horn and giving the finger to the people in the traffic on the way to work, and being patient with people at the work. It will be because over the word this morning, God answered this prayer. He satisfied you in the morning with his lovingkindness. And you’re moving through the day with that Macedonian fullness. Grace came down and abundance of joy came up in the midst of hardship and poverty, and it overflowed in liberality to everybody around you. Wouldn’t that be beautiful if about 4,000 people at Bethlehem lived that way? What a beautiful thing it would be. So pray that God will satisfy your soul.
8. The Need to Preach to Yourself
Learn to preach to yourself rather than listen to yourself. Here’s how the Psalmist is doing it.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
He’s talking to himself. Here’s Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This is a good book by the way. It’s called Spiritual Depression. If you labor under depression, or just a gloomy frame of mind lots of times, this will help you. He’s very realistic. He was a doctor before he became a pastor. He was a medical doctor, and quite a good one. So he knows all the physical components to depression and discouragement, and he knows the spiritual components. This was written a long time ago, about 40 years ago. But it’s still good. Here’s what he says:
Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You’ve not originated them, but they’re talking to you. They bring back the problems of yesterday. Somebody is talking. Who’s talking to you? Yourself is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment (Psalm 42) was this. Instead of allowing himself to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why are you downcast, O my soul,” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, you listen for a moment, and I’ll speak to you.”
That’s so right. That’s so good. You may remember a couple of weeks ago, I told you about going away with Noël for our 40th wedding anniversary and reading Psalm 40. We read Psalm 40 on our 40th wedding anniversary, and we go to Psalm 40:5. We decided to do this every time we wake up in the morning, and we did it again this morning. The alarm went off at six o’clock this morning. Noël was heading for Bloomington or somewhere to speak to some ladies. And I was heading up here. We were lying there before we got out of bed. And I said in my crackly voice:
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.
And she was saying it with me. This talking to yourself works in marriage. We looked back over the last years and we thought, “We’ve experienced enough stresses and trials in our family and elsewhere, that our lunch dates on Monday were mainly the rehearsing of problems.” We just narrated the problems. And we were good at it. We analyzed them till they were dead. And she and I seldom spoke the word of God into those lunches. We didn’t say, “Let’s call to mind some promises here. Let’s just speak some Bible verses in here.” And so when we read this, “You have multiplied, O Lord, your wonderful works and your thoughts towards us. I will proclaim and tell of them,” I said, “Let’s make that our 2009 41st wedding year verse, which it is now.”
So you can come and ask us at any time during the year, “How are you doing with Psalm 40:5?” And things are better. We’re doing it. We’re about 24 days into this thing, and I just want you to know that this doesn’t just work privately or individualistically. Preach to yourself and preach to the marriage with promises. Preach about the wonderful thoughts of God toward us.
9. Spending Time with God-saturated People
Spend time with God-saturated people, who help you see God and fight the fight.
If you want a category to put all these answers under that I’ve said so far, you can call them means of grace. Have you ever heard that phrase? Means of grace. Grace is what makes the difference. It’s a gift. Joy is a gift. Faith is a gift. But there are means that God has ordained through which the gift comes. And so here’s another one.
Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God (1 Samuel 23:16).
Isn’t that a great picture? He strengthened his hand. Someone could say, “Oh what’s wrong with you David. Why can’t you be strong in the Lord and not need Jonathan?” Well, because God has ordained that there will be a church, that there will be believers, and that there will be small groups and clusters of friendships and people around you who, when you start to sink, are taking your hand and they’re strengthening you. They’re saying things you need to hear. And they’re standing by you through thick and thin. God ordained for his grace to come through people. It’s all over the Bible.
And you could say, “Well, I think he would get more glory if he did it directly, instead of through people.” Well, you can say that, but that’s probably just not true, because not only does he have to bless you in order for you to be graciously treated through somebody, but he has to bless them as well. And so you got two people giving thanks to God instead of one. So how do you quantify the glory of God?
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12).
Isn’t that amazing? Encourage one another day after day. Don’t go very long without being around people who encourage you. That’s why we put small groups as part of the meat and potatoes of this church. If people opt out of the small group life of the church, I’m hoping and praying that they’ve got a network of people that are doing that pretty regularly for them. Because if you forsake this, you forsake one of the crucial means of grace. It is not easy to be a Christian by yourself. It’s not easy to be a Christian, period.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise (Prov 13:20).
10. The Patience Needed to Persevere
Be patient in the night of God’s seeming absence.
This is almost the same as gutsy guilt. I just want you to see the waiting piece. We didn’t stress that there. One of the first messages I gave, I don’t know if it’s online or not, was an evening message. I was doing some Psalms in the first summer here. I came in the summer of 1980, and I remember a few sermons. But I remember this one, and it was called In the Pits with a King. And it was based on Psalm 40. Here’s king David, and he’s in the pits. And there are lots of lessons about being in the pit here. He says:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
That’s pretty good evangelism. Pit-dwelling is a good preparation for evangelism. Do you agree with that? Isn’t that what it says? He says, “I waited.” And where are you waiting? In the pit, in the miry clay. How long?
There was a man here named Bob. He has gone to be with the Lord now, but he was depressed for eight years. He was so depressed that he was like a zombie at home with his wife during the day. Some days he would walk around, and she would go to the bathroom and he would just come to stand by the bathroom door. And when she opened the door he would just go and follow her. This was serious depression for eight years.
And he came out of it. For years he was out of it. He came to prayer meetings over and over again for years. He became a mighty warrior in prayer. And if you asked him, “What happened, Bob?” He would say, “I memorized Scripture, and the word broke in.” So he was an unbelievable Scripture memorizer. He carried little cards around and he gave them out to everybody.
Now, the cheap response to that would be, “So why did it take eight years? What’s with the word of God?” And I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know how long David waited. I don’t know. I’m glad it doesn’t tell us. Was it for three weeks, three months, or three years? I’m glad it doesn’t tell us because it leaves it open-ended for you. All I know is if you’re there in the pit, in the miry clay, wait for the Lord. Don’t throw in the towel.
So many people just say, “I’m out of here. Christianity is not real. I’m quitting. It’s over. There’s horrible, miry clay clinging on my feet. I’m out of here.” But he waited. And the Lord inclined to him and heard his cry. How many times did he cry? Was it 100 times, 1,000 times? He says, “He lifted me up out of the pit.” And then look at the effect of it. It says, “He put a song in my mouth.” He was able to sing again, and the effect of that song, after that waiting, was that people trusted in the Lord. Nothing you go through is in vain. Nothing is in vain.
11. Bodily Discipline
Get the rest, exercise, and proper diet that your body was designed by God to have.
This is so nitty-gritty. Maybe someone is thinking, “Why did you include that? That’s not very spiritual.” You’re right, it’s not. It’s just unbelievably important.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:1–2).
Quit getting up so early and staying up so late, trying to prove you’re God by managing your life. Just go to bed like a little baby, and let the Lord minister to you in your sleep. Isn’t it amazing? This book I wrote called When I Don’t Desire God has a big section basically on how the body relates to joy. How does the body relate to worship? How does the body relate to all kinds of things?
We are embodied souls, and the link between all of our spiritual life and this body is so close, who can even imagine it? Nobody has ever fathomed the mystery of the connection between the brain and the soul. Those who don’t believe in Christianity would say, “Of course, there is no such thing as a soul, and all you are is a brain. And everything we call ‘spiritual affections’ or ‘worship’ is just chemical things going on in your brain.” Now there’s a partial truth in that. Because I’m talking right now and all kinds of synapses are firing away in my brain. You could be reductionistic and interpret everything I’m saying, everything I’m feeling, and everything I’m thinking in terms of it being totally chemical, electrical, and physical. You could. But hardly anybody is willing to live that way.
Imagine if you fell in love and she said, “Those are just chemicals. You say you love me, but they’re just twitches in your brain. This is no different than the earthworm. It’s just more sophisticated.” Nobody lives that way. Everybody on the planet who’s a human being at some point necessarily interprets their life supra-physically. Otherwise, it loses all of its meaning. And one of the tragic things about our day with naturalistic evolution is that we are trying our best to teach our children that they are nothing but physical beings. We should not be surprised then when they behave like dogs in heat when we teach that there is no significant moral difference between goats jumping on each other and human beings jumping on each other. We’ve taught them there is no big difference. It’s just a gradation of sophisticated, evolutionary, physical phenomena.
But if you believe that there’s a God who created us, who means to do us good and has a way that we live that is wholesome, pure, good, and right, and it glorifies him and brings deep satisfaction to us, then there comes significance into your life.
The Fruit of the Spirit
Try to think through eating, exercising, and sleeping. I’ll just give you a concrete illustration of how I struggle with this. I remember there was a day in Germany around 1972 where it just clobbered me that patience — it says in Galatians 5:22 — is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. That’s what it says. The fruit of Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, etc.
Now patience means that your fuse is long. Your trigger is not a hair trigger. You’re slow to anger. You treat people with grace. If they say something hurtful, you don’t immediately strike back. There is patience. We all know what patience is. You’re in a line and it’s going very slow, and you’re not fuming. You’re in traffic, like I was last night, and you’re not fuming. We know what patience is. And the Bible says it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Well, it hit me that day, “Wait a minute. Patience is a fruit of sleep.” For me anyway, if I miss a night of sleep, or if I get, say two five-hour nights in a row, I’m irritable. My fuse is way shorter. My trigger is a hair trigger. Don’t get too close to me with anything negative, because you might pay. That’s what the lack of sleep does to me.
So how can you call it a fruit of the Spirit when it’s a fruit of sleep? That’s the question that you ask over and over. You can do the same thing with food. If you get hungry, you get crabby. I’ve done serious fasting back when I was younger, when I could do more serious fasting without dying, and I’ll tell you, I saw some stuff in my heart I didn’t want to see. If you go two or three days without food, man, you can get mad in a hurry. So it’s sleep and it’s food. And I know for a fact that if I stopped running — I run three mornings a week, and I beat my body trying to stay fit and be healthy — I would get more discouraged and be more depressed. Stuff is produced in my brain, endorphins or whatever they’re called, and they function like antidepressants made by God. That’s true. It’s designed that way.
So now you’ve got exercise, you’ve got sleep, and you’ve got food, all feeding these so-called spiritual realities of patience. What’s the deal? And my answer to that is, God made us this way. And one of the ways, not the only way, that the Holy Spirit produces his fruit is by making you humble enough to go to bed and stop trying to be God. Go to bed like a little child. Isn’t it humiliating? Sometimes I think, “Why, God, would you ordain for somebody with an ambition and a love of work like mine, to have to be unconscious a third of his life?” I find sleep so incredibly boring. I hate sleep. I want to read. I want to work. I want to write. I want to do stuff. Then I think, “I’ve got to get to bedtime, shoot.” Why would God do that? Very simple:
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).
Unless you’re humble enough to let God be God and run the world, and you just totally become helpless and unconscious for seven or eight hours a day, you’re going to die. He set it up that way. So I think the work of the Holy Spirit inclines us to eat right, inclines us to exercise right, and inclines us to rest right, in order that he might bear fruits through our body.
And if you know that eating too much caffeine makes you get a headache when you don’t have it, you’re probably hooked and you should somehow break it, and on and on. I won’t read this, but Jonathan Edwards worked hard to find those foods and exercises that would maximize his joy in God.
12. A Proper Use of Nature
Make a proper use of God’s revelation in nature.
I think I’ve said enough about that along the way. There’s a quote from Spurgeon that I love, but I won’t read it.
13. Reading the Works of Great Saints
Read great books about God and biographies of great saints.
This is simply applying to those who are dead what we said about hanging out with godly people in life. There are people in this room you should hang out with, who are godly, who will strengthen you and sharpen you. And there are a few hundred dead people that you should get to know, and you should read their books, because they will be used by God to strengthen your faith and increase your joy.
14. The Practice of Self-Sacrifice
Do hard and loving things for the sake of others.
Isaiah 58 says that when you pour yourself out for others, you become like a watered garden. It’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).
15. The Global Cause of Christ
Get a global vision for the cause of Christ, and pour yourself into the unreached.
This is simply saying that not everybody should be a missionary, but God is after the world. He wants to redeem people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and until we get our souls around the world, our souls are probably going to stay smaller than they should be. If you want the capacity to feel as much joy as you can feel, then enlarge your heart to include the whole world, and pray down God’s blessing on the entire world.
So, to sum it all up, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And the reason we, as sinners, can be satisfied in him, is that Christ died in our place. He took all of our sins. He provided the righteousness we need. He took hold of us so that all of our questing after joy is questing from a standpoint of forgiveness and a standpoint of justification. We’re already vindicated in the courtroom of God. We’re not questing out of a sense of insecurity. We’re resting in him. He bought us by his blood and righteousness. And now, in that confidence, that gutsiness, we fall sometimes, we walk sometimes, and we’re pursuing maximum joy — fullness of joy forever. Psalm 16:11 says:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.