may 17

A Joyful Life

As I prepared the sermon this week, my mind got stuck on John 17:13. Jesus is praying his final prayer for the disciples before his crucifixion and says, “But now I am coming to you (God the Father), and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”

What does it mean that Jesus’ words might bring joy made complete? What does completed joy look like? Feel, taste, sound, or smell like? I wish I could stand up here and offer a short ‘how-to’ message on experiencing a joyful life. But as most people here already know, there is no such thing as unending sunshine with the smell of roses. Life includes sunshine and rain, deserts and snowstorms, joy and grief, and everything in between.

Faith isn’t a spell that will make everyday in your life wonderful. We are sinful people who live in a sinful world. God said to Adam and Eve that there would be consequences for sinful actions. And we continue to live in that tension. But Jesus said that through him, joy would be made complete. And according to his prayer that we read today, that joy isn’t reserved solely for a future day in heaven. It is meant to be experienced in this life as well. So while I don’t have a guaranteed checklist to live on cloud 9 for the rest of your life, I can share a few thoughts from Scripture that will nurture the foundation of a joyful spirit.

First and foremost, dare to love. In today’s text, John says to obey God’s commandments. God is love and Jesus said that all of the commandments hang on this…to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. I’m not talking about Greek aros (romantic) love. I mean Agape (redemptive, forgiving, and spontaneous) love. The type of compassion you feel for people when you watch tv coverage of a natural disaster. Or the feeling you get when you generously give to someone in need. Their beliefs, cultures, and social or financial status doesn’t matter at the time. You just feel moved to help. Love is going to bring you joy and sometimes it will be the source of great pain. Jesus understands love and promises that we will be made complete in it.

Secondly, practice forgiveness. In Matthew 6:14 we read, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” It doesn’t matter if we feel like it or not. Forgiving others will release burdens of resentment and bitterness while the conviction of pride will drop you to your knees. There is pain that comes with being wounded by the words or actions of others. You have the choice to live with anger that will poison your spirit and steal your joy. Or you have the ability to forgive by trusting that God will have the final say. There is nothing more humbling and freeing than saying, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” No explanations and no justifications. “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” are the most healing words in all of creation next to “I love you.”

Thirdly, be thankful. God has provided everything you have and need. He has promised to provide for your needs. Believing God (not believing IN God) means trusting that he will follow through with his promises. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” There is nothing we can do that wasn’t first known by God. Be thankful for what God has given you. It was given to you with your best intentions in mind. If he wanted you to have more in this moment, he would have given it to you. While doing your best, be content. Let’s not take our blessings for granted. Joy is found in thankful hearts.

Lastly, follow your callings. You were created by God; uniquely made with a purpose. Some of you may enjoy the sciences and others the arts. You might feel adventurous or prefer routine. Maybe you thrive in front of others or maybe you do better alone. Find out what God is calling you to do with life (beyond jobs). Where are your passions, convictions, and purpose? Pray for God to direct your paths. Ask for honest feedback regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Know the differences and be ok with them. Refine your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses. Don’t be afraid of adversity and challenges. You will grow through them.

And finally, as a summary of all the above, be real with yourself and with others. God created you and loves you. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not. Live the life that God intended for you. Do your best with the gifts, talents, and opportunities that God is giving you. Don’t waste your time worrying about what others have, have done, or don’t have. Wish them well. Pray that God will bless you and your neighbors.

I have described a foundation of life built on faith. Jesus loves you, pours out his grace to you, wants you to be fruitful, and to experience his joy. Trust him, seek him, and pray. He is faithful. Amen.