Jack Graham - Choosing Joy Over Sadness
We need to make decisions that produce positive outcomes. Now what I'm about to say is more than positive thinking. Now I believe in positive thinking, I do. Positive thinking is so much better than negative thinking. But more than positive thinking is biblical thinking. And the book of Proverbs is full of information as to how we are to skillfully and wisely trek our way through life, In chapter 17 of Proverbs and verse 22, this is our key scripture today: "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones".
Now I know it's difficult to stay up in a down world, and there's so much despondency and discouragement and depression in the world today! The recession, the financial problems that we've all known about, the wars and rumors of wars in our world, health issues, the crisis of health or the breakdown of a relationship. There is so much pessimism today! And we shouldn't be surprised because in 2 Timothy chapter 3 the first 3 verses, the Scripture talks about these days as the last days. "Understand this, that in the last days there will be times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless", that's a cruel word, isn't it? "Heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good".
If you watch the news media, if you read the newspaper, that sounds like the front page, doesn't it? Watching these scriptures fulfilled before our eyes can be downright discouraging. And yet, those of us who are followers of Jesus, those of us who have experienced His life and therefore, His joy and His peace and His purpose in our lives, we should live with an outrageous and contagious joy! Joy that is continual! Now continual I say because it is different than human happiness. Human happiness is based upon circumstances, what happens to us. I've said it before: If what happens to you happens to make you happy, then it will just so happen that you'll happen to be happy. But if what happens to you happens not to make you happy then it will just so happen that you will happen not to be happy. Get it?
You know it's all about the happenings in our lives. We will never live this side of eternity, in a perfect world! I'm not happy all the time! There is a time for tears! There's a time for grief! There's a time for sorrow! But we sorrow not as those who have no hope. And because we have a hope in Jesus the tears only wash our eyes so that we can see Him more clearly. We can, in spite of our circumstances choose a joyful attitude! We can choose misery and sadness or depression or defeat, or we can choose confidence and certainty and optimism and hope and yes, joy! This is what happened to the Apostle Paul in prison! He said in Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice"!
This wasn't Paul the professor, this wasn't Paul the preacher, this wasn't Paul the theologian; this is Paul the prisoner in the most extreme conditions and circumstances, saying rejoice, and just in case we didn't hear it the first time, "Rejoice in the Lord, again, always I say rejoice"! Everyday is sweeter than the day before if you choose the joy of Jesus! Life is about our choices. You can get up in the morning and be down and be negative. I've found in my own life that you know it's about the first 15 or 20 minutes that can set the pattern for my whole day. And you know, I've tried through the years to be a morning person, but I still wonder how I can go to bed feeling so right with God and wake up feeling so back-slidden and so out of fellowship. I mean, am I the only one like that?
So we have to learn how to get up early and get going with our lives. And make those choices early with praise to God! The first words out of our mouths should be praise to God! Out of our hearts as we get up, to express our joy! That this is God's good day! One of the great things that Americans loved and the world loved about Ronald Reagan was his cheerful disposition. When he was nearly assassinated, he's going into surgery, bleeding to death, we really didn't know at the time how seriously he was injured, but almost bleeding to death, his life ebbing away, when the surgeon entered the room to say he was going to operate, he looked up at him, smiled and said, "I hope you're a Republican"! That's joy and humor and laughter in every situation! So how can we know this joy? If "A merry heart does good like a medicine," what is this medicine that produces a merry heart?
Number one, let's call it revelation. A simpler way to put it is read God's Word! Receive God's wisdom! Look at Proverbs chapter 7, verses 1, 2 and 3: "My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teachings as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; and write them on the tablet of your heart". Chapter 16 of Proverbs, verse 20 is another one: "Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed". And that word can mean happiness, genuine authentic joy and happiness. "Blessed" is beyond human happiness; it's God's happiness to be blessed. "And blessed is he who trusts in the Lord".
Proverbs 30, verse 5 says: "Every word of God proves true; and he is a shield to those who take refuge in him". So when we take refuge in the Word of God, when we open the Word of God to saturate and bathe our souls in the Scripture, we're beginning to see things from God's perspective. Remember our definition of wisdom? Wisdom is seeing things from God's perspective. So the world comes against us. All the beatings and the problems that we know and experience, and we can lose perspective. We can start looking around and about. But when we are in the Word, when we seek God's revelation, we discover wisdom which is perspective on life. We see things from God's perspective. We learn to shield ourselves in the promises of God. We learn to experience His living presence in the Word, not only to know the Word of God but to know the God of the Word! We read our Bibles.
Proverbs 12:25 says: "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down". Literally anxiety produces depression. You want to know what produces depression? Anxiety produces depression, weighs us down, "but a good word makes him glad". This good word of God will gladden your heart, strengthen your soul, and give you perspective on life when the fears and the anxieties and the pressures and the tensions and the stresses of life are weighing you down. So the first thing in order to discover joy in your life is to know the joy of the Scriptures. The Bible talks about the Scriptures bringing rejoicing to the soul. And I can track my own life and during times of great stress and problems and hurt I go back to my journal, I go back to the scriptures that I was reading at that time and those marks sometimes with tears on the pages, the underlines, the highlights of those verses when God spoke to me in dark days and dark moments and difficult times.
This is the way we find joy in the midst of difficulty and hurt and pain. The Word of God! Second thing, exaltation. In other words, worship. Our scripture says "A merry heart does good like a medicine". The Bible says, addressing one another with "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody from your heart". We ought to wash our face everyday in the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ! Psalms 66:1, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord"! To praise Him even in this storm! To praise Him in the midst of this situation! Rejoice in the Lord always. Not just when circumstances and situations are turning our way, when we are problem free, but to praise Him in the midst of the most difficult times of our lives! To offer the sacrifice of praise.
I've discovered in life that we don't feel our way into acting, but rather we act our way into feeling. And even when we don't feel like worshiping, even when we don't feel like praising God, when we act in accordance to His word and bring our praises to Him regardless of how we feel, guess what happens? When we lift Him up, we get lifted up, our souls into the presence of the Lord. Lift up your head, look to the Lord. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace".
You've had the experience no doubt of being on an airplane on a dark day, thunders rolling, clouds, it's dark, can't see the sun, lightning bolts. You wonder if you can make it through. The airplane takes off, it shutters just a little bit. Up, up, up, up, up it goes through the clouds, through the rain, through the storm and on to the other side, and then that quiet blue stream, that jet stream in the air where the sun is shining on the other side of the clouds. There truly is in Christ a silver lining in the clouds. A beauty and a blessedness and a cheerful heart in the midst of the storm.
Back to Paul, when Paul and Silas were in jail for preaching the Gospel at Philippi; midnight, it's dark physically, it's dark spiritually and emotionally. Paul must have turned to Silas and said, "Let's sing something". "Sing something? Paul, do you realize the trouble we're in here"? "Yeah, let's sing Amazing Grace". And those two guys begin to sing in that prison and God shook the place, brought the walls down. The jailor and his family came to Christ. It was revival at midnight. All because two men, rather than gripping and grousing and complaining and getting down and defeated and giving up, they lifted up their praise and their exaltation to God! Jesus said, Matthew 11:28, "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest".
Now if you're not a believer in the Lord Jesus, life will never make sense this side of eternity, or on the other side of eternity. Solomon, who gave us so many of the proverbs, shared his story in the book of Ecclesiastes, and as he described his life before coming to know the reality of God, he talked about pursuing pleasure and that didn't work; he talked about pursuing profit, making money, that didn't work; he talked about pursuing delicacies and food and enjoyment of all kinds. He was the king; he had power, he had everything, but he concluded without God in his life, "Vanities of vanities"! It's all nothing! Just a big zero. You know the problem with people who don't know Christ? It's not so much that they live vile lives, but that they live vain lives. Empty lives!
God has a will and a purpose and a plan for you. He wants you to experience His grace and His power! And you can try all the pleasures in the world and seek happiness at every level, but you will never know true joy, lasting joy, eternal happiness until you know Christ! Until you've come to Him. Third thing, what I'm going to call occupation, which is involvement in life. One of the problems that we have when we're down and defeated is that we want to stay there. We're tired, we're out of commission, and therefore, what do we need to do? We need a new challenge in life. We need a reason to get up out of bed rather than just the alarm clock! You have a reason to get up every morning besides just hearing that alarm clock? The work of our hands, doing something productive and doing something meaningful!
That's essential for life! Just read some longevity studies this morning in the newspaper and those who quit early in life typically don't live as long as those who keep trekking, keep working, keep doing something productive in their lives! So what do the Proverbs say? Proverbs 12:14: "From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of man's hand comes back to him". In contrast to that, Proverbs 13:4 says, "The soul of a sluggard craves and gets nothing. (Just a zero, vanity) while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied". Proverbs 16:3: "Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established". Or how about this one, again in contrast? You want sadness, here's a sure recipe for sadness. Proverbs 19:15, "Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep and an idle person will suffer hunger". Not only the hunger of the body, but the hunger of the soul. Proverbs 21:5 "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance". Proverbs 21:25-26: "The desire of the sluggards kills him for his hands refuse labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back".
You want joy? Find your joy in doing something meaningful with your life! Many need a new challenge! You need a new goal in your life! Just laying on the couch every day and punching the remote and overeating and feeling sorry for ourselves won't cut it! You have to force yourself to get off your back, to get up and get going! Force yourself to move! That includes healthy eating and regular exercise, but I think the best cure of all is strong work, hard work especially when it has meaning for your family and your faith!
You say, "Well, I'm just stuck in a rut with this terrible job I have. Hate my job! I'm stuck in it for the rest of my life"! Well, then find a volunteer opportunity! Volunteer in a ministry in your church. Start a new business! That thing you've always dreamed about! The thing you've been doing with your hands. Maybe God has put something in your heart a dream that you need to fulfill and act on! Go ahead if God gives you the go. Agreeing to coach kids in sports. One of the reason we have our Prestonwood sports organizations is to allow children to be coached by great men and women who have faith to be able to communicate that faith with others. Agree to get involved with a student group. Join a Bible fellowship class! Don't quit! Don't give up! Look for new opportunities that will produce enthusiasm in your life!
Passion, hear me, passion about something produces energy! I think about Caleb. He and Joshua came through that terrible trek through the desert. Everyone was dying out. It was a terrible, long desperate condition. These men weathered through and finally came to the Promised Land. Moses is gone, Joshua's leading, they're now ready to enter into the Promised Land. And Caleb who is now, get this, 85 years young. I say young because listen to it in Joshua 14:
"And now, behold, the Lord", this is Caleb speaking, "And now, behold the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim", and these were giant and fierce warriors, "the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. And it may be that the Lord will be with me and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said".
He said, "Don't send me a rocking chair! Don't put me out to pasture! Don't give me the pasture land over here! Give me that mountain! I'm not going to quit! Those Anakim! Just let me at 'em! Don't quit on life". Don't say, "I'm tired or I'm retired". As Zig says, "Don't retire, refire"! Get your life in ministry! Keep believing and achieving in your life, especially in the work of Christ. Many of you at mid-life are finding that success doesn't really fulfill. That what you're looking for is significance and that significance is found in your relationship with God and your occupation with the things of God. Jesus said in Revelation 3: "Be faithful unto death"! May God give us the strength to our dying breath to be occupied for Him! Keep our eyes on Him!
And then finally, this "merry heart medicine" is produced by associations, the right kind of associations. Let me give you a few of these great Proverbs. Proverbs 17:17: "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity". But in contrast, "A man of many companions", Proverbs 18:24, "A man of many companions may come to ruin". That speaks to those that are just external friends, or the people we see, many companions, you know, it takes a lot of time and effort to have a real friend. And a brother-friend is born for adversity. Proverbs 27:36: "Faithful are the wounds of a friend". You know, a doctor may cut you open. Doesn't feel good but that's a faithful wound from a friend who's trying to help you. Sometimes friends speak truths into our life and speak to us forthrightly in order to help us.
Proverbs 27:9 and 19: "Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel". "As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man". Loneliness and isolation will rob you of joy. The last thing you need to do when you're down is to cut yourself off from the worship with God's people, to cut yourself off from your family and your friends, turn out the light, shut the door! That only makes you more lonely which makes you more depressed and more discouraged. And in contrast to that whole idea of having great friends, if you want to have real joy in your life, get rid of defiling associations, people that bring you down. People that are negative, the slanderers, the gossipers, the people that are always hating and despising. That's a downer.
Proverbs 13:20 says: "The companion of fools will suffer harm". Don't hang around foolish people. Proverbs 22:24: "Make no friendship with a man given to anger". Stay away from those things that are downers, including people and activities. You know we talked about alcohol in another message. Alcohol is a depressant! Stay away from it! Reconnect with old friends. Be faithful to your family. There's joy and laughter even in the bad times. Reach out to others. Have some people that can talk with you and help you; friends that will hold you up! Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up"!
You want God to heal your hurts and your sorrow and your pain? Receive the love and the grace of your friends, but not only receive friendship but give friendship and love away. The God of all comfort will comfort us and with the comfort with which we are comforted, we comfort others. You see, self-pity is the source of all of this and self-pity's not just a problem; self-pity's a sin. Self-pity, selfishness is turning inward rather than reaching outward. There is joy in life, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Handel, the great musician, had a paralyzing stroke. So what did he do? Did he lay in bed and quit? No, he wrote the Messiah including the "Hallelujah Chorus". Even in your mess there is music if you know the Lord Jesus Christ.