Good morning! I’m glad you’re here today. I’m Peter, and we are headed into week two of our series The Pursuit of Joy. Last week we found out that Happiness and Joy are two different things. If you missed last week, you can catch up on the podcast.
This past week, I got November’s National Geographic and Look what the cover story is for this month- “The Search For Happiness”. It was an interesting article that listed Costa Rica, Denmark, and Singapore as the most joyful places on the planet. My hunch was correct, that the United States didn’t even make it into the top ten of the happiest places to live in the world.
Aristotle has said that “True Happiness comes from a life of meaning. Of doing what’s worth doing.” And according to National Geographic, we are missing the boat here in the United States. And yet I’m not surprised because here in America we are sold a different story. We are told that true happiness comes when you are healthy, wealthy, and wise. But in order to get there you may miss out on what Aristotle says doing what’s worth doing. I found it ironic that on the front of the magazine it says, “THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS” and then on the back of the very same magazine is this ad.
“JOY- The all new Camry”. They aren’t selling a car here. They are selling a feeling. Why? Because if they only sell you a car, they can only sell you one of those every 5-10 years. But if they sell you on the feeling of a new car, they’ve got you hooked every 12 months, every new edition, every upgrade. And that thing that once caused you to be happy now leaves you feeling disappointed. That disappointment is like a set of binoculars for our feelings. Every little thing amplifies what we are feeling.
I went to the manufacturers website to see just what was new about this…
- Toyota Safety Sense™ P (TSS-P)
- Bi-LED combination headlights with auto on/off feature
- Entune™ 3.0 Audio with Connected Navigation and App Suite
- Black front grille
- Integrated backup camera with projected path
My favorite is the black front grille! That was note worthy…
And yet, if only our feelings stopped at disappointment — but they don’t do they. Remember this chart? Our experiences cause us to feel Elation and disappointment, but even more than just disappointment, and the sense of being let down our experiences, our life can cause us to feel pain in ways that we didn’t know was possible. And in those moments of pain, we are left asking the question, ‘How do I feel happy again? How do I experience joy?’ The binoculars come up again, and all we can see is the pain up close and personal.
In 2004 my pastor was fired from his church. This was an incredibly painful time in my life because my pastor also happened to be my dad. You often hear of Lead Pastors who are fired for moral failure, running off with the secretary, things like that. But in this case, there was none of that. There was no moral failure, nor was there a secret addiction. There was a problem though. My dad was not sleeping. He was consistently exhausted, and one Sunday, in the middle of his message his mind couldn’t form the next sentence, and he had to sit down. After a 3-month sabbatical, in which one of the pastoral staff members aggressively undermined my dad’s leadership, the board decided that they no longer needed my Dad, and they called him in on a Friday afternoon and fired him.
This was the church that I grew up in. There were men who made this decision whom I trusted and had grown up respecting and looking up to. And in a moment, literally the span of a short phone call, my world was shattered. My world became small and everything was focused on my pain. Everything I knew was shaken. And little did I know at the time, that this was only the beginning of a very painful journey that would ultimately end with my dad becoming terminally ill.
Pain is a part of life. Pain is all over the place. It isn’t unique to me. Some of you came into church this morning filled with pain and disappointment.
For some of you right now, you are living in relational pain. Whether it’s with a wayward child, or a spouse that has been unfaithful to you. Somewhere along the way, your relationship which you thought was going to be so perfect, ended up going sideways. And it’s caused you to see nothing else.
Some others of you resonate a bit more with my dad’s story, and it’s a doctor’s diagnosis that you’ve been given that has rocked your world. You’ve heard words and had to learn how to pronounce words that you never knew existed. You almost feel paralyzed by the prognosis. And all you can see is the pain.
Maybe it’s actually something entirely different for you. Maybe you show up to work and there is so much drama there, so much infighting, and back stabbing… Maybe you’ve been betrayed by a boss or a coworker. Your workplace may be such a toxic environment that it is actually poisoning your spirit and blinding your vision.
Pain is all around us, it is inevitable. Some have said that there are three stages of pain, either you are Going into a season of pain, you are in pain, or you are getting out of pain. Which means that you and I need to understand what to do when we are in the midst of pain, we need to learn how to manage pain.
The apostle Paul is no stranger to pain. The apostle Paul, the same man who wrote almost half of the new testament says this about his experience in life so far. Look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27
24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Paul knows a little bit about pain, and yet there is something else that Paul knows, and that is that Even in Pain JOY is Possible. We said last week that our circumstances don’t define you, nor do they define your joy. Joy isn’t situational.
Paul wrote a letter to the Christian community in Philippi, which is in modern day Greece. And in this letter, Paul instructs the Philippians over and over again to rejoice! To have Joy! Turn in your Bible to Philippians 4: 4-9, which is found on page 804 in the Bibles around you. While you’re turning there, let me tell you that the irony of this statement Paul makes is that Paul is writing this letter while currently in Roman prison being held under a capital charge. Look at what Paul says to the Philippian Church.
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
REJOICE—have JOY! Rejoice when? ALWAYS PAUL SAYS! There is no caveat on when, or when you don’t have to… It is just DO IT! IN the next several verses Paul gives us a hint as to how we are to have joy even when we don’t feel like it, or when our situation is overwhelmingly painful. He says, Remain Calm.
One of the first things that people do in pain is panic. They get worried and worked up. Pain has a way of doing that to you. I get a stomach ache and I’m like, “Sweet Jesus, please just take me home! Finish me off.” And yet Paul says, Remain Calm.
We’re to not be anxious.
Great, that’s easy to say, but what about when you’re the one in pain. What now? Well, Paul has an answer for that too. He says, we’re to tell God our needs, and thank Him for where we are, and all we have. Even in the midst of pain.
After my dad was fired as the Senior Pastor, I’ll never forget one of the last Thanksgiving’s we would spend together as a family. The meal was finished and my Dad took out his bible and read Psalm 16… which says,
“The Lord is my portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.” He went on to read vs. 11 which says, “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of Joy; in your right hand there are pleasures forever.” This was the last sermon my dad ever preached. It was to a handful of family members, but to this day I’ve never forgotten my dad’s peace in the midst of his emotional and physical pain.
Inside I was a wreck. I can remember quietly crying on my wife, Tiffany’s shoulder, not wanting my dad to see me. I couldn’t see anything outside of my own pain.
Paul says, in order to have Joy in the midst of pain, we need to remain calm. And this calm that Paul talks about is a supernatural calm, a peace from God, that goes above our understanding and it is available to anyone in pain that cries out to God.
This may be what you need to do today. You may just need to stop thrashing in the water, and look up and ask for help!
Paul goes on in verse 8 and says,
8Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Too often in the midst of our pain, our mind gets directed by our pain. IN fact, our focus is pulled to the source of your pain. That’s the way that your nervous system works. The nerve endings in your body are little receptors that tell your brain what is going on in that part of the world. Step on a nail, and your body tells you to walk gingerly. Touch something hot, and your body tells you to pull your hand away. Pain focuses your attention and directs your action.
But Paul says something totally different. Paul says that we are to Find your Focus. Pain will focus your attention. But what it is focused on is up to you. Paul says, focus on what is true. What is Noble. What is Right. What is Pure. What is lovely. What is admirable. He says, THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS!
This past weekend, we witnessed yet another horrific tragedy, this time in Sutherland Springs, TX. This past Sunday, an armed man, walked into the back of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, and took the life of 26 men, women and children in that church. Of the 26 people who lost their lives 8 of them were from one family–The Holcombe’s.
All at once, Joe and Claryce Holcombe lost children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a future great-grandchild. This couple is looking across three generations that they raised, or help raise, and they have outlived them all. No parent wants to bury their child— let alone 8 of your family members. And yet, in this moment, when pain is it’s fiercest, do you know what Joe and Claryce Holcombe were doing? These two Great Grandparents hosted a group of people at their home on Sunday to pray as they waited for details about the deceased.
“It’s of course going to be difficult,” Joe Holcombe said. But, he said, “we are Christians; we have read the book. We know the ending, and it’s good. They’re in heaven”.
In their moment of pain, the Holcombes Find their focus. They chose what they would focus on. And they focused on the things that were true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable. The Holcombes focused on Jesus!
What is stealing your attention these days? What is getting your focus? Pain will focus your attention… what are you allowing it to be focused on? Can you say that it is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable?
To maintain your joy in the midst of pain, Find Your Focus.
Finally Paul closes his thoughts in verse 9 with this;
9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
In the midst of our pain, we’re typically willing to try anything once. And yet, Paul says that we should put it into practice. Put these things that he has instructed the Philippian church into practice. We’re to go and do it. Practice implies that we’ll keep working at it. In fact, we need to Be Consistent.
For years I’ve had allergies that are annoying at most. I’ve never really been able to get them under control. At one of my last doctors appointments, I spoke with the doctor and told her of my frustration with my allergies. She asked me if I had tried a certain medicine, and I said yes but that it didn’t work. To which she replied, did you do it consistently for a month? The reality is that I didn’t. I used it for a few days and when I felt like it didn’t work, I quit doing it. She said, you have to use that medicine for 18 days straight before it will start to take effect.
Too many of us lack in consistency, we lack in follow through. We lack in the ability to BE CONSISTENT. We’re in pain, whether self-inflicted, or brought on by others, and we look to God once a week or once a month, and feel like He’s not doing anything to solve our crisis. Yet, we lack the consistent implementation that Paul talks about. True Joy is not going to come from a one-time conversation with God where we talk Him into our desires, True Joy comes from aligning our self with God’s desires.
It is no accident that Paul refers to God as the God of Peace. Paul has lived in pain. He’s been on the run from every kind of danger and yet throughout it all he consistently focused on Christ. He put it into practice. He worked it out. He developed stronger faith muscles, that in turn caused him to be faithful.
I wonder if some consistency in your life would help as you find your way to maintain joy in the midst of your pain. To consistently find Joy in the Lord. To consistently choose connection with God, not just when you’re feeling the need for it. To consistently focus your mind on the things that honor God.
Do you know what was remarkable about that time around the Thanksgiving Dinner with my dad? It wasn’t the fact that my dad opened his bible, or the fact that he read scripture to our family. It wasn’t the fact that we prayed and thanked God for the good things in our life. It was the fact that He did it consistently, when He was healthy and when he was not. He did it when things were good, and when things weren’t. I had witnessed my dad do these things for the past 25 years, and in this moment, when everything inside of me wanted to sit this one out, to tap out, or choose an easier way, it was my dad’s Consistency, or faithfulness that got me.
Consistency isn’t easy, it requires you to push through and endure, but it leads to greater growth, and greater joy.
I know that some of you have experienced some of the hardest days in your life recently. You may have been hoping for a quick fix, an answer that you could put into place right now to cause it to all go away. Sometimes God heals the brokenness instantly, and that is a miracle! While other times God allows the process of healing to take place over time.
I can’t promise you a simple quick fix. But what I can promise you is that your pain will focus you on something or someone. Let me encourage you to focus on Christ no matter what your circumstance.
Maybe while I have been speaking, there is a relationship that has come to mind. A relationship where you feel hurt and betrayed. What if you focused on Christ, and saw that relationship the way that Christ would see it. What if instead of seeing someone who is angry, aggressive, and spiteful, you saw someone who needs to experience Christ’s forgiveness, and peace that comes from that forgiveness?
Or maybe you’ve been suffering quietly with a diagnosis that you haven’t told anyone yet. And instead of allowing the diagnosis to paralyze you, you saw the diagnosis as an opportunity for God’s healing power to work on your behalf and for God’s glory. How would that change your perspective?
This morning I want to give you an opportunity to choose your focus. I want to invite you to intentionally think of the place in your life where you need to focus more on Christ than your situation. This may be at home, at work… What if we allowed our focus to be solely on what Jesus has done on the cross for you. See, when Christ’s pain was the greatest, His focus was on you.
2000 years ago, Jesus walked the earth, and was hated by the Jewish Authorities, and despised by the Roman Rulers. And they would do anything to get their hands on Him to put Him to death and stop His radical message of Grace and Truth. And yet, Jesus knew that there was a world filled with pain, filled with heartache, filled with brokenness that desperately needed this message He had.
One night he told his disciples, that in just a few hours, he would be betrayed by one of them, arrested, and hung on a cross to die. He symbolized this death by taking a loaf of bread and breaking it and saying this is my body, it will be broken for you. Then he took a cup and said this cup symbolizes my blood, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
Christ new that it was our sin that separated us from God. Our sin prevented us from having the type of relationship with God that brings complete joy. And in the midst of our pain, our heartache, Jesus endured the greatest pain there is. He was tortured, beaten, and hung on a cross to die so that you and I could know peace. Peace with God, Peace with others, and Peace with our self. No amount of pain would move Jesus’ focus from you.
Today, we are going to celebrate communion together. And I want to encourage you to do something differently today. Maybe you’ve taken communion a hundred times before. Today I want to invite you to take a moment right now and think of that are that you need to focus solely on God over your circumstance. That area of pain, and heartache. Today before you take communion, let me remind you that Christ died for that. He died for that person, he died for that situation, for that pain, for that sin. Jesus died so that you and I would know life, and we would have life to the full. That in our life we would experience Joy! And Joy that can’t be robbed by our circumstance.
I want you to take 30 seconds to thank God for what Jesus did for us. That He took on the pain so we didn’t have to live in pain. In the quietness of where you are will you offer to God your pain, and focus your heart on how much He loves you this morning.