A Christian Spirit

In contemplating the love of God, it must be understood as an indispensable element in the Christian’s life. Fundamentally, it is also the prerequisite to possessing the graces of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul makes this very clear. He affirms that the fruit of the Spirit is love. Essentially, the believer must be controlled and driven by the Holy Spirit in order for him/her to have this divine attribute, this heavenly principle! That’s why the apostle Paul says, “Walk in the spirit,” for when the believer agrees with the Holy Spirit to “walk in the spirit,” the Holy Spirit brings Christ into the life of the person; thus Christ’s love is shed abroad in the life, and it becomes the ruling principle by which all actions are determined.

When the motive power in the life of the Christian is the love of Jesus, it will henceforth bring about the fruit of joy! It is on this basis that Paul speaks, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,” etc.

Joy is one of the graces of the Holy Spirit which dominates the life of the Christian as a result of possessing the love of Jesus Christ! But the question I would endeavor to answer is, What is joy? Webster’s Dictionary states that it is the emotion of gladness; happiness; gaiety; contentment; satisfaction.

In defining joy, the Holy Scripture declares, “… the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10, last part. The Hebrew word chedvah or khed-vaw means “rejoicing, gladness, joy.”

The word strength as used in Nehemiah 8:10, in association with the joy of the Lord, is the Hebrew word maw-ooz which means a fortified place; a defense, fort, rock, “a stronghold.” So the joy, rejoicing, and gladness that the Lord gives is the Christian’s defense, fortified place, his/her stronghold. The New Testament word joy, as used in Galatians 5:22, is chara and comes from chairo, meaning “to be cheerful, calmly happy or well-off.” Joyfulness is the invigorating tonic of the Christian character. The thing that makes you a strong Christian or a weak one is your possession or deprivation of the joy of the Lord.

On hearing the words of the book of the law, all the people wept. Nehemiah exhorts them to prepare themselves for serving the God of their fathers with a cheerful mind. Nehemiah 8:10: “Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for [this] day [is] holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” These words contain this important truth: to the nature of true religion there belongs an inward joy which animates, strengthens, and supports virtue.

In both Old Testament and New Testament, joy is consistently the mark both individually of the believer and corporately of the church. It is a quality, and not simply an emotion, that is grounded upon God Himself and indeed derived from Him. Psalm 16:11 says, “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence [is] fulness of joy; at thy right hand [there are] pleasures for evermore.” Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: [and] again I say, Rejoice.” Romans 15:13, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost,” which characterizes the Christian’s life on earth. I Peter 1:8 reinforces this in saying, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see [him] not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory,” and also anticipates eschatologically the joy of being with Christ forever in the kingdom of heaven, e.g., Revelation 19:7, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.”

In the Old Testament and the New Testament God Himself is the ground and object of the believers’ “joy.” Psalm 35:9, “And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in his salvation”; Psalm 43:4, “Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.” Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh [himself] with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth [herself] with her jewels.” Luke 1:47, “And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Romans 5:11, “And not only [so], but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” Philippians 3:1, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed [is] not grievous, but for you [it is] safe.” Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: [and] again I say, Rejoice.”

In his book, Conquering the Kill-Joys, 13, Bill Weber made the following remark: “God made each of us with the capacity for greatness and joy, but many people go through life never achieving their full potential. He intends for us to live happy, joyful lives, but so often we are too weighted down with the ‘kill-joys’ of life to even think about being happy. … We were never promised that we would be exempt from problems, but we were assured that our personal faith would be adequate for whatever problems we might face.”

He states further, “It is tragic that so many are missing out on God’s best—even Christians—because they have accepted failure, negative thinking, inferiority feelings, bad habits, and shallow faith as their way of life. They are not receiving all the good things that God has planned for them.

“Jesus wants us to win at life. He promised that if we would follow Him, He would give us abundant life. I believe that abundant life is a life full of joy, full of success and satisfaction—a contagiously happy life. He really wants us to reach our highest potential and maximize every opportunity that He gives us.” Ibid., 13, 14.

Dr. Weber lists eleven negative emotions or forces that definitely kill our joy; they are rejection, anger, resentment, stress, poor self-image, frustration, mediocrity, poor values, isolation, discouragement, and loneliness.

Then there is what I call a counterfeit joy that Satan gives. The servant of the Lord penned the following, “Those who indulge in chaffing, mirth, levity, and vanity of spirit, which arise from a superficial, cheap experience, have no real, solid foundation for hope and joy in the love of God and belief of the truth. The giddy, the heedless, the gay, the jovial spirit is not the joy which Paul is anxious that Christ’s followers shall have. This class spends their time in frivolity and excessive levity.” In Heavenly Places, 245.

Speaking to the Battle Creek Church, Ellen White outlined to them what God had revealed to her. Commenting on what she was given, she said, “But there has been a class of social gatherings in Battle Creek of an entirely different character, parties of pleasure that have been a disgrace to our institutions and to the church. They encourage pride of dress, pride of appearance, self-gratification, hilarity, and trifling. Satan is entertained as an honored guest, and he takes possession of those who patronize these gatherings. A view of one such company was presented to me, where were assembled those who profess to believe the truth. One was seated at the instrument of music, and such songs were poured forth as made the watching angels weep. There was mirth, there was coarse laughter, there was abundance of enthusiasm, and a kind of inspiration; but the joy was such as Satan only is able to create. This is an enthusiasm and infatuation of which all who love God will be ashamed. It prepares the participants for unholy thought and action. I have reason to think that some who were engaged in that scene heartily repented of the shameful performance.” Testimonies to Ministers, 82, 83.

It is indeed true that we live in a world that is entrenched and saturated with these negative emotions and counterfeit joy that do not and cannot bring about real joy, real happiness. People are very sad, unhappy, frustrated, depressed, discouraged, lonely, stressed and distressed, isolated—needing someone who cares. Every day they pass us by, on the street, in church, at the work place and even at home. Their eyes speak to us of their lack; our eyes speak to people of our lack. There is no joy in the Lord. For years many of us as humans, including professed Christians, have not truly smiled or laughed; we are purely artificial, and we do so much to cover up our deficiency. Many are looking for happiness in the wrong places, wrong things, and wrong persons. The youth are being drawn away from the true source of joy and happiness because of their hunger for true joy.

At least one out of every ten people in America today experiences some form of depression and discouragement.

“Hi, how are you?”

It is a standard greeting, said quickly with a smile and slight nod as two acquaintances pass hurriedly along their way. But those words, although usually well-intentioned, ring hollow; void of genuine care about how you really are. The words are superficial, said simply to acknowledge another. Any response other than “fine” would be socially unacceptable. In saying it, one is being friendly—but not a friend.

In his collection of essays, Sir Francis Bacon described this societal solitude in a work entitled, On Friendship:

Little do men perceive what solitude is, and how far it extendeth.

For a crowd is not a company, and faces are but a gallery of

pictures and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.

“Meaningful friends are so needed today. We all need friends who care enough to dip beneath the surface, to truly care how we are inside.” Conquering the Kill-Joys, 114.

“Today, the vast majority of people are frustrated because they feel they have been turned into ‘machines’ that have to be turned on at eight and then turned off at five. Just flip the switch! As one writer lamented:

“I work, work, work without end.

Why and for whom, I know not.

I care not. I ask not.

I am a machine.

“In the modern-day age there is a prevalent sense of desperation about the future of our society that also is creating a deep sense of frustration. Many people hold jobs that are so tightly connected to the economic health of the nation that the slightest fluctuation can either cause great despair or bring needed financial relief.” Ibid., 82, 83.

Americans are more prone to tenseness and stress than any other people on the earth. Americans wear too much expression on their faces. They are living with all their nerves in action, according to one author.

“A visiting nineteenth-century French author once wrote and told his countrymen that an American had ‘invented a chair called a rocking chair, in which he can move while he sits.’ We have been called the ‘uptight generation,’ and rightly so. This is indeed,

“The age of the half-read page

And the quick hash and the mad dash.

The bright night and the nerves tight,

The plane hop, and the brief stop,

The brain strain and the heart pain.

The cat naps till the spring snaps,

And the fun’s done.” Ibid., 56.

There is but little joy left on this earth and the sad fact is that so many professed Christians are not truly joyful or happy. They do not have the anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll.

But we all need to remember that we have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows of anger, rejection, resentment, stress, frustration, discouragement, grief, loneliness, sadness, etc., roll, fastened to the rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in our Savior’s love. The joy of the Lord is our strength, our stronghold, our defense, our fortress. David said it right, “God [is] our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1.

“John Wesley, a great Methodist preacher, arose at four o’clock every morning and often preached up to five times a day. In fifty years of ministry, he preached more than forty thousand times, which averages fifteen sermons a week! He traveled more than 250 thousand miles to spread the gospel. Yet, he never hurried, he never worried, and he never suffered the wear and tear of stress.” Conquering the Kill-Joys, 59.

How could this preacher do this? He made the Lord his trust, and today he says to us in his beautiful hymn,

“Give to the winds thy fears; hope and be undismayed.

God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears, God shall lift up thy head.

Through waves and clouds and storms, God gently clears thy way;

wait thou God’s time; so shall this night soon end in joyous day.

Leave to God’s sovereign sway to choose and to command;

so shalt thou, wondering, own that way, how wise, how strong this hand.

Let us in life, in death, thy steadfast truth declare,

and publish with our latest breath thy love and guardian care.”

Paul Gerhardt, 1653. Translated by John Wesley, 1739.

How can we receive this joy that keeps the soul under all circumstances? Jesus invites us, “Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.

“The love which Christ diffuses through the whole being is a vitalizing power. Every vital part—the brain, the heart, the nerves—it touches with healing. By it the highest energies of the being are roused to activity. It frees the soul from the guilt and sorrow, the anxiety and care, that crush the life forces. With it come serenity and composure. It implants in the soul, joy that nothing earthly can destroy,—joy in the Holy Spirit,—health-giving, life-giving joy.

“Our Saviour’s words, ‘Come unto Me … and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28,) are a prescription for the healing of physical, mental, and spiritual ills. Though men have brought suffering upon themselves by their own wrongdoing, He regards them with pity. In Him they may find help. He will do great things for those who trust in Him.” The Ministry of Healing, 115.

“Believing brings peace, and trusting in God brings joy.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 319, 320.

“The only way to gain peace and joy is to have a living connection with Him who gave His life for us, who died that we might live, and who lives to unite His power with the efforts of those who are striving to overcome.” In Heavenly Places, 33.

“In Christ is fullness of joy forevermore. The desires and pleasures and amusements of the world are never satisfying nor healing to the soul.” Testimonies to Ministers, 390.

“We should never give to the world the false impression that Christians are a gloomy, unhappy people. If our eyes are fixed on Jesus, we shall see a compassionate Redeemer, and shall catch light from His countenance. Wherever His Spirit reigns, there peace abides. And there will be joy also, for there is a calm, holy trust in God.” The Desire of Ages, 153.

“Is it possible to have joy in obeying Christ? It is the only real joy that any soul can have.” Sons and Daughters of God, 195.

“He [Christ] says, ‘If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.’ John 15:10, 11. In Him there is joy that is not uncertain and unsatisfying. If the light that flows from Jesus has come to you, and you are reflecting it upon others, you show that you have joy that is pure, elevating, and ennobling. Why should not the religion of Christ be represented as it really is, as full of attractiveness and power? Why should we not present before the world the loveliness of Christ? Why do we not show that we have a living Saviour, one who can walk with us in the darkness as well as in the light, and that we can trust in Him?” That I May Know Him, 142.

“The life in which the fear of the Lord is cherished will not be a life of sadness and gloom. It is the absence of Christ that makes the countenance sad and the life a pilgrimage of sighs. … But Christ dwelling in the soul is a wellspring of joy. For all who receive Him, the keynote of the Word of God is ‘rejoicing.’

“Why should not our joy be full—full, lacking nothing? We have the assurance that Jesus is our Saviour, and that we may freely partake of the rich provision He has made for us. … It is our privilege to seek constantly the joy of His presence. He desires us to be cheerful and to be filled with praise to His name. He wants us to carry light in our countenances and joy in our hearts.” Ibid.

For many, many Christians there is something that has been and is destroying their joy, and that something is trial.

The book, The Upward Look, 252, records for our benefit the following: “When trials come to us, let us not dwell upon the greatness of the difficulties and feel that we cannot have joy in the Lord. It is true we will have changes of feelings. There will come to us times of discouragement and depression. But shall we live by feeling or by faith? When our brethren and friends speak unadvisedly, and cause us grief, let us not be cast down. Let us remember that we are in a world of trial and grief, of sorrow and disappointment. When these experiences come to us, they should drive us to Christ. If they do not, we meet with loss.

“When tempted to give up under discouragement and difficulty, let us study the life and experiences of Christ. He had to contend against the powers of darkness that He might not be overcome. We have the same battle to fight, the same victories to win. ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ John 3:16. It is our privilege to lay hold on the strength of One who is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by Him. He invites you to present your case at the throne of grace, and cast your helpless soul on Him.

“The purging is not pleasant, but let us remember that Christ came to our world and took humanity that He might bear the afflictions that humanity must bear and be an example of faithful endurance under every form of trial. God wants us to realize that we are a part of the great human family, and that we must bear its tests. …

“Let your humanity lay hold of divinity. Go to the footstool of God’s grace, and say, ‘Lord, I hang my helpless soul on Thee. Help me to control my speech. Teach me to overcome.’ Christ will give you a spirit of overcoming. ‘They overcame him,’ we read, ‘by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.’ Revelation 12:11.”

Listen to the reason why we should not sink under trials, “Trials are Christ’s workmen to perfect the Christian graces. … These tests are not to sink the believers’ faith, but raise it equal to the occasion, that unto all it may be made to appear more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire. Every trial permitted is designed to exalt the truth to a higher appreciation, that praise to God alone shall be upon the lips of the true disciple of Christ. And the growth in grace is to the honor and glory of God at the appearing of Jesus Christ, ‘whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you.’ I Peter 1:8–10.” The Upward Look, 324.

“We grieve the Spirit of Christ by our complaints and murmurings and repinings. We should not dishonor God by the mournful relation of trials that appear grievous. All trials that are received as educators will produce joy. The whole religious life will be uplifting, elevating, ennobling, fragrant with good words and works.” God’s Amazing Grace, 325.

“So far from causing grief, persecution should bring joy to the disciples of Christ, for it is an evidence that they are following in the steps of their Master.

“While the Lord has not promised His people exemption from trials, He has promised that which is far better. He has said, ‘As thy days, so shall thy strength be.’ ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Deuteronomy 33:25; II Corinthians 12:9. If you are called to go through the fiery furnace for His sake, Jesus will be by your side even as He was with the faithful three in Babylon. Those who love their Redeemer will rejoice at every opportunity of sharing with Him humiliation and reproach. The love they bear their Lord makes suffering for His sake sweet.” Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 30.

No real joy can be found in disobedience. “Man is doing the greatest injury and injustice to his own soul when he thinks and acts contrary to the will of God. No real joy can be found in the path forbidden by Him who knows what is best, and who plans for the good of His creatures. The path of transgression leads to misery and destruction; but wisdom’s ‘ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.’ Proverbs 3:17.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 600.

When king David sinned his great sin, he prayed a prayer that we all need to pray. “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me [with thy] free spirit.” Psalm 51:12.

In Testimonies, vol. 3, 481, is recorded these wonderful words, “The sweetest joy comes to man through his sincere repentance toward God because of the transgression of His law, and faith in Christ as the sinner’s Redeemer and Advocate.”

There are three things that constitute the greatest joy, namely, “To honor Christ, to become like Him, to work for Him, is the life’s highest ambition and its greatest joy.” Education, 297.

So why is it so necessary that we experience this joy that comes from knowing Christ? Because we are planning to make heaven our home and, “Heaven is full of joy. It resounds with the praises of Him who made so wonderful a sacrifice for the redemption of the human race. Should not the church on earth be full of praise? Should not Christians publish throughout the world the joy of serving Christ? Those who in heaven join with the angelic choir in their anthem of praise must learn on earth the song of heaven, the keynote of which is thanksgiving.” Testimonies, vol. 7, 244.

The chorus goes like this,

I have a joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.

I have a joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

I know the devil doesn’t like it but it’s down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.

I know the devil doesn’t like it but it’s down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

(By George Willis Cooke)

Is the joy of the Lord your strength? Do you have the joy of the Lord down in your heart?

Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers at the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by e-mail at: landmarks@stepstolife.org.