It’s unnatural. Joy is a state of contentment that is independent of the surrounding circumstances. Joy is the refusal to let fear, worry, stress, bitterness, anger, sadness capsize your boat, even though the boat is hemorrhaging with water and heading directly into the heart of a category 5 hurricane. Joy is knowing that even though the situation is out of my control, or is overwhelming, I will be okay, no matter the outcome.
Joy shines brightest in the darkest nights and situations.
So if your kids are out of control, You can still have joy.
If your spouse is acting crazy, You can still have joy.
If you just lost your job, You can still have joy.
You just lost your house, You can still have joy.
You lost someone close, You can still have joy.
You received bad news from the doctor, You can still have joy.
One encouraging story, we find in Acts, comes after an exorcism. Yes I said exorcism. There was a young slave girl who was possessed by a spirit. She was into divination; fortune telling, and she was making a fortune for her masters. Apparently one of her past times was to mock preachers, so when the apostle Paul and Silas went to preach, she attempted to sabotage their mission by following them around and trying to hype their message. But here’s the thing the gospel does not need hype. That’s a message all to itself, but back to the main point. Paul and Silas eventually get tired of her doing this over and over again and they cast the Spirit out of her.
I’ll let Acts take the story over from here. In verse 19 we get the slave girls’ owners reactions.
When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
So here are Paul and Silas trying to do the will of God. They were listening to his voice and landed in this particular city. After strategizing and planning they begin to go out but it seems like all their efforts are being sabotaged.
Have you ever felt like that storm cloud just kept following you? Every resume you send, gets ignored, or even when you get an interview; denied. Every single guy that’s into you turns out to be a creep, and even the good guy ends us falling for someone else. What’s worse is that you are trying to do good, you are trying to follow God, you are giving it your best, and at the least a pretty decent shot, all to find out whatever you do is failing. Sometimes you begin to question God, and ask why?
So here we have Paul and Silas two men of God, who after having their work frustrated at least partially by this spirit, when they set free this slave girl from her spiritual captor, they themselves become captives and are lied on, beaten. In fact they just were not simply beaten, the scripture says they were severely flogged.
Have you felt severely flogged by life?
So what was their response to all of this? We find it in the next verse.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them
Paul and Silas had every right to feel depressed, angry, discouraged, and bitter but they didn’t, they were the complete opposite; joyful and full of faith.
1 Samuel 30:6 shows us that there are times that we need to encourage ourselves in the Lord.
Paul and Silas were simply acting out Psalms 34.
1 I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be in my mouth.
2 I[b] praise the LORD—
let the suffering listen and rejoice.
3 Magnify the LORD with me!
Together let us lift his name up high!
They knew that David instructs us to bless God at all times. What is even more interesting is that while they were in prison, the other prisoners who were suffering were listening too, wondering what kind of lunatics were in there with them. I can see Paul and Silas in there saying this very verse to the prisoners, “Magnify the Lord with us, Let us lift up his name together”. So even though Paul and Silas were suffering despite doing the right thing, they made a decision to bless the Lord, they made a decision to not give in, they made a choice to praise God.
Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength.
We cannot have the joy of the Lord without the Lord. You cannot encourage yourself in the Lord if you do not know him, or do not believe him.
You do not have to be a scholar to have the joy of the Lord, You do not have to be a priest, you simply have to believe that he is good and that his plans and his ways are better than ours.
Even if you are suffering from mistakes that you have made, God is merciful and can still give you joy, but you must first repent, second receive his forgiveness, and third give him control of your life.
As an aside I want to say God does not lie. For some of you yes, God has called you to be where you are, you heard him correctly. To others I encourage you to consult his word and consider what his word says but let’s return to Acts 16.
One of the great things about the story of Paul and Silas is that while they were in jail singing and praising God, something miraculous happened. They were set free; a great earthquake shook open their cells and they escaped. You see it is only in praise and faith that we can be set free from worry, fear, anxiety, stress. God wants to set you free. He does not want you bound, just trust him. Let him direct your steps. Let him work on your kids, on your employer, on your spouse, on your body, mind and soul. He does require your obedience, however. So when you are assaulted in your mind, when you feel that cloud coming over your head, remember God is in control.
Father I thank you that joy is available to us. My prayer is that you would have your way in the lives of everyone who reads this, that you would fill them with the joy that comes from you; the joy of your presence. Encourage us with the truth that you are with us, and give us songs of encouragement, knowing that you are worthy to be praised, and worthy to be magnified at all times. Lift every burden, and every weight. Conform us into your image in the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen