As part of our Healthy Church teaching series at The Bridge Church on Sunday mornings I recently taught on what it means to be a joyful & thankful community, and due to the fact that this particular sermon is not available as a podcast I thought I would post the heart of the message here.  I pray it will be helpful!

Joyful & Thankful

You cannot escape the exhortation of Scripture to live a joyful and thankful life.

Again and again and again we are told to give thanks, and to rejoice in the Lord, we’re exhorted to be joyful and thankful, and the incredible thing is that we’re told to do this, irrespective of our circumstances?

Consider the clearest and most challenging exhortation to joy and thankfulness in the Scriptures;

1 Thessalonians 5 v 16-18:‘Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’

Paul is writing these words to the Thessalonian Church, and for them life was far from plain sailing. We read of severe sufferings that they experienced (1v6), real persecution (3v4), so much so that Paul actually feared for their faith (3v5).

What were they to do with these words? And what are we to do with them…?

‘Be joyful always.’

I don’t think that means you’re always going to be happy.

Happiness is based upon “happenings,” meaning if things happen to go well, you’re happy, but if it happens that something bad occurs then you’re happiness will disappear, and sorrow or sadness will take it’s place. But that’s not the same with joy, because joy is rooted in something more than your circumstances, and so joy is sustainable despite your circumstances.

1. Joy is rooted in the character of God.

Joy is an inner, abiding attitude of recognising and taking pleasure in the fact that God is good and that whatever we have to go through we know that God is working out His purposes in us and through us for our good and His glory.

James 1 v 2-4;‘Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything’

The thing you’d rather escape may be the very thing which God is using to perfect you. And if you trust in the goodness of a sovereign God, such knowledge will produce joy in you because you know that God is maturing you and making you complete. God is doing a million and one things more than you will ever know in any given circumstance, and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. So take heart and rejoice.

2. Joy is rooted in the wonder of Grace.

Be Joyful always. Why? Because He loves you, and He has made a way for you to enjoy and receive the benefits of that love forever.

This is the Gospel – not that we loved God but that he loved us. Not that we made ourselves acceptable, but that He made us acceptable through Christ, not that we can attain to His standards and expectations, but that Jesus has already attained to it on our behalf.

This month, Christians are being encouraged to remember and celebrate the Protestant Reformation. Five hundred years ago (in 1517), in a little German town called Wittenberg, a religious Monk called Martin Luther discovered, or rather, rediscovered, the good news of the gospel that had laid buried under centuries of religious tradition and unbiblical teaching and practice in the church. In essence what he discovered was that God does not love people because they have sorted themselves out: he loves failures, and that love makes them flourish.

Luther said that the good news he had found was like the story of a wealthy king (representing Jesus Christ) who marries a debt-ridden prostitute (representing someone who will trust him). The girl could never make herself a queen. But then the king comes along, full of love for her. And on their wedding day he makes his marriage vow to her. With that, she is his, and the prostitute becomes a queen. He takes and bears all her debts, and she now shares his boundless wealth and status. It is not that she earned it. She didn’t become a queen by behaving royally. Indeed, she does not know how to behave royally. But when the king made his marriage promise, he changed her status. For all her backstreet ways, the poor girl is now a queen. In the same way, the greatest failure who accepts Jesus Christ gets to share his righteousness and status. At one with the King. (Taken from article by Michael Reeves, Christianity MagazineOct 2017, p30)

Luther called it the joyful exchange: when Jesus died on the cross, he dealt with all our guilt and failure; and out of sheer love he now shares all his righteousness and life with those who’ll trust him.

All his is mine and all mine is his. The joyful exchange.

The Reformation wasn’t just a moment in history; it was about the recovery of the beautiful gospel, a gospel that is the root of our deepest and most lasting joy.

Joy is rooted in the wonder of grace.

3. Joy is rooted in the hope that we have in Christ.

We have joy because of the hope we have beyond the situations of this life. A hope rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One day your next trial will be your last trial, and your present earthly life will come to an end, and may be that comes aged 22, aged 52, aged 82? We don’t know. But if your only hope is in the relative comfort and pleasure of this temporary and transitory life now, then joy is ultimately going to be hard to come by, and it’s likely to be robbed at every turn.

Lasting joy is rooted in the eternal hope we have in Christ, not in the relative comfort we have in the here and now. And our hope in the resurrection is not wishful thinking, but sure and certain. A concrete and firm truth about where our future lies.

Knowing that God is good and Christ is victorious and our hope is rooted in Grace should be enough for us to be joyful always.

But Paul doesn’t only say we should be joyful, but also thankful, in every circumstance?

‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’

Notice Paul doesn’t tell us to give thanks for all circumstances, but we are called to give thanks in all circumstances. There’s a difference. And no matter what is going on in or around my life, I have reason to be thankful, not least that I know Christ and the forgiveness and eternal life He gives. I can be thankful that in the midst of the trouble of life, I am secure in the arms of Christ. I can be thankful that in the midst of broken and failing relationships, I have friendship with the one who never fails. I can be thankful that in a world of hopelessness and despair, I have a sure and certain hope.

And I can be thankful for every small gift that God gives me each day that brings strength encouragement, comfort, direction, provision, fellowship, nourishment and peace. Whether thats my home, my car, my bed, my clothes, my wife, my kids, my health, my beating heart, my freedom, my food, my eyes, my ears, my past, my present, my education, my opportunities, my friends, my family, my government, my church, my running water, my phone, my shoes, my skills, my faith, my hope, my everything. Give thanks in all circumstances. Nothing is a right, everything is a gift. You own nothing, you steward everything. Live grateful, live thankful.

So what can you do to feed joy and thankfulness in your life?

1. Grow
Grow in your knowledge of God, his character and his work. This is the root of our joy and our gratitude, so we need to feed it. How? Read God’s Word. Listen to God’s Word taught. Read good Christian books. Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The more you know God, the more joy you’ll have in God and the more thankful you’ll be for all that God has done and is doing.

2. Discover
Discover more about what God is doing in other people’s lives rather than only ever thinking of your own. Turn your attention outward, not least to learn about and pray for the persecuted church. Nothing challenges our relatively insignificant first world peacetime problems than being confronted with the plight of the persecuted church, whose joy and gratitude abound despite the challenging circumstances that constantly surround them.

3. Remember
a. Remember what you once were and how far God has brought you, rather than being discouraged by how far you still think you have to go. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.
b. Remember also that everything you have comes from God. Think often about the things in your life that you easily take for granted. Your every breath, your health, your family, your food, clothing and shelter, your income, your friends. Cultivate habits of gratitude, and be sure to speak it out – there is power in the words we speak, if you declare your thankfulness you will feed your thankfulness, and your attitude will begin to change and so will your life and vitality and joy. Marriages have changed because people have cultivated the habit of speaking out thankfulness over and for their spouse.
c. Remember that God is for you – that will feed joy and gratitude. Why not memorise Romans 8 v 28 & 31.

4. Resolve
a. Resolve to spend more time giving thanks for what you do have rather than thinking or moaning about what you don’t have.
b. Resolve to always look for the best in others finding reasons to give thanks and encourage rather than criticise and tear down. The more we engage in negative talk the more joyless and ungrateful we will become, and the more miserable we’ll make both ourselves and others.

5. Give
Be generous, Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive. If you want to experience greater joy and peace and become more thankful for what you have, give more of yourself & your stuff away. It’s only when we hold tightly to what we think is ours by right that we end up stressed and anxious and fearful, so hold it all loosely! Be a thankful giver because God has given to you. Give in both money and time, in material and practical support. Again, living a life of generous service takes the focus off of yourself and enables you to be a source of joy to others, which in turn fuels your own sense of joy.

Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is Gods will for you in Christ Jesus. In other words, if you’re in Christ, you always have reason for joy and thankfulness, no matter what is going on in and around your life. It is our responsibility to encourage ourselves and encourage one another to take whatever steps we can (however small and however difficult) in order to align with the life and heart that God has designed and desires us to have.

Let us grow together, rejoice together and give thanks together for God is good and He is faithful.

Post by: Martin Coleman