Week of December 12


“Where’s the Joy?”

Read the Bible Through: Hebrews 5-8
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
Philippians 4:4, ESV


“Begin to rejoice in the Lord, and your bones will flourish like an herb, and your cheeks will glow with the bloom of health and freshness. Worry, fear, distrust, care—all are poisonous! Joy is balm and healing, and if you will but rejoice, God will give power” (A.B. Simpson). I used these words in a Pathway Devotional one year ago, but I need them more than ever this year! How about you?

Death, sorrow, and sickness have been a constant companion this year. Ten people who gave me great joy in this life have passed from this life and have entered into the presence of the Lord. Several others are walking daily through life-threatening circumstances. A number of you have shared similar testimonies with me. Human needs also have been extraordinary this year and the Baptist Center for Global Concerns has sought to be the hands and heart of Christ to those who live in despair. We could have resigned our lives to “worry, fear, distrust, and care,” but we choose to abide in joy! This day marks the beginning of the third Sunday of Advent and the theme is joy! Many churches will be lighting the pink, or “Shepherd’s candle,” and the focus will shift to joy! Let’s turn our hearts toward the same today.
Unimaginable joy
We sing a song in church that contains the phrase, “Joy, unspeakable joy,” but I am longing for unimaginable joy in this year of extreme loss. How about you? Joy is a dominant theme in the the Philippians letter; in fact, it is the keynote of the missive. This important letter reminds us that we may abide in this fruit of the Spirit, despite our circumstances. Consider that Paul, the great missionary, was advocating for a joyful lifestyle, which I find to be incredible, since he wrote the letter while he was imprisoned! He mentions joy 18 times throughout his communication with that church. You may be thinking, “I need this joy!” Well, you already have it in your spiritual DNA (see Galatians 5:22). So, let’s awaken it.
The locus needs to be our focus!
My family is chuckling at the subtitle. They often hear me use such phrases to emphasize points. I must state clearly that Paul expected the church in that city to rejoice at all times, despite the challenges that would surface. He would expect the same of us today. So, how do we squeeze sweet joy out of the bitter lemon of 2021 losses? The truth in Paul’s words often does not permeate the whole of our lives. He truly expected believers to live with joy even when they faced trying times (James 1:2-5). Read our focal verse carefully. The locus for this type of joy was not to be found in circumstances nor in a positive attitude. “Joy reigns in the heart only when Christ is Lord of life. Joy is always in the Lord” (HNTC). OK. So, how do we take this truth from the pages of Scripture and experience it in our lives?
When life gives you lemons, be lemonade!
Lemonade does not have to be bitter tasting because there are sweet varieties. The point? We do not have to become sour when life tastes that way. We will experience joy when we do not squeeze the life out of this spiritual fruit by living with bitterness. Paul exhorts the church members to live “reasonably” with each other (cf. 3:1-11). He uses a word that means “yielding, gentle, and kind.” It enables us to go beyond the letter of the law in how we behave toward other people.

There has been much misery this year, and I am not only referring to our losses. I am speaking of the way we are treating others to whom we are bound together in Christ as well. Francois Fenelon once wrote, “It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect [mature] we are, the more gentle and quiet we become toward the defects of others.”

We currently hear much about rights, freedoms, and justice in our churches, but so few seem happy once they receive them. Folks, we need to lay aside our hot pursuit of personal rights and privileges and discover anew the joy that comes in being kind to one another (cf. Ephesians 4:32). Jesus is our supreme example (2:9-11).
Follow Christ who embodies joy
Christ behaved reasonably and gently with people (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1). Paul uses a helpful argument when he urges us to mimic Christ. He states that “the Lord is near,” meaning in both time and space, God is near to us (HNTC). How may this be so? He resides in our hearts to hear our innermost troubles and to guide us through them. Look. Jesus knows me through and through, and, praise God, He does not harangue me all day long to follow the rules. He calls me to yield my life to Him each day so that He may live out the Christ-life in me (Galatians 2:20; 5:16, “walk by the Spirit”). He does the same with you, too, doesn’t He? How could we be anything other than joyful? The Savior has come (Luke 2:10-11)!

“Where’s the Joy in your jar?”

The Thanksgiving decorations have disappeared in our home and now the house is being transformed with the sights and scents of Christmas. There are candles, ornaments, pillows, lights, and dishes. I stood at the kitchen counter early this morning and noticed a jar with a decorative lid on it. The word that was etched there was “Joy,” but the jar was empty. Hello metaphor for 2021! I think that I have allowed the losses to eclipse my view of Jesus, our “Joy Incarnate.” I asked myself today, so let me ask you, too. Where’s the joy in your jar (life)?

Here is how to fill your being with the Savior’s joy this day. Joy is awakened within us when Christ indwells us. I will take a round-about path to my point. Notice that a key aim in writing this powerful Philippians letter rests in the longing that Paul had for the church in Philippi to experience humility, fellowship, and unity (1:27-2:11; 4:2-3). Therefore, he took the time to warn them against legalism, perfectionism, and libertarianism (3:1; 4:1). If we take a step back and consider Paul’s moral approach, we will recognize that he based his appeal to right living upon a specific, active relationship with Jesus Christ. The living and sanctifying Christ enables one to flourish without becoming a bitter cup for others to swallow. Joy bubbles up to the surface in such a life.

For Reflection and Discussion

1. The early 20th century evangelist, Billy Sunday, once said, “If you have no joy, then there is a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” Twenty-first century Larry Ashlock says, “If your ‘Joy Jar’ is empty, then invite Christ to re-fill it.” If you lack joy in the Lord, then seek Him, and He will fill your life with joy.

2. Write down ways that you intend to become gentler and more reasonable in your attitudes and actions with other Christians.

3. For Families: The NIV Bible contains the word “Joy” more than 200 times! This holiday season, choose a festive jar with a lid and place it on your kitchen counter. Go to the website below and print the selected verses about Joy. Now cut these verses into strips, one verse per strip of paper, and fill this jar with words of Joy. Every morning at breakfast, allow a child to draw a verse and read it aloud. Speak, and sing, and write, and pray, and live Joy together! Send your children out to school each day as bearers of Joy to the world! Here is the site for the verses:

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock

*I have chosen to write a series of daily Christmas devotionals entitled “Pathway to the Manger.” There will be twenty-five reflections on Bible passages that broadly follow an Advent theme. Advent is a Latin word which means “arrival” and “coming.” It marks the season of preparation that arrives each year before Christmas and points to the second coming of Christ. These devotionals offer individuals and families a way to keep the daily focus on Jesus in the middle of a highly commercialized season where much attention is given to material things.