There is a historical account of the Anaconda Mining Company located in Montana which tells how in 1863 a large group of prospectors set out from Bannock, Montana in search of gold. But the way was treacherous and they were unprepared. Many of them died on their journey. At some point along the way they were overtaken by Indians and all of their good horses were taken. After the attack several decided to return home to Bannock. What was funny was that as those that decided to go home, one of them picked up a little stone from a creek bed, cracked it open and found some gold. So they panned that creek and brought back home $50 worth of Gold which today would have been about 6000 dollars depending on the market. But here is where the story gets interesting.
As they entered town they vowed to each other not to breathe a word concerning this little gold strike they had discovered—and they kept their word. So here they were in the town of Bannock, holding on to this secret while they quietly equipped themselves with supplies for another prospecting trip. However, as they were set to leave they ran into a problem. They noticed that about three hundred men were following them. Did anybody say a word? Not one person had mentioned a thing. The account states, “The miners in town said their beaming faces gave them away.”1 I love this. These men thought they had succeeded because they didn’t squeak at all. What they didn’t count on was the countenance of joy coming through their faces; their inner delight betrayed their secret.
It’s difficult to hide a treasure; the more precious it is the more difficult to hide. It reminds me of the analogy Jesus gave about the Kingdom of Heaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure that was hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again. He was very happy. So he went and sold everything he had. And he bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44)* When I thought of the many Christian believers throughout my life who were negative, complainers and seemed to be rarely happy about anything even though they went to Church regularly I came up with another analogy. “The struggling Christian is like the man who decided that the treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven wasn’t really that valuable after all, and took it out of hiding and sold it at the local flea market so that he could buy a TV.”
It is important to consider the joy we should be experiencing because of the Holy Spirit residing in our life. Something doesn’t seem quite right if Christian believers lose their joy as they struggle against life, disappointments and sorrows, which fall upon all mankind. Shouldn’t there be something extra within us because of our connectedness to God in the spiritual dimensions of our life. It seems that the joy Christ wanted to give to us, a unique joy–“not as the world gives…” is really a misunderstood concept for many Christians.
All of us, in fact every person on the planet experiences feelings of happiness when happy things happen. That is natural and to be expected. And when Jesus spoke about joy to his audience, it seemed as if He knew they might have a small inkling of what He was talking about; as if to say, “You know what joy feels like, but have you ever experienced joy at such a depth that it would affect your countenance in the darkest of circumstances; this is the joy I can show you.” Throughout the Old Testament, the writings of David and of Moses lean into this deeper joy. It was a joy sourced in the knowledge that God was always near and protective…even when surrounded by ten thousand enemies bigger and stronger than yourself.
In other words, the presence of God was a joy for those who loved God precisely because they knew He would never abandon them…that He was prepared to be their defender, their security, their shield and their fortress. The joy of the Lord (and His presence) would be their strength (Nehemiah 8:10). How would these devoted followers of God experience this joy? It would be through their faith; or more precisely the “exertion” of their faith. The activity of faith so pleases God that when we trust Him, His Spirit actually supplies us with a needed and wanted emotional and determined strength. This is a happiness of a different sort than what the world has to offer, and above what we think we can create within ourselves.
This profound joy is both a realization and a position from which we can now live and view life. We fully understand and know that we are no longer alone. We are not drifting aimlessly on the ocean, but we have in fact, attached our life to the One-Who-Created-Us. We now live out of the choice that let’s God run our life, provide for our needs and love us exactly the way He made us to be understood and loved. Paul tells the Thessalonian believers:
“Our good news didn’t come to you only in words. It came with power. It came with the Holy Spirit’s help. He gave us complete faith in what we were preaching. You know how we lived among you for your good. We and the Lord were your examples. You followed us. You welcomed our message even when you were suffering terribly. You welcomed it with the joy the Holy Spirit gives. So you became a model to all the believers in the lands of Macedonia and Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5-7)*
The world doesn’t change because you or I follow God. But for us as devoted believers in Christ, our position, our priorities, and our power resource changes completely. Because we know God’s presence resides within us:
- We look at the world differently,
- We make different decisions about living,
- We respond to trouble differently
- We draw strength from our joy which is settled in the reality of God’s presence with us and in us; and not from the happy things the world gets excited about.
The Bible teaches that the message of Jesus Christ wasn’t mere words of great prose and thought. Just because a person learns what the Bible says does not mean that they will be changed inwardly as a result. Anybody can learn the bible and even memorize it and train their life by its precepts. However, the power of the message which brings “light and life” is experienced when the message is embraced by faith and believed. When a person believes in the God who is speaking, embraces it and lives from the command of God, a person’s entire world can change rather quickly. Think about this, for the people in Thessalonica who became followers of Christ, they made a decision live differently than the world demanded. They made this decision at a time when Jewish and Roman opposition against Christianity was increasing. To make a decision for Christ was foolish and idiotic…at least by the world’s standards.
These individuals were looking for something more, and more meaningful. Paul says they received the message of God with great Joy. Their lives now had meaning, purpose, and a substantial hope even if they died at the hands of those who hated them. As “nonsensical” as that sounds, life now made sense. They were rebels with a cause because they now belonged to God.
This is why the message of God is good news; we are no longer attached to the world for a joy that comes and goes depending on the weather of current events. We can experience a peace, contentment and joy all day long precisely because we defer to God when things are difficult, fully knowing that He has intimately connected Himself to us. This frees us to live life in all the fruits of the Holy Spirit and to bring God’s joy and love everywhere we go.
There is something tremendously fulfilling about the sheer rebellion and defiance that joyful Christians actually experience.
- How dare you walk into work happy. Everyone wants you to be angry, miserable, upset at the management, depressed about your work load, and cussing all along the way. Right?
- How dare you find the positive in the negative. The world demands that you complain about something, and everything.
- How dare you step out and spend money on the poor and needy; what a waste.
- How dare you not be concerned about politics, the economy, about Hollywood or what the wealthy are doing or not doing.
For the joyful believers…things like this no longer dominate the agenda of our lives. What matters is that we continue to live for Christ and because of our love for Him, give our life, our joy, our kindness, our patience, our gentleness and our help away to those who need it most.
*New International Reader’s Version (NIRV) Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1998, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.