Day 283

Surprised by Joy

Wisdom Psalm 119:9-16
New Testament 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13
Old Testament Jeremiah 21:1-23:8

Introduction

‘Surprised by joy’ is how C.S. Lewis described his conversion from atheism to faith in Jesus Christ. He had never expected that there was any connection between God and joy. If anything, he had thought it would be the opposite: ‘For all I knew, the total rejection of what I called Joy might be one of the demands.’

Convinced that it was true, Lewis ‘admitted that God was God’. At that moment, he was ‘the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England’. To his great surprise he found that following Jesus was the very opposite to what he expected. He experienced great joy through his new-found faith. He discovered that ‘the heart of reality’ is to be found in a Person. He was surprised by joy.

Many people confuse pleasure, contentment and joy. ‘Pleasure’ can come from a good holiday, a pay rise or a bar of chocolate. People can become pleasure addicts – always seeking the next fix. But these experiences of pleasure come and go.

‘Contentment’ is longer term – being satisfied with your life, your home, your job and your relationships.

But there is another kind of happiness that we call ‘joy’. It is not a fleeting emotion, but a deep way of being – a state of mind that is available to everybody. It is not found in things, but in a Person.

Wisdom

Psalm 119:9-16

ב Beth

9 How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
    By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
    all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
    and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
    I will not neglect your word.

Commentary

Joy in studying the Bible

Neither Pippa nor I have a very good sense of direction. We often get lost on car journeys (even with a satnav or Google Maps!). There is great joy when we find someone who is able to give us good directions.

The Bible gives you the best directions for life. It helps you to avoid straying (v.10) and getting lost. There is such great joy in finding directions to abundant life.

Reading the Bible is the last place in the world that most people would expect to find joy. Yet, as the psalmist points out, God’s wisdom and his promises are a source of delight, rejoicing and great riches. He writes, ‘I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches… I delight in your decrees’ (vv.14,16a).

In the Bible we find the path to purity: ‘How can the young keep their way pure? By living according to your word’ (v.9). He writes, ‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you’ (v.11). Learn verses, meditate on them (v.15) and speak them out (v.13). These are some of the ways in which you can avoid straying and getting lost (v.10).

As you sense the Holy Spirit speaking to you through a particular verse or passage, you are able to say with the second-century Church Father, Origen, ‘This is my scripture.’ You have the joy of hearing God’s voice and rejoicing in following his statutes (v.14).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that your words bring me such joy. Help me to hide your words in my heart and to recount them with my lips.

New Testament

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

Paul’s Longing to See the Thessalonians

17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

3So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.

Timothy’s Encouraging Report

6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Commentary

Joy in leading others to faith in Jesus

Paul had led the Thessalonians to encounter Jesus Christ. There is great joy in seeing people come to faith in Christ. I think this is one of the reasons people love to help on Alpha. They have the joy of seeing people come to Christ, being filled with the Spirit and getting excited about Jesus.

The Thessalonians were Paul’s ‘pride and joy’ (2:20, MSG). There was such a close bond with them. He had an intense longing to see them (v.17). He writes, ‘For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy’ (vv.19–20).

Rewards are not wrong in principle and seeing others put their faith in Jesus is a great reward (‘crown’). How different is our glory from that of the world; the world glories in money, success and power. But we glory in Jesus and in those we have been privileged to see drawn to him through our words and our prayers.

Paul’s joy had nothing to do with his own circumstances. He was in the middle of trouble and hard times: ‘stress and crushing difficulties’ (3:7, AMP). Paul’s concern, amazingly, was not about his own situation, but about the effect the trials and persecution might have on the faith of the Thessalonians (v.3).

Paul’s joy came from their joy. It really is true that the secret of happiness is making someone else happy.

Paul writes, ‘For now we really live, since we are standing firm in the Lord’ (v.8). His quality of life is deeply affected by the relationship that they have with the Lord. He is filled with joy: ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?’ (v.9).

This joy flowed out of the depth of relationship that Paul had with the Thessalonians. His love and concern for them is so clear. That love and concern continued after he left. He longed to return to them (2:18; 3:10–11), sent Timothy to help them (even though it meant his being alone for a while, 3:1–2), and prayed ‘most earnestly’ for them ‘night and day’ (v.10).

Committing deeply to the lives of those around you can seem daunting and it may involve hard work. Yet, as Paul’s example shows, it is also a source of joy and celebration. It was joy ‘in the presence of God’. As Paul was praying, his heart must have been filled with joy as he thought about them. So much of Paul’s letters are filled with thanksgiving and joy. As we enter God’s presence, our hearts are unburdened and we see things as God sees them: ‘You will fill me with joy in your presence’ (Psalm 16:11).

Prayer

Lord, thank you so much for the joy of seeing people come to Christ. May I increase and overflow with love, and be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father.

Old Testament

Jeremiah 21:1-23:8

God Rejects Zedekiah’s Request

21The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur son of Malkijah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah. They said: 2 “Inquire now of the Lord for us because Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is attacking us. Perhaps the Lord will perform wonders for us as in times past so that he will withdraw from us.”

3 But Jeremiah answered them, “Tell Zedekiah, 4 ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands, which you are using to fight the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are outside the wall besieging you. And I will gather them inside this city. 5 I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in furious anger and in great wrath. 6 I will strike down those who live in this city—both man and beast—and they will die of a terrible plague. 7 After that, declares the Lord, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the people in this city who survive the plague, sword and famine, into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to their enemies who want to kill them. He will put them to the sword; he will show them no mercy or pity or compassion.’

8 “Furthermore, tell the people, ‘This is what the Lord says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives. 10 I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.’

11 “Moreover, say to the royal house of Judah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord. 12 This is what the Lord says to you, house of David:

“‘Administer justice every morning;
    rescue from the hand of the oppressor
    the one who has been robbed,
or my wrath will break out and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it.
13 I am against you, Jerusalem,
    you who live above this valley
    on the rocky plateau, declares the Lord—
you who say, “Who can come against us?
    Who can enter our refuge?”
14 I will punish you as your deeds deserve,
    declares the Lord.
I will kindle a fire in your forests
    that will consume everything around you.’”

Judgment Against Wicked Kings

22This is what the Lord says: “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 2 ‘Hear the word of the Lord to you, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne —you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. 3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. 5 But if you do not obey these commands, declares the Lord, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.’”

6 For this is what the Lord says about the palace of the king of Judah:

“Though you are like Gilead to me,
    like the summit of Lebanon,
I will surely make you like a wasteland,
    like towns not inhabited.
7 I will send destroyers against you,
    each man with his weapons,
and they will cut up your fine cedar beams
    and throw them into the fire.

8 “People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?’ 9 And the answer will be: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served other gods. ’”

10 Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss;
    rather, weep bitterly for him who is exiled,
because he will never return
    nor see his native land again.

11 For this is what the Lord says about Shallum son of Josiah, who succeeded his father as king of Judah but has gone from this place: “He will never return. 12 He will die in the place where they have led him captive; he will not see this land again.”

13 “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
    his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
    not paying them for their labor.
14 He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace
    with spacious upper rooms.’
So he makes large windows in it,
    panels it with cedar
    and decorates it in red.

15 “Does it make you a king
    to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
    He did what was right and just,
    so all went well with him.
16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
    and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
    declares the Lord.
17 “But your eyes and your heart
    are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
    and on oppression and extortion.”

18 Therefore this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah:

“They will not mourn for him:
    ‘Alas, my brother! Alas, my sister!’
They will not mourn for him:
    ‘Alas, my master! Alas, his splendor!’
19 He will have the burial of a donkey—
    dragged away and thrown
    outside the gates of Jerusalem.”

20 “Go up to Lebanon and cry out,
    let your voice be heard in Bashan,
cry out from Abarim,
    for all your allies are crushed.
21 I warned you when you felt secure,
    but you said, ‘I will not listen!’
This has been your way from your youth;
    you have not obeyed me.
22 The wind will drive all your shepherds away,
    and your allies will go into exile.
Then you will be ashamed and disgraced
    because of all your wickedness.
23 You who live in ‘Lebanon, ’
    who are nestled in cedar buildings,
how you will groan when pangs come upon you,
    pain like that of a woman in labor!

24 “As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. 25 I will deliver you into the hands of those who want to kill you, those you fear—Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the Babylonians. 26 I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die. 27 You will never come back to the land you long to return to.”

28 Is this man Jehoiachin a despised, broken pot,
    an object no one wants?
Why will he and his children be hurled out,
    cast into a land they do not know?
29 O land, land, land,
    hear the word of the Lord!
30 This is what the Lord says:
“Record this man as if childless,
    a man who will not prosper in his lifetime,
for none of his offspring will prosper,
    none will sit on the throne of David
    or rule anymore in Judah.”

The Righteous Branch

23“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing, ” declares the Lord.

5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
    and do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah will be saved
    and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

7 “So then, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when people will no longer say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ 8 but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land.”

Commentary

Joy in the friendship of Jesus

As you stay close to Jesus, his joy flows into you and your joy is complete. As Professor Gordon Fee writes, ‘Unmitigated, untrammelled joy is – or at least should be – the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus.’ The ‘righteous Branch’ which Jeremiah speaks about in this passage (23:5) is going to be the source of complete joy.

The Lord says to his people through Jeremiah, ‘I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death’ (21:8).

He calls them to ‘administer justice’ (v.12). He says, ‘Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!’ (22:3, MSG).

The kings should have acted like Josiah: ‘“He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord’ (v.16).

Here we see God’s concerns, both then and now. He is concerned about justice; about the poor and the homeless; about widows and orphans; about victims of injustice. How we treat the marginalised in our society matters to God.

The people of God were under his judgment for failing in these areas. They had become an ‘evil regime’ (21:14, MSG). They were about to go into exile. Yet, in the midst of these prophecies of doom and exile, there was a ray of hope.

‘“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness”’ (23:5–6).

Through the lens of the New Testament we see how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy about the ‘righteous Branch’ (23:5, see also Isaiah 11, Ezekiel 17 and Jeremiah 33:15 onwards). He was descended from David, King of the Jews, a Saviour, The Lord Our Righteousness.

Jesus is the one in whom we find complete joy. He is the ‘righteous Branch’ (v.5) out of which every other branch should come. The ‘righteous Branch’ is linked to a vine (Ezekiel 17). Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener’ (John 15:1), ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete’ (v.11).

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the joy that comes from being close to Jesus. Help me each day to stay close to the ‘righteous Branch’ so that the joy of Jesus may be in me and my joy may be complete.

Pippa adds

Psalm 119:11

‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.’

It is wonderful when the right verse comes to mind in a particular situation. I wish I had learnt more verses when my memory worked better. Now the only way I can learn new verses is when they appear in a song we sing over and over again. The children’s songs are often the best!

Verse of the Day

1 Thessalonians 3:12

‘May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else…’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (William Collins, 2012).

Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), p.404

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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