Experience Joy


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THRIVE: LIVING IN REAL JOY

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Experience Joy Where can we find full and lasting joy? Look and listen to Paul. He radiated a contagious joy in this letter. Indeed, the happiest man in Rome was in jail! Paul reminds us that we don’t derive ultimate joy from comfortable circumstances, but from a living, vibrant communion with Christ. Joy isn’t about attaining more stuff; it’s about treasuring Christ more. Where can we find meaning and purpose in life? Paul teaches us about a life worth living—and a death worth dying. He shows us the path to living this life by pointing us to Jesus, who provides the power and the example we need. The Christian life isn’t an easy life, but it’s a full and joyful life. Jesus never promised us that life would be easy, but He did promise He would always be with us. And if He is with us, we have everything we need for joy and peace. We don’t just live; we thrive!

TONY MERIDA Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C. He also serves as Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He’s the author of several books including Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down.

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SESSION 1

PRAYING WITH JOY

When has a personal letter or note meant a lot to you? Q U E S T I O N #1 94

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THE POINT

Prayer is an opportunity to experience joy.

THE PASSAGE Philippians 1:3-11

THE BIBLE MEETS LIFE What will bring you deep joy and happiness? Everyone is seeking it. The quest for happiness is built into the fabric of the United States, where we value “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as “inalienable rights.” A few years back, Pharrell Williams made a song called “Happy” a global sensation. But I wonder if the people singing it remained happy after the music faded. Might a more fitting song be U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For?” King Solomon, who had abundant wealth, women, and wine, confessed “Absolute futility. Everything is futile” (Eccl. 1:2). A lexander the Great is reported to have wept in his tent lamenting, “There are no more worlds to conquer.” Tom Brady, after three NFL championships, remarked, “There’s got to be more than this.” What do you need to have full and lasting joy? If you’re interested in finding the answer to this question, welcome to the Book of Philippians! This is a letter full of joy— written by Paul while in prison. From Paul we discover how we, too, can experience abundant joy. S U G G E S T E D U S E | W E E K O F J A N UA R Y 22

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THE POINT

Prayer is an opportunity to experience joy.

Philippians 1:3-6 3 I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

KEY WORDS: Partnership in the gospel (v. 5)—Partnership indicates joint participation or cooperation in a specified activity. Elsewhere it is translated “fellowship” (Phil. 2:1; 3:10), “contribution” (Rom. 15:26), and “sharing” (1 Cor. 10:16). The day of Christ Jesus (v. 6)—Unknown yet imminent time when Christ returns to the earth; reference to “the day of the Lord” is common in the Old Testament. Paul began his Letter to the Philippians—his beloved partners in the gospel—with expressions of thanksgiving, joy, and affection. Joy runs throughout his letter, and the first time he used the term, he spoke of “praying with joy.” Since it is such an important concept in Philippians, let’s ponder joy for a moment. Joy goes deeper than happiness. Our happiness is typically based on external things; it’s tied to our circumstances. Joy remains with us regardless of what we have or are experiencing. We can be having a bad day, but still have joy. We find joy in knowing Christ deeply. It’s not found in having more stuff or better circumstances. As we scan the Book of Philippians, we find a simple way to remember what Christian joy is. This may sound cheesy or elementary, but the secret to joy is in keeping things in this order: Jesus Others Yourself 96

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Paul exemplified a life of joy. He rejoiced in Christ despite hardship (Rom. 5:3-5); and he lived to serve others before thinking about himself (Phil. 2:3-4). Paul was all about Jesus, and his mind was filled with concern for others. At the core of Paul’s joy was a deep love for the Savior that spilled out into love for people. Christian joy is Christ-centered and others-oriented. We don’t find Paul giving God thanks for things; Paul gave thanks for people. Paul could see evidence of God’s grace in others and praised God for His work in them. Gratitude and joy are tied together. Praying with thankfulness leads to praying with joy. Many believe you find joy when you get what you desire; but as a friend of mine says, you find joy when you acknowledge what you deserve and realize with gratitude that God has given you just the opposite through Christ. May God help us to see that we deserve nothing but judgment, and every good gift we have comes from Him. Paul expressed gratitude for the believers in Philippi whom he considered his partners in the gospel. This church had supported Paul and served as coworkers in the mission from the beginning of his time in Philippi. They were friends—united in Jesus—on mission together. DIGGING DEEPER JOY The first characteristic of Paul’s thanksgiving for them was that it was joyful. The Greek text stresses this by placing the words “with joy” before the words “I always pray.” This is the first reference to joy, a major theme in the epistle. Paul’s joy came as he remembered the history of the church, as well as the

relationship it had with him. His joy as he remembered the Philippians, therefore, was not because of his good circumstances when they believed. Rather, it was because of the firm faith of the believers in spite of their difficulties. As they grew in their Christian maturity, they also grew in their appreciation of Paul. He, in turn, prayed for them with joy. Richard R. Melick, Jr., Philippians, Colossians, Philemon in The New American Commentary, vol. 32, gen. ed. David Dockery (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 1991), 54-55,57.

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THE POINT

Prayer is an opportunity to experience joy.

In verse 6, Paul gave another reason for his gratitude to God: confidence in God’s nature and purposes. He was sure that God would continue—and complete!—the work He had started in the Philippian believers. He based this on his knowledge of God—God’s saving grace—and his awareness of the Philippians’ faith. God always will finish what He starts in the lives of His people. We may leave a lot of tasks unfinished, but God finishes what He starts. God graciously inaugurated this work in us. God then graciously continues this work in us. And God will graciously complete this work in us “until the day of Christ Jesus.” That’s cause for grateful joy! How would you describe the difference between happiness and joy?

Q U E S T I O N #2

Philippians 1:7-8 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

In verses 7-8, we see Paul’s great emotion and warmth for the church. Paul was neither an isolated saint nor an ivory tower intellectual. He loved people deeply. Some scholars may be embarrassed by such a display of emotion and dismiss Paul’s words as mere exaggeration. But Paul exclaimed, “God is my witness,” because he truly felt deep emotion and affection for the saints in Philippi. 98

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We need to learn from Paul’s theology and disciplines, but we also see how the great truths he taught were evident in his life: He had deep affection for God and others. Paul’s faith didn’t have the appearance of a stuffy classroom or an empty ritual; he obviously felt and demonstrated passion in what he believed and taught. In verse 7, Paul said he held the Philippians in his heart. A heart relationship existed between Paul and these believers (see also 2 Cor. 7:3). In Philippians 2:17, Paul said he had poured out his life for the Philippians. Paul and the Philippians modeled for us what it means to have Christian friendships centered on the gospel. Paul said, “It is right for me to think this way about all of you.” It was right because they were “all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel.” Being a partner in grace meant more than just receiving saving grace; they also had suffered for Christ and were sharing in the struggle for making the gospel known (1:29‑30). Paul rejoiced because the Philippians displayed their partnership in loyalty to Paul and the mission. They supported Paul as he shared the gospel and they also supported him in prayer and with financial support during his imprisonment. They didn’t turn their back on Paul. They weren’t ashamed of him, even though imprisonment brought great shame in that time. Their loyalty to Paul even while he was in prison made this relationship especially sweet. What are some obstacles that hinder us from building deeper relationships?

Q U E S T I O N #3

As Paul pondered his relationship with the Philippians, he made a remarkable statement: “I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He reminded them of Christ’s affection for them and how God was at work in him to love them in that same way. The Greek 99

THE POINT

Prayer is an opportunity to experience joy.

word translated affection refers to the inward parts of the body; it conveys the idea of deep compassion. It’s a deep love that goes far beyond sentiment. God is at work right now in His people, just as He was working in the Philippian church. Rejoice and give thanks to God for what He is doing; revel in Christ’s affection for you and ask God to give you a fresh affection for His people. As you see God working in the lives of others, and as you consider how He is at work in you, you can experience joy and give Him prayerful praise. How can our group life help us build the kind of relationships Paul described in these verses?

Q U E S T I O N #4

Philippians 1:9-11 9 And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, 10 so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Earlier, Paul expressed confidence that God would carry on His work in their lives (Phil. 1:6). In verses 9-11, Paul asked God to continue to grow them in Christ-centered love that grows “in knowledge and every kind of discernment.” This is instructive for us. We need to live wisely, being informed by the Word, and we need to live with deep love for God and others. Knowledge asks the question, “What is right?” Discernment asks the question, “What is best?” Love leads us to live out what is both right and best. 10 0

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A mature Christian is biblically informed and deeply affectionate. Both are essential for a growing believer. It avoids two extremes. 1. Many Christians never pursue wisdom and knowledge. Consequently they make terrible choices and even follow false teachers, who prey on gullible emotion-driven people. 2. Others affirm sound doctrine but have no genuine affection for Christ and others. Consequently, they know the right answers, but that knowledge makes no difference in how they relate to others and live their lives. This passage stresses the need for both affection and discernment. Love is neither cold nor blind. Love is both deeply affectionate and biblically informed. We need love, knowledge, and discernment. Relationships are complex. God didn’t just upload a program into our brains for us to perfectly love people. We need to pray for wisdom, knowing God generously provides it (Jas. 1:5). Why did Paul desire for them to grow in this kind of love? 1. He desired for them to “approve the things that are superior.” This idea is very practical. The word for approve means “to put to the test, examine.” Based on a growing, knowledgeable, and discerning love, Paul prayed for the Philippians to choose the things that are best in this life and in their relationships. He prayed for them to have discernment in order to properly distinguish between right and wrong, between better and best, and between things that matter and things that don’t. 2. He desired for them to “be pure and blameless in the day of Christ.” Jesus is coming and we should live in light of this fact. Paul expressed this life of purity in another way: “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” This prayer for godly character qualities parallels “pure and blameless.” The righteousness of God is given to the believer by faith alone (Phil. 3:9). We are declared righteous and made acceptable to God through Christ. It is a righteousness that comes from outside ourselves. Out of this position of righteousness through Jesus, we are called to live righteously. The righteous “fruit of the Spirit” should grow 101

THE POINT

Prayer is an opportunity to experience joy.

out of the relationship a believer has with Jesus (Gal. 5:22-23). When we plant our roots in the streams of Christ, good fruit emerges. Why does Paul pray for all of these things? It’s for the fame and renown of God. He ended with his ultimate goal: “the glory and praise of God.” We have no higher purpose in life than to glorify God. Pray for God to be glorified in you and in His people, and for God to make His glory known through us to the nations. What God will do to bring glory to Himself is a great cause for joy. According to this passage, how is God actively working in a believer’s life?

Q U E S T I O N #5

KEEPING THINGS IN ORDER The JOY acrostic represents a person whose priorities are in the right order. Think about how you can live by this philosophy. Write how you can fulfill this order of priority in your own life. Jesus

J Others

O Yourself

Y

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LIVE IT OUT How will you let joy be a part of your life this week?  ultivate a grateful life. If you’re a C Christian, realize you’re more blessed than you deserve. Regardless of your circumstances, remind yourself daily of all that’s yours in Christ Jesus. Remind yourself daily of the gospel, and live out of the overflow of a heart enthralled with the Savior. As you pray and thank God for all He’s done for you, let His joy fill your heart and be seen as you serve others.  emorize Philippians 1:6. It can be M hard to be joyful when praying about a difficult matter, but Philippians 1:6 is a reminder that God is at work even when we don’t yet see the result.  artner with others in the gospel. P Invest your life in encouraging and supporting others with their particular ministry. Such a partnership will include prayer and it might even include financial support, but look for ways to partner with them in the gospel.

Share with others how you will live out this study: #BSFLthrive

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AUDACIOUS PRAYERS BY MAX LUCADO

Are your prayers bold like John Wesley’s prayers? He prayed that a storm on the Atlantic Ocean would cease. It did. Or, are your prayers bold like Martin Luther’s? He beseeched God to heal two friends. Both were saved from their illnesses. Or, do you pray boldly like Joshua? He asked God to make the sun stand still. Boldness in prayer is an uncomfortable thought for many. We think of speaking softly to God, humbling ourselves before God, or having a chat with God … but storming heaven with prayers? Pounding on the door of the Most High? Isn’t such prayer irreverent? Presumptuous? 10 4

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It would be had God not invited us to pray as such. “So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need” (Heb. 4:16 TLB). As I get older, my prayers are getting bolder. Joshua did this but not before he didn’t. His prayer life teaches us what happens when we don’t pray as much as it tells us how to pray. Joshua was leading a ragtag group of Hebrews into Canaan, but before they could claim the promised land, they had battles to fight, cities to conquer. After the walls of Jericho crumbled and Ai fell, a group of strangers entered Joshua’s camp. They presented themselves as hapless pilgrims from a distant place. Everything seemed to fit their story. Their grain sacks, sandals, and clothes were worn-out. Even their bread was moldy and dry. They claimed to be allies of the Hebrews. They praised the accomplishments of God and asked Joshua and his men to make a covenant with them. Joshua weighed the options, and his rulers eventually agreed. Three days later, Joshua realized he had been snookered. These people were not from a distant land; they were from Gibeon, only a day’s walk away. Their weathered clothing was a disguise. They pretended to be foreigners because they knew that the Hebrews had ransacked Jericho and Ai. They may have known that God’s laws had made special provision for cities outside of Canaan (Deut. 20:10-12). Any city that agreed to make peace would be spared. So, being afraid, they resorted to deception. Why didn’t Joshua and the elders detect the ruse? “They did not ask counsel of the Lord” (Josh. 9:14, NKJV). The practice of the Hebrews was supposed to be pray first, act later. Joshua was told to “stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire before the Lord” (Num. 27:21, NKJV). Joshua failed to do this. He and his council entered into an alliance with the enemy because they didn’t seek the counsel of God. We do well to learn from Joshua’s mistake. Our enemy enters our camp in a disguise as well. “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14, NIV). He is crafty. That’s why it is essential that we …CONSULT GOD IN EVERYTHING. Always. Immediately. Quickly. Live with one ear toward heaven. Keep the line open to God. At every decision. At each crossroads. Acknowledge Him, heed Him, ask Him, “Do I turn right or left?” “Is this opportunity from You, God?” “Are You in this venture, God?” “Should I take this road, God?”

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Our relationship with God is exactly that, a relationship. His invitation is clear and simple: “Come and talk with me, O my people” (Ps. 27:8, TLB). We abide with Him, and He abides with us. He grants wisdom as we need it. He will help us against the devil. He will disclose the craftiness of Satan. But we must regularly consult Him. In everything. And … CALL ON GOD FOR GREAT THINGS. Joshua did. The alliance with the Gibeonites quickly proved to be troublesome. The other kings of Canaan saw them as traitors and set out to attack them. Five armies bore down on the people of Gibeon. They were outnumbered. But since they had an alliance with Joshua, they asked the Hebrews to help. Because he had given his word, Joshua had no choice but to come to their rescue. The five kings never stood a chance. Apparently, they did not expect Joshua to respond with such fervor. They turned and ran with Hebrews hot on their heels. As Joshua’s army thundered behind them, the clouds began to thunder above them. “Large hailstones” fell from the sky in a divine carpet bombing (Josh. 10:11). Joshua saw the hailstones and anticipated the sun setting. Nightfall would give the enemies a chance to regroup. If he had just a few more hours of daylight, he could win the battle and strike a decisive blow. So he began to pray. He had failed to pray about the Gibeonites. He didn’t make the same mistake twice. “The day God gave the Amorites up to Israel, Joshua spoke to God, with all Israel listening: “‘Stop, Sun, over Gibeon; Halt, Moon, over Aijalon Valley.’ And Sun stopped, Moon stood stock still. Until he defeated his enemies. “(You can find this written in the Book of Jashar.) The sun stopped in its tracks in mid sky; just sat there all day. There’s never been a day like that before or since—God took orders from a human voice! Truly, God fought for Israel. Then Joshua returned, all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal” (Josh. 10:12-15, MSG).

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This was a stunning, unprecedented prayer. The narrator, knowing his readers would be shocked at the story, referred to the Book of Jashar, an extrabiblical volume that contained stories of the Hebrew people. He was stating, in effect, “If you find this hard to believe, check it out in the Book of Jashar.”

God will help us against the devil. But we must regularly consult Him. In everything. And … CALL ON GOD FOR GREAT THINGS. God pressed the solar Pause button. He chose to hear and heed Joshua’s request. Might He do something similar for us? My friend Greg Pruett believes God will. He is trained as an engineer, linguist, and Bible translator. But his most significant contribution might be in the area of “extreme prayer.” In 2008, Greg returned from West Africa, to serve as president of Pioneer Bible Translators. The recession was sucking dollars out of the economy. The ministry’s finances were in free fall. Greg had no experience in leading such an organization and no tangible place to cut expenses. Resources were few, and donors were disappearing. “That’s when I began to learn not to pray about my strategies, but to make prayer the strategy,” he said. In July he wrote a letter to his teammates worldwide, calling them to stand before God’s throne with specific and bold requests. They did. And when Greg analyzed the results, he knew there was no explanation for the growth in giving but God and prayer. Maybe, like Joshua, you face battles. Five kings are bearing down upon you. Discouragement, deception, defeat, destruction, death. Don’t give an inch. Respond in prayer—honest, continual, and audacious prayer. You are a member of God’s family. You come to God not as a stranger but as an heir. Confidently approach His throne. Earnestly make your requests known to Him not because of what you have achieved but because of what Christ has done. Jesus spilled His blood for you. You can spill your heart before God.

MAX LUCADO More than 120 million readers have been inspired by the words of Max Lucado. He lives with his wife, Denalyn, and their mischievous mutt, Andy, in San Antonio, Texas, where he serves the people of Oak Hills Church.

This article first appeared in Mature Living, October 2015. To subscribe to Mature Living magazine, go to www.lifeway. com/MatureLiving, or call 800-458-2772. Excerpted from Glory Days: Living Your Promised Land Life Now by Max Lucado. Thomas Nelson ©2015. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.

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