There is something in our culture that suggests that Christians aren’t supposed to have any fun.
The story is told of a man who was sitting at a lunch counter and a stranger came by and sat next to him. Looking at the first man, the stranger asked, “Excuse me, but aren’t you a member of Ebenezer Memorial Church?”
The man turned to the stranger and said, “No, it’s just that I’ve had the flu for a couple of weeks.”
What is it that makes us feel like Christians need to look like they’ve had the flu for two weeks? What is it that makes us think that worship needs to be somber and serious and formal?
I suspect it started when we were children.
Those of you who grew up going to Sunday School may have attended a church in which all of the children and teenagers and adults began Sunday School together in what we called “the Sunday School Assembly.” We would gather in the social hall or the Sanctuary and sing a song or two, have some announcements, and then be directed to our own age-appropriate classrooms.
The songs were usually simple ones that were primarily children’s songs:
"Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world."
"Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he."
And there was also this song:
And there was also this song:
"I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord.' I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord.'"
Now what our Sunday school teachers told us was that this song meant how happy Christian people are when they get to go to church on Sunday. "I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord.'"
The problem with that was, even though I was only a wee, little lad and a wee, little lad was I, I knew that wasn't entirely true.
When I was growing up, church was not a child-friendly place, or at least the churches I grew up attending. There was no children’s devotional when the kids come up for an age appropriate message. Back then everyone had to wear suits and ties, or dresses and gloves – even children.
How well I remember those Sunday mornings when Mom would wake me up and drag me out of bed and make me put on those stiff Sunday clothes and load me into the car to drive to church.
I have to admit that as a child, I was not always glad when they told me, “let us go to the house of the Lord.”
In fact, I was often sad when they said unto me, "Let us go into the house of the Lord."
And when I got to be a teenager and out of sorts with the world and sometimes out of sorts with my parents, I was even occasionally mad when they said unto me, "Let us go into the house of the Lord."
Even as adults, many of us are not filled with overwhelming joy at all to come into the house of the Lord.
Someone who wrote a book on children and worship put it this way, "It is true that children often find worship to be tedious, lifeless, and dull, but they don't invent that. They pick it up from the adults around them who feel the same way, but have learned how politely not to show it."
There are a lot of people for whom not just worship but the whole experience of the Christian faith is not joyful. You probably know that many people in our society have decided to stay away from church altogether, because what they experience there does not make them glad in their hearts.
Now when the Psalmist says he's glad to go into the house of the Lord, he's not just talking about going to church, about going to the sanctuary and participating in worship. He's talking about the whole fabric of faith. The house of God is not just a building. It is wherever God and people meet. There is the house of God. That is what is intended to be an experience of joy, and many people today cannot truthfully say, "I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord.'"
What gets in the way of our joy?
Some people would say they are too overwhelmed by the challenges and turmoil around them. The kids, the grandkids, the finances, the spouse, the job, the health issues – whatever. You just feel so overwhelmed that there is no room for joy.
Some people would say that the number one thing that gets in the way of our joy is that we are discouraged. Others would say that it is fear. Others would say anger. Others would say grief and sadness overcomes their ability to feel joy.
Whatever the reason joy disappears, there are four keys to renewing and rediscovering and experiencing joy once again.
Who would not want to say YES! I am glad to be in the house of the Lord? Who would not want to be joyful?
Four keys: Trust, Thankfulness, Generosity and Love.
To begin with, there must be an element of trust. Trust in God. Like it says on the money. Trust in God.
If you do not trust God you will not have joy in your life – at least not complete joy.
Psalm 28, verse 7, says, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and (therefore) my heart leaps for joy.
In Psalm 43:4-5, we read about a man who has lost joy, and he looks forward to once again being glad to be in the house of the Lord, or as that Psalm says, “I want to go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. But why are you downcast, O my soul? Put you hope in God.”
Time and again there is this correlation between putting you hope and trust in God, and feeling joy.
But as Nicole was telling that story, she was laughing.
I looked at her and said, “So let me get this straight. Your life is falling apart, you are surrounded by chaos, and you are happy about this.”
“Yes,” she said. “I cannot begin to understand what God is doing, but I trust him. And trust gives joy.”
The first key to joy is trusting God.
The second key is thankfulness.
Psalm 42 says, “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving.”
There is something about joy and thanksgiving that are bound together. They go together and one enables you to experience the other.
The one hundredth Psalm says, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs… Enter his gates with thanksgiving.”
If you want joy in your life, cultivate a sense of gratitude for what you have, and a thankfulness for what God has given, and let go of the things you cannot have.
Another key to joy is generosity.
A common mistake is to think that getting something will make you happy. We tell ourselves, "If only . . ." But joy and happiness come much more from giving and serving than from getting.
The apostle Paul reminded his listeners that Jesus Christ had taught this very thing: "There is more happiness in giving than in receiving" (Acts 20:35, Today's English Version).
To grow in joy, we must resist not only self-pity but also being self-centered and self-absorbed. In order for us to have a joyful heart, we need to nurture a generous heart.
Another key to joy is love.
In the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel (John 15:9-13), Jesus tells his disciples something, and he says tells them this “So that your joy may be complete.” So what is it that Jesus says that will make our joy complete?
“I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Love in your life brings joy in your life.
In Galatians 5:22, Paul lists the fruits of the spirit filled life, and it is a good list. It’s a list of nine different things. Top of the list is love. And the second on the list is joy.
Love and joy go with each other.
Your life won’t have one without the other.
You want joy? Find the ability to trust in God, to be thankful for what God gives, to be generous to others, and to love.
It is a great day to be the house of the Lord!