Last Christmas was a new type of Christmas for our family. Five months into a diagnosis for my husband and no where near a solution, I knew that we weren’t going to be able to celebrate Christmas like we had in past years. We weren’t going to be able to go to Disney and shows and parties galore. I was tired. So so tired. After popping up our pre-lit Christmas tree, I collapsed on the couch, and just stared at that blank tree. Not only could I not muster the energy to decorate it with my color coordinated ornaments, I knew there was no way I’d have the energy to UN-decorate it in just a few short weeks. It was a hard decision, but I decided to leave it bare (read my original post here). In fact, other than the kids’ little trees in their rooms, that was the only sign up Christmas in our house.
That was just the first of a slew of obstacles that left me fighting for joy last Christmas. Maybe this Christmas, you feel like you’re fighting for joy too.
In John 16, we find Jesus in the middle of His last words to the disciples before his arrest. John dedicates five whole chapters to the words He spoke at the Last Supper. Jesus has modeled service by washing their feet. He has told them he’s going away, but that’s better. Once He goes, The Helper, The Holy Spirit will come and guide them in truth. He’s told them that the world is going to hate them. Then starting in verse 16, He gives them four characteristics of His Joy that will get them through (to get the context, read John 16:16-33).
Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. – John 16:20
I believe Jesus has a two-fold meaning behind these words. First the immediate: in just a matter of hours, he is going to be arrested. The crowd will rejoice when Barabas is released and Jesus condemned. The soldiers will mock and laugh at Jesus as he hangs on the cross, and the followers of Jesus will be devastated. But I believe He is also talking about eternity. He likens it to childbirth (which is often used in scripture as an example of the painful wait for the Messiah and the Second Coming as well – see Romans 8:22-24; John 16:21). Jesus tells them joy is coming. In the short term, when He walks out of that grave, but in the long term, when He comes back to claim His bride. I feel this angst almost daily in our world: those around us rejoicing over their own sin, while we mourn that this isn’t how life should be. But joy is coming! The “joy” the world offers is temporary; it won’t satisfy and ultimately leads to death (Romans 6:20-21). But for the one who puts their trust in Jesus, the mourning is temporary. Joy is coming.
So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. – John 16:22
Here’s the truth: Satan would love nothing more than to steal your joy, particularly this time of year. But the joy we have because of Jesus, cannot be taken from us. When my oldest was about two years old, I embarked on a brave day of errands in the rain. It was one of those days where it just rained all day, but I was determined to check things off my list. After we were done, I wanted to take him to my favorite bakery growing up. When we walked in, Tate immediately climbed up on a chair and stared out the window at the rain and puddles. I called out several times, “Tate, turn around! Look at all the treats!” But he wouldn’t take his eyes off the rain. The ladies behind the counter were laughing after several minutes of this exchange. Despite all the times I told him of the goodness waiting if he’d just turn around and look, he only wanted to see the rain.
God convicted my heart that day. Sometimes we are so focused on the rain and puddles and hard stuff in our lives, and God is saying “Turn around! I have all these treats for you! You just have to take them.” When we put our faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, He brings the most wonderful fruit basket: The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Joy is one of those fruits! It’s already in you, you just have to turn your attention to it and take hold of it. No one can take that joy away.
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. – John 16:24
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept 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. – John 15:10-11
The Greek Word for complete means to make complete in every particular, to render perfect. Well, my inner word geek wasn’t satisfied with that, so I looked up complete and perfect in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Complete: total, absolute, fully carried out
Perfect: being entirely without fault or defect, faithfully reproducing the original
The joy we get in Christ is full – not lacking, not defected, not in process. You get all of it. I know this sounds all well and good, but how do we take hold of this coming, lasting, complete joy? John 16 says to ask. How do we ask? We talk to God. We pray. Just a few moments earlier, in John 15, Jesus uses that same phrase. This time he says to keep God’s commands. How do we know what His commands are? We read the Bible. It’s how we abide in Him (John 15:1-17). So to take hold of the joy that’s already inside us, we spend time in prayer and reading our Bibles. When we do, it reminds us of His power that is always at work. It reminds us that He is in control. It reminds of us His never changing, never failing character. It reminds us that He is God and we are not. For me, I find so much freedom and joy in that.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33
As I was talking with some women about joy, my cousin Katie said, “I’ve always thoughts of joy as J-O-Y. Jesus Overcame Your _____. This world is not what it was meant to be. There is hurt, pain, sickness, hatred, pride, temptation, and fear. We are never promised a trouble free life. In fact, we are promised the opposite: In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart, sweet friend! The Greek word for Take Heart means to be of good courage, be of good cheer; it refers to God bolstering the believer, empowering them with a bold inner-attitude. It is the result of the Lord infusing His strength by His inworking of faith. Showing this unflinching, bold courage means living out the inner confidence that is Spirit-produced.
Several years ago, I did Priscilla Shirer’s Jonah Bible Study. During one of the sessions, she had a volunteer stand up and hold a glass of water out in front of her. Priscilla shook her arm and water spilled out everywhere. She asked, “Why did water spill out of the glass?” The audience responded, “Because you shook her arm.” Her next words deeply impacted the way I see my trials. She said, “No, water comes out the glass because water is what is in the glass.” When life shakes us, which it will, what’s inside of us will come out of us. Joy doesn’t come from external circumstances; joy comes from internal faith.
Life is going to shake us, but we can be of good cheer. We can have courage. We can have joy, because Overcoming Joy is inside us. For me last year, he overcame my pride and need for perfection. I learned to let go of the perfect tree, the perfect Christmas card, the perfect cookies. And something completely unexpected happened. As my kids came home with ornaments from church and school, I allowed them to hang those handcrafted ornaments on my bare tree. By the end of the season, I laid on the couch with joy – seeing the most beautiful tree with a clump of ornaments right in the middle – toothpick nativities, and handprint wreaths, cotton snowflakes and mangers of toilet paper rolls.
Last year, we found the greatest joy of Christmas: Jesus. Without all the distractions and the running around, we were able to focus on what Christmas was all about: the fact that Jesus came, Fully God – he came through the heavens descended down to earth, put on human skin, lived a sinless life, then for the joy set before Him, endured death on the cross – taking on the weight of every sin that has been and ever will be committed. Then He walked out of the grave on the third day – forever putting mourning back in its place – He defeated death, put Satan back in his place, so that we could have coming, lasting, complete, overcoming joy.
Because He overcame – You can overcome.
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. – 1 John 4:4
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. – Revelation 12:11
What is it for you? Where is your life are you struggling to find joy? You can overcome because He overcame this world – this broken, hard, painful world.
This was the message I shared at Adore this past Monday at our church. What a beautiful night of worship we had! I also announced that we are launching our first ever First Orlando Women’s Ministry Girlfriend Groups Advent Reading Plan (that’s a tongue twister!). See below for Week 1’s Reading Plan. We want to continue the habit of being in God’s Word even if we aren’t officially meeting for Girlfriend Groups until January. Enlist a few girlfriends to do this with you. Meet for coffee once a week for the next four weeks and spend some time rejoicing this season.