How’s your joy?

This week I’ve been watching the Women’s College World Series, which is all about softball games.  Oklahoma and Florida State played a best-of-three, which the Sooners took 2-1.  Game two on Wednesday was unforgettable, not so much for the hits and fielding but for the all-out joy and enthusiasm of fans and players alike. Perhaps because their championship calibre team had dropped the first game, but the fans seemed unusually pumped and volatile.

Since Oklahoma City hosts this annual series and since the University of Oklahoma’s team was in the playoff, this was like a home game to them, which means the stands will teeming with Sooners. Not an empty seat in the house, perhaps 15 thousand strong, and they were over-the-top excited.  Every victory from their team, no matter how small–a strikeout, a single, anything–and the fans went crazy.  Furthermore, the team itself was constantly cheering one another, even coming out of the dugout onto the field for some kind of cheer/dance.  It was fun to watch.

Contrast that with the men’s game, which is scheduled for two weekends away.  I’m a big fan and will watch all I can.  Hey, I’m retired and housebound for a while due to a medical thing.  The players will be excited and hollering, but nothing like the women.  In fact, in men’s college football, referees will penalize them for “excessive celebration.”  How crazy is that.  The women are out-of-sight enthusiastic in their celebrating, and the men get penalized.

I’m thinking the men’s rules were set by some Scrooge somewhere, someone who hates the very idea of joy and excitement.

I’ve seen that fellow Scrooge in some of my churches.  People who look upon fullness of joy as an aberration, an interruption in the authentic Christian life, and something to be gotten over as soon as possible. Their favorite scripture is one calling for leaders to be “grave” (I Timothy 3:8).

In one church I served, a small child, perhaps four years old, got into the aisle dancing to the music.  He was precious and all but one person in the area thought so.  I heard her say, “Someone stop that child–dancing in the Lord’s house!”  But no one did.  She was alone in her dislike for unrestrained joy.

God loves joy.  “In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). If we didn’t have another Scripture, that one would be enough.  But we do.

Imagine that, if you can.  Joy surrounding the Throne of Heaven.  What will that be like?  I don’t know, I can’t imagine, but I can’t wait.

We have tons of Scriptures…

–The joy of the Lord is thy strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine increased.  (Psalm 4:7)

My cup runneth over.  (Psalm 23:5).

You make him joyful with gladness in your presence.  (Psalm 21:6).

–A joyful heart makes a cheerful face.  (Proverbs 15:13).

–A cheerful heart has a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:15).

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)

And that’s just a sample from the Old Testament; the New Testament also…

My soul doth magnify the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  (Luke 1:46-47).

Rejoice that your names are recorded in Heaven.  (Luke 10:20).

-I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.  (Luke 15:7,10)

I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.  (John 16:22).

Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.  (John 16:24).

These things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.  (John 17:13).

–I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full.  (2 John 12).

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.  (3 John 4).

Had enough? We could do this all day!

Joy is the natural state for the people of God and takes many forms….

Laughter.  Weeping. Hugging.  Smiling.  A positive attitude.  A sunny disposition.  Singing.  Tears.  Gratitude.  A peaceful heart.  Exuberance.  Prayer.  Energy (for work).  Worship.  Appreciation. Speaking to others.  Art of all types. Boldness.  Courage.

Truly, the joy of the Lord is our strength.

I’m remembering two favorite stories of joy…

–As the new denominational leader for the SBC churches of metro New Orleans, I was visiting our churches. One Sunday I worshiped with FBC Harahan where Carl Hubbell was pastor.  They may have had a hundred in the building, and the service had been rather routine.  On the pew behind me sat a young boy of maybe 9 or 10 who looked like he’d rather be outside playing ball.

After the sermon, the final thing in the order of worship was a layman who led a prayer time.  “Anyone have a prayer request?” he asked and took a few from the congregation.  And then, “Before we pray, does anyone have a praise to share?”  That’s when the kid behind me broke up the service.

Two nights earlier, the championship football team from nearby John Curtis Christian School had traveled to Birmingham to play Hoover High School’s team. They were ranked #1 and #2 in the nation.  It was a big deal.  Our local team had won.

So, when the deacon asked if anyone had a praise, this young lad spoke up. “We kicked Hoover’s butt!”  The congregation exploded in laughter and applause.  It was the best thing that happened in that service.  If I could have arranged it, I’d have had that happen at the start of the worship service because it broke the ice and bonded everyone.  Laughter and joy can do that.

Knowing this, pastors have been known to try to arrange for laughter through a funny story or something clownish, but it rarely works.  The best kind of humor in a worship service happens spontaneously, something perhaps even engineered by the Holy Spirit.  You cannot plan that, but you can pray for it to happen.

–When Jack Hinton was a pastor in New Bern, NC, he took a group from his church on a mission trip to Tobago in the Caribbean.  One day they ministered at a leprosarium, a retreat facility for lepers.  As they fanned out across the campus they had their hearts broken by what leprosy does to humans.  After a bit, the director of the hospital invited Pastor Jack and the Carolinians to hold a worship service in their chapel.  The patients were all able to walk, although a few helped one another.

As they entered, Pastor Jack, standing at the front of the chapel, saw something unusual.  A woman entered and took a seat on the back row, and turned to face the wall.  That was strange.

The Carolina group had some songs, prayers, testimonies, and Scriptures.  Then Pastor Jack said, “Folks, we have time for one more song.  Does anyone have a favorite hymn you’d like us to sing?”  And now for the first time, the little woman on the back row turned around.

Pastor Jack found himself staring at the most hideous face he had ever seen.  Because of leprosy, the woman had no nose.  And no lips.  And when she raised her hand, there was no hand there, just a  bony nub.

She said, “Could we sing ‘Count Your Many Blessings’?”

Pastor Jack just lost it.  He stood there, tears welling up in his throat, unable to get a word out.  Finally, he stepped outside the building and wept.  Someone else led the song.  One of the men walked outside and put his arm around his pastor.  “You’ll never sing that song again, will you, Jack?”

The pastor said, “Oh yeah.  I’ll sing it.  But not in the same way.”

Can you count your blessings?  How’s your joy?

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