[ As I am prepared to post this message that I have been writing during this week, I see another barbaric terrorist attack in Munich, Germany. I have decided to post it anyway because our JOY is based on our relationship with God and goes beyond any earthly occurrences, regardless how horrific. At the same time, my prayers go to Munich and all those affected. ]
Psalm 100:1 “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all you lands.”
For a lot of people, joy is a far-off memory…. But, joy can be a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment experience.
You can experience the joy of feeling and being alive again. Jesus was the best teacher of joy.
There was a man that had great hardship in his life. For years he lived with a great sadness. One day, an ordinary day like today, he decided to give up sadness for joy. He said life is too short to be wasted, and he made a conscious decision to live in joy. It was as easy as that. He reported later, he never felt so alive, since childhood.
We all know that Jesus knew about joy. They knew that whenever they heard Jesus speaking, they would experience joy; that He would share ways they could use to experience the joy of being alive.
Just being around Him and sharing brought joy, I can imagine. Those with Him realized that Jesus would share with them simple, clear, understandable, easy ideas as to how they could experience more joy in their lives. They were just like us today—they wanted to experience the total joy of being alive.
They knew that not only would He share techniques and strategies they could use that would be simple and easy to understand, but He would be interesting and entertaining.
For our scripture, we will look at a situation that takes place in the ministry of Jesus where He was sharing ideas they could use to experience the joy of being alive. The beauty of it is that He was sharing it in an interesting and entertaining way. He would put the information in story form. If you want to get people’s attention and hold it, He knew, story form is probably the best form you could possibly use.
Luke 15:11-13, Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later, the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country.”
The story speaks to us out of the past with many levels of truth. The first level truth of the complete story is that you can search everywhere for joy, but it is found right where you are in your own backyard.
So, let’s look at these few verses. In those few verses are some ideas, some techniques, and some strategies you can use to experience the joy of being alive.
The first idea that comes out in this story is: Look at your rules. For a lot of us, very simply and easily put, if we are not experiencing very much joy in our lives, if we are not experiencing the joy of being alive, it’s probably because of our rules.
Look at your rules: What are the rules? What needs to happen in order for you to allow yourself to experience the joy of being alive?
One man admitted, honestly, “There was a time in my life when I had to be wearing a $1,500 suit, have $1000 dollars in my pocket, live in an expensive home, drive an expensive car—and the list went on and on—for me to be happy.
Needless to say, I had set it up so it was difficult for me to experience joy on a regular basis. Not only was it difficult—if I’m honest—it was probably impossible.”
Another person, a woman, an admitted workaholic, said that she could only experience joy when all of her work was done. The problem was the work was NEVER done.
A married couple admitted that they could only experience joy when they were away from home; the only problem with that rule, with two people working, they could barely ever get away and it started to affect their relationship.
One man had a rule of looking to retirement for his joy, in an imaginary future, instead of living in the joy of the moment. He put it off until some future time. The problem with this is—joy is a learned response to life; unless it is practiced, it is lost.
Maybe you, or someone you know, are doing that. Maybe you have life’s self-imposed rules set up in such a way that you have made it difficult, if not impossible, for you to experience joy on a regular basis.
You do have the power to change all of that for yourself. If you do wish to experience the joy of being alive on a regular basis, not just on rare occasions—you can change the rules.
One woman laughed saying: “I have only one rule now: Any day above ground is a good day.”
Spiritual people find joy in the ordinary, and even in the mundane.
Look at today and realize that this is, indeed, a great joyous day. This is a great day filled with a great opportunity for you to experience the joy of being alive. A spiritual person finds great joy in the ordinary days, when nothing special is happening.
If you are not experiencing the joy of being alive, look at your rules. Maybe you have made it too complex, too difficult, or too complicated; maybe you have set the game up where it is impossible for you to experience joy on a regular basis.
The younger son in this parable had done that. His rule for experiencing joy and happiness was to leave home and the relationship with his family. In his mind, he had to leave his father, and his family in order for him to experience the joy and happiness in being alive.
At one time or another, you have either been the parent figure or you have been the younger child. Let’s break it down and see if we can clothe it in modern language, and put it in a modern context.
What was going on? Just imagine when you leave your car later today, your younger son or daughter is waiting for you. He/she comes up to you and says, “Listen, I’m ready to leave and I’d like a little traveling money. You told me you were going to leave me some money when you die, right? I have an inheritance coming, right? Well, I’ll take my inheritance right now.”
Would that create a problem in your life? If you have children or grandchildren, you might plan to leave all of them some money. But if even one of them should come to you, today, and tell you that he/she wants their inheritance right now, you would have a problem. Your assets are probably not that liquid. You would have to sell several things in order to give him/her the inheritance you would like to leave.
So, this younger son has created a problem for you in demanding his inheritance. In a very real sense, this younger son is really saying that he does not want to have any reason to have to come back. He is saying, “I’m breaking the relationship between you and me. It’s over. Give me the money and I’m gone.”
By demanding his inheritance in advance, before his father passes away, he is actually breaking the relationship. That is the second idea for joy I’d like to share with you.
The second idea is: Look at your relationships.
In our lives, there are some relationships we do need to break; maybe even run away from. But those relationships, friends, that have nurtured, nourished, and encouraged us—supportive positive relationships—are those we want to keep. We do not want to break off from those relationships that are good and supportive, and that have proven over time that they are in our best interests.
This father has proven that he loves his son, yet the son wants to break this good relationship. Do not break good relationships. The joy in being alive will not come through things, but through love. The joy of being alive comes from the relationships we have with one another, and the relationship we have with God.
We want to nourish and encourage the good, positive relationships. And we want to go out and make new relationships with other individuals who are positive and willing to support and encourage us.
This boy, in his youth, inexperience, and desire to chase after illusive, imaginary joy and happiness, broke the relationship with his father. That is joy based on the false belief that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. That is why he was demanding the money up front.
Next, let us consider the father. What a man he must have been. He did not beg, barter, or bargain with his younger son. He just produced the money. He knew what was going to happen with that money. He knew his son was going to put it in sack, throw it across his back, head out toward the far country, and he would never see that cash again. His main worry was probably that he would never see his son again, but he knew the money would be gone. He was willing to allow this boy to do what he needed to do. Maybe this was a sign of love. He produced the money, gave it to him without any argument, and let him go.
No place outside of yourself will bring you happiness and joy – it must come spiritually from within you – and not be dependent on imagining destinations.
Many people do not have a good relationship with themselves, and the fight or flight response is against themselves. They fight themselves, all the time, with inner anger and turmoil, and have flight through substance abuse, or addictions of other kinds. This does not ever work because you cannot escape yourself. What is needed for joy is a new, higher kind of relationship with themselves.
The third major area to experience joy is: be intentional about our growth.
I want to say something good about this son. This boy, in Jesus’ story, represents growth. Don’t you admire a person who is willing to grow? Well, this boy is about growth. Sometimes, in order to grow, we have to actively seek change.
The boy thought as long as he was at home with his father, no matter how good the father was, he could not grow. He needed to leave.
I think, though, that you can leave without breaking off the relationship. The way he left was not good, but the fact that he was seeking growth was good.
One of the best ways to reinvent life is to reinvent yourself right where you are -to grow from within.. In the end it is the only thing that will lastingly work, because no matter where you go you take yourself with you.
If you want to experience the joy of being alive, look at your rules, look at your relationships, and intentionally be about growth. Put yourself in situations and dynamics where you can grow.
Pray to God that you are willing to grow to find lasting joy in your life
There have been times in your life when you had to go. School, a new job, getting married – these are all transitions in the quest to experience more joy in your life.
Many times, we have had to push the envelope of what we thought was possible to get to this growing stage of life. For this young boy, . in order to grow emotionally and mentally was that he had to go.
There is a presence and a power with you that is mightier than any circumstance. Once you accept that power from God, take that first step toward complete joy. Once you take the first step, God will be with you every step of the way. Take the first step in faith and growth; then take a look at that joyful smile on your face.
Take the first step towards the experience of the joy of being alive.
You know what it is, because when you go to walk through it, it will feel like walking on air. But when you get to the other side, you will experience the joy of being alive.
That’s my prayer for you this morning.
You deserve to experience the joy of being REALLY alive.
Look at your rules. Look at your relationships. Look at your growth. Look to God.
Let us pray,
Dear God, help me to honestly examine my life. Help me to reevaluate my self-imposed rules and tear down the self-imposed barriers, so that I can experience real joy, right now. Just for today, I will eliminate all rules, and conditions, that I have placed upon myself, and allow myself to experience Your joy.
Lord, help me to grow, help me to seek, help me to get past my fears so that I can feel totally alive again and taste the sweetness of JOY.
In Jesus Christ’s name . . . . Amen.