God's Formula for Joy
By Dr. Gene Scott
JOY IS NOT HAPPINESS! Happiness is dependent on circumstances. Joy can exist in spite of and indeed conquer one’s circumstances. I believe that there are laws in the spiritual world just as operative as those in the natural world. The Bible reveals those laws, and this discovery can completely change a life.
This focuses on one such “law,” the Bible way for bringing joy into one’s life. To a world filled with pain, anxiety, fear, conflict and suffering, I offer the encouraging news about God’s Formula For Joy!
THE BIBLE RECORD
“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” Philippians 4:4
THE VOICE OF EXPERIENCE
There are two men in God’s Book who are unusual examples to us in their joy and rejoicing in the Lord: David in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament. When we hear their calls to rejoice and remember their lives, we can never say, “Let them rejoice; but they just don’t understand my circumstances.” Yes, they do! They have been where we have been and faced worse circumstances. That is why the Psalms bless us the way they do.
David wrote about his relationship with God in experiences which included those like you and I encounter. He knew victory but he also knew defeat. He knew times of plenty and he knew times of want. He knew sorrow and he knew joy. He knew fulfillment and he knew disappointment. His Psalms speak of what God can mean in the kind of life which most of us have to live.
Paul was like that, too. We are prone to look on him as such a superman, and yet he speaks to us out of circumstances like our own. Do you think you can’t rejoice with what you’re facing? Paul’s reactions belie those of any man who says that circumstances are just too tough for one to live rejoicing through life.
THE PRISONER’S LETTER OF JOY
Paul lived his faith in circumstances which were terrible to a degree far beyond all of us. His epistle to the Philippians was a letter written in exactly that kind of trying experience. Yet his epistle to the Philippians has been called “The Epistle of Joy.” The letter is synthesized in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” This is an imperative command: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say” - lest you miss it - “Rejoice!” That verse is the text for this study.
Joy is not happiness. We have happiness cults in our country where everybody is wanting happiness all the time. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances; it is a reaction to a circumstantial condition. Joy goes deeper than that.
Paul wrote in the sixth chapter of the second letter to the Corinthians that he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Joy transcends sorrowful circumstances. It can transcend any circumstance, and Paul commands the Christian to rejoice. Small wonder that many people are not adequate in their witness; they are lamenting that they have been in “the Way” so long and hoping they can last it out. Paul says, “Rejoice!” Where is he when he says this? In jail!
The book of Acts tells how Paul set out for Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit constrained him. Now
circumstances must have attracted him to Bithynia or he wouldn’t have wanted to go. It is obvious God didn’t tell him to go, for it was the Holy Spirit who constrained him. He listened to the Holy Spirit and went instead to Troas, where an angel appeared to him and said, “Come over to Macedonia.” Paul goes in the will of God by the invitation of the angel, and when he arrives at Philippi, his first stop, he is beaten. What a way to live!
I’ve often paused to pay attention to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians; here he says with cold precision, “Five times received I forty stripes save one.” There were many people counting when those beatings were going on: the one who wielded the whip, the judge, the advocate of the one being beaten, and the one who received the beating. The man who wielded the whip had better be sure that he did not give one too few or one too many strokes; for if he missed the count, he received a beating himself. On the other end of the whip the man was counting each time it fell - thirty-nine lashes. Don’t you ever think it didn’t hurt. It hurt Paul as much as it would hurt you.
Paul, sent by an angel to Philippi, sits in jail with blood from the beating running down his back. But instead of bemoaning his lot and demanding why God hadn’t let him go to Bithynia, Paul nudges his fellow prisoner and begins to sing. The jail is shaken, they are delivered, and the frightened jailer soon receives the Gospel. That cruel jailer ends up being baptized along with his household.
Eleven years later, after many more beatings and jails, Paul writes from yet another prison cell to this household of faith in Philippi. He tells them to rejoice! They should have been writing him, but he writes to them and his message is a constant expression of joy!
Tune in on the circumstances and look at the tone of this letter. Philippians 1:4 says, “Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” Verse 18 continues, “I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” Verse 25 speaks of the “joy of faith,” and verse 26 turns to Paul’s hope that others rejoicing might be more abundant in Jesus Christ.
Open the second chapter and immediately in the second verse Paul says, “Fulfill ye my joy.” In verse 16 he looks forward to “rejoicing in the day of Christ.” In verse 17, though he considers the possibility of martyrdom, yet he is saying, “I joy, and rejoice.” In verse 18 he says, “Rejoice with me”-and he’s in jail. In verse 28 he admonishes them that they “may rejoice” and refers to “all gladness” in verse 29.
The third chapter begins, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” I take comfort that Paul says, “Finally,” a half dozen times in his books before he gets done. A preacher who says he’s on the last point and keeps going is in good company. “Finally, my brethren,” says Paul, “rejoice in the Lord,” and in verse 3, “Rejoice in Christ Jesus.”
Sitting in jail, Paul looks back over those things which he had given up - so much more than most of us - and says, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things.”
Then in the fourth chapter we come to the climactic verse on which this study is based: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” Those words leap out to convict me every time I read them. As I look at Gene Scott’s Christian journey, I see that all too often it has been taken up by moaning over circumstances. Here is Paul in much worse circumstances than I’ve ever seen, yet every line of his letter peals out with joy! He gives is as a command, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” He doesn’t, however, just command and leave it there. He becomes eminently practical. In the verses that follow he gives the formula for activating the command. It is no magical or mystical formula. Instead, it is a disciplined behavior pattern that, if practiced, will bring joy.
THE JOY PATH - PART ONE
Beginning with Philippians 4:5, Paul says, “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” Focus on the word “known.” the Greek word used is different than other words for “knowing.” This word means a kind of “knowing” that is the result of actual experience.
Later we’ll discuss the word translated “moderation” by the King James translators. But for this point please see that Paul pleads for a moderation we are to make known to all people by letting them undergo an experiential relationship with us. We are to allow them to realize our moderation through actual encounters with it in our lives.
What is this moderation? It comes from an ancient Greek word. Those who study philosophy will encounter it in Aristotle’s ethics. It is that temper of mind which contents itself with less than its due. It shrinks, or draws back, or fails to insist upon exact rights for itself.
Let’s be very specific in this lesson. When I look at Christians in counseling as a pastor, I find they come in all tensed up. Normally the root of their problem is found in an over-conscious awareness of themselves. They are centered in on themselves and everything radiates out of that center. But Paul, speaking to people living in a city where they are constantly abused by others who hate Christians, says, let your attitude, frame of mind, and experiential flow be such that those who meet you will learn by that experience of association that you are not one of those demanding persons who must have eye for eye, tooth for tooth, exact rights for everything.
I’ve seen the lack of this moderation quality break up home life. Somebody tries to be nice to you after they have done something to you. You might want the fight to cease, but you are determined that the other one must apologize for every item in the battle that was fought - line upon line, jot upon jot, tittle upon tittle. “I am going to have my due,” you insist. “I’m not appreciated for what I really am.” “I’m determined that you’ll understand my rights in the situation.” “I refuse to go on and allow myself not to be understood fully.” “I want to have my say, my day in your court.” “I want you to hear me out until you can understand.”
Paul says we are not to do that. We are certainly not going to have any joy so long as that tightly pulled strand in our nature insists upon our exact rights, every time, our way. Weiss translates the verse this way: “Let your reasonableness, your being satisfied with less than your due, become known to all men.” Paul means let your associates “experience it.”
Now the Bible says, “Be not anxious.” Some people stop reading right there and start getting anxious about their anxieties. Paul is always balanced in his teaching. True, he gives a command to be different than the world. He does not want us to be grabbing and grasping like the world in its pursuits; but he doesn’t just give you the negative, he also gives you the positive as a counterbalance.
As he said to the Romans, “Overcome evil” - not by carrying a club and beating yourself over the head night and day - “Overcome evil with good!” Paul anticipated the displacement psychologist of today, and that was more than 1900 years ago. You put the evil aside by pouring in a greater channel of goodness.
How do you get over this grabbing, tenacious, unbending, demanding of your rights in every circumstance? How do you let your moderation be known unto all men? How and why? The word unique to Scripture is maranatha. This word translated means “the Lord is at hand.” This realization gives perspective.
Suppose I’m angry. I determine not to continue in fellowship with some fellow because he’s wrong. I grind away and gnash my teeth and grieve God’s Spirit and sour my spirit because I want my due. He’s wronged me, after all.
But if I really believed that before this day ended the Lord might come, how important would this issue be to me? This man who troubles me is going to stand before the righteous Judge of eternity whose judgments, as the New Testament Corinthian letter puts it, will be according to the “hidden . . . counsels of the heart.” Nothing can be hidden from that Judge. If I really believe that the Lord is at hand, I’m not half as insistent upon doing my own inadequate job of judging.
From the personal standpoint, with the throne of Heaven, the joy of His presence, and eternity by His side, “at hand” any moment, how ludicrous to be bothered by an odd member from a church, to be worried about somebody taking advantage of me in business, or to be upset over trivial things that rob us of joy.
Christians remember that “unto those who look for him will he appear the second time.” We need a clear view and expectancy of the second coming of Christ to enable us today to say what Paul was saying. His prison meant nothing to him. It was better to depart than to remain; he wanted to go. Paul, 1900 years ago, lived in constant expectancy of the Lord’s appearing: “The Lord is at hand.” If it was close then, how much closer now?
Let your attitude lose some of its rigidity. Let your demanding sternness yield to a malleable spirit. Live in an awareness, which is a living testimony to the world, that there are some things more important than the little daily controversies we struggle over. “The Lord is at hand.”
THE JOY PATH - PART TWO
Next Paul says, “Be careful for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). Do you know what that means literally? Paul is saying, don’t be worried and have anxious care about even one little thing. I would really like to ask if there is anyone who can say that in the last thirty days he hasn’t been anxious or worried about even one little thing? We know that we have been. That’s because until Jesus comes and the “God of peace shall sanctify us wholly” over there, we are sinners saved by grace. Paul gives us the answer: don’t be anxious about even one little thing. How do you accomplish this freedom from anxiety? You displace it.
God’s Book is so practical. It says, “God inhabits the praise of His people.” You cannot put the mind in gear to articulate praises to God and still keep that mind focused on anxieties or the things of time. As you continue to praise, God responds to the sacrifice of praise from the lips and His presence becomes manifest. He inhabits the praises of His people.
The knowledge that “the Lord is at hand” ought to prepare you for this displacement of anxiety. Paul’s answer is so practical. You cease to be so demanding in your nature and focus your mind, not on that which you think is your due, but on the coming of the Lord. Instead, when the anxieties arise you put something in their place. Go close the door, and somewhere in the closet do what Paul tells you to do. It’s so practical that it suffers from being unspectacular.
There’s a double negative in the Greek when Paul says, “Don’t be anxiously worrying about not even one little thing. Rather, in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”
Take your pencil and circle the words in Philippians 4:6: prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving. In the Greek the word “prayer” places the emphasis on that kind of prayer which is focused on the recognition of the worthiness of the object. Worship prayer is what is really meant by this word. It is a devotional expression and focuses its attention on the object of the prayer or utterance.
Worship really means “worth-ship.” Now this is Paul’s formula when the anxious care settles in: don’t entertain it, but immediately begin to displace it by changing your mind’s focus from that which is bringing anxiety to the worth-ship of God. With your lips begin to utter the prayer of praise to Him.
In the Old Testament, before the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and present the petitions of all God’s people to God, under penalty of death he had to kindle the altar of incense in the Holy Place. Before he could part the veil, as he did once a year to bring the people’s needs before God, he must burn incense until the smoke of it entirely filled the Holy Place. We don’t have to wonder what the incense symbolized: Praise! Devotion! God, in that Old Testament type, with the stringent penalty of death for deviation, said, “Before you ask me for help, fill my house with that which symbolizes praise.”
Christians have too often made praise a reaction. When something happens through someone else’s devotion, then they feel like praising God. They go away saying, “Oh, what a wonderful service!” They search out other services like that for the rest of their lives.
The praise Paul speaks about is not to be a reaction. It’s a sacrifice. The word “sacrifice” is used three times in the New Testament as an act of worship. Sacrifice of praise is one of those three. We are to sacrifice praise from our lips.
As I walked to the phone the other morning at a camp in Australia, anticipating bad news on a long-distance call from America, Paul’s words came into my mind. I didn’t feel like obeying, but I crowded those anxious fears out of my mind by making my lips form, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” I began to pray, with praise.
When you have started to praise, you have your attention on the One to whom you bring your supplication. That’s the next word we are going to look at. “In everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Supplication in the Greek focuses on the needs. As the word translated prayer focuses on the One to whom the prayer is aimed, the word supplication focuses on the needs which I am presenting to God. Be specific. If your toe hurts, don’t pray for the ankles. Say, “Lord, my toe hurts!”
As Hezekiah in the Old Testament spread the letter concerning Sennacherib before the Lord, bring your need specifically before the Lord ( 2 Kings 19:14). Spell it out. Don’t say, “Lord, you know my heart.” “With the heart man believeth . . . But with the mouth confession is made” (Romans 10:10). Yield to the Holy Spirit and let Him specify those needs according to the will of God (Romans 8:26). Prayers, then supplication. Spell it out to Him after you have praised Him.
Now Paul adds thanksgiving to this formula: “Prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving.” I get along well with the Lord until I come to that one. It’s hard for me when I’m in one of those anxious times to be thankful, but it’s necessary. It’s as though the current will flow only if we plug the cord into all the different outlets.
When it comes to prayer some people say, “The veil is rent and we come before the throne boldly,” and they barge into God’s presence demanding, “Give me this!” But let us start with praise, spell out the need, then be thankful. Stop there and pause for a moment. You have told Him your needs, now start thanking Him: “With thanksgiving let your requests be made known.” This fourth word, request, focuses on the object being asked for. That’s why you thank the Lord before you ask it.
All of us face anxiety. You can dwell on the anxiety. In the middle of the night when anxious cares come and your eyes seem to be stapled open, you can lie there constantly focusing on the problem. Instead, turn from that problem and defeat the devil by sending up praise, then supplicate and thank Him and tell the Lord what you would like to have, but thank Him first, for this is an act of submission to His will in the matter.
THE JOY PATH - GOD’S PART
What does God promise? I’ve talked about man’s side up to here, but everything leads up to this point. Paul directs us to do only that which is in our capacity. I cannot manufacture peace and joy, but I can do this: I can examine the rigidity of my nature and the tenacious demanding of my rights alongside the awareness that the Lord is at hand. I can cease my demanding and begin to let others see a softer side to my nature as I begin to live with the expectancy of His coming. That much I can do.
It is within my power to turn the eye of my mind from the anxious distracting care and look to God, articulating praise, spelling out my devotion, spelling out my need, spelling out my thanksgiving, and spelling out that which I’d like to have. That’s within human reach. Until I have reached for that it is as though there is a barrier between the dynamo of God’s power and me. That which is in God will not flow until I’ve done my practical job. When I’ve done that much, this is what God promises: “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
In the Greek this phrase gives a picture of garrisons - literally garrisons - of God’s angels that He sends to keep and care for us. God goes to work when I practically discipline myself in the steps just outlined by Paul.
Don’t count on God moving until you take your required steps. When I have done my part, God sends His angels to garrison my heart, the emotional side, and my mind, that which produces the fears, the imaginations of the mind. He will literally build a fence around me to keep out the “fiery darts of the enemy.”
God garrisons my heart with peace until I can say as Paul did, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). The word “therewith” is in italics, which means that it was added by the translators. The addition of this word makes the verse seem to suggest that we are somehow less than Christian if we don’t learn to be content with every state that comes along.
I don’t imagine that Paul fell in love with prison. He didn’t learn to be content with beatings. Paul is not saying that he has learned to be content with each state. Strike out the word “therewith;” it shouldn’t be there. This is what Paul said: “I have learned in whatsoever state I am . . . to be content.” Not with the state, just content anyway.
Now, following these remarks, Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). If I am honest, I cannot say that same thing to the degree that Paul does, but I’m saying it more this year than I did last year. By God’s grace, I’m pressing toward that mark. In a world that has no hope, it is a shameful reflection on the testimony of any Christian if we can’t radiantly express that there is a place in Christ where we can be content - no matter what happens! The world must be able to see our contentment.
“The Lord is at hand.” When the anxious cares come in, roll it off on Him and the God of peace will garrison your heart. Try it, you’ll see. You too can do “all things through Christ,” the unlimited source of all strength and joy.
- From the book, Short Lessons from the Big Book, by Dr. W. Eugene Scott, PH.D. - © 2007
Prayer Requests for April, 2009
For Henry Buckaloo, McAlester, Oklahoma, who is having blood pressure and heart problems.
For Ed Ewing, our friend in Tulare, California, who is 88 years old.
For Earl Oswalt, Jr., McAlester, Oklahoma, who has Malignant Melanoma above his waist area.
For Robert Heffernan, Grady, Arkansas, that he’ll continue to get better with his forearm crutches, and that he’ll be able to walk on his own soon. Also pray that his case gets back into court soon.
For Nolan Holland’s brother, Chester, who has a bad aorta valve in his heart. Nolan is at Tucker, Arkansas.
For Freddie Lee Lott, Galesburg, Illinois, that his cancer stays in remission.
For Willie Clark, Iowa Park, Texas, that he makes parole this year.
For Pastor Melissa Scott & her ministry in Los Angeles, California.
For Willie Scott, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for his health and that his cancer stays in remission.
For Jerry Herring’s friend, Sue Ann, who needs a new job. She just quit working for a Sheriff’s department in Texas.
For Chris Harley at Florence, Arizona, for his allergies.
For Frank Williams, Jr., Death Row, Grady, Arkansas, who is about to have his case decided by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
For Sister Ann & all the Carmelite nuns in Little Rock.
For Anthony Grayson, Fallsburg, New York, for guidance in preparing his new appeal.
For Willie Harper, Joliet, Illinois, that he stays “cancer free.”
For all of us at Wingspread.
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Due to a lack of space it will be a short note this month. We are still cleaning up from the ice storm we had two months ago. Branches and limbs are hanging broken high in the trees. It will be some time before it all gets cut down.
But spring is here and everywhere there is new life and rebirth from the cold dark earth. it’s a joy to see the mountain come to life again, and to see some new plant sticking it’s head above the earth every few days.
And soon it’s Easter. It’s a celebration of life, to all who have faith in the Resurrection of Jesus. I wonder how many people really do believe He was dead, but now lives.
Nature itself shows us that life does exist even in the dead limbs and cold earth. But without a revelation from God, not even the disciples believed, for the Bible tells us in John 20:9: “For as yet they knew not the scriptures, that he must rise again from the dead.” Jesus had repeatedly told them that He would be killed and that He would rise again. But it took a revelation from God before they received the faith to know that it was true. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:19,20).
This Easter may you come to know “the faith that has substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), and a looking for that blessed day when we will know a new life by experience.
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