JOY THE CHARACTERISTIC OF WORSHIP
'And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost' (Acts 13:52)
A Spirit-filled person is a joyful person. Yet it is often the case that joy does not characterise a person who is born again of the Spirit of God. Many who have received Jesus Christ as Lord are not joyful. Christians can become so caught up with the burdens of everyday life that there is no joy in their lives. New methods of evangelism are not the great need of the body of Christ. The great need is for worshippers who will bring the joy of knowing Jesus to a world that is without hope, and full of anxiety, fear and heartbreak. The call to become disciples of Christ would be much more appealing to those who do not know Him if believers were filled with excitement and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Why is it that the majority of believers are not joyful? It is because they have not gone up to worship. There will always be a lack of worship when there is a lack of joy, and there will always be a lack of joy when there is a lack of worship. Believers should be known for the joy of the Lord at all times, whether we are on our own or meeting together. We can lose the joy to worship for many different reasons. We can be hindered from going up to worship because we have become content with a past experience. We must continuously be seeking after Christ. We can also be hindered from going up to worship because of past sin. We cannot hold on to sin in our hearts and still be worshippers. Sin will make us miserable and we cannot worship without joy. Believers must put on the whole armour of God in order to remain in the place of joyful worship.
There are those who have experienced the joy of salvation, they are committed believers knowing that their sins are forgiven, and they are on their way to heaven, yet their lives do not in any way reflect a relationship with the Lord that is 'joy unspeakable and full of glory'. Although they are genuinely saved, they can be a hindrance to others who could be led to follow Christ. What is wrong? They are joyless because they are not worshipping believers. Many people who go regularly to church are like this. The desire to seek after Christ is missing. They know that one day they will be with the Lord, but they do not live their lives in expectation of meeting Him. Unless we have a determination to worship the Lord in our daily lives then we will naturally descend to this level of Christian experience.
Why is it that when believers come together there is often no evidence of joy? When the desire to worship is lacking then meetings become a formality. The excitement of knowing Christ will be missing. Even groups that have seen a move of God can become proud of their past experience and have no desire to move higher in worship. Sometimes churches have associated blessing with a lively style of meeting, but real joy in the Holy Spirit will only come through a relationship with the Lord Jesus. Lively meetings can attract people to church, but only the joy in the Holy Spirit will attract people to Christ. The church needs to know joy that is renewed continuously in the lives of the people through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. A worshipper of the Lord Jesus Christ is always characterised by joy. The psalmist David said he would offer sacrifices of joy: 'therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.' (Psalm 27:6)
This does not mean that a worshipper can never be sad. The joy of the worshipper will never leave; not even at times when the heart may be broken. The joy of the Holy Spirit will flow out of a broken spirit. Being joyful does not mean that the worshipper must always be laughing. Sometimes the joy of worship is expressed in laughter, but this is not always the case. Joy was expressed through laughter at the time of the return from Babylonian captivity. The psalmist wrote, 'When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD has done great things for them.' (Psalm 126:1-2). But joy is not dependent upon favourable circumstances. The greatest worshippers have worshipped in the midst of great sorrow. The joy of the Lord is a joy that is rooted in the Lord and rejoices in the goodness of God.
David was a man after God's own heart because he desired to worship. He allowed a wrong spirit to lead him into adultery and murder, and he had gone down from the place of worship because of his sin. Psalm 51 is not just the prayer of a man seeking forgiveness. It is the prayer of a man who desires once again to go up to worship. He wants to possess everything necessary for worship. He wants to worship in the house of God where God is 'more present'. He cannot worship without the Holy Spirit. He needs deliverance from his sin. He needs to approach God with a clean and a right spirit once again. But he needs more than this; he needs the joy of His salvation. He cannot worship without joy. David asked the Lord to restore the joy of his salvation: 'Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.' (Psalm 51:12)
David desired joy so that he could teach people the way of the Lord, but only worshippers can do this effectively. He knew that worship and witness are linked together: 'Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto You.' (Psalm 51:13). The church needs to learn this today. We need to understand that the ways of the Lord must be taught with joy. All ministries within the body of Christ must be carried out joyfully. We may have to minister in very difficult situations, but this must never affect our joy. With joy David could once again enter into worship through praise and thanksgiving. With a joyful heart he would sing of the righteousness of the Lord. '...and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.' (Psalm 51:14-15)
David sought to move higher in worship from praise to the sacrificial offering of a broken spirit. In himself he had no strength left at all. He could do nothing to lift himself. He was a broken man. All youthful confidence had gone, and all he could do was to call upon the Lord. He could not defend himself; he stood in brokenness. He knew his failings. He wanted only to worship. Yet his weakness was the place of strength with God because worship with a broken spirit is the path that leads to the higher realm of anointed worship. 'For you do not desire sacrifice; else would I give it: you delight not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.' (Psalm 51:16-17)
David had failed by committing terrible sin. The consequences of his sin were disastrous, and he suffered for the rest of his life. Yet David was not going to give up. He was only able to worship by rising up above the situation. He was determined to fulfil his calling to worship. He needed joy to be able to witness and to worship. It was necessary for David to forgive himself in order to worship. Many of God's people are stopped from going up to worship because they cannot rise above their situation and circumstances. If we will not forgive ourselves for things that we have done then we will not be able to worship. Being miserable is not humility. It can often be pride. We must learn to forgive both others and ourselves. If we have anger in our hearts then we will not be able to worship. We must worship with joy.
This means everything a believer does should be done joyfully. Whatever is not done joyfully is not worship because everything that is an act of worship must be done with rejoicing. How we do things is just as important as what we do. The scripture says: 'And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;' (Colossians 3:23). The word heartily in the Greek literally means 'from the soul'. Everything that we do should be done as an offering to the Lord with joyfulness. If we lived our daily lives like this then we would attract many people to Christ. Every moment of our lives is an opportunity to worship. We can express the joy of the Lord to others everywhere; whether we are at work, in shops, in our homes, in restaurants, anywhere. If we have the joy of the Lord in our daily lives people will ask us why we are so happy. This would give many opportunities to be worshipping witnesses to the Lord Jesus.
Giving is an act of worship when it is done with joy. This is an important part of the Christian life. God is a giving God and when God's people move in the Holy Spirit they will be characterised by generosity. But giving that is done legalistically and without joy is not worship. The Bible says that 'God loves a cheerful giver ' (2 Corinthians 9:7). This is because worshipful giving is always cheerful giving. The Greek word translated 'cheerful' means 'hilarious'. The worshipper gives with joyous laughter.
Have you ever received something from somebody who begrudged giving it to you? The need was met, but it left a bad feeling. It can make you feel very humiliated for being in a state of need, and saying thank you is a duty because you know that you were only helped because the person felt obliged to do so. There is no joy in either party because it was given in a wrong manner. People give like this to God. It can meet a need in the body of Christ, but it is not worship. Paul says that if I do anything without love it will profit me nothing. The reward of the Lord is for worshippers.
Witnessing must always be with joy. Evangelising with joy will attract people to Christ. When I received the Lord as my Saviour, I was fearful of giving out tracts, but I felt that I had to do it. There was no joy when I gave out tracts this way, and I felt terrible when people refused to take a tract from me. But one day I realised that I did not have to do it. I was freed from the bondage of having to, and I came into the liberty of wanting to. If we desire to attract people to Christ we must learn to be worshippers in witnessing. The excitement of knowing Jesus will be seen in us when we are motivated by the love of Christ and joy in the Holy Spirit. This will always have far greater results than witnessing as a sense of duty.
Worshippers will always talk about Jesus. Our mouths will speak about whatever the heart is full of. When people speak we can easily know the things that their hearts are filled with. Jesus said: 'Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks'. (Luke 6:45). If our hearts are full of the Lord, we will speak of the Lord. If our hearts are full of the things of the world, we will speak of those things. If we know the Lord as our friend then we will not be ashamed to speak of Him. It is good to invite people to church, but it is much better to tell them about Jesus. People will be drawn to Christ when they see the joy that we have in knowing Him.
When Saul of Tarsus persecuted the believers before his Damascus Road conversion, the church was scattered. They were not silenced by the persecution because their hearts were full of the joy of the Lord. The worshippers went everywhere talking about Jesus. They preached the word in everyday conversation wherever they went, and Philip the evangelist boldly proclaimed Christ to the crowd in Samaria. 'Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.' (Acts 8:4-5). The Great Commission, 'Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature' (Mark 16:15) will only be fulfilled by worshippers speaking about Jesus everywhere and at every opportunity.
People will be attracted to Christ when His disciples are filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit of Christ, and excited about their relationship with Jesus. But believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit must also be filled with the word of God. The scripture says, '...be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ', (Ephesians 5:18-20).
In Colossians the scriptures are called 'the word of Christ'. If we desire Christ, we will desire His word. If we love Christ, we will love His word. If we desire to walk in close relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ then we must build ourselves up in the word of God. Scripture tells us that being filled with the Spirit is linked with being filled with the word of God. The life of worship involves speaking the scriptures to ourselves, and meditating upon the word. It is singing in our hearts to the Lord, giving thanks for all things, and being eager to meet together with other believers in order to build one another up in the Lord. 'Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.' (Colossians 3:16). We are a body called to worship together, and to build one another up in the body of Christ. Worshippers cannot be isolated. The desire to worship goes together with the desire for fellowship among the people of God. If we have no desire for fellowship then we will never reach the high levels of worship.
The great need of the church today is for the joy of the Holy Spirit. Believers in Christ who do not have joy are not worshippers. If we do not have joy then our giving will have no value in worship even though our gift will still meet the need for which it was given. Worship involves the whole of life, and worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth must be done with joy. We must be joyful witnesses to the Lord because joy will attract others to Christ. If our hearts are full of the Lord, then we will naturally speak of the Lord with joy. Those who love the Lord will love His word. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit we will be filled with joy, ‘...for the joy of the Lord is our strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10).