Experiencing Joy pt. 2: Why not?

If you're just joining us, or if you're reading this message off of the website, here's what you missed. We've been sharing our lists of all the blessings and mercies God has granted us. The purpose of this exercise is to make us aware of God's goodness and help us hold on to joy.

Let's go back for a moment to defining joy.

Joy is not happiness. Happiness is temporary and fleeting. Joy is permanent.

Joy is the knowledge of goodness. In our case, it's the knowledge of God's goodness. It is the rememberance of past blessings and the expectation of blessings to come. Joy is the act of dwelling on God's goodness. By doing so, we can exercise control over our emotions, creating happiness and fighting sorrow.

We've just heard a bunch of reasons why God is good. A plethora of blessings that remind us how wonderful He is. Now I'd like to briefly address how God is good when He DOESN'T bless us.

There are a lot of people out there who will tell you that God's ultimate goal is your own happiness. Therefore, God wants yous to have everything you desire, including money, health, popularity, good looks... all the things that are important to the world. I shudder to think what it would be like if this were true.

We know what it's like when parents are concerned only with giving their children material blessings. The children grow up to be spoiled rotten. They are unpleasant to be around. They are useless and lazy. With no concern for others, they are worthless free-loaders who cause those in need only pain. Placing their own desires on the throne of their lives, they screw up their lives and sabotage their chances at real happiness. Ultimately, catering to a child's selfish wants is self-defeating. Happiness does not lie down that road.

The "health and wealth camp" maintains that if you are godly, you will receive material gain, and that if you don't receive gain, you're in rebelion. The bible has this to say about them:
1 Timothy 6:5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
God wants us to be content, not healthy and wealthy. Indeed, these two states are so different that they are often at odds. He also wants us to be effective, able to take part in his work. worldly gain can very easily become a stumbling block to that as well.

Take Paul, for example. Paul had a major medical problem. We don't know exactly what it was, though many surmise it was poor eyesight. Paul prayed many times for the problem to be removed. God refused, saying "My grace is sufficient for Thee." Paul knew why the condition was not removed. Paul is to us the greatest of all prophets and apostles, second only to Jesus Christ Himself. It is primarily his writings which form our New Testament. Even Luke and Acts were written by his close companion. It would have been easy for Paul to become full of himself, had he not been given this "thorn in the flesh" to keep him humble.

I myself have several very inconvenient and rather painful medical conditions. I'd like very much to be rid of them, but I am glad to have them. Because I cannot work at a physically laborious job, I am free to do exactly what I'm doing right now.

God never promised we'd be rich in this life. He did promise to bless us richly if we are faithful in giving, and even gave us special permission to test Him in this area, but He never said that blessing would be financial. Take, for example, the widow who placed two coins in the offering while Jesus and the disciples were watching. She was faithful, giving all that she had to live on. Was she rich? Of course not. But you can bet that she was well taken care of. I believe that this woman was blessed with friends and relatives who loved her and cared about her, a happy home and food on the table, however meager, every day. I'm certain she had a roof over her head and clothes on her back. And the one blessing we do know of- Jesus himself honored her for her gift in such a way that wherever the gospel is preached, so too is her gift comemorated.

Those who are looking to be blessed with money may miss out on some wonderful things. Things more important than wealth.
Prov 17:1 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.
Prov 25:24 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

How awful it would be if God gave us all the things we asked for. I'm reminded of a song by Garth Brooks...

Just the other night a hometown football game
My wife nd I ran into my old high school flame
And as I introduced them the past came back to me
And I couldn't help but think of the way things used to be

She was the one that I'd wanted for all times
And each night I'd spend prayin' that God would make her mine
And if he'd only grant me this wish I wished back then
I'd never ask for anything again

She wasn't quite the angel that I remembered in my dreams
And I could tell that time had changed me
Inn her eyes too it seemed
We tried to talk about the old days
There wasn't much we could recall
I guess the Lord knows what he's doin' after all

And as she walked away and I looked at my wife
And then and there I thanked the good Lord
For the gifts in my life
In the song, Brooks says "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers." But if you pay attention, God didn't leave the prayer unanswered. He gave the man what he needed instead of what he asked for. God frequently does this for us. He knows what we truly need and gives it to us instead of those things we think we need.

The other day, someone came to me and asked me the classic question that all species dysphorics ask at one time or another. "Why doesn't God turn me into an animal?" (The actual question was species specific, but I don't want to embarass anyone by revealing their identity.) For the sake of argument, let's say it was John Smith wanting to be turned into a wolf. What are the options which result in John actually being a wolf?

1. Being born a wolf. Had that happened, John would have been one of God's creatures, but not His son. That intimate relationship would never have been created.
2. John gets turned into a normal wolf. Everything in John's human life is lost. His friends, his home, his job, and whatever task God has set for him. John becomes useless for God's work.
3. John gets turned into a wolf with a human mind. Let's hope John is not claustrophobic, because he's going to be seeing a lot of the inside of a cage in a government laboratory.
4. John gets turned into an anthropomorphic wolf. He'll be lucky if he survives to see the inside of a laboratory. More likely he'll be shot.

I like to think that in Heaven, God will allow us to assume those shapes which now we can only take in our imaginations. Until then, I'm glad he doesn't. Especially since if He did, people would be coming to Him purely for the power of metamorphosis. The church would be filled with people who don't give a rat's... uh... ear about Jesus. The same would be true if God went around doling out money or beauty or cadilacs to His followers. Because He doesn't, I can be reasonably sure that all of you are here because you are sincere in your desire to be God's children.

My challenge to the unsaved: understand that God is sincere. He isn't going to try to bribe you with gold or big muscles or phenomenal power. He does promise blessings of the sort we can handle and that we can live forever as His people. Understand that God's love is genuine and unpoluted, and return that love.

To the saved: Take encouragement from the fact that God not only gives us good things, he withholds things for our benefit as well. Because of this, we can trust his goodness, and in that trust lies joy.

Pastor Oren Otter
October 8, 2005