Jim Cymbala

B. Childress
Jun 09 2013

In the late eighties, Bobby McFerrin wrote and performed a little song called “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”  The song had a
Caribbean feel to it, but instead of using instruments to accompany his voice, McFerrin recorded it a cappella.  All of the
“music” came from overdubbed vocals, whistling, and other sounds made by McFerrin.  The song hit number one on the
charts, and people enjoyed singing along with the happy little tune.  Of course, the message offered a great
psychological boost too.  Don’t worry.  Just be happy.  Let go of  your anxieties and enjoy life.  It made sense.  Being
happy is probably something we’d all like to do more.  But that leads to a simple question: how?

Happiness verses Joy

Happiness ebbs and flows based on our changing circumstances.  A new baby or grandchild is born, and we’re all
smiles.  We win a free vacation, and we’re ecstatic!  The boss gives a big raise just when we need the extra money, and
we’re elated.  But the euphoria is only temporary.  Inevitably something changes and takes our happiness with it.  The
baby gets sick; our vacation gets rained on; our job is eliminated by a corporate merger.  The positive feeling is fleeting.  
At best we’re left feeling empty, and at worst, even angry.

So how do we get our happiness back when the situation changes?  We can’t wish happiness back.  We can’t chase it.  
Trying harder to regain it only produces frustration.  If circumstances alone make us happy, then our situation has to
change for us to be happy again.  Yet that’s precisely the reason we’re unhappy.  We don’t, and never will, have control
over the things that make for “don’t worry, be happy.”

Happiness is circumstantial and elusive, but joy is not circumstantial.  We can have joy even when we’re not happy.  
Some may hear Christians talking about joy and think the joy is just a religious word for happiness.  But joy differs from
happiness.  If the situation is right, anyone can experience happiness.  Even people who don’t know God or who curse
God can be happy.  But they don’t have joy, for that blessing in life has a totally different source.

According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit produces joy.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added).  Isn’t it interesting that joy is
mentioned immediately after love?  Obviously God doesn’t want us to live depressed, cranky, and bitter lives.  He knows
that happiness is fleeting, so through the Spirit, he gives us supernatural joy that transcends our circumstances.  Joy is
a beautiful gift that accompanies salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is a gift imparted by the Holy Spirit to our
innermost being.

Inexpressible and Glorious Joy

If joy is a gift, we should expect to see more of it in the church, yet we’re often surprised when we do.  However, when we
recognize that true joy doesn’t come from our circumstances but rather from God, we begin to see joy as a blessing for
everyday life.  And that joy from the Spirit will make us distinctive to the culture around us.


A certain woman in our church is known for her sunny disposition and the joy in her heart; she’s a real saint of God.  
One day more than fifteen years ago, she came to my office and said she needed to talk.

“I just found out that I have HIV,” she said.  “I contracted it from my husband.  He’s a drug addict.”

I sat forward in my chair and lowered my head, thinking of the devastation in that sentence.

“I’m here for two reasons, Pastor.  The first is that I wanted to tell you personally so you wouldn’t hear it from someone
else.  The second is because I need counsel on whether I should tell my children, and if so, when would be the best
time?  I don’t want them to be hurt if I don’t tell them, but I don’t want them to worry either.”

As she told me this, she was amazingly composed.  There was a sweetness about her spirit that caught me totally off
guard.  A part of me wanted to ask, “What planet do you come from?”  But instead we talked, and then I prayed for her.  
When we finished, she asked sincerely, “Can I pray for you?”

That sweet lady started out by telling me she was HIV positive and then finished by praying for
me!  She hadn’t read
some book on positive thinking and then decided to give it a try.  She hadn’t psyched herself up to send good vibes into
the universe so they would come back to her.  This was a woman experiencing joy despite some very painful and
undeserved circumstances.


The kind of joy this woman had was normal for the New Testament church, and it should be normal for us too.  Should
we be depressed that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the grave and that all of our sins are forgiven?  Should we
lament the knowledge that one day we’re going to be with the Lord forever?  Should the fact that our name is written in
the Book of Life make us sad?  No.  Those things should give us great joy.

Peter wrote: “Though you have not seen [Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in
him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of
your souls” (I Peter 1:8-9, emphasis added).  Does an “inexpressible and
glorious joy” describe your church or mine?  It
should.  The epistle to Rome is Paul’s great theological document regarding justification by faith and other weighty
doctrinal matters.  Yet toward the end of his letter, the apostle declares that the kingdom of God isn’t essentially about
doctrinal positions such as Calvinism or Arminianism.  The kingdom isn’t about who is right in the pretribulation or
postribulation rapture debate.  Paul said that the kingdom of God is a matter of “righteousness, peace and
joy in the
Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, emphasis added).  That is how important joy is; it makes us distinctive as followers of Jesus

I’m not talking about emotionalism, however, not worked up frenzies or singing choruses endlessly until we create a
certain vibe.  I don’t want that, and neither do you.  What the apostle Paul described was a life of joy that comes from the
Spirit.  He wrote to the Thessalonian believers, “You welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy
given by the Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 1:6, emphasis added).

If we saw a church filled with prejudice and anger, we would say, “That can’t be a Christian church.”  Why?  Because
God is love, and the fruit of the Spirit is love.  If there is no love, if there is a nasty atmosphere, then it can’t be of God
and of the Spirit.

Why shouldn’t we draw the same conclusion when we see a joyless church?  We often rationalize about why our lives
aren’t joy-filled, but we don’t find depressed, cranky believers in the New Testament.

In the little church I grew up in, there was a middle-aged woman who was always dressed in black.  She wore a black
dress, a black hat, and black shoes.  She always sat alone with a tight, pursed look on her face, and she never talked to
anyone.  I never even saw her smile.  She would enter into the meetings and pray and listen to the Word and then
leave.  As a young child, I was afraid to even get near her.  She looked like she had been baptized in lemon juice!

One day I got up the courage to ask another adult about her.  “What’s with that lady?”  I asked.

The man gave me an understanding nod as if he knew from experience something that I didn’t.  “Oh, her.  You can tell
she walks very close to God.”

My little mind struggled with the thought.  
Walking close to God means you never smile?  It means you have no friends?  
You never rejoice in Jesus?
 Why would anyone want to get close to God if that’s what it did to you?  Yet that is the
picture some people have of God’s plan for the Christian life – dark, somber, and joyless.

When we walk in the Spirit, when the Spirit controls us, he produces joy in our lives just as he produces love.  Luke even
described Jesus as “full of joy
through the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21, emphasis added).  All joy comes from the Holy Spirit.  
We can’t manufacture it, call it up, try harder to get it, or make it happen on our own.

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

“Easy for you to say, Pastor Cymbala,” some people might say.  “You don’t know what I’ve been through!  If people had
been as nasty to you as they were to me, you wouldn’t think all this joy stuff is so easy.”

Those people have no idea what scars I am walking around with, just as I have no idea of the hurts they have suffered.  
But joy isn’t promised only to those with the least pain in their lives.  Joy is for everyone willing to be controlled by the
Spirit.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name
as evil, because of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke
6:22-23).  When life is painful, when people hate and act ugly, Jesus says that we don’t have to lose our joy.  To suggest
that past suffering somehow gives us the right to be joyless is just one way to avoid the truth.

But even Jesus knew what sorrow was, and he knew what it was to weep.  Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be a man
of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), and that prophecy certainly came true.  He suffered both on the cross and off the cross as he
was mocked, beaten, and humiliated.  But if this is our image of Jesus – the mournful Son – we have only half the picture.

In Hebrews we learn that God anointed Jesus with the oil of joy (1:9).  As we discussed in chapter 7, oil is a symbol of the
Holy Spirit.  And as we just read in Luke 10:21, Jesus was
full of joy through the Holy Spirit.  What a strange
juxtaposition!  Jesus was a man of sorrows who bore the cross, yet he was anointed with joy.  And his joy, like ours,
came from the Holy Spirit.  To truly understand Jesus, we can’t see him only as a mournful Savior.  We have to balance
that with the other truth – that he was filled with joy and spent much of his time rejoicing.

“Well sure,” some might say, “he is Jesus!  If he could be fully God and fully man at the same time, no wonder he could
experience sorrow and joy.  But I’m not Jesus.”  Fortunately, Jesus isn’t the only example of simultaneous sorrow and joy
that we’re given.  The apostle Paul said that he was at times “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10).

Is that possible?

No matter what the pain, pressure, or heartache we’re going through, it’s possible as a Christian to experience two
things at once.  We can be sorrowful in a sense because Christians cry, have regrets, and lose loved ones.  Yet in the
deepest part of our souls, through the control and power of the Holy Spirit, we can still have joy.  We might not show it
because of the pain we’re experiencing, but inside the joy remains intact.

Because our world has so much discontent and anger, Christians can stand out for the Lord by living joyous lives.  The
classic biblical example of maintaining joy in the midst of painful circumstances is found in Acts.  We read that when the
apostle Paul and Silas were in Philippi, they were beaten, flogged, and thrown into prison for no reason.  They hadn’t
done anything wrong.  Once in their cell, they could have done anything – planned revenge, cursed the guards, cried for
help, or even just paced their cells with fear and worry.

But instead, they were filled with joy.  “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the
other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).  Not only did they rejoice in the midst of their sorrows, but the other
prisoners witnessed their outpouring of joy.  The prisoners in the surrounding cells must have thought they were crazy
fools to be praising God while under lock and key.  But Paul and Silas knew that hardship couldn’t take away their joy in

“What’s Happened to Your Joy?”

Years ago I visited a city in the South and was excited about reconnecting with a Christian woman and her husband who
had moved there several years earlier.  When the young woman was in her early twenties, she had visited our church
and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.  Later she was brought to my office where she told me her heartbreaking
story.  Her own father had abused her, emotionally and sexually.  She ended up living in the streets.  She worked as a
topless dancer, experimented sexually, and eventually got pregnant and had a daughter out of wedlock.  She ended up
living in a dump of an apartment with no electricity or heat in the Times Square area.

But then she told me about the love of God she had felt while sitting among our congregation as we worshiped God and
listened to his Word.  She couldn’t stop weeping as she realized that Christ was calling her out from her emptiness and

During the next few years, I watched as that young woman blossomed into the most radiant, beautiful Christian woman
you could imagine.  All the emptiness, the sorrow, the scars, and the things that had weighed down her countenance
were replaced by a beautiful joy and the glow of peace.  She eventually got married and moved to a different city, but I
remembered her joy, and I couldn’t wait to see her and her husband again now that I was in town.

But I wasn’t in her presence for two minutes when I realized something was wrong.  I didn’t need any prophetic insight; I
could look at her face and tell what happened.  I took her aside and asked her what was wrong.

“How did you know something was wrong?”  she asked.

“Because I can tell by looking at you.  You’ve lost your joy.”

She quietly looked downward because she knew it was true.

Though the world can’t take away our joy, we can still lose it.  In fact, Paul once asked a group of Christians, “What has
happened to all your joy?” (Galatians 4:15).  That’s not the kind of questions we typically think to ask of individuals or
churches.  But when our walk with the Lord gets off track, when we take our eyes off of Jesus, the supernatural joy that
only God can give us begins to wane and eventually disappears.  We can become sour, depressed, and cranky.  We
have to ask God to help us if the joy of the Lord is not our daily experience.

Although I never had an opportunity on that trip to talk privately with that woman to know what had caused her to lose
her joy, I suspected it had something to do with her family problems.  But more importantly, I noticed that after hearing
the Word and coming to the altar where we prayed together, she left the church that night with a glow on her face.

Joy in the Spirit

When Christians experience joy today, it has a much more powerful impact on the world than it did decades ago.  Why?  
Because the entitlement mentality so prevalent in our society leads many people to feel justified in their anger.  “The
government [or my employer, my family – someone for sure!] owes me big-time.  I’m entitled because my life has been
hard.  You have no idea what I’ve been through.”  There’s often a deep resentment in that kind of complaint.  In fact, if
you carefully analyze international affairs, national politics, call-in radio shows, blogs, labor disputes, and race relations,
there is a worldwide epidemic of venom and bitterness.  It’s everywhere, and sadly, it has also invaded the body of
Christ.  It’s the exact opposite of the joyous living that Jesus intended for all of us.  “I have told you this so that my joy
may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

Centuries before Jesus said those words, joy was already understood as an important facet in the life of God’s chosen
people.  Moses instructed them that the blessings of God were granted so that “your joy will be complete” (Deuteronomy
16:15).  Enjoying God’s presence produced an even deeper joy than any material blessing (Psalm 21:6), and God’s
people were to continually celebrate his goodness “songs of joy” (Psalm 107:22).

When singing a song of joy, it wasn’t only the lyrics or melody that made the song worshipful – the singers needed a
heart of joy for all that the Lord had done for them.  If not, the singing would be unacceptable.  God was more interested
in joyful hearts than vocal ability.  That’s why David’s attitude pleased God so much.  Although surrounded by enemies
and under intense stress, David didn’t complain, get bitter, or ask, “Why me?”  Rather, he went to the tabernacle and
made sacrifices with “shouts of joy,” saying, “I will sing and make music to the LORD” (Psalm 27:6).

Because of God’s faithfulness, the joy in Israel got kind of exuberant at times.  Loud singing and shouting were
commonplace.  They felt joy over the building of the temple, the slaying of Goliath and other military victories, and the
exiles returning from captivity.  If the Israelites felt that much joy, what kind of joy ought to be present among Christians
as we celebrate a crucified and risen Savior?  How sad is the dull formalism that characterizes so many of our lives and
churches.  We have been forgiven, cleansed, justified, and sealed with the Spirit, and we will live eternally with Christ!  
Aren’t joyous singing, shouts of praise, and exuberant thanksgiving in order?  I know there’s a time to “be still, and know
that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), but we should also remember to “sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God
of Jacob” (Psalm 81:1).  We’re told that God rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).  The awesome God and
creator of all things
rejoices over me?  Well, the least I can do in return is give him the joyful praise he deserves.

The basis of spiritual joy is in our never-changing relationship with Christ.  We “rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1) by
remembering and claiming all the benefits he has provided now, and in the hereafter.  We all have an unfortunate
tendency to dwell exclusively on the problems and pain confronting us, but in Christ, we have a thousand blessings no
one can take from us.  Jesus said, “You will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22).  Later Paul
reinforced Jesus’ command by saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).  
Therefore, we need to resist the “joy thieves” that want to rob us of his precious gift.

In order to keep our joy, we must habitually “rejoice in the Lord,” even when we feel nothing or are hurting.  It is possible
to feel sorrow yet rejoice.  To rejoice is to celebrate and glorify Christ
no matter what.  As we do that, the water of the
Spirit’s joy is drawn up from the well within us.

Many times I have walked into our sanctuary during the praise and worship time distracted and numb, distressed by
some crisis or problem.  But as I lifted my heart, voice, and hands to my Savior, Jesus Christ, it wasn’t long before my
heart overflowed with rivers of joy.  Through rejoicing in the Lord, my situation didn’t change, but my spiritual perspective
sure did!

Joy and rejoicing might seem inconsequential to the heady, intellectual types among us.  But let’s remember how vitally
important joy is to our spiritual growth.  Paul said: “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all
of you for your
progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25, emphasis added).  Paul linked our progress and growth in
the faith with the joy that increases as we mature in Christ.  Faith grows best in the soil of a heart that rejoices in Jesus
despite what’s going on around it.  That’s how David could write some of his most buoyant, joyous psalms while King
Saul and the army of Israel were in hot pursuit to destroy him.  The prophet Nehemiah said, “The joy of the LORD is
[our] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).  We require that joy for survival.  We will never stand victoriously against Satan’s daily
assaults if our souls are filled with anger and resentment.

The early believers lived precarious lives, never knowing what their allegiance to Jesus might cost them.  They faced ten
times more difficulties than we do, yet they experienced a hundred times more joy!  Let’s pray as they did, that God
might fill us with joy through the Spirit – not just a momentary pick-me-up from time to time, but a deep and continuous
river of joy.


SPIRIT RISING, by Jim Cymbala with Jennifer Schuchmann, Copyright 2012, Zondervan.