This is post 10 of 10 in the series “HOW TO …”
- How To Rise Above Resentment!
- How To Quit Worrying About Worry!
- How To Fly Like Eagles When You’re Surrounded By Turkeys!
- How To Look Smart When You Do Dumb Things!
- How To Do Right When Everything Goes Wrong!
- How To Turn Short-Term Losses Into Long-Term Gains!
- How To Get Out Of Death Alive!
- How To Put A Lid On Your Anger
- How To Stay Calm In The Midst Of Storm!
- How To Rekindle The Spark Of The Spirit!
How To Rekindle The Spark Of The Spirit!
There are two instances in Scripture where it is recorded that water was turned into something else. In the Old Testament, we read that Moses changed the water of the Nile River into blood. In the New Testament we read of how Jesus, at a wedding party, turned water into wine. There is a sense in which these two incidents symbolize the difference between the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament portrays life as a difficult and disciplined attempt to fulfill the law of God. It was a painful, sacrificial, bloody task. The New Testament, on the other hand, portrays life as a joyous, winsome response to God’s forgiving, redeeming grace in Jesus Christ. It is a life marked by the sheer joy of salvation and the celebration of hope.
Our question then is this: Do we as Christians have our lives reflecting the joy of Jesus Christ? Do we give evidence of God’s forgiving grace in our daily experience? Are we joyous people? Does the fire of God’s Spirit sparkle in our everyday living? Understand, please, that Jesus was the brightest, sunniest, happiest, most radiant, most joyous person who ever lived. And Jesus made it clear that He wants all Christians to experience the same joy. He said to His disciples on the last occasion He had to teach them before His crucifixion: “I have said these things to you that my joy might be in you and that your joy might be full.”
Why is it, do you think, that so many Christians do not seem to have the wine of this joy in their experience, but instead live lives better described as all “blood, sweat, and tears?” Why have we forgotten this promise of Jesus that if His joy is in us then our joy will be full? Friedrich Nietzsche, the atheist, had a valid criticism of the church when he said: “I would believe in the Christian salvation if Christians looked and acted a little more like people who have been saved!” Why is it that so many Christians seem to have lost the radiant spark of the Spirit in their daily living? Perhaps the answer will be found by looking at two things that were true in the life of Jesus, the most joyous person who ever lived.
First, Jesus was a joyous person because He triumphed over the tyranny of time.
One of the things that leads us as Christians away from joy is the pressure which comes from the endless course of our days and the activities which are packed so solidly into those days. Are you aware of the fact that the night the Titanic sank the wildly celebrating passengers on board so jammed the ship’s radio sending silly, senseless messages to friends and relatives back home that the other ships in the area could not get through to the Titanic with their radio warnings about the iceberg. That is a parable of our lives—sometimes so jammed with silly, senseless activity that the joyous, saving word of God in Jesus Christ cannot get through. Yes, sometimes we jam so much into our days and cram so much into our schedules that we lose the joy of being the children of God.
Now I know that as soon as I say that some of you will respond by saying: “You may be right, Preacher, but the fact is that if you knew the responsibilities which are mine, if you knew how many people are depending upon me, if you understood the pressures my job and my family place upon me, then you would know that it is easier to talk about defeating the tyranny of time than to do it. Yes, I will admit that my life is mostly blood, sweat, and tears, but how do you change that?”
I think we get a hint from this passage in John, Chapter 6. The story is so familiar to you that I need not rehearse the details. But I do want to point out one aspect about the story which comes before it and one aspect which comes after it, neither of which we always notice. The fifth chapter of John tells how Jesus healed a man who was paralized, and then He engaged in a serious debate with the Pharisees. After the debate, John notes that Jesus went off into the mountains for a time of rest and renewal. He then came down from the mountain to teach a huge crowd of people, numbering 5000. Jesus even fed that crowd from the five loaves and the two fish. But immediately after that, when the crowd pressed in around Him, the Bible says, “Jesus withdrew again to the hills by Himself.” Do you see what was happening? Jesus regularly stole away for times of rest and renewal.
In fact I would submit to you that if you carefully chart out the life of Jesus on paper, you will discover that regularly and faithfully throughout His life, there were times when He went into reverse, times when He retreated from all the pressures, times when He separated Himself from His responsibilities. I think that is part of the reason He was always so filled with joy. I think that is part of what kept the spark of the Spirit burning within Him. He defeated the tyranny of time by regularly taking time for rest and renewal.
Now you must remember that when Jesus turned and went off into the mountains for these times of rest, there were still paralyzed people waiting to be healed, there were still blind people waiting to receive their sight. There were still spiritually ignorant people waiting to hear the spiritual truths which flowed from His lips. Yes, there were many there who had needs and desires and hopes and dreams they wanted to put before Jesus, but Jesus turned His back on them and went off into the hills by Himself. Why? Because Jesus understood that if He did not regularly say “no” to the pressure and go off to rest, then He would not be able to say “yes” to the people as often as He was able to say it. I think Jesus understood that people who are always available are not worth very much in their availability. So Jesus would withdraw from the pressures for a time in order to gain the strength He needed when He returned to the pressure again.
In other words, there have to be moments in our lives when we receive God’s gift of joy, when we rekindle the spark of the Spirit, so that when we return to the pressures of life again, there is still about us the same joy that was so typical of the life of Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus was a joyous person because he defeated the dictatorship of disorder.
Abraham Lincoln often referred back to an incident which happened when he was a boy in Illinois. He was watching a blacksmith one day, and the blacksmith took a piece of iron from the fire, put it on the anvil, and began to hammer it into a horseshoe. Then he changed his mind and decided he would make a hook instead. So he began to hammer it into a hook. Yet again he changed his mind and decided that now he would try to fashion a trowel. Of course, every time he changed his mind, the iron was getting a little bit cooler. Finally, it was no longer malleable. It no longer responded to his handling and hammering. So he just took the piece of iron and threw it into a bucket of water and said: “Well, at least I can make a fizzle out of it!” And, pffsst! that was all there was.
There are a lot of people’s lives filled with nothing but fizzle and frustration because they do not have a plan. They do not have things ordered in their lives. They are like the blacksmith who could not make up his mind what he was going to do.
Jesus often said “no” to that kind of disorder in His experience. He had a well-ordered, well-planned, well-organized life. That truth came home to me with great power when I studied in Israel a year and a half ago. I was given the assignment of marking out on a map the journeys of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Now I will confess to you that up to that time I thought Jesus just wandered indiscriminately, traveling wherever He wished. But when I took the time to chart out the way in which He walked, I found that it was a very carefully designed series of concentric circles, which slowly and systematically covered every major population center in the Palestine of that day. And in the times when Jesus was giving Himself particularly to the teaching of His disciples, His journeys led Him through areas where the population was lower. Thus the public demand on Him would be decreased and He could concentrate more on His teaching. In other words, every step of Jesus ministry was organized and planned. There was no disorder in it.
Once I discovered that about the life of Jesus, then I noticed how He ordered every day. He always dealt with just one thing at a time. I was scheduled to fly home from Richmond one day last spring. There had been terrible storms in the Northeast, and consequently, many of the flights coming into Richmond had been delayed, resulting in the cancellation of the flight I was supposed to take. Needless to say, all of us on that flight lined up at the Piedmont ticket counter to make other arrangements. As I stood in that line, I watched the young Piedmont agent behind the counter dealing with all those people, many of whom were quite upset. He remained cool, calm, and collected. A warm, pleasant smile graced his face. His voice was bright and encouraging. There was an older man a couple of folks ahead of me. After he got his ticket changed, this agent said to him: “All you need to do is go to Gate 23.” The older man said: “Gate 23?” “Yes,” the agent said, “Gate 23.” The older man took a couple of steps, turned, came back and said: “Did you say Gate 23?” The young man very warmly and graciously said: “Yes sir, just go to Gate 23.” The older man walked away. Meanwhile, the agent had already begun waiting on the next person in line. Suddenly, the older fellow reappeared and said: “Gate 23?” The young agent made no response. He didn’t even look over. He continued serving the passenger who was in front of him—and the old man shrugged and headed off toward Gate 23. When I got up to the desk, I said to the young agent: “I want to commend you on the way you deal with the public.” He said: “Sir, I do not deal with the public. I deal with one person at a time.”
I have tried to remember to do that myself. You see, the secret of the joyous, effective, cheerful, dynamic way Jesus dealt with all that He confronted in His life was that He took them one person or one thing at a time. That is the way to defeat the disorder that can destroy our sense of joy in life.
I know that is not always easy. Things do not always happen in orderly fashion. And besides that, things sometimes go badly wrong. Murphy’s Law is always operative. Murphy’s Law says that “nothing is as easy as it looks, everything takes longer than you think, and if anything can go wrong it will.” Murphy’s Law says that “a day without a crisis is a total loss.” Murphy’s Law says that “the chance of the bread falling with the peanut butter and jelly side down is directly proportionate to the cost of the carpet.” Murphy’s Law says that “inside every large problem is a whole series of small problems trying to get out.” Murphy’s law says that “whatever hits the fan will not be evenly distributed.” Murphy’s Law says that “friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.”
Yes, sometimes people and circumstances seem to work against us and rob us of our joy. But remember please that Jesus, when He encountered people or circumstances in life, always took them one at a time. He refused to yield to the dictatorship of disorder. That is why He remained such a joyous person.
Jimmy Durante was asked to perform for some World War II veterans. He had a conflict on his calendar, but he agreed to make a cameo appearance for just a few moments. When he arrived, he went immediately on stage, quickly moved into a little monologue, and they applauded. He stayed ten more minutes. There was thunderous applause. He stayed for thirty minutes, and finally had to go. When he left the stage, his hosts thanked him for what he had done, but they were concerned about his next engagement. Durante said to them: “go out and look in the front row and you will see why I had to stay.” They looked out, and in the front row were two men sitting next to each other. Both of them had lost an arm—one his left arm, the other his right arm. Together they would clap with the one hand and arm they had. That is what they were doing. They were vigorously, joyfully applauding the performance of Jimmy Durante. They took what they had and used it to express the joy that was theirs.
My friends, that is the spirit I am looking for in you and in me. That is the spirit I am looking for in this church. It is that spirit which overcomes the world. For Jesus said: “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, be joyful, for I have overcome the world.” May our lives always reflect the joy of Jesus Christ our Lord and our Savior…