joy

Requirements For Revival – Part 2: Joy

10 November 2022

8.3 MINS

Joy is an essential ingredient for revival — but what exactly is this quality, this gift of the Holy Spirit? We turn to Scripture and church history to see how followers of Christ have exhibited true joy, even while enduring great suffering and persecution.

When I finished my first article on this a few months ago, I intended to write solely on the subject of joy as the next requirement. In that article, I wrote that revival involves two seemingly opposite manifestations. First, God’s grief, longing and mourning for those who don’t know Christ. And second, God’s passion and joy showered down on His beloved as a means of reaching them. I noted our need to experience both.

But I must confess that I have really struggled with the second. And I’ve realised that it’s from a lack in my own experience of God’s Presence, which I think is far from being unique to me, but that we all need so much to move into.

For that reason, I’ve been giving a great deal of thought and prayer to this issue: how does God’s passion and joy prior to revival act as a catalyst for revival?

Intimacy with God

Now, through that process, as well as some situations I’ve needed to deal with personally over the past few months, I’ve come to the conclusion that it requires a deep level of intimacy, coupled with the level of peace “that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:6).

This can only come once you have developed the kind of intimate relationship with God that can withstand the shocks that life brings, where you are able to trust Him in all circumstances, that even when things look dark, you hear Him say, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this”.

Also, I’ve been led to explore how and why those in the Persecuted Church are such an example to us in the West of that joy. Yet we are still free to share our faith. With the exponential growth of the Body of Christ in the parts of the world where persecution is fierce and life-threatening, which mirrors what we find in the Acts of the Apostles, this should give us all cause to ask ourselves: why there and not here?

The answer is simple: they know joy, not in spite of their dire circumstances, but because of the depth of their intimacy with God.

And I found a passage in Dr Michael L Brown’s book, From Holy Laughter to Holy Fire, which speaks to that:

“We often lack joy because we lack depth. The joy of the Lord is anything but shallow! In the midst of deep testing, it is there. When all hope seems lost, it is there. Why? We remember that God reigns and that He is for us, and we are overcome with joy… The joy of the Lord fills the emptied heart and inundates the poured out vessel.”

This is the lesson I’m learning right now: to trust and be thankful when your circumstances are against you. And this is the mindset I believe is necessary for us to develop the kind of intimacy with God so that we can then share His passion and joy to act as a catalyst for revival, even if we experience persecution.

The Word of God

We need to understand, because it is one of the fruits of the Spirit, this means that joy is a permanent state for God. He is constantly and endlessly joyful. Because of this, He intends for His joy to be a constant of the normal Christian life.

And we find this so often in Scripture.

In Isaiah 55, we find this passage:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it produce and sprout,
And providing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes out of My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the purpose for which I sent it.”
(vv. 8-11 NASB)

In other words, just as we do not see the actual process which transforms the rain and snow into “seed to the sower and bread to the eater”, neither are we able to work out in the natural how God accomplishes His desires.

But when we trust and delight in the process, even when we cannot trace His intentions, or in times of hardship and dire circumstances sense His presence or His involvement, the outcome is joyous, transformative and eternal:

“For you will go out with joy
And be led in peace;
The mountains and the hills will break into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush, the juniper will come up,
And instead of the stinging nettle, the myrtle will come up;
And it will be a memorial to the Lord,
An everlasting sign which will not be eliminated.”
(vv. 12-13 NASB)

In Matthew 5:10-12, in the Beatitudes, Jesus explained to His disciples the seemingly paradoxical response of joy in relation to persecution, a response that Jesus’ hearers were familiar with, as is the persecuted church today, and which may well be our lot at some point in the future:

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Then in Acts 5, as though in fulfilment of Jesus’ words, we find the apostles being arrested, brought before the Council, interrogated and flogged:

“… after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not stop teaching and preaching the good news of Jesus as the Christ.”
(Acts 5:40b-42 NASB)

There are a number of similar examples throughout Acts. In fact, Dr Brown goes so far as to say: “The Book of Acts, which is a picture of revival, is a book of joy.”

The one he highlights is for me the most powerful, that of the flogging and imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Acts 16:16-34, which he also relates back to the same rejoicing of the apostles in Acts 5:

“No wonder Paul and Silas could sing hymns and praise God at midnight, locked in a dungeon, and with open, bloody wounds from a fresh beating. They were suffering for the Lord! They were being treated just as He was, and Jesus said that when they persecute us for His name’s sake, we should rejoice and leap for joy. (Luke 6:23)

That joy can be contagious. Paul and Silas were so blessed in their suffering and pain that their victory led to the salvation of the jailer and his whole family — and these new believers also received the joy of the Lord.”

These accounts from Acts explain why we find exhortations to joy in times of trial in the various Letters of the New Testament:

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials…”
(James 1:2 NASB)

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials…”
(1 Peter 1:6 NASB)

But for me, the most remarkable is Paul in Philippians, where he is under house arrest and guarded by the Emperor’s own Praetorian Guard, uncertain whether or not he will be executed, yet rejoicing that his imprisonment had “turned out for the greater progress of the Gospel” (1:12 NASB), and before the end of his Letter:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all people. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
(4:4-7 NASB)

Surely that peace “which surpasses all comprehension” is the peace that defies and contradicts even the direst of circumstances, as Paul and the other apostles experienced so often. This is surely a cause of joy for those caught up in the wonder of such peace!

The Church

In church history, too, we find many examples like these in the New Testament. And as there has been such a focus here recently on the 300th anniversary of the Moravians, they are possibly the best example of all, as they had fled to Bohemia to escape persecution. And it was there on the estate given them by Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf that they experienced what Dr Jason Hubbard in his recent book, Moravian Miracle, called “The Moravian Pentecost”.

As a result of that outpouring of joy, as A.W. Tozer wrote:

“They went out joyful from that place, scarcely knowing whether they were on earth or had died and already gone to Heaven. That joyfulness was characteristic of the Moravians for a hundred years.”

And out of that outpouring of joy, birthed from persecution, can be traced lines that lead to the two “Great Awakenings” in America, as well as significant outreach to the Eastern tribes there, the Wesleyan Revival in Britain, and ultimately the abolition of slavery in Britain and America.

That’s what joy coupled with a burden for souls can do!

Not a Fleeting Feeling

But for many of us, joy is a quality that is diminished by our equating it with a kind of strong sense of happiness. But joy and happiness are mutually exclusive. As Dr Brown explains:

“It is not based on circumstances. It is not based on feelings and emotions. It is based on the goodness of God and our relationship with Him. Nothing external can change that! As [20th century Reformed pastor] William Vanden Hoven said, ‘Joy is not the absence of trouble but the presence of Christ.’”

Put simply, the one thing that enables such joy is our level of intimacy with the Godhead. As Oswald Chambers wrote, “A life of intimacy with God is characterised by joy.”

And for me, that “intimacy… characterised by joy” is most beautifully, and even graphically, depicted in the Song of Solomon.

In chapter 5, when The Bride’s “feelings were stirred for” the Groom (v. 4), but she found He had departed, she goes out into the streets looking for her Beloved. In v. 7 it says,

“The watchmen who make the rounds in the city found me, they struck me and wounded me; the guards of the walls took my shawl away from me.”

The Chorus then demands to know “What kind of beloved is your beloved, O most beautiful among women?”, and it’s in her reply that we find the joy that comes from intimacy with the Beloved:

“My beloved is dazzling and reddish, outstanding among ten thousand… His mouth is full of sweetness. And he is wholly desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend…” (vv. 10, 16)

This is the level of intimacy that is “all in”, which, even when being accosted by negative circumstances, still joyfully sings the Beloved’s praises. The reason is found in 8:6-7 —

Put me like a seal over your heart,
Like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
Its flames are flames of fire,
The flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor will rivers flood over it;
If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,
It would be utterly despised.”
(NASB)

I find a corollary passage in 1 Peter 2:9 —

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. (NASB)

What better message to proclaim to the world, whether we’re dealing with people who show interest or with those who are hostile or even persecutors posing a physical danger. Whatever our circumstances, through our intimacy with He Who is altogether lovely and excellent, we are able, through our joy, to bring transformation to others and so facilitate revival.

___

Photo by Matheus Bertelli.

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