I have taken a lot of personality test over the years… I know that many people love taking tests like the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator, Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis and The True Colors Indicator. I’m a green, by the way. But I have never been a fan. I like living in the naïve assumption that I already know everything there is to know about me. But, here at Grace we are always looking for ways to help people, especially our staff, better understand themselves, primarily because we believe that the better you know yourself the greater the chances are that you will find your unique calling in the world… and so we offer these kinds of tests from time to time. And the test that has been a real help lately is called the Enneagram. Now, when I first took the Enneagram I filled out the questionnaire as quickly as I could pretty much thinking it was a waste of time. But, when the results came back I couldn’t deny that it had nailed me. And when I read my wife the results she just kept saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes… that’s true… yes, I could have told you that years ago!’ Here is some of what it said about me. First off, it categorized me as a 5… a 5 is ‘The Wise Person.’ I’ll take that. ‘The Wise Person’ sounds pretty cool to me. The test said that I value wisdom, knowledge and learning… it said that I want to understand the world and I like getting to the bottom of things through study. It also said that I am perfectly happy studying on my own because I enjoy solitude and I make good use of solitude. Something else it said was that I can take in a lot of details and bring them all together to get to the big picture. And it also said that I can communicate complex ideas clearly and succinctly. And my first reaction to all of this was, ‘Sounds right to me.’ BUT, there was one score on the test that surprised me. One of the other categories for types of people on the Enneagram is a person called the Joyful Person… someone who’s life is full of joy and on a scale of 1 to 100, 100 being the highest, the test said that I have less than 1% of ‘The Joyful Person’ in my life. My total joy score was 0.3. That’s like no joy whatsoever. And that just didn’t seem possible. We are in the middle of a series looking at being healthy in body, mind and spirit for the purpose of being able make the greatest kingdom impact. In our first two weeks, we looked at being healthy in body through physical care and eating well. And now we are moving on to being healthy in spirit… this week we are talking about the importance of having joy in our lives… and can you imagine how weird it is for me to be talking about being healthy in spirit when I got a total joy score of 0.3%? Apparently, the struggle is real for me… and I knew immediately that I needed to look into this. And to make matters worse, did you notice that the scripture we heard just a moment ago pretty much said that joy is supposed to define the life of a follower of Jesus? It’s one of the ‘fruits of the spirit’ for heaven’s sake. I’m supposed to be joyous when things are good, joyous when things are bad… I’m supposed to have joy all of the time… or so it seems the Bible says… and I have 0.3%. So, as a ‘5,’ someone who likes to get to the bottom of things, I set out on my own to figure out my apparent lack of joy. And the first thing I needed to do was answer the question, ‘What is Joy?’ Now, I know that this may seem like a silly question… joy is generally just one of those things that we know it when we see it. But it does have a dictionary definition… one that I think actually resonates with our 21st century American culture. ‘Joy is the personal, inward emotion evoked by well-being, success, good fortune or the prospect of attaining what one desires. Joy is great happiness or pleasure. Joy is inward delight.’ I recognize this definition and I’m sure you do as well. In our culture, joy is always something that is personal and inward. It is something that focuses on what is happening inside of me. Joy is something that I feel when I am successful… when I am getting what I desire… Joy is doing what I love to do… I am joyous when I’m happy. And I often hear people say that I’m supposed to ‘focus on my joy’ and ‘I’m not to let anyone ‘steal my joy.’ And, of course, all I could wonder was ‘Do I really only have 0.3% of this inward, well-being… this feeling that comes from being happy?’ And something else, I couldn’t shake the feeling that when the Bible talks about joy it couldn’t possibly mean the same thing that we mean when we say the word. And here is why. Those verses of scripture that we heard read earlier that said we are supposed to be ‘joyful always’ come from a letter that is part of the New Testament… the letter we call Philippians because it was written by the Apostle Paul to a group of Christians living in the city of Philippi. Let’s turn to Philippians 1 together (page ???). Paul starts off this letter, which by the way is often called “The Joy Letter, saying that when he thinks of the Philippians he is filled with joy… but drop down to verse 7. So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. Did you notice the word imprisonment? Paul was in prison when he was writing this letter and I can’t imagine that the ‘joy’ he was feeling had anything to do with some inward happiness he had due to his good fortune. Plus, Paul had a history with the city of Philippi… you can read all about it in the 16th chapter of the Book of Acts. There you’ll find that in Philippi Paul had been falsely accused of traitorous teaching, he’d had his Roman citizenship ignored, and he’d been beaten severely and then chained in stocks in a pitch-dark jail. Nothing to be too happy about. And then to make matters worse when the local civic leaders realized that he was a Roman citizen and that they’d completely disregarded his citizenship rights, they tried to wash their hands of all these injustices by asking Paul to leave town quickly and quietly. If anyone had a right to hold a grudge it was Paul. I’m surprised he didn’t start out his letter by saying, ‘Every time I think of you I ask God to get you out of that wretched town.’ And yet Paul wrote to these people and said, ‘I make my requests to God on your behalf with joy’ and later in chapter 4 he said, ‘Always be full of Joy in the Lord. I say it again, ‘Rejoice!’ Paul couldn’t have been talking about some inward feeling of happiness at getting to do what you love to do… he couldn’t have been talking about the kind of feelings we talk about when we talk about joy, especially when he knew firsthand how difficult it was to be a Christian living in Philippi. And so what I decided to do was what any good ‘5’ would do… get to the bottom of this by doing a deep dive into the Greek word that is translated ‘joy’ here. The word is … and what I discovered is this: in its 1st Century secular context was a much different word than we think of when we think of joy… First off, was never an inward, individual feeling. It was always something that a group of people experienced together. There were other words for individual, inward happiness and Paul didn’t use those words. happened when a group of people with a who had something in common realized together that some kind of blessing… good harvest or peaceful circumstances… had been given to them, and here is the key, given to them by some outside, powerful source. Again, was experienced when a community realized that they had been shown favor by someone in a position of power. And what is also interesting is that ancient people tended to express this this thanksgiving over their town or family having been given a blessing, by having a celebration. And so, when Paul talks about the joy that followers of Jesus are supposed to have in good times and in bad times he wasn’t saying that we as individuals are supposed to try and conjure up some sort of inner happiness no matter what is going on… I can’t tell you how much weight that took off of my shoulders. You see, I’d been led to believe for most of my life that I’m obligated to be ‘all happied up’ even when things are going badly in my life. And I often felt guilty about the times I was simply sad. And I’m here to tell you this is not so. Paul is saying that we are obligated to something… but it isn’t to finding some way to put on a happy face no matter what is happening. What we are obligated to is recognizing together the favor that God, the one who is in a position of power over us, is showing to us by making us citizens of his Kingdom. What Paul was saying is this: that together, all of us, in the good times and in the bad times, should focus together on how much God much is ultimately taking care of us and blessing us. And so, when we see God working in our midst, when we hear the Spirit’s voice leading us, when our fellowship together tells us how much God loves us… when we together recognize all that God is doing for us and in us and through us, we should be ready to start a thanksgiving celebration… that is Nowthat kind of joy is really different from the kind of ‘joy’ we normally think of when we hear the word joy. And may I add, different from the kind of joy I think the Enneagram was trying to measure. Here was my first big discovery: I don’t have a lack of I may have a lack of personal, individual, inner joy and we’ll talk about that in a moment. But if the Enneagram had measured the in my life I think that it would have shown that I am filled with the ‘joy,’ that comes from the community-wide realization that God is pouring out his blessings on us. And the more we share with one another all what God is doing among us here at Grace the more I have. And can I add, here at Grace I find it almost impossible not to be running at about 90% all of the time! God is blessing us in so many ways. So, the first practical step in knowing ‘joy’ like God intends for us can only come from being in relationships with others… Here is what I truly believe: community is the only place where I can see the bigger picture. It is the only place where I can focus on the common blessings we all share as we work together to serve God and his kingdom. If you look carefully at this letter to the Philippians you’ll see that all of the mentions of joy are communal… all in the plural… they all have something to do with people who have a common mind and heart celebrating God’s goodness together… even in the difficult times. Did you notice that in verse 1, when Paul says that he has joy when he thinks about the Philippian Christians he says straight up that his joy, his comes from the fact that they are all working together for the same goal of advancing the Good News about Jesus! And so, the first step to finding this kind of joy is getting into community… finding a group of people with whom you can celebrated God’s blessings; a group of people of common mind; a group of people who can be used by God to be a blessing to you during both the good times and during the hard times. I’m not going to try and define what that group of people looks like: it could be your family… it could be a group of your friends or neighbors… it could be an official Grace Group or an ad hoc group of people that you know all are surrendered to Jesus… but I promise you this, once you find yourself in a community that is characterized by your soul will be well on its way to being in the kind of ‘shape’ that will make it possible for you to give your best to Jesus.
But let’s be honest, each of us as individuals living in this 21st Century world, all still have the need to experience ‘joy’ in the way that we tend to naturally define Joy. We all need to experience the inner happiness that comes from being engaged in ways that feed our spirits. Each one of us is created with the desire to live a life where our souls are fed and enlivened and, when needed, replenished. And since we are all unique individuals that necessarily means that the ways to feeding and enlivening and replenishing our souls will also be unique to each one of us. This is simply acknowledging the way God has created each one of us. And finding this kind of joy is also important to being all that God intended us to be… we cannot be at our best when our souls are empty and tired. This kind of Joy is also an important aspect of being in the kind of ‘soul shape’ we need to be to best serve God’s kingdom. The motivation behind exercise and eating well and ‘finding your joy,’ as is often said, is all the same: they all create a lifestyle that will have the greatest kingdom impact… and so let’s talk about finding joy. I know that the Enneagram said I may be the last person on earth to be talking about this… but here we go. Again, I’m a 5. I’ve done my research. I actually looked up about 100 quotes on finding joy in life and they almost all made me say, ‘What?’ Here’s one. ‘Fearlessness is not only possible, it is the ultimate joy. When you touch non-fear you are free.’ Huh? Here is another. ‘We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.’ Now, it may be a part of my joylessness problem that these kinds of quotes do nothing for me… but I kept on searching… I looked up things that people do to bring them joy, or rather, I looked up a myriad of lists of things to do that ‘experts’ claim will bring you joy. These lists were also pretty lame… play with children like a child was number one on one list. Play with your pet and compliment a complete stranger were high on another list. Skinny dipping was number two on another. I don’t know how skinny dipping is necessarily the best way to enliven and replenish your soul but my bet is though that you have an idea of what it is that does give you joy… what it is that replenishes your soul. For some of you joy comes from being active in some way… for others of you it is being still… for some of you it is being with others… while for others of you joy comes in a time of solitude. Again, this is a reflection of the unique way God created each one of us. Here is the only practical advice that I can give you on this: first, be honest with yourself and come to terms with your own uniqueness and recognize that in your uniqueness there will be specific things that bring you joy. It may very well be playing with children like a child. That’s fine. But once you know what it is that makes your heart come alive and feeds your soul you have to make time for that ‘something’ just like you have to make time for exercise. The operative word is discipline… discipline that will lead to being in the kind of shape that best serves Jesus. Now, one other thing that was really important for me was having an honest conversation with my wife, Jennifer, about what it is that gives me life… and then listening to what it is that brings her joy… that way we can help one another in staying disciplined just like we do when it comes to eating well and exercising. Finding joy, like exercising is done best with someone else to support you… I can’t tell you how much joy it gives me seeing Jennifer finding joy.
And speaking of what gives us joy, one thing that the Enneagram was purposed to do is lead us into a deeper understanding of what it is that engages our souls. The test said that when I figure out something difficult and confusing and can then explain it to others with clarity, I find joy. And it’s right, I do! This may explain why I am so contented and fulfilled being the teaching pastor here at Grace. I am constantly being given the opportunity to find ways to bring clarity to confusing matters. In fact, my being given the opportunity to figure out what Paul meant when he talked about joy and explaining to you feeds my soul. And that was a revelation to me… My bet is that if I took that Enneagram again my answers would reflect a different man… a man that understands the importance of experiencing of both joy and personal joy. And my prayer is that you will experience both of these joys as well… so we can be in the best soul shape for serving Jesus.
I’m going to say this again: Finding joy takes just as much discipline as physical training and eating well… at least it does for this #5 and I can’t imagine I’m alone in this. First, there is the discipline of making time and space for the community of believers… the space where you will find . Then there is the discipline in giving yourself the permission to spend time in ways that bring both life and rest to your soul. And here is my promise: when you are filled with joy… joy that comes from recognizing with others how much God is blessing you and joy that comes from feeding your soul in the way that God uniquely created you to find joy you will also find a new strength in your service to Jesus and his kingdom… your soul will be in great shape… and you will be able to say with Paul as he says in Philippians 4:13 ‘I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.’