Joy and Prayer
April 5, 2009
Last week we heard a message about irrevocable joy. On this Palm Sunday as we contemplate what Jesus was about to face, what better verse to remember than John 16:22.
Jesus promises in this verse: So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. What a glorious promise! Everlasting joy! Today we’ll focus on another promise connected with joy and it is found in two verses. John 16:24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. What did Jesus say in John 15:11? These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Jesus came to change you – to give you joy. But first you must ask. God to God in prayer because, Henry Blackaby says, Prayer is not designed to change God, it is designed to change us. Prayer is not calling God in to bless our activities. Rather, prayer takes us into God's presence, shows us His will, and prepares us to obey Him.
God will use your prayer times to soften your heart and change your focus. As you pray for others, the Holy Spirit will work in your heart so that you have the same compassion for them that God does (Rom. 8:26–27). If you do not love people as you should, pray for them. If you are not as active in God's service as you know He wants you to be, begin praying. You cannot be intimately exposed to God's heart and remain complacent. The time spent with God will change you and make you more like Christ. The time spent in prayer will increase your joy. As Blackaby said, “Prayer changes you.” And, you do want to be changed, don’t you? I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t crave to be more joyful. We were made in His image. He is joy! And God built into us an overwhelming desire for both love and joy.
In our key text today, we read: Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
Christians are sometimes asked, Are you willing to surrender all joy if by this God would be more glorified? The point of the question is to hang Christians on one horn or the other of a dilemma. If we say no, then we seem to put our happiness above God's glory. If we say, yes, then presumably we cease to be Christians, because we have stopped pursuing joy. But our verse today assures us we do not have to give up our pursuit for joy. Inner joy, like inner peace, is an inner craving which God has planted in our hearts. Joy is from the Spirit of God. It’s evidence of God in us isn’t it? We glorify God by bearing fruit – the fruit of His Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self –control (Gal 5:22-24) We are to, as Isaiah said of Israel “take root and bear fruit” (Is 37:31). In Romans 6, Paul reminds us that we have been set free from sin to become fruit bearing slaves to holiness (Rom 6:22), then a few verses later in Chapter 7, he says we are married to Christ for the purpose of bearing fruit. So, keep on pursuing joy. This pursuit is in God’s interest and will bring Him glory.
We Christians should pursue our joy with all our might. Therefore, the pursuit of our best interest and our true joy is always in God's best interest. One of the most precious truth in the Bible is that God's greatest interest is to glorify the wealth of his grace by making sinners joyful in him. Listen to this montage of a few Scriptures on joy: Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his salvation (Ps 35:9); Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, (Jude 24); For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thess 2:20);
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, (1 Thess 1:6); for all endurance and patience with joy, (Col 1:11b); And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. (2 Cor 2:3); But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (Jn 17:13). When we humble ourselves like little children and put on no airs of self-sufficiency, but run happily into the joy of our Father's embrace, the glory of his grace is magnified and the longing of our soul is satisfied. Christians are not idolaters when they pursue them both together. In God's wisdom and by God's grace our interest and his glory are one.
One of the clearest demonstrations that the pursuit of our joy and the pursuit of God's glory are meant to be one and the same pursuit is the teaching of Jesus on prayer in the gospel of John. The two key verses are John 14:13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. and 16:24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. The one shows that prayer is the pursuit of God's glory. The other shows that prayer is the pursuit of our joy. Turn in your Bibles to the book of John and I will read those two verses again. The first one is in chapter 14, verse 13. I would recommend if you’re in the habit of underlining key verses that you underline these two Listen again to 14:13 "Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." And now flip over a couple of pages to 16:14 " Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. " The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And the chief act of man by which these two goals are attained is prayer. Therefore, Christians who pursue in God's glory the fullness of their own joy will above all be people of prayer. Just like the thirsty deer buckles down to drink at the brook, so the characteristic posture of the Christian will be bowed before God or on our knees.
If you are like me, it doesn’t take much to disrupt your prayer life. Probably all you need is someone to remind you of its importance and you will be back in the happy groove of early rising or midday meditation or late night prayer. We need points throughout the year where we take our bearings and re-adjust our course. I hope today is one of those points in your life of prayer.
Let's look more closely at prayer as the pursuit of God's glory, and prayer and the pursuit of our joy, in that order. In John 14:13 Jesus says, "Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." Suppose that you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose that a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed done. How could you glorify your friend if a stranger came to see you? You could say, "Friend, please come lift me up and put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest. And would you please put my glasses on?" And so your visitor would learn from your requests that you are helpless and that your friend is strong and kind. You glorify your friend by needing him and asking him for help and counting on him.
If your Bible is still open, turn back to chapter 15. In John 15:5 Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." So we really are paralyzed. Without Christ we are capable of no good thing (Romans 7:18). But God wills that we bear fruit for the purpose of loving people into the kingdom. So he promises to do for us (as a strong and reliable friend) what we can't do for ourselves. And how do we glorify him? Jesus gives the answer in John 15:7, "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you." We pray. We ask God to do for us through Christ what we can't do for ourselves—to make us bear fruit. Then verse 15:8 gives the result we're after: "By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit." So how is God glorified by prayer? Prayer is our open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that he will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy. Isn’t that true in your life? Aren’t you needy? You should be! We are told in 2 Corinthians 2:10 we are “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Jesus said, , "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." We are needy, God is wealthy!
Another text in John that shows how prayer glorifies God is John 4:9–10. Jesus had asked a woman for a drink of water:
The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of a woman of Samaria?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."
If you were a sailor severely afflicted with scurvy, and a very generous man came aboard your ship with his pockets bulging with vitamin C and asked you for an orange slice, you might give it to him. But if you knew that he was generous, and that he carried all you needed to be well, you would turn the tables and ask him for help.
Jesus says to the woman, "If you just knew the gift of God and who I am, you would pray to me." There is a direct correlation between not knowing Jesus well and not asking much from him. A failure in our prayer life is generally a failure to know Jesus. "If you knew who was talking to you, you would ask me!" A prayerless Christian is like a bus driver trying to push his bus out of a rut by himself because he doesn't know Clark Kent is on the bus. "If you knew, you would ask." A prayerless Christian is like having your room wallpapered with Sear's gift certificates but always shopping at thrift stores because you can't read. "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that speaks to you, you would ask—YOU WOULD ASK!" Asking glorifies God because it recognizes His wealth and our need.
And the implication is that those who do ask—Christians who spend time in prayer—do it because they see that God is a great giver and that Christ is wise and merciful and powerful beyond measure. And therefore their prayer glorifies Christ and honors his Father. The chief end of man is to glorify God (1 Cor 6:20).Therefore, when we become what God created us to be, we become people of prayer. That glorifies God!
But the chief end of man is also to enjoy God forever. And that brings us back to John 16:24, "Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. ." Is this not an invitation to Christians? Pursue the fullness of your joy! PRAY!
From this sacred word and from experience we can draw out a simple rule: prayerlessness always produces joylessness. Why? Why is it that a deep life of prayer leads to fullness of joy and a shallow life of prayerlessness produces joylessness? Jesus gives at least two reasons.
One is given in John 16:20–21. Jesus alerts the disciples that they will grieve at his death but then rejoice again at his resurrection: "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy. When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you." What is the source of the disciples' joy? Answer: the presence of Jesus. "I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice." No Christian can have fullness of joy without a vital fellowship with Jesus Christ. Prayerlessness produces joylessness. Knowledge about him will not do, and work for him will not do, even though knowledge and work have value. We must have personal, vital fellowship with him; otherwise Christianity becomes a joyless burden. Another verse that emphasizes the joy found in our relationship with Christ is in the book of 1 John. In his first letter John wrote, "Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be full" (1 John 1:4). Fellowship with Jesus is essential to fullness of joy.
The first reason, then, why prayer leads to fullness of joy is that prayer is the nerve center of our fellowship with Jesus. He is not here physically to see. But in prayer we speak to him just as though he were here. And in the stillness of those sacred times we listen to his thoughts and we pour out to him our longings. Perhaps John 15:7 is the best summary of this two-sided fellowship: "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you." When the words of Jesus abide in our mind, we hear the very thoughts of the living Christ, for he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And out of that deep listening of the heart comes the language of prayer which is a sweet incense before God's throne. The life of prayer leads to fullness of joy because prayer is the nerve center of our vital fellowship with Jesus.
Now I want to broach another thought: let’s say a by-product of joy. Fellowship with Jesus is essential to joy, but there is something about it that impels us outward to share his life with others. A Christian can't be joyful and stingy, because it is more blessed to give than to receive. Therefore, the second reason a life of prayer leads to fullness of joy is that it gives us the power to love. It is out of our overflow that we love others. WE fill ourselves to overflowing with Christ so there is living water for others. We can’t give what we don’t have. We give out of our excess – give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you." (Luke 6:38) “If the pump of love runs dry, it is because the pipe of prayer isn't deep enough into the wellspring of Jesus! What about you? Is the pump of love running dry? Is your pipe of prayer deep into the wellspring of the Word? What about your joy? Is it full?
The Bible plainly teaches that the goal of all we do should be to glorify God. But it also teaches that in all we do we should pursue the fullness of our joy. The Bible does not force us to choose between God's glory and our joy. In fact, it forbids us to choose. And what we have seen from John's gospel is that prayer, perhaps more clearly than anything else, embodies the unity of these two pursuits: joy and glorifying God. Prayer pursues joy in fellowship with Jesus and gives the power to share Jesus’ life with others. And prayer pursues God's glory by treating him as our reservoir of hope and strength. In prayer we admit our poverty and God's prosperity, our bankruptcy and his bounty, our misery and his mercy. Therefore, prayer highly exalts and glorifies God precisely by pursuing everything we long for in him and not in ourselves. "Ask and you will receive, that the Father may be glorified in the Son and that your joy may be full." Do you see it? Asking leads t receiving which leads to God being glorified which leads to our joy being full. And it all starts with asking!
I close with an earnest exhortation. Unless I'm badly mistaken, one of the main reasons so many of God's children don't have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don't want to, but that we don't plan to. If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don't just get up one summer morning and say, "Hey, let's go!" You won't have anything ready. You won't know where to go. Nothing has been planned. But that is how many of us treat prayer. We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing's ever ready. We don't know where to go. Nothing has been planned. No time. No place. No procedure. And you know as well as I that with planning there will be a contagious flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut. If you don't plan a vacation, you will probably stay home and watch TV. The natural, unplanned flow of spiritual life sinks to the lowest ebb of vitality. There is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. If you want renewal in your life of prayer, you must plan it.
Therefore, my simple exhortation is this: I urge you to take ten minutes this afternoon to rethink your priorities and how prayer fits in. Make some new resolve. Try some new venture with God. Pick up that devotional guide sitting on your shelf. Set a time. Set a place. Choose a portion of Scripture to guide you. I've had to do this myself because I get caught off guard by the stress of busy days. We all need mid-course corrections. Make this a great day of turning to prayer—for the glory of God and for the fullness of your joy.
Now, consider the words of this familiar song taken from Isaiah 55:12:
Break Forth into Joy Oh My Soul.
Break Forth into Joy Oh My Soul.
In the Presence of the Lord,
There Is Joy Forevermore.
Break Forth, Break Forth into Joy, Oh My Soul.
So, go and do it today and every day.
I’d like us to close with these words from Adrian Rogers at Love Worth Finding Ministries
Firstly, BIBLE MEDITATION: meditate on these words from Philippians 3:10
"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death."
One day I was making a call on a businessman with a friend of mine. This dear man of God began giving his testimony of how the Lord saved him, but then he said something that really shocked me. I was speechless. He said, "I used to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross and that He was buried and rose again, but I don't believe it anymore." I was stopped dead in my tracks. Then with a smile on his face, he said, "I don't believe it anymore.
Now, I know it!" Oh, to go from believing to knowing the Savior. What a change of thought. What a change of heart. What a glorious revelation and transformation!
Do you know Him -- really know Him -- today? Or do you just believe that He died, was buried, and rose again?
Let’s pray: Oh Lord, we thank you for your Word which exhorts us to ask so we receive your joy. We want to be fruit-bearing servants, full of joy, bringing you glory! But first, Lord, You must bring us to our knees. Help us, Lord, to seek joy, to abound in joy, so we exemplify joy – your joy. We ask in Jesus name.