Cultivate Joy

(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Cultivate Joy,” part II of the Cultivate series. The video is also available to you.)

We’ve been in this series called Cultivate.

Paul talks about how we have this inner battle within every one of us to live into the flesh—our own desires, our own yearnings, our own wantings. Or to be Spirit-led—filled with the Spirit, bearing the nine fruits of the Spirit. And every day, we get the chance to choose will I live by the flesh, or will I live by the Spirit? And it’s really, really difficult at times. Because the culture around us has so much good, but, oftentimes, there are messages and stories and narratives that pull us, drag us, away from being Spirit-led and embodying the nine fruits of the Spirit. Just choosing what we want, what we desire.

And I want you to understand something. If you are a follower of Jesus, at every moment, of every day, in every scenario, in every situation, you can bear the fruit of the Spirit. You do not have to act out of the flesh. You can live by the Spirit.

And that’s what we want to cultivate. How do we cultivate these nine fruits in our life?

And last week, we talked about how we can be the kind of people who are cultivating love in a culture of self-interest. And today, we are going to talk about how we are the kind of church who is cultivating joy in a culture of more. More distraction. More angst. More stuff.

But I think for us to talk about joy, we gotta get to an honest conversation about how we define this word. For many people, they see joy as and happiness as synonyms. And I want you to understand something—they’re radically different. See, happiness is something that comes from the word happenstance or happenings. Or even from the short three-letter word hap, which means this surprise occasion that brings pleasure. It’s fully grounded in something outside of you, circumstantially happening in your life to lift your spirits. That’s happiness.

And for many of us, we fight for this. We feel a dip in our spirit, we go, “Oh, I just need to be happy.” So we choose something that will give us a lift—a little bit of a bump. We buy something—gives us a little bit of lift, a little bit of a bump. But joy... joy is a resolve. Joy is a state of mind. Joy is this profound sense of security that is ongoing. Joy is not based on circumstances. Joy is rooted in something so much more. And Jesus speaks to this in John 15. Verse 8, he says, “When you”—speaking to the disciples—“produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. ‘I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain”—or abide. Make your home—“in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!’”

Jesus says, “I’ve been telling you these things so that you will be the kind of person who is filled up with my joy.” Not just filled up, friends. He’s like, “I-I want something so much more for you. I want your life to be overflowing with joy.” And my question for you simply is this today: Are you overflowing with joy? Are you filled with joy? Or do you find yourself living a life where there’s a bit of a joy deficiency?

And when you find yourself with that joy deficiency, there becomes this temptation to choose happiness. Cause the happiness is just something that can maybe give you a little bit more of a bump! Make you feel a little bit better about yourself! Make you think that you’ve arrived, or you have it all together. And sometimes, just, we choose happiness. And Jesus is saying, “No, no, no, no, no. I want you to be filled with my joy. It’s only what I can give you. And I want you not just to have joy but to be overflowing.”

Paul speaks about this. And he writes these words in Philippians chapter 4: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.” “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” In every situation, don’t allow any circumstance to dictate how you act, think, or feel. Allow yourself to be moved by the joy that’s in the Lord.

So what is joy? If it’s different from happiness, what is joy? To me, joy is an eternal perspective, gifts of grace, divine contentment—all anchored in Christ. And I wanna walk through these three points to help you live with joy in any and every situation so that you can be brimming, overflowing, and people can see something fundamentally different about you.

So joy. Joy is an eternal perspective. Joy is something that allows us to see the bigger picture. But for many of us, if you’re like me, you find yourself zooming in on a situation—someone’s cut you off. Someone’s just gossiped about you. Someone has said something, slandered you. Someone has written something online. Someone has done something and, all of a sudden, all of your energy—swoosh, goes right there. And we miss out on an eternal perspective. Going back to this Philippians 4 verse, look what Paul says at the very end. He says, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” But at the very end: “Remember, the Lord is coming soon.”

Paul is writing this and reminding the people, the church, “Hey, don’t lose sight of heaven. Don’t lose sight of the bigger story. Have that grander vision for where this story is going.” For many of us, we choose happiness over heaven. We choose a happenstance—some little blip—to try and make us feel better over the reality of what heaven is going to be. And heaven—heaven is going to be everything we know it to be from the Scriptures. There will be no more death. There will be no more mourning. There will be no more sickness. There will be no more evil, no more racism, no more brokenness, no more sin. It’s going to be the world made right. And for us, we have to keep that in focus.

And sometimes, we can see here, it can read this, and go, “Yeah, but what was Paul going through?” Oh yeah, he was in chains. He was in prison. And he was still saying this. Because he had a heavenly perspective. But sometimes, things are a little bit tricky. We see the goal, we see the finish line. But, all of a sudden, it’s as if the enemy just trips us up. We’re running as fast as we can. We’re doing the best we can. We’ve got heaven in view. But something happens in us that trips us up, and we become distracted of that eternal perspective.

Recently, our young adults pastor, Clary Butler, invited me over to a young-adults gathering. And he asked me to race him in front of all of his people. And this is what happens.

Yeah. Yeah. Now, I need you to know something. There are few people I respect more on planet Earth than Clary. He’s a brother. We push each other. He makes me better. He pushes me sometimes—like that time. But I need you to see something—as I’m on the ground, I’m like, that hurt. But then, I was like, isn’t this how life is? You see the goal. You see the finish line. And then, out of nowhere, you get tripped up! This happens all the time. Every day. Case in point:

This past week, I was in Wisconsin with my son on a little boy adventure. Very minimal cell reception. Late one night, because I guess it was raining like every day here, my wife texts me and says, “Hey, our basement flooded. Again.”

And I was like oh, man.

And just some great community jumped in—helped her. But yesterday, she asked me, “Steve, can you go pick up the Shop-Vac?” Six-gallon Shop-Vac filled with water that they had scooped up. And so I’m like, “Sure, for sure.”

I go up from the basement. I’m walking up with the stairs. I go up onto the hardwood floor. And the lid of the Shop-Vac falls off, and five gallons of water are now moved from the basement up to the living room! I had a Shop-Vac right there. So we begin to suck it back up again. I take it outside. I dump it out. And then my wife says, “Hey, can you go grab the vacuum downstairs?”

“For sure. Totally.”

I walk down there. And the water now is leaking into the basement.

Do you ever have these moments where you are filled with joy... and, all of a sudden, you just get tripped up, get distracted. It’s like the enemy is like, “Oh yeah? You’re about ready to teach? I’m just gonna flood your basement. Uh! You’re just about ready to teach. All you need to do is lift a Shop-Vac. You could do that, right? No.”

And you have these moments. And it’s just as if there’s like this thing that’s swoosh taking the joy away. And I think, in this moment, as I stood on our patio, dumping out the water for the second time, I just stepped back. Everyone’s okay in my family. The water is back in the basement. It’s not the end of the world. But nothing is going to steal my joy. Nothing is gonna steal my joy.

Someone cuts you off. That’s not gonna steal your joy. Someone says something about you. It’s not going to steal your joy. And if you have this eternal perspective that you know that God wins, that God has the last word, that evil will not—will not—win. You find yourself just laughing and reminding yourself, “Oh, I’m filled with the joy in the Lord.” And that will carry you on.

Second piece to joy. Joy is the gifts of grace. And I want you to see this phrase: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” What’s amazing, in the original language, the word for grace is the word charis. The word for joy is the word chara. And the word for rejoice is the word chairo. Now, you see these three words. Joy and rejoice mean simply this: because of grace. What is joy? Joy is, because of grace, because of the grace that is given to me through Christ, I have joy. Because of the grace given to me through Christ, I can rejoice. And what we have to do if we are gonna keep our joy levels so high is that we have to be people who count the blessings of grace on a daily basis.

I’m always amazed at how many sincere Christ followers don’t count the blessings of grace. I mean, when you find yourself saying, “Because of grace, I am saved. Because of grace, my past does not define me. Because of grace, I am a new man. Because of grace, I have access to the Father. Because of grace, I am filled with the Spirit. Because of grace, I have gifts. Because of grace, God has given me a family. Because of grace.” And you can just keep counting those blessings on and on and on and on. Just try that, and watch your joy level rise and rise and rise and rise and rise. But if you don’t do it... you will find yourselves counting others’ blessings. And, for many of us, we don’t see the gifts of grace God has bestowed onto us, we see what other people have, don’t we? We don’t focus what’s in our yard, we focus in what’s in our neighbor’s yard. And go, “That’s not fair. Why did you give that to them, God? They don’t deserve it. They’re not even a good person.”

And we don’t count the blessings. We’re counting other people’s blessings. And when we count other people’s blessings, I mean, we don’t do that with grace. We do that with judgement, with frustration, and with angst. And you do that. And you watch your joy just decrease. What might have felt like a half-filled glass of joy, you start counting other people’s blessings, and anger, despair, frustration, you lose sense of your identity. You become someone that God never desired you to be. Stay focused in your yard. Stay focused with the gifts God’s given to you. The gifts that God’s given to other people? Blessings to them. I’m counting my own blessings. Cause I want my joy to stay high.

Thirdly, joy is divine contentment. Divine contentment. Paul says these words: “I’m not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11–13). That last line? That last line is so deeply connected and rooted in John 15. Finding your strength in Christ. Finding your energy in your life in Christ. And Paul is saying, “I have learned the secret of being content. I have had experiences where I’ve been well fed. I’ve had moment where I have been hungry. I have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. And even while I sit in prison, I know I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” That is a joy resolve. That is a divine contentment. That is a belief that I am better in Christ than in anybody else’s story. Or better in Christ than having something that will just give me a little pop. That, within two weeks, three months, I just put it back on the shelf.

And it’s really hard for us, I think, to live with joy. When, every day, some new product is being released. Some new app. Something that’s gonna make our lives better, with advertisements coming at us saying, “If you just had this, it would be all okay. If you just had this, you would be enough.”

And divine contentment says, “No, no. I’m okay because I’m in Christ. I get my strength not from stuff, but I get my strength from Christ.”

And when I learn that there are things, as Dr. B would say, that I can admire without having to acquire, and I can stay grounded and rooted and planted in Christ, I have ultimate joy. I have ultimate joy.

Have you ever experienced someone who has divine contentment? Who has learned the secret of being content in any and every situation? When you get around those people, there is a weight. There is a depth. There is something that they have that you go, “I want that.” Recently, I got a message in social media. And it was inviting me to go out to Winfield. To be honest, I didn’t know where Winfield was. To go to a hospital to visit a young, thirty-year-old man who shared the same name as my son. He was dying of sarcoma.

I got in my car. I drove out to this hospital. Went up to the fourth floor and sat with this man. We had an amazing conversation. And then, a few weeks later, we did this teaching on baptism. And there was something in my spirit that, during the talk, that I needed to say that I would wait. I would wait for any person who wanted to be baptized. I would wait after every service. And I did. And, as I was finishing up the 11:15 service. Shaking some hands. Praying for some people. Congratulating some people. I walked right down there, I grabbed my phone, turned it on, and there was a video, a message, and it was this:

“I just saw your service. I want to get baptized. Please wait for me. I’m on my way.”

And at 1:30, those doors opened up, and a wheelchair was being pushed in. There was probably six of us, seven of us in this room. I looked Emerson right in the eyes. And there was a divine contentment. Someone facing death. But he’s learned the secret of being content. He has this eternal perspective. And he’s recognized, received the gifts of grace, and even in the most difficult situation, like Paul is writing, he was finding a strength in Christ in wanting to go public. And right down here, a few of us gathered around, we said some prayers, and we had the chance to baptize him.

And I’ll never forget that moment. It was more of a gift for me. Because I saw someone who went deep with Jesus. Someone who was so rooted in the Spirit of God. And someone, even the most difficult, darkest days, had joy. Had joy. What about you? How content are you really? Is your contentment in what you have or what you don’t have? Or is your contentment in Christ?

I think, for some of you here today, you hear this word joy, and it’s an imperative. “Always be full of joy. I’ll say it again—rejoice!” in the Lord. And you hear that, but, for some of you, I think you go, it’s a pressure. Cause I know some of you, in a room this size, struggle with depression. I was talking with a friend of mine, and I know he struggles with it, asking him, “How do you do this in the face of this imperative to have joy?”

And he said, “Depression is like Peter getting out of the boat. And you’re walking on the water. And you just see the gray and you see the clouds and you see the wind and the waves and it just begins to overtake you. And you find yourself just suffocating. You can’t get a breath. And you find yourself just slipping and slipping deeper and deeper into the water. And then you hear messages, ‘Have joy! Have joy! Have joy!’ and it’s so hard.”

I said, “How do you do it, though?”

And he said the way that they’ve been able to find their head coming above the water, where they’ve been able to see the light of the day, is when their eyes find Christ. When they fix their eyes on Christ, experience Jesus walking towards them in the midst of the storm. Reaching out their hand, His hand, and grabbing, pulling this person up, walking with them, even in the midst of this season. Even in the midst of the depression. Even in the midst of the gray.

And if that’s you, I want you to know—fix your eyes on Jesus. Be anchored in Christ. And allow Him to see you, to hold you, to walk with you, and to help you find your next breath. And it’s in Christ for all of us—our joy will rise. It’s critical that we do.

So, how do we do it, though? How do we do it in a culture where there seems to be more distractions? More angst and more frustration. And more stuff. How do we become the kind of disciples who cultivate joy in a culture of more? Four ways.

Number one. We choose heaven over happenstance. Every day, we never lose sight of the goal. And even when the enemy trips us up and tries to distract us, we do not run to anything to just give us a little bit of a bump. We step back. And we remember where this story is going and what is true of the Scriptures. And we remember heaven... heaven is going to be the world being brought to rights, and allowing that to carry us forward rather than just choosing to follow some marketer’s dream for our life.

Second. We count or own blessings. Count your blessings. Stop counting other people’s blessings. Count your blessings. Get in your chair. Sit in your chair and, before you dive into the Word, just stop and say, “God, thank you for this. Thank you for this. This gift of grace. Thank you for this.” And you will feel that joy rise.

Number three. Stop feeding discontentment. I don’t think you heard it. Let me say it again. Stop feeding discontentment. Maybe you should just say it out loud, cause I don’t know if you’re hearing it just so well. Stop feeding discontentment. If your friend posts on social media how great their life is, and you know it’s otherwise—stop feeding the discontentment. If you find yourself reading magazines and going, “Oh, I wish I had those genes.” Or: “I wish I had that.” Or: “I need that!” And “I look at my life, and it’s like, oh, it’s not...”

Stop feeding discontentment. Protect your joy at all costs. Don’t give that away to social media. Don’t give that away to advertisement. Don’t give that away to Wall Street. Your joy is in the Lord. Protect it. Protect it!

Lastly. Learn to enjoy life. I told you I was in Wisconsin last week, and the cell reception was terrible. Which means I had to be present. And if you define joy as happiness, then your enjoyment will come by purchasing, by having those bumps of pleasure. That’s what enjoyment will be. But if your joy is in an eternal perspective, in the gifts of grace, in divine contentment, all anchored in Christ, everything that you experience, you’ll see as a gift, and you’ll want to experience more of Christ in that moment. And so you will have moments throughout your day where you will learn to enjoy it. But for many of us, we’re lost on our phones. We don’t even know how to enjoy a moment anymore. And when you find yourself where there is no Wi-Fi, there is no cell reception, and you just have to focus, you get to see the beauty that God has given you. You get to enjoy your kids.

This week, what would it look like for you to enjoy your in-laws? I mean, seriously? With joy, anything is possible! To enjoy your kids. To enjoy your friends. To enjoy your one and only life. But if you’re counting others’ blessings... if you’re not content... if you’re pulled away by distractions... you’re not gonna enjoy your life. You’re gonna grit your teeth and stumble your way, angry and frustrated, through your one and only life. And I don’t want that for you.

Cause if you live like that, your joy level’s gonna look like this, and then tell people about Jesus, and they’re gonna be like, “Yeah, I don’t think so. That? Really? That looks amazing. That’s what I need more in my life. Judgmental, empty, angry guy—that’s what I want. Really? I got that on talk radio. You know what I mean? I don’t need that!”

But you know what our world desperately wants? Our world wants to see a church. Our world wants to see disciples who produce true fruit of the Spirit. Who find themselves just filled and overflowing. May this be you. Amen? Amen.