Finding Joy in Strange Places
Dr. Jim Denison
Americans lead the world in consumption of aspirin, and in physical problems caused by stress. Depression is a very real issue in our country and culture.
More than 35 million Americans take Prozac. By 2020 depression will likely be the world’s second-most disabling disease, after heart disease. The World Health Organization already ranks depression as first in prevalence among females and fourth overall.
Uncertainty about our political future has sent stocks tumbling and consumer confidence sliding. Many are pessimistic about our financial future over the coming months. Many are discouraged.
And the upcoming holidays make things even harder for many. 41% of Americans say they find the holidays stressful. There are entire ministries and psychological support groups which exist to get people through the holidays. Family, finances, and time pressures are hard, and those who have experienced the loss of a loved one have an especially difficult time.
We all need joy, especially in these days.
Where can we find true joy, a deep-seated sense of tranquility and serenity in the face of challenging times? In the unlikeliest of places, from a subject which typically causes us more fear and angst than joy and delight. As we begin a three-week emphasis on global missions, ministry, and evangelism, I wish today to make this single point: your greatest joy will be found in sharing Jesus with others. Your greatest sense of significance, purpose, and fulfillment is waiting for you, right here. Let’s see why this is so, and what this fact means for your life and mine.
How the first evangelists found their joy
Jesus is coming near the end of his earthly ministry, and has now set his face towards Jerusalem and the cross. But there is one last group of cities and peoples he has not yet touched—the Jews and Gentiles who live to the east of the Jordan river, outside Israel itself, the area called the Trans-Jordan. Self-respecting Jews would not go over there. But Jesus did.
On his way, he sent seventy of his followers ahead (v. 1). Why seventy? Because there were seventy nations among the Gentiles, according to Genesis 10. One per nation, figuratively.
He “sent” them—this is the word for “apostle,” one sent with the authority of another and on his behalf.
He sent them “two by two,” because we are to do ministry together.
He sent them to “every town and place” because everyone matters to him. 2 Peter 3.9 is clear: God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
“Where he was about to go.” We are “advance men” for Jesus. Our job is simply to get people ready to meet him.
Now comes the good news: “The harvest is plentiful” (v. 2). Jesus saw the harvest when he was up in Galilee (Matthew 9), and in Samaria as well (John 4). And now with these Gentiles across the Jordan River. Everywhere he looked he saw a harvest ready to be reaped. So should we.
Keith Parks, the former head of the International Mission Board, has said that more nations are open to the gospel today than at any time in Christian history.
We hear stories of 28,000 conversations every day in sub-Saharan Africa; of 20,000 a day in Communist China. South Korea had perhaps not a single Christian a century ago; now the nation is one-third born-again.
Closer to home, we see a hunger for spirituality beyond any in memory. Television shows such as the one on Genesis this week, movies, newspapers and books and magazines all focus on spiritual things regularly.
George Barna’s surveys indicate that one-fourth of those who do not go to church would come if only someone would invite them. Imagine 25,000 lost people here next week—Jesus does.
So what are we to do about this harvest field, just waiting to be reaped?
Pray first: “Ask the Lord of the harvest …” We can do much for God after we pray, but nothing until we pray.
Then go (v. 3). This is Jesus’ command, addressed in the second person plural to every Christian. No exceptions, no options.
Go in his power. We are “lambs among wolves,” and our only protection is in staying close to our Shepherd. Do not depend on your own resources such as a purse or bag or sandals (v. 4a). Do not be distracted by others (4b).
Go wherever you are welcome (v. 5). Build relationships—”eat what is set before you” (v. 8). They would be Jews in Gentile homes, offered non-kosher food. Eat it—make friends—build relationships.
Meet the needs you find: “Heal the sick who are there” (9a). Earn the right to tell the good news of God’s love, by showing them your love.
Ultimately, tell them about Jesus: “The kingdom of God is near you” (9b). Tell them about Jesus. Invite them to enter his kingdom, through faith in him as Savior and Lord. Wherever you go, the Kingdom and the King go as well. Invite them to Jesus.
Will everyone come? No: “when you enter a town and are not welcomed …” (v. 10). We will be rejected by some. But they do not reject us—they reject our King: “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (16).
When we share our faith, we feel as though we are on trial and the one with whom we are speaking is the prosecutor, trying to show us how wrong we are. In truth, Jesus is on trial. Satan is the prosecutor; the Holy Spirit is the defense attorney; the person with whom you are speaking is the jury. You are simply a witness, called to the stand to tell what you know. You may be the first witness, and leave the courtroom without a verdict; you may be the last witness, and watch the jury decide for Jesus. But he is on trial, not you. Just tell what you know.
And you will have joy. Unspeakable joy. Great joy: “The seventy returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name'” (17).
They have joy such as they had never known, because they stepped out of their security and comfort and took a stand for the Lord. They have become ministers and missionaries, and their joy knows no bounds.
And Jesus replies, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (18). When we take the light of God’s love into our dark world, we attack Satan himself. We assault the gates of hell, and Satan falls. We can defeat the enemy himself, in the power of Jesus.
Jesus shares their joy (21). And he tells them how blessed they are: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see” (23). Why? Even David and Solomon didn’t get to do this; even Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Daniel did not get to do this. You and I have the incredible privilege of telling the world about the Savior. There is no greater joy than doing so.
To summarize: see the harvest all around you; care about those you meet; meet their needs as you can; tell them about Jesus, in his power and authority; and expect joy when you do. Great joy.
How we can find our joy
But I hear your response: I can’t do this. Sharing the gospel, ministering to people, being a missionary in Dallas and around the world is for other people. I don’t know how, I don’t know where to start, I can’t do it. If this is the place where true joy is found, I’ll have to live without it.
Across biblical history, what men and women did God use most? Jacob, a deceiver; Rahab, a harlot; Moses, a murderer; Matthew, a publican; Peter, a coward; Paul, a murderer as well. Do you see a pattern? Can God use you?
Augustine was a notorious womanizer, a profane man, before he opened the Scriptures, was converted, and became the greatest theologian after Paul in Christian history. Dwight Moody was a nearly illiterate shoe salesman who came to Christ and preached to 100 million people. William Borden was heir to the Borden dairy fortune, but gave it all up to go to India as a missionary. He died before reaching his destination, but left behind a scrap of paper on which he had written the words, “No reserve, no retreat, no regrets.” Can God use you?
Manuel Noriega, Panama’s notorious strongman, became a Christian in jail and told the world. Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous serial killer, was converted and growing spiritually before he was murdered in jail, according to the Church of Christ minister who was discipling him. Alice Cooper, one of the most decadent rock stars of the ’70s and self-proclaimed incarnate witch, has become a Christian. He is friends with theologian R. C. Sproul, and has taught a Sunday school class. He still wears scary makeup, but his songs now speak about Christ and his faith.
John Grisham has sold more than forty million books, but says that his commitment to Christ at the age of eight in a Baptist church in Arkansas was “the most important event in my life.” Can God use you?
Do you feel the joy of Jesus in your heart today? You can. If you will stand for Jesus, tell others of Jesus, serve people in Jesus’ name, you can.
I have begun calling our first-time guests each Sunday afternoon, because I was not doing enough personal evangelism. And I have found a joy in regular witnessing and ministry such as is found nowhere else.
This week I’ve spoken with many of our members who have discovered the secret of joy. A couple who has sacrificed financially to help impoverished Christians in difficult places, and cannot stop talking about the joy they feel. A man who started a Bible study for his unchurched friends, and says he’s found the greatest joy you can know. Members who have visited the sick and the shut-in, and talked about the privilege and the blessing they have received. A member who has been inviting her neighbors to our community ministries, and cannot describe fully the joy she feels.
A dear friend has been dealing with very difficult physical problems. A few weeks ago she told me about a new neighbor of hers, someone for whom she had been burdened and praying. Just a few days before her surgery this week, God moved her to go to that friend’s apartment and pray for her. Facing great problems herself, she found in serving others the joy of Jesus. So can we.
Where can you begin?
During these weeks of unified missions emphasis, you can give financially to help get the gospel to the whole world—use the envelopes provided, ask God what he would have you do, and do it. And you’ll find his joy.
You can give food and money for food through our hunger drive, using the bags we are providing through your Sunday school.
You can be part of Christmas projects with Buckner Children’s Home, the S.T.E.P. Christmas store, our Habitat for Humanity house, and other Sunday school and missions ministry projects.
And you can begin to pray for lost people you know. Your unchurched friends will come with you to church during Christmas if they will come during no other season. Next week we’ll give you a tool kit of concerts, events, and services you can use. Today, take the Bible marker we have provided. Write the name of four lost or unchurched people you know. Commit to pray for them by name every day through the Christmas season. Ask God to help you step out of your security and comfort, and invite them to church with you.
And you’ll have the joy of Jesus.
Karl Meninger was a world-renowned psychologist; his lectures were packed wherever he spoke. At one academic seminar, during a time for questions, a graduate student asked Dr. Meninger what he would prescribe for a depressed or discouraged person. Everyone prepared to take notes of what they were sure would be a profound academic answer. Dr. Meninger’s reply: “I’d tell the person to leave his house, walk across the street, knock on his neighbor’s door, and ask what he could do to help.”
Would you take the first step today?