The Process of Joy
He was called “Praying Hyde.” A missionary to India at the turn of the century, many people thought John Hyde was always intensely serious because of his reputation for being able to pray and see incredible answers to prayer. They thought that such a prayer-warrior could have no capacity for celebration. But they misread him. “Praying Hyde” was once asked by a worldly lady who wanted to poke a little fun at this man she considered a prude, “Don’t you think, Mr. Hyde, that a lady who dances can go to heaven?” He looked at her with a smile and said quietly, “I do not see how a lady can go to heaven unless she dances.” His statement communicated that the Christian life should be a joyful experience that makes you want to dance!
But I always tell stories like that with a little bit of concern. They really can be misleading. They can cause some believers to anticipate constant spiritual ecstasy and experience constant spiritual disappointment. Some people, when they are first saved, are so relieved of guilt and overcome with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, that they feel a kind of euphoria. It becomes for them a trap. Like spiritual junkies trying to repeat that first “high,” they spend their spiritual lives trying to duplicate the experience. Calvin Miller calls them “Christaholics.” He says:
Many Christians are only "Christaholics" and not disciples at all. Disciples are cross-bearers; they seek Christ. Christaholics seek happiness. Disciples dare to discipline themselves, and the demands they place on themselves leave them enjoying the happiness of their growth. Christaholics are escapists looking for a shortcut to nirvana. Like drug addicts, they are trying to "bomb out" of their depressing world.
There is no automatic joy. Christ is not a happiness capsule; he is the way to the Father. But the way to the Father is not a carnival ride in which we sit and do nothing while we are whisked through various spiritual sensations.
And that’s why some of us have no real spiritual joy. It’s because what we’re after isn’t joy at all. We’re expecting euphoria. We’re looking for ecstasy when ecstasy isn’t what God is giving. This is why telling a former Crack addict to “get high on Jesus” is a mistake. What you’re telling him is that this Christian life is as easy as inhaling and as simple as taking drugs. It’s not! You don’t have to be a believer for very long to learn that constant euphoria doesn’t describe the Christian life. . . at least not the real one. So what happens? Disappointed by the lack of euphoria, many Christians get depressed and disillusioned. They have no joy because they’re expecting euphoria.
And then, they have no joy because they’re neglecting the process. We tend to think, as Miller says that our heavenly is our carnival ride in which we sit and do nothing while we are whisked through various spiritual sensations. People afflicted with this malignancy say things like:
“I just don’t get anything out of the worship service.”
“I thought being a Christian would make me happy. It’s just stressing me out.”
“I like this church because it ‘feels’ right.”
These statements reveal two glaringly unbiblical mistakes: First, they reveal a belief that one’s Christian experience is all about emotions. That’s not true. Emotions are the by-product of faith, not the goal of it. Second, these statements reveal a belief that joy is a passive thing. It is something that comes to me mysteriously and I have no control over it. That’s also not true. Actually joy is something that happens at the end of a process. That’s what Hebrews 12:11 says:
Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, (notice!) afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Catch that? Joy (another name for the “peaceable fruit of righteousness”) comes afterward. What does joy come after? It’s right there in that verse: training. That word comes from the root, gymnazo. You can hear the word “gym” in that term. In other words, joy comes after your spiritual work out. It is the result of a training process. It is the result of a process of DISCIPLINE
So I want us to take a look at what’s involved in this process this morning. This process of discipline involves three truths which, if you are to experience it, you must internalize. The first one is this. In this training process:
DIV 1: SUFFERING IS THE TOOL OF DISCIPLINE.
Now the word “suffering” is definitely not one of our favorites. In fact we tend to run from it and, with good reason. No one likes pain. That is the sentiment the Hebrew writer addresses when he begins in v 5, And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by him.’
Knowing our tendency to avoid pain, the writer couches suffering in the context of a relationship. He tells us to remember that we are sons. He then tells us that we should not despise the “chastening” of the Lord. That’s an interesting word. It actually speaks of the training and education of children. What we are told here is that real learning requires discipline. If I am to really learn anything, there will be “chastening” or “training” involved which will mean that I will have to undergo discipline.
And we all know that discipline can be painful. v. 6 goes on to say that ...whom the Lord loves He chastens and (watch this word) scourges every son whom He receives. The scourge, as you may remember from your study of the passion of Christ, was the cat-o-nine tails. It’s the instrument of torture that was used on Jesus when Pilate had him beaten turning his back into a bloody mess. That’s painful! Now, understand, not all the things that teach us in life are painful, but we have to say that many of them are. Suffering is the tool of discipline. That, you might say, is the bad news.
But there is some good news! Not only does real learning require discipline, but only real sons receive discipline. v 7 says:
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.
If you are going through some sort of spiritual battle or struggle today, take heart! The presence of pain in your life is a signal that God is at work. He is chastening you. He is disciplining you. Yes, it is painful, but it can also be comforting. It tells you that you belong to God. In fact, if you live a pain free life as a believer and never have any difficulty to overcome there is a good chance that you are illegitimate. You may be a church member, but you’re not part of the family of God. Whoever God loves, God disciplines. And His greatest disciplinary tool is suffering.
It begins on Sunday night. Lights flash on as recruits are awakened by their instructor. Next to one ear, a machine gun filled with blanks is fired. A jet from a garden hose is flushing the other ear. An instructor shouts, “We have a mission to perform tonight. I want you to listen to every word.”
The mission turns out to be exercising and lying wet and almost naked on cold steel plates on a nearby pier. And after an eternity of discomfort, its Monday. With little sleep, the six-man teams are ordered to run races with a 250-pound Zodiac rubber assault boat on their heads. Tuesday, with less than an hour of sleep, they have to row those boats into Mexican waters, 18 miles. Many fall asleep while rowing. Wednesday comes bringing with it more races with those big boats, their goots digging down into soft sand. The evening brings another run, then, at midnight, they are ordered to lie naked in the cold pounding surf. Every ten minutes during the night they have to stand up to get the full effect of the cold win.
And through it all they have a bell strung around their necks. All they have to do to stop the torture is ring the bell three times and they will be out of the program.
By Thursday everyone is hallucinating. And if they make it to Friday, and that’s a big “if, “ they become Navy Seals.”
It’s the closest thing to legalized terrorism you can find. And why is it so tough? Because suffering is the tool of discipline. It’s like that in your Christian life. God disciplines His children and suffering is often the tool he uses.
And I know that someone may be thinking: “Just wait a minute, Rusty. I’m not a Navy Seal, and the God I love is not a Drill Sergeant. I don’t believe in this “No pain, no gain” Christianity. Well, if you hold that position, I’ll have to admit that you are probably in today’s mainstream. \
Philip Yancey wrote of a friend of his named Susan, a Christian who told Yancey "that her husband did not measure up and she was actively looking for other men to meet her needs for intimacy": When Susan mentioned that she rose early each day to "spend an hour with the Father," I asked, "In your meetings with the Father, do any moral issues come up that might influence this pending decision about leaving your husband?"Susan bristled: "That sounds like the response of a white Anglo-Saxon male. The Father and I are into relationship, not morality. Relationship means being wholly supportive and standing alongside me, not judging."
That’s pretty typical response in our day. God would never allow us to suffer. If we suffer, it must be that we just haven’t got enough faith, or because we just haven’t prayed enough. In fact there are about three different responses to this tool of suffering. Some try to escape it. They are seeking to avoid pain at all costs. They will scheme and plan, not realizing that their present pain is part of God’s own plan of growth in their lives. And, by the way, when they try to escape, they often find themselves hemmed in. So, captured by their own misplaced desire and determined to have their way, they rebel against God’s work in them. Then they end up not only suffering, they also end up out of the will of God. They lose both ways. That’s what happens when you try to escape what God has put on you.
Others try to explain it. They try to reason everything out, even seeking reasons for their suffering in their own failure or weakness. Now it is true that sometimes our pain may be a judgement on some failure in our life, but often it is simply God using our circumstances to make us more like Jesus. Looking for specific reasons often leads only to frustration.
The proper response to the suffering of joy is to simply seek to endure it. Realizing that God is treating me like a son, I learn what I can and simply trust Him in the middle of the pain.
Which just leads me to this question: How are you handling it? Are you running for the exits, seeking to just escape? Are you spending your days looking for answers that really aren’t there? Or are you seeking to endure and learn? Joy comes at the end of the process of discipline and suffering is it’s tool. But here is the second truth you must internalize if you are to understand the process of joy. You must realize that suffering is the tool of discipline and
DIV 2 DISCIPLINE IS THE PATH TO GROWTH.
That’s right! Discipline really is the path to growth. But there’s something you have to understand about discipline and that is this: Not all disciplines are the same. Some are more effective to growth than others. In fact you see a bit of a contrast in vv 9-11: Human discipline is contrasted with godly discipline, and a couple of characteristics are noted from each. For instance, human discipline is temporary. V9 says, Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us . . . for they indeed for a few days chastened us for a little while. Earthly fathers only discipline us when we are small and under their roofs. By contrast, God, in His infinite love, consistently disciplines us.
And, human discipline is flawed. V9 again says, We have had many human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Notice that they disciplined us as seemed best to them. Now I don’t have to tell you that our human fathers were not perfect. And if you are a father today, you aren’t either. As good as your dad was he was still human which meant his human discipline is flawed.
That’s not the case with godly discipline. Godly discipline is perfect. That is implied when the writer asks the question in v9, Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? Notice the word “Father” is capitalized. He is speaking of God here and, since He is God, obviously His discipline is perfect. You might have submitted to your earthly father, but how much more should you submit to your heavenly Father for His discipline is perfect.
And because it is wisdom from God, and because it is perfect, it is also profitable. v10 says that God disciplines us so that may be profited and so that we may be partakers in His holiness. Now implied in this statement is its opposite. If we share in His discipline, we partake in His holiness; if we do not share in this discipline, we do not partake in His holiness! Which means that all this adds up to this simple statement: No discipline=no growth. Discipline is the path to growth.
The story of General George Washington is quite an amazing one. He was, hands down, the most important figure in the revolution and independence of this country. He stuck it out when things were bleak. In fact, there was a period of time when Washington was the Head General of a group of states which didn’t even have an army and wasn’t even, officially, a country. When his army appeared, it was made up of men from various state militias who could barely march and had no clue about what they should do on a battlefield. The first few attempts to fight found these raw recruits very often running for their lives.
But there’s a guy you may have never heard of that turned it around. In the winter of 1778 General Baron Von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge. He was appalled at what passed for an army that slouched around in the snow. With Washington’s permission, he selected 100 men whom he made into a model company He habitually began instructions before dawn, drilling his select troops twice daily. The sight of an officer of rank and title performing the routine of a drill-sergeant was curiously regarded by his shabby audience and his antics soon became the best show in town. Unable to speak English, Steuben wielded a musket and pantomimed the manual of arms. He soon memorized basic commands in English and barked them phonetically to his trainees. It was frustrating for him and his troops but Steuben’s progress in establishing a uniform system of maneuvers and discipline proved nothing short of miraculous. Once trained, members of Steuben’s select Guard in turn schooled other troops in basic military procedures. In a sense, they became graduates of the first American military academy. In a few short weeks, his drills were being practiced by large units of the army.
And the result was that Washington’s troops began to stand their ground and, by the end of the war, were considered to be the equal of their British counterparts. What made the difference? Discipline. It’s the path to growth.
So here’s what we need to remember about God and His discipline. First, since God’s discipline is perfect, I can be confident in its necessity. That’s critical! God does not allow us to go through things gratuitously. Those things that happen to us are meant to become the fuel for growth in our lives. In fact, the NIV renders v7 of this passage like this: Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. Did you get that? We are to consider that our hard times in life as believers are God’s discipline for our lives. In fact you could substitute in this verse: Endure your divorce as discipline (that is if you’re not the one causing it) God is treating you as His child; Endure your cancer as discipline—God is treating you as His child; Endure your bankruptcy as discipline—God is treating you as His child. And never forget: His discipline is perfect. Whatever He allows is what we need.
Second, since God’s discipline is profitable, I can anticipate its effect. His discipline is going to do something great in my life. I will, through it, become a partaker of His holiness. I will be come like Him in my character. His discipline is perfect and His discipline is profitable. His discipline is the path to Growth. And that growth has a real impact on my life. You see, not only is suffering the tool of discipline; not only is discipline the path to growth, but:
DIV 3 - GROWTH IS THE CAUSE OF JOY
Now notice I didn’t say that discipline is the cause of joy nor that pain was the cause of joy. No! In fact, the writer of Hebrews says as much in v 11 when he says, Now chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful. I love that! He’s not playing Pollyanna with my problems. In fact, the “RUV” version of this verse (that is, Rusty’s Uninspired Version) paraphrases v 11 like this: Don’t kid yourself; Pain is Pain! It is not the pain that brings joy, but joy does come. Where does it come from? It comes from growth. Notice that it says, Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. I love that term, “the peaceable fruit fo righteousness.” It is a calmness and quietness that comes into the soul of the one who has been through the process of discipline and seen God faithfully sustain them no matter what happened. It is to possess the current confidence that flows from the future hope and practical guidance made possible through the constant presence of God. Having gone through the discipline of God, the child who used to anxiously question the Father now rests quietly in His arms and confidently knows that, no matter what happens, He is safely abiding in Christ.
Some of you may not know that my undergraduate and one of my graduate degrees was in the field of music. I had a lot of training in music education because them that can do and them that can’t teach. I was never a great performer, so I hoped to perpetuate my mediocrity by teaching others!
I always admired performers, however. To see someone like David Martin who can sit down and not just play a piano but command a piano. He doesn’t just play music, he makes it. And there’s a huge difference. We learned about that at Middle Tenn State University. In fact, I still remember one of the professors there talking to us about the four levels of musicianship. The first level was unconscious incompetence. That’s when you’re terrible but you don’t know it. You experience it whenever your 3 year old performs for you on the piano. You encourage them, perhaps, but you know it’s really bad. They, however, do not. That’s unconscious incompetence.
But then your 3 year old turns 9 and begins to take piano lessons. After a year or so, they suddenly realize that playing the piano is extremely involved. In fact, they may get discouraged with all the practice and want to quit. That’s conscious incompetence. That’s when they are terrible, and they know it.
But they do not quit, they keep practicing and going to piano. They learn a piece for their recital and they can play it perfectly, the only thing is they haven’t really developed a mastery of the keyboard. They have to think about what they are doing and they sweat bullets every time they play. It’s a competent experience, but it wears them out to perform. That’s conscious competence. They are good, but they have to think about it.
The highest level of performance is unconscious competence. Your child becomes an adult, attends Juliard School of Music and becomes a concert pianist. They don’t just play the notes, they have mastered the keyboard. They fly around on the keys with a freedom that gives them joy and brings you great pleasure. They are good and they don’t even stop to think about it anymore. They have absolute confidence when they sit down to play.
Here’s the question: How do you get from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence? You have to experience great growth as a musician. How do you experience great growth as a musician? Through the discipline of hours upon hours of practice. But the result of all that practice and all of that growth is the freedom and joy of performance.
It’s like that in our lives. If we are to have joy, it will come at the end of a similar process of growth.
Which just leads me to these applications that flow right from this truth:
First, if growth is the cause of joy, then shortcuts are not available. God is not out to create “Christaholics,” people who what spiritual euphoria on the cheap. He has designed joy to come at the end of a process of growth.
Second, if growth is the cause of joy, then experience is not a substitute. The reason many of us sit in worship and wonder why our joy is gone is because we are looking for some out-of-body experience that God is no part of. His joy comes at the end of discipline. The reason some people can stand and raise their hands in worship on Sunday morning is because that, throughout the week, they have been submitting themselves to the discipline of God and, as a result, have an intimacy with Him that you, sadly, just don’t have. Experience is no substitute.
Third, if growth is the cause of joy, then depression (or your own sadness or apathy) is not a dead-end. You may be here this morning full of sadness. You may be here and even be suicidal. If so, I want you to hear me this morning. There is hope! Depression and sadness do not have to be a dead-end for you. Neither do you have to walk around in circles seeking some experience with God that never comes. No! You can get on the pathway of discipline, surrendering to the Lord’s work in your life, no matter how painful, and you can have joy.
And even as I say all of this, I realize that there may very well be one more group of people here in this place today. To you, none of this applies at least, not yet. You see you’re totally unable to grow and experience God’s joy. The reason is very simple: Before you can grow, you must be alive. See, you’ve never come to the place where you truly committed your life to Jesus Christ. For you, this path to joy begins at the foot of the Cross, where Christ died and shed His blood to forgive you and make you His child. He waits for you to turn to Him in faith so that He can start you on the pathway to joy.
Samuel Zwemer was one of America’s early missionaries to the Arabs. In the 1890's he went to Bahrein and served among Muslims. As you can imagine the going was tough. Muslims are extremely difficult to reach. In forty years of ministry, in fact, Zwemer probably reached less than one dozen converts.
And the personal cost was enormous. The climate was terrible. Temperatures on the coolest part of their veranda regularly soared to 107. In 1904 both of his daughters at the ages of 4 and 7 died within eight days of one another. And yet, fifty years later, Zwemer looked back on this time of his life and wrote: “The sheer joy of it all comes back. Gladly would I do it all over again.”
How could he say that? To work for forty years for less than 12 converts while sacrificing your two precious little girls. How could he call that joy? I’ll tell you how: It’s because of the fifty years. Hear me! I guarantee you that Zwemer wasn’t ecstatic about all the pain he experienced . . . especially when he was going through it---No one would be. But he, through believing God and enduring the discipline of suffering learned that God was sufficient to take him through anything. And he learned that joy isn’t an emotion that flows from your circumstances, it is a confidence that builds through God’s discipline. It comes at the end of a process, a process that must utilize the tool of suffering; a process that must follow the pathway of discipline; but a process, when it is complete that, out of growth, brings joy.