Why – Why be happy?
Good evening to you all.
Welcome to our first Sunday evening service of 2016. We here trust that the Lord can and will use these services to minister to the needs of His people here.
Tonight I’m continuing my Why series; towards the end of last year – the last time I preached – I shared about Why we should seek God. Sometimes we get so stuck on what we should do, and my aim in this series is to explore why we should do those things (which, oftentimes, we already know we should be doing). So last time I explored with you why we should seek God – Tonight I’m going to be exploring with you, as you can see at the top of your bulletin insert, Why be happy?
Over the holidays I got the chance last week to go to Rhema and see how they run things. I’ve never been there before: it’s pretty big. They minister to many tens of thousands of people every week and I was interested to see what they were saying. I wanted to copy what the worship leader was saying but I’m afraid my personality isn’t charismatic enough. And this would be a good time for me to get all charismatic at you, declare that this is your year for prosperity; this is the year of breakthrough; this is your year…
But before we start, I want to ask you to think a little. What does this new year mean to you? When you look ahead at 2016, how do you feel about it? Are you excited? Are you nervous? Are you fearful? Are you rearing to go?
This last week as a Church we received an email from one of the missionaries that we’re supporting. He made a good point in the email that stuck with me. In the last weeks of December, people started getting ready for celebrations. And then, on the last night at midnight, all over the world, the sound of fireworks filled the air. People all over the world were celebrating; …and as we see in some of the pictures we saw on social media and the news the next day, they celebrated hard.
But it made that missionary wonder, as it made me wonder too: “What are they really celebrating?” Are they really looking forward to 2016?
Maybe you were one of those who did something special for new year’s; maybe you had friends and family over, had a braai and a swim and set off fireworks. And when you woke up to the new year, you realised it was time to get yourself ready for the year ahead. Leave time is over, holidays are over, party is over, and it’s time to get back to work.
Usually there’s a sense of excitement around the new year – all things are new.
But this year, I just haven’t been able to plug into it. It’s like I’ve just got no vuma for 2016. Does it feel like that for anyone else here?
I thought about that a little, and realised that that’s actually a pretty reasonable feeling – no vuma, no excitement, no joy for 2016.
I mean, why should we? Last year there was a lot to feel low about: the value of the Rand plummeted, our country’s international investment status ended one step away from ‘junk’, our politicians spent the year covering themselves in infamy, discussions around Nkandla saw parliament plunging into chaos on a number of occasions, leaving the country’s citizens open-mouthed at the shenanigans taking place in what is supposed to be one of the country’s most respected institutions.
We make jokes but it was a pretty sucky year.
But a new year means new possibilities!
This last week I delved into news reports and spoke to people to see how they felt about this coming year. Almost universally the prediction is that 2016 will not be any better. El Niño has followed us into 2016, so has the investor fear towards our county, so has the low pass rate. And you can’t run from it. There’s no hope in running to another part of the world. Billionaire George Soros claims the world economy is in crisis. Developing economies are losing their horse power, and yet they’re still outperforming developed countries. The negativity is global.
Talk about dismal. Should we get excited about 2016? Should there be hope? Should there be any place of joy?
From a human perspective, the answer is a resounding ‘No!’ There’s really nothing to be excited about and a lot to get long-faced about.
But, you know, the Bible says a lot about being joyful (joy: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness): “Rejoice in hope” (Romans 12:12), “Count it all joy…” (James 1:2), “May God fill you with joy…” (Romans 15:13), “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). These are just a few of dozens of places where the Bible talks about joy.
This book says a lot about joy. We should be a joyful people. So go out and do it…
Do you feel joyful yet?
So the question is, ‘Why joy? Why should I be happy? What do I have to be feeling great pleasure about?’
Okay, I just got married so I have a long list of things I’m happy about…
But for many of us, if we look at the year ahead, and then throw a glance at our bank statements, and dare sneak a peek at the headlines, that’s all it takes to send us on a downward spiral into dis-heartedness and depression.
How can God tell us to be happy? Doesn’t He see the circumstances we face?
My question for tonight is this: Why be happy?
Tonight I want to show you two things from the Bible that we have to be happy about.
Before I start I want to say this: When I was a little younger, I had a fear of the dark. I wouldn’t like to walk around the house at night because I didn’t know what would happen to me. But if my family was home with me, I wasn’t afraid if the lights went off. Walking around the house in the dark with my Dad was easy. It didn’t change the circumstances – it was still dark – but I was able to face the dark with a sense of security and hope.
It’s the same way here. Maybe you’re facing this year with a sense of fear and trepidation; but I want you to know that you’re not alone. Your heavenly Dad’s with you. It doesn’t change your circumstances – but you’ll face the challenges with a sense of security and hope.
So what are the things I want to encourage you with tonight. Why be happy? Firstly because no matter what: God is in control.
God is in control
If you can, if it won’t put you to sleep, I’d like you to just close your eyes for a minute and I’m going to read some verses to you, and I want you to allow them to simply sink in – the power and authority and control of our God. So close your eyes, just for a minute.
Isaiah 45:6-7 “There is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.”
Daniel 4:34-35 “[The LORD’s] dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.”
Maybe if you’ve let these verses sink in, you can say with David: [1 Chronicles 29:11] “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.”
You can open your eyes now.
As you well know, we like to read these verses: Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”; Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”; but our favourite Bible verses would have no power unless the One who said these things is totally in control.
And God is in control.
Many people have experienced real pain, or watched someone they love in real pain, and it casts a shadow of doubt over whether God is in control. You look around at the world today, see the impoverished nations, the injustice of many leaders, the evil of many people, and you start to wonder, ‘Where is God in all of this??’
Pastor William preached a little while ago from the book of Habakkuk. So you know the story well, I don’t doubt. Habakkuk was a prophet in the land of Judah, and he looks at all the wickedness and evil around him, he sees bad people prospering. You can look around and see that today too. Bad people are prospering, people are doing wicked things and getting away with it. Even people that claim to be Christians.
So he cries out to God, “God, You’re holy. And you see what’s going on here. How can you let this happen? How long are you going to let this go on??”
God responds by saying, “Don’t worry Habakkuk, I’m about to do something you wouldn’t believe even if you were told. I’m going to punish all those people, I’m bringing disaster on your nation. And you will all be punished for your sin.”
Habakkuk’s response: “Wait…what?? No, no, no…that’s not what I meant!”
And God says, “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
For those who wouldn’t listen to God’s words through Habakkuk. For them, life had been good, everything was going as it ‘always had’. And then all of a sudden they were being wiped out in warfare with a foreign nation. Their crops were being destroyed, their husbands and fathers killed, and their sons dragged off to faraway lands.
Did God lose control?
Or how about Job; when all that he had was ripped from his hands and he was left with nothing. Did God lost control?
Did God lose control when Babylon invaded Judah? Did God lose control when Jonah was in the fish? Did God lose control when Job lost everything?
Not at all, God was always in control. He allowed and He sent the suffering.
Why would God do that?
Well, for many reasons. But here’s one: Sometimes when we are in a state of comfort, we start to slide away from total submission to God; the total submission that He requires.
Psalm 30:6-8; 10-12 “When I was prosperous, I said, ‘Nothing can stop me now!’ Your favour, O LORD, made me as secure as a mountain. Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered. I cried out to you, O LORD. I begged the Lord for mercy…Hear me, LORD, and have mercy on me. Help me, O LORD.’ You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have…clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
God is in control – He’s always in control. When our world is at peace – He’s in control. When our world seems to be in tatters – He’s in control. When it seems like evil people are in control – He’s in control. When it seems that the world is going down – He’s still in control.
God is in control – That can give us great joy this year. So why be happy? Firstly because no matter what: God is in control. But more than that, the One in control is especially fond of you – our second great reason to be happy.
2. God is especially fond of His children
Not only can we have joy knowing that God is in control; but we can also be happy because we can know how our Heavenly Father feels towards His children.
A powerful ruler can be an oppressive ruler. Egypt had a powerful pharaoh, but that didn’t mean the Israelites experienced any joy under him. You see it in many places around the world today: powerful but oppressive leaders.
But as God’s children we live under His sovereign favour. If you are a child of God you live under the favour of God.
I’m going to tell you what the Bible says about this in a minute, but before I get there I want you to understand what I mean by the favour of God.
God’s favour is His demonstrated delight. God’s favour means His blessing, it means His guidance, it means His protection. To have God’s favour means that God is looking out for ways to make you happy.
Now don’t get me wrong: I know God isn’t our divine clown puppet – there for our entertainment – but as the Sovereign King of the universe and our Father, He delights to delight His children.
We walk with God as with our closest friend. We begin to see and appreciate the little blessings that God provides for our enjoyment—blessings that we once took for granted.
What does the Bible say? I love this verse in Psalms that I was reading the other day: “You bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favour as with a shield” (Psalm 5:12).
I wonder if you can picture that. If you are a child of God, you are one of the righteous – you’ve been forgiven, you’re blameless before Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him [that’s Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So if you are a believer, you are one of the righteous. And as you walk, God covers you – you don’t cover you, God covers you – He covers you with His favour as if it was a shield. And the evil one is firing arrows at you, trying to trip you up, trying to damage you with regret and guilt, and even damage to your body and life; but God’s favour covers you as a shield so that those arrows don’t hit you.
God isn’t watching us, waiting for a slip-up so that He can whop you with His staff. God isn’t disgusted by His children because of their past sins. God isn’t disappointed in you. God isn’t waiting for you to be fixed.
No! God sees you as you are, and His delight is over you. I love that verse in Psalm 18 (vs. 19) “He rescued me because he delighted in me.”
God delights in you, His child. He doesn’t long to bless you, but first…you need to get all these things right and so on and so forth. There’s truth in the fact that there’s blessing in living according to His command, but there’s also truth in the fact that God simply delights in you.
Maybe you look at this year and think, “Ah, there’s nothing to look forward to. All I can do is buckle down and ride the storm best as I can and maybe next year will be better.” You miss all the beauty that God has in store for you this year.
Before we close, I want you to realise that God's delight, His favour, is for His children. If you are here tonight and you are not God's child, know that His desire for you is that you come to know Him. His open arms are waiting, and His favour is there for you if you will turn to Him. God never turned away anyone who eagerly sought Him out.
So a Happy 2016 my friends. As you face this year, remember that the Lord our God is in control. And we can look at this year with a sense of joy because we know that our God is in control. And remember also that God delights in you, and He has many blessings planned for you this year. Don't miss those blessings because your face is stuck in the mud - stuck in 'news mud', stuck in 'facebook mud', stuck in 'gossip mud. Look up! And enjoy every great and wonderful gift from your loving Father for 2016.