It is for Freedom - Bob Sawvelle - beautiful woman expressing freedom outdoors with her arms outstretched

Did you know that the English words “happy” or “happiness” appear about 30 times in the Bible, whereas the words joy, or rejoicing, occur over 300 times? Joy is important to God and to us. Happiness depends on “happenings,” but joy flows from our life and union with Jesus Christ. God’s joy sustains us through the seasons of life.

Joy is a characteristic entirely different from happiness. Happiness can be fleeting as circumstances change. However, when we are living from our union in Christ, his joy remains a constant, regardless of the circumstances we may be experiencing. Joy is intrinsic to the devoted follower of Jesus.

I was reminded of this truth last week while walking Mya, our black Labrador Retriever. She was on day 3 of an antibiotic for an intestinal problem and was noticeably better. This 13-year old lab was happy, skipping, and wanting to run. I jogged with her a little and she smiled gratefully. Mya was happy and carefree, it brought joy to my heart knowing she was feeling better and happy on this gorgeous Arizona day.

After I caught my breath, the Lord reminded me of an important truth about enjoying and trusting God each day—one day at a time. Mya, like most dogs, loves and trusts me. Her joy overflows when she is simply with me or other family members. She lives for relationship and enjoys our playful time together. She starts each day fresh: looking for food, fellowship, and fun—but she lives and trusts one day at a time.

When we simply enjoy being with God each day, life’s cares and worries fade. Plan for your future, but don’t obsess over it. Learn to live in the moment with God, enjoying life with him. His peace and joy empower us to live abundantly each day. Learning how to overflow in God’s joy strengthens you and helps you to live victoriously in a world fraught with worry and trouble.

A Colony of Heaven

Last week I shared about our life as citizens of heaven and how we are part of the colony of heaven on earth. Paul shares in Philippians,

But we are a colony of heaven on earth as we cling tightly to our life-giver, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our humble bodies and transfigure us into the identical likeness of his glorified body. And using his matchless power, he continually subdues everything to himself.” Phil. 3:20-21 TPT

Paul explains to the church at Philippi, a city under Roman rule in the country of Macedonia, about the reality of dual citizenship, something they would have clearly understood. Paul reminds them that although they may be citizens of Rome, they have a higher citizenship and are only foreigners on earth.

Like those Philippian believers, we are part of a colony of heaven. Another way to describe this reality is to say we are a commonwealth of citizens of heaven, where we hold tightly to Jesus our life-giver. We anticipate his return and hold onto the hope of our resurrection.

This confidence helps us to remain at peace and live in joy amid a turbulent world. It should also empower us to free others and expand the borders of the colony of heaven on earth. Remember, we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), emissaries from the colony of heaven!

Let Joy Overflow

Your ability to rejoice in every circumstance is a prerequisite to abiding in the peace and joy of Christ. Paul continued to explain to the Philippians to:

Be cheerful with joyous celebration in every season of life. Let joy overflow, for you are united with the Anointed One!” Phil. 4:4 TPT

Keep in mind that Paul wrote this epistle to the Philippian church while imprisoned in Rome. Many consider, and I would agree, that Philippians is Paul’s Joy letter. He writes about 15 times in this epistle to have joy, rejoice or used the word rejoicing.

Where does the source of overflowing joy come from?

First, by knowing that you are united to Jesus. As such, you are part of the family of God and a citizen of heaven. You are part of a royal colony of believers on earth, who have been given authority to live as overcomers. Your hope is in Christ and in your future resurrection—earth is temporary.

Secondly, by living from your divine life in God. You are united to God through your faith in Christ, God himself is the source of your joy that flows within.

Consider that joy and peace are two of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), are characteristics of Kingdom life (Rom. 14:17), and should be normal for the follower of Jesus.

Solomon tells us in Eccl 3:4 there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” (NKJV)

Sorrowful people can experience joy, and joyful people can experience sorrow.

Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” (Isa 53:3 NKJV) but he was also a man of joy. Luke writes, “At that very moment, Jesus overflowed with joy from the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 10:21 CEB). Paul understood suffering, but he also rejoiced, he shared with the Corinthian believers, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…” (2 Cor 6:10 NKJV).

Joy is not just a characteristic of kingdom life, it is a powerful spiritual force of the kingdom. Joy was the ability that Jesus had to endure the cross (Heb 12:2)

Sixteenth-century Reformer Martin Luther said, “You will have as much joy and laughter in life as you have faith in God.” Confident faith is a foundation for overflowing joy.

Rejoicing in Paul’s cultural context would have also meant public celebration.

It was common in the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day for Pagan people to organize great festivals, games, and shows to celebrate their gods and their cities, not the least of which was Caesar who was considered divine. Paul is telling Christians who are surrounded by pagan culture to, “let your joy overflow!” Let your celebration of Jesus rival that of the culture around you!

This is a good reminder for us today, in an age of political correctness. Be sensitive to others, but never be ashamed of Jesus or the good news of the gospel—it is still good news and our world desperately needs to hear of his love and saving grace.

Paul also understood experientially how to rejoice during adverse circumstances.

When Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, he was is in a Roman prison. But it wasn’t his first imprisonment. In fact, if you recall, Paul and Silas were imprisoned previously in Philippi for freeing a demonized slave girl (Acts 16:16-40). Her owners convince the city leaders to imprison them. They are stripped, beaten, and placed in the innermost region of the prison, chained in stocks to the prison wall. They were bleeding and in much pain. Keep in mind that they were led to this region by the Spirit of God. Sometimes suffering is part of the joy of knowing our savior, Jesus.

What did they do? Get angry at Jesus for letting this happen? No, they had the opposite response. Paul and Silas began to pray and praise God for his love, grace, and mercy. You see, to the true follower of Christ, suffering, chains, and prison can’t stop God’s love and joy from overflowing even during severe trial.

What happens? God sends an earthquake that opens every prison door and loosens every prisoners’ chains. The prison keeper awakens and fears all the prisoners have escaped, and he will be blamed. He is about to kill himself with a sword and Paul tells him, “Don’t harm yourself, we are all still here!” He gets a light, and runs into the cell where Paul and Silas are and cries out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30 NKJV)

They tell him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you and your household will be saved. The jailor and his family believe and are baptized that night and he washes the wounds of Paul and Silas.

I’d like to believe I would have that much faith and courage during such a trial. Sadly, most of us would probably grumble and complain during such a trial, instead of rejoicing always in the Lord. Paul and Silas chose to pray and worship—just because God is worthy of our praise. God sent a mighty deliverance for two of his sons who were simply in love with him and “going about the Father’s business.”

Don’t Ever Limit Your Joy!

Paul told the Philippians, based on his knowledge and experience with God,

My beloved ones, don’t ever limit your joy or fail to rejoice in the wonderful experience of knowing our Lord Jesus!” Phil. 3:1 TPT

Did you catch this? Don’t ever limit your joy! Or fail to rejoice in the wonderful experience of knowing Jesus! It may seem trivial to “rejoice in the Lord always,” but the essence living an abundant life as an overcomer is grounded in the foundational truth that we know Jesus—the creator of the universe—God almighty! This reality is how we can overflow with God’s joy even during adversity.

Remember my opening story about walking our dog Mya last week? Her joy on the walk reminded me of what Jesus told us in Matthew’s gospel:

Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.” Matt. 6:34 TPT

Learning to face each day joyfully and with optimism is vital to living worry free and overflowing in God’s peace and joy. In the NLT, Phil. 3:1 translates,

Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.” Phil 3:1 NLT

God’s joy in your life helps safeguard your faith!

Paul learned that whatever the circumstances, he could be content (Phil. 4:11-12) and find real joy and security by focusing all of his attention and energy on knowing Christ (3:8) and by obeying Him (3:12-13). Paul learned the truth of Psalm 16:11In Your presence is fullness of joy…”  Joy is found in our union with God through Christ, abiding in His presence. Neh. 8:10 “…for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

How can you be full of God’s joy?

Again, here are two important principles:

Know that you are united to Jesus, part of his family, and are a citizen and ambassador of heaven. The world is your assignment, but not your permanent home.

Live from your divine life in Christ! This will help you not to worry about anything and will position you to become a person of prayer.

Paul told both the Philippians and Thessalonians,

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7 NLT

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thess. 5:16-18 NKJV

Events happen in life; you have no control over most of them. But you do have control over how you react to them. Imprisoned, Paul and Silas prayed and praised!

Remember, God works everything for your good (Rom. 8:28). Never lose your praise, never lose hope—it may be midnight, but God specializes in impossible situations!

When you allow worry and fear to control, you limit the authority you have as citizens of heaven. Remember, whatever you agree with you empower. If you agree with worry and fear, rather than rest confidently in faith, fear will consume you rather than God’s peace and joy.

Prayer and Praise promise to bring you into a place of God’s peace and joy. You are to give thanks IN THE MIDST of everything, not when the circumstances are over!

James said regarding trials,

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” James 1:2-3 NLT

Troubles come, how we respond to them is a key to whether we walk in victory or defeat—get better or become bitter. Troubles are opportunities for God to display through you the riches of his grace and glory.

James didn’t say in this passage to rejoice because trials test our faith. Rather, he was stating that it is joy in the midst of trial that sustains us and produces endurance.

To be healthy spiritually, you must allow your life in Christ to yield a constant flow of His joy.

Your circumstances are not the problem; it’s your perception of them that is the problem. How you deal with a problem will determine how long before you get a breakthrough. Winston Churchill once said, “if you are going through hell, keep going!” Good advice; keep going forward in God choosing to pray and praise your way toward a breakthrough.

You can’t control the outcome of prayer, but you can control your response to the situation and how you love others. We should be revealing God’s love to the world; we are His representation of love, peace, and joy.

You have unlimited resources to complete the assignment you’ve been given. Any limitations are self-imposed, not from God. God has chosen to co-labor with us.

20thcentury evangelist Smith Wigglesworth said, “If you want anything from God, you will have to pray into heaven. That is where it all is. If you live in the earth realm and expect to receive from God, you will never get anything.” Your prayers should be as a citizen of heaven, from heaven toward earth!

You need to know today that nothing and no one can separate you from your Father’s love.

God is for you, not against you. No one can take your birthright from you. You are a covenant child and your Father loves you with an everlasting love.

I’m sure the devil thought he had Paul and Silas “taken out.” He probably was whispering in their ears “Give it up, God has left you!” Perhaps you’re in a difficult place or season, suffering much pain due to life’s circumstances.  Perhaps the devil has been whispering in your ear, “Give it up, there’s no hope, you’re in pain.”

Wait, look what the Psalmist says,

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning!” Ps 30:5 NKJV

You may not “feel” blessed today, but facts and feeling’s change. The truth is you are blessed. You are a covenant child whom the Father delights in. You are the apple of his eye, his favorite! That’s the truth you can rest your faith upon. On this truth you can give thanks to God always—no matter what the circumstances may seem like.

Learn to rejoice, pray and thank God always!  Praise changes the atmosphere!

Develop a thankful heart that praises God during difficult situations.

Focus on what God has done or is doing, not what he has not done. When you focus on what God has not yet done, you unintentionally make a case against him, justifying hardness of heart and unbelief.

Celebrate and focus on the breakthroughs you are experiencing. “Think on that which is good, pure, noble …” (Phil. 4:8 NKJV) When you live conscious of what God has done and is doing in your midst, you prosper!


For a more in-depth look, watch the Passion Church message, “Let Joy Overflow

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Bob Sawvelle

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