Paul understood that joy was the result of consistent companionship with Jesus. There was no need for him to give into the fear of failure or the despair of abandonment. When he prayed, his problems shrank in His Presence. Lloyd-John Ogilvie, Chaplain to the U.S. Senate, wrote in Discovering God’s Will: “Knowing God’s will in specifics comes out of a consistent companionship with God.”
Prayer remains the way to enter into consistent companionship with Jesus. Consistent time spent in His Presence provides power for the kind of light that remains reliable in the darkest night. The Gospels reveal that The Twelve were always better off when they were in the presence of Jesus. His absence revealed their inadequacy.
Prayer has the power to take weakness and turn it into great strength. Coming to the end of one’s strength leads to the beginning of what God can do. Believers are not alone and can never be separated from the love of Christ. When they discover their true condition, they shine like stars in the night.
Paul, imprisoned in a Roman jail, called his disciples to express this kind of joy:
“I rejoice and share my joy with you all, and you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way, and share your joy with me too.” Philippians 2:17-18
He was describing an overriding confidence in the face of intimidating circumstances. This kind of joy is not void of emotion, but it is not driven or limited by it. It is not a result of circumstances going the right way, but of overcoming obstacles that get in the way. For this joy to be sustained, Paul encouraged his followers to not only receive it, but return it in kind. This reciprocal relationship between believers is what is called fellowship—the community of consistent companionship with God and one another.
Happiness is consumed with flight more than light. When faced with difficulty, it says, “Get me out of here!” Joy provides the courage to say, “Bring it on!” Through prayer, the heart is calmed and when joy gains power, it streams out into the dark for others to see on the face of a believer. Christianity has always produced the best followers in the middle of the worst persecution. Church historians have documented, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” This is not an easy sell to a church culture that popularized the bumper sticker, “Honk If You Love Jesus!” Holy honkers are always looking for a smooth road of comfort and convenience. Jesus intended for His church to be more influential rather than be influenced by the world that places more value on two-ply toilet paper than the lives of unborn children.
When personal happiness becomes the focus of the church, it takes on the persona of the character Bill Bixby portrayed in the made for TV episodes of “The Incredible Hulk.” The words of warning before each meltdown were, “You’re making me angry. You won’t like it when I’m angry.” Pressure transformed a mild-mannered man into a raging inferno. When a Christian is not happy, there is a tendency to shed more heat than light. This is not what Jesus meant when He declared to His disciples,
“You are the light of the world.” Matthew 5:14
An exploding volcano gives off a great light and can be seen from a great distance. Unfortunately, it is not very approachable. Jesus set the standard for how He wanted His followers to be seen by people who had lost their way. They would shine best in the dark when they held on to Him and His words of life. Prayer empowers a believer to shine. When they get with Jesus, the joy of His Presence shines though them to light the way.
The ancient king delivered a heart shot to the problem in Nehemiah’s life. He was carrying fear of failure on his heart, but when it reached his face he needed to place it in God’s hands. Prayer connects the believer with the Presence of Jesus. Prayer places any problem where it belongs, in the hands of Jesus.
Reality TV has made popular a card game called Texas Hold ‘Em. God never intended for his people to pose for the camera with a “poker face” holding their cards so close to their chest not even Jesus was allowed to see them. Paul and Barnabas were commended by the early church as men who “hazarded” their lives for the gospel. It was a gambling term that meant they had “given over” all they had, and “held nothing back.”
“Men who have risked their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Acts 15:26
Today God still calls His children to a joyful abandonment, not a tightlipped mind game. Joy can be defined as complete abandonment or absolute confidence in Jesus. Fear results from a faulty prayer connection. The choice is simple. Curse the darkness and hide in the dark, or reconnect with Jesus and light up the night. People intimate with Jesus are rarely intimidated by the immediate. To shine like stars in the night, joyful believers make prayer the point of unbroken contact with The Source of Light. Prayer maintains consistent companionship that brings about an inward confidence, and a sense of well-being in the heart of the believer. This unbroken, consistent connection empowers personal joy to shine out like a reliable star guiding others to Jesus. Happiness focuses on self. Joy connects with Jesus, The Light of the World.
“I am the Light of the world.” John 8:12
© Dr. Gary Miller, 2006
Lead Pastor, The Whitestone Fellowship, Runaway Bay, Texas
For over 40 years, Gary and Dana Miller have invested their lives in the pastoral ministry of churches in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Georgia. Gary and Dana believe the hope of the world is the local church, and the strength of the church is sustained by praying people.
They have taught extensively on the role of prayer in spiritual awakening, counseled people to build strong marriages by equipping husbands and wives to pray together and have ministered internationally in Hong Kong, Japan, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and Switzerland through their TALK LESS! PRAY MORE! Prayer Conferences.
Gary and Dana live in Fort Worth, Texas and have been married for 40 years. They are parents of two grown daughters, Ashley and Allyson.