Jailhouse Joy

April 15, 2021

Excerpt from a new book by Terry Long to be published this summer entitled When the Fire Falls: 10 Characteristics of Genuine Revival. Terry serves as a state missionary in the Evangelism Office and as director of missions for the Choctaw Baptist Association. Scripture references are from the New King James Version (NKJV).

The Bible talks a lot about joy. But what is joy? One lady defined it as “seeing your husband’s old girlfriend and she’s fatter than you.” Now that may bring a momentary sense of satisfaction, but I doubt that is real joy. I like Jack Taylor’s definition: “Joy is the flag flown from the castle of the heart when the King is enthroned.” Someone else defined joy as “the spontaneous enthusiasm of my spirit when my soul, i.e. my mind, will, and emotions are in fellowship with the Lord.”

I like joy. Don’t you? And I like to be around joyful people. Did you know that according to the Bible there is an inextricable link between joy and revival? In Psalm 85:6, David asks God to revive his people, and the only stated purpose for his prayer is so that “Your people may rejoice in You.” So rejoicing and revival go hand in hand. That being said, why do so many Christians today not have genuine joy?

Many Christians are like Lazarus when Jesus raised him from the dead. He was alive but still bound by grave cloths. Alive but bound. That describes many of us today. We’ve been saved, but we are still bound by all kinds of sin and guilt. Bad habits, wrong thought patterns, bitterness, anger and moral impurity form chains of sin that keep us bound to the past. Convinced by the enemy of our soul that while victory might be attainable for others, we however are so much worse than others, so it is never going to happen for us. We should just give up on the idea of having victory and joy and simply settle for fewer defeats in life. We are alive but bound.

But here’s some good news. Jesus didn’t leave Lazarus in that bound condition. He gave the command, “Unbind him, and let him go.” And that is exactly what God does in times of revival: He breaks the chains of sin and sets us free.

Have you ever experienced the joy of being set free from the chains of sin? One popular Christian psychologist has said that over half the patients in mental institutions could walk out today if they could somehow find freedom from guilt and bitterness.

Do you remember what it was like when you were first saved? Oh, the freedom and joy we felt. We were in love with Jesus. Overwhelmed with the realization of what God had done for us, our hearts were full of joy and we felt so free. We were so excited about reading our Bible, telling others about Jesus and learning to pray that we didn’t even need television. We were on fire for God. But sadly today, many who were once on fire for God have cooled off. No longer on fire for God, we just have a little fever.

If you don’t believe me, just look around at the people sitting near you the next time you are in church. Do they look happy? Are they singing their hearts out to the Lord? Or do they look like they would rather be anywhere else on the planet besides church? One rural preacher described the scene this way: “Many Christians today look like they were born on the dark side of the moon, weaned on a dill pickle, baptized in vinegar, have been sucking on green persimmons with their bottom lip stuck out so far they could suck a marble out of a gopher hole.” In other words, they look anything but joyful. They have no peace, no joy and no victory.

Yet it was Nehemiah who said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10). Loosely translated, “No joy = no strength.” If that’s the case, then we can understand why most churches don’t have the power to blow the fuzz off a peanut.

We are to live in such a way that others want what we have. Yet so many Christians live their Christian life as if it were a ball and chain they have to drag around with them wherever they go and this must have been what led Nietzsche to say, “If you Christians want me to believe in your Redeemer, you’re going to have to look a lot more redeemed.”

It’s what led Mahatma Gandhi to say, “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.”

One reason I love the Apostle Paul is that he wrote more about joy and rejoicing in the Christian life than any other New Testament writer, and keep in mind that he wasn’t writing from a beautiful vacation spot on a beach in the Bahamas. No, sir. Most of the time he was writing from a prison cell or a dungeon. Yet, listen to his words on joy:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4)

“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” (Phil. 3:1)

“Rejoice always.” (1 Thess. 5:16)

“…as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…” (2 Cor. 6:10)

“Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” (Phil. 2:17)

God wants His people to be happy, Spirit-filled people. Not silly or shallow. Not phony. Not what one writer years ago referred to as “shiny, gaggy, happy.” No, that’s not Biblical joy. I’m talking about real joy. Authentic joy. Contagious joy. The kind of joy that Jesus had. That Paul had.

Have you ever wondered how Paul could talk so much about joy when he spent more than half of his adult life in a prison cell? Paul had something I like to call Jailhouse Joy.

Jailhouse Joy is that joy you can have even in the worst of circumstances. This is the kind of joy you can feel deep down in your soul even when standing at the grave of a loved one with tears running down your cheeks.

This is the kind of joy that enabled one mother to smile and be at peace standing by the casket of her teenage son who had been killed in a tragic car accident. One lady came through the line, looked at her in bewilderment and said, “How can you say you loved your son and stand here smiling like that.” The mother responded, “How can I say I love Jesus and do any less?” That is Jailhouse Joy. That is the kind of joy we need in our churches, in our homes and in our lives.

Sin steals our joy and sours our spirit. Nothing dampens a joyful spirit like unconfessed sin. David found that out the hard way. But when God brought him to repentance, he prayed for a “clean heart” (Psalm 51:10) and for God to restore to him the joy of salvation (Psalm 51:12). We ought to pray as David did in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart,” so that we can then pray, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.”

The world needs to see authentic Christians rejoicing in their Lord. We have what they are looking for. Would you join me in praying for God to give us a fresh baptism of joy today, regardless of our circumstances? Real joy. Deep down joy. Jailhouse Joy.

The Testimony of Jailhouse Joy

“You’re writing a book;
A chapter each day.
By the deeds that you do,
And the words that you say.
People read what you write,
Whether faithless or true,
Say, what is the Gospel,
According to you?”

The world is watching to see if our Christianity is real. A truly joyful, authentic Christian is the best advertisement for Christianity. And Jailhouse Joy is a testimony to a lost world that the Christian life works.

Jailhouse Joy is what enabled Paul and Silas to sing and praise God at midnight in the Philippian jailer’s jail, causing an earthquake to come making their bonds and chains fall off and resulting in the jailer and his family getting saved. This is what the Bible is referring to when it talks about “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” and having a “peace that surpasses all understanding.” This is what Paul is referring to when he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). This is what led Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary to the Waodani Indians, to pray, “Forgive me, Lord, for being so ordinary while claiming to know so extraordinary a God.”

The book of 2 Timothy is Paul’s swan song. It is the last letter he wrote just before he was martyred. It is his deathbed statement to his young son in the ministry, Timothy. These are Paul’s last words. Now, usually deathbed statements are rather somber and serious in nature. But not so with the ironclad apostle. He said in chapter 1, verse 12, “Nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”

And in chapter four, verses 6-8, “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Paul may have been about to die, but he was still rejoicing. Still standing strong. Still unashamed. And still winning souls. He knows that in a few days his head will roll from his shoulders, but he is not bothered about it at all. He actually sounds like he is kind of looking forward to it. I think Paul had seen just enough of heaven (2 Cor. 12:1-3) to make him homesick. His Jailhouse Joy was kicking in.

I like to imagine ole Paul walking around in his cell. He has completed his three missionary journeys. His hair is a silver-gray. His skin is wrinkled. His balance is a bit unsteady. He is a little stoop-shouldered, and his eyesight has dimmed. He is in the twilight of life. The Apostle Paul is now an old man. In a few days, he will be dead. Under the command of Nero, emperor of Rome, he will be executed. But before he dies, he has one last letter to write. He wants to write to Timothy, his young son in the ministry. He wants to encourage him not to worry. So he writes the letter we refer to as 2 Timothy. He tells him in chapter one, verse 8, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner.” He says, “Timothy, don’t be ashamed. It’s worth it, son. And don’t worry about me. I’m gonna be all right. I’m going home. Timothy, they have taken everything away from me that they can take. They’ve taken my family, my friends, my comforts, my home, my public ministry, but there’s one thing they cannot take—and that’s my joy. Timothy, I still have the victory, and the joy is still bubbling. Brother, I feel like singing.”

Some through the water, some through the flood;
Some through the fire, but all through the blood.
Some through great sorrows, but God gives a song;
In the night seasons, and all the day long.

Amazing grace. How sweet the sound.
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

There is coming a day when no heartaches shall come,
No more clouds in the sky, No more tears to dim the eye,
All is peace forever more, on that happy golden shore,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

“Guard, I need to write a letter. Bring me a parchment and a quill, please.

“Dear Timothy. Hallelujah! Glory to God! Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel. Or of me. I’m saved. It’s worth it all. Jesus is so wonderful. Uh, guard, please don’t shake the chain, I’m trying to write a letter to my—  Oh. I see you’re crying. I’m sorry. Can I help you? What’s that? Who is this Jesus I talk about? You don’t understand how I can be so happy? Well, let me tell you about it. You see, I was on the road to Damascus, and I met a man named Jesus…”

No wonder the historians tell us they had to change the guards on Paul every four hours. I think I know why. He was winning them to Jesus.

“Oh, joy! Two new guards. Hey. Do you think I could get a parchment and a quill? I have a new letter to write. And while I’m writing, since we’re stuck with each other for the next four hours, I’m going to tell you about my Savior.”

I have often wondered this: If you were an unsaved Roman soldier chained to the Apostle Paul for four hours a day, who do you think the real prisoner would be, you or him?

When genuine revival comes, joy and freedom are not far behind. Joy, laughter and singing are signs that the Spirit is being poured out in genuine revival. No wonder the Psalmist said, “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing” (Psalm 126:1-2).

So here is my question: How’s your joy today? Do you need a dose of Jailhouse Joy? Why not pause right now, lay everything aside, drop to your knees and tell God that you don’t want to be a joyless Christian any longer. Ask Him to restore your joy. Ask Him to reveal to you anything in your life that is stealing your joy. Confess anything He reveals to you as sin. Thank Him for his love, His grace and His forgiveness. Then ask Him to help you look and act more redeemed so that others may believe in your Redeemer. He will hear your prayer, honor your request and grant to you the gift of joy. Real deep down joy. Jailhouse Joy. May God grant it to us in great measure.