We Inspire People to Live Better Lives


Make a Joyful Noise

Sunday, October 20, 2019
Featuring: Rev. Richard Maraj

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Rev. Richard Maraj: Good morning, everyone!

Congregation: Good morning!

Rev. Maraj: And a shout out to everybody who tunes in and watches us online…

Today, we’re talking about joy … On a scale of one to 10, how much joy are you experiencing in your life? Or how joyful is your life? How joyful are you in your work? How joyful are you in your relationships? How joyful are you just every day in all and the things that you do?

How many people ever had a time here where you feel like you lost your joy? Anybody ever felt like you lost your joy? How many people ever looked around your life – and things are good, there was nothing really wrong – but you still weren’t feeling that level of joy you wanted to feel? Anybody have that?

You know, every single one of us wants to feel joy, wants to live in a greater level of joy. And the truth is, we are meant to! Jesus said these words: “I have taught you all these things so that my joy might be in you and that your joy may be complete.” And so, a question for us to ask is: Why aren’t we living with as much joy? Why aren’t we experiencing that level of joy that we all want to experience?

A part of the reason – one of them is, I think – in our culture, we mix up joy and happiness a lot. And we tend to be … and I’ll give you the definition a little later … But the focus of being happy, wanting to be happy and pursuing happiness – as good as it sounds, and seems a nice idea – it apparently is not as helpful as we think. There’s a professor who’s done some studies. His name is Adam Grant. And he said there is reason to believe that the quest for happiness might be a recipe for misery. That the more we chase and pursue this thing called happiness, he said, the less likely we are to have it. The more we chase it, the further it seems to get away.

Now that’s an interesting thing! And I think part of the reason is our definition of happiness I don’t think is realistic or healthy or accurate. And we don’t – it’s not written down what happy is – but here’s my definition of what I think all of our definitions of happiness is: Happiness is everything always going my way.

[Congregation applauds and murmurs]

 Is that not it? For real? That’s happy: I’m happy when everything goes my way. And a spin off to that one is: I’m happy – I’d be happy – if everyone acted the way I think they should act.

[Congregation laughs]

If everybody behaved, it’d be a better world for everyone! And the second one: that one’s the biggie. The second one is: Happiness means an easy life – no problems, no obstacles, no challenges. Everything goes smooth and easy all the time.

Now, think about it. How often does life always go your way and everything is smooth? So, can you see it is a recipe for setting ourselves up for failure and pain? That’s why happiness – this thing – is so fleeting, because it depends on those outer things to always happen. Where joy is an inward feeling. It is an inward feeling of connecting to something greater. You know, there is a joy, joy, joy, joy down in my soul. It is in our hearts. It is in us. It is in our very nature.

When babies are born, they call them bundles of….

Congregation: Joy!

Rev. Maraj: Joy! It is in us. It is innately in us: a deep joy that bubbles up, that has nothing to do with the conditions of our environment, but has to do with connecting with our true nature.

You know, the Dalai Lama nailed it when he said this: Discovering more joy does not, I'm sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”

Joy is connecting with the Source of life in a way that helps us live life more fully, to live life more open-heartedly, to live life at a much deeper level. You know, the Buddhists have a thing that says a joyful mind is our natural state, and it is also something we need to cultivate and develop as a skill. And so, while joy is in our nature, there are many things that can stop us from it. And we have to cultivate a mindset of joy. We have to cultivate and connect with that joy on a daily basis.

And so, the question is: How do we develop a complete joy? How do we develop a deeper joy and make a truly joyful noise in all the ways that we express and experience life?

The first one is to reconnect with the true Source of joy. You know, joy isn’t a matter of outer conditions happening. It is really an inner connection to the truth of who we really are: an inner connection to that Spirit within us. Scripture says, “The kingdom of God is within you.” And it’s about connecting with that inner kingdom. In Psalm 16 it says, “In Thy presence, God, is the fullness of joy.” In Thy presence, there is a fullness of joy! In Psalm 100 it says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.; enter His presence with gladness. Come into his presence singing songs of joyfulness.”

And so, the important thing is that the Source of joy is God, and the way to connect with that Source is through prayer. It is returning to God in prayer! You know, Scripture says that prayer is more valuable than gold and silver. Why? Because it helps us connect to that fountain of joy and wisdom and peace. It opens us up to that!

But sometimes we don’t use prayer or think it’s as joyful. Sometimes we think prayer is onerous. Sometimes we treat prayer like it’s eating vegetables, going to the dentist, or doing taxes. You know what I mean; we know we’ve got to do it, but… I mean, don’t you think it should be a joyful thing to connect with the very Source of joy and life that makes everything possible? That it should be a joyful and wonderful experience for us all?!? To connect with the Source of joy, should be a source of joy. It should be a joyful experience!

And so, the other thing – for it to be a joyful experience – the second thing for us that we need to do is to make it a priority. For something to be a priority, guess what? It has to have value. We have to know its value and benefits to us.

When I was in North Carolina, I used to do a Wednesday night service when I first became a minister. And there was a guy; his name was Chip. He would always come to all the services, and he didn’t miss one. And I once said to him, “Man, I’m really impressed. You come to every Wednesday night service!” And he looked me in the eye and he said, “Richard, I would never deny myself that blessing.” And I thought that was really sweet. And the fact is that, when we don’t pray, we are denying ourselves blessings! We are denying ourselves a deeper and fuller experience of life! We are denying ourselves a richer and a greater expanded awareness of the truth of life and how to live it more joyously!

How many people here… I’m not going to ask you if you value prayer, because I know you do. But how many people would admit that, while you value prayer, you don’t pray as much or meditate as much as you know you could? And so, we are denying ourselves the blessing of a deeper, richer joy and a deeper connection to Spirit and the truth of who we are by not engaging consistently in a level of prayer. Scripture says, “Seek ye first [the kingdom of God],” meaning make it a priority in your life. And the thing is: You need to come to a place, again, like it’s better than gold and silver; it is so valuable.

There’s a wonderful parable that we’ve all heard many times. Two of them are the same – the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price or Parable of the Hidden Treasure. And here’s what it says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; and then in his joy, goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” And what it means is that hidden treasure is the secret to the fullness of life – which is prayer. It is the secret to connecting spiritually. And when it says that you will sell everything, that you can buy this and have this – it is to “sell” things like spending less time watching TV, spending less time putzing around and actually devoting sometime into a greater level of quietness and meditation and prayer. That, literally, for us to experience more joyfulness, we need to connect with the Source of joy. But make prayer a joyful priority. It should be joyful! We should be rushing to go and do is to quiet our mind and joyfully connect with that Spirit!

See, we can talk about prayer all we want. We can think about prayer all we want. But until we actually do it in the quietness of our heart, we will not reap and experience the benefits of pure joy – of true – and that complete joy that Jesus talked about.

The second thing to experience more joy in life is: We need to stop resisting life. You know, back to that number one reason: We think everything should go our way. Every time something doesn’t go our way, we whine. We complain. We moan. We argue that it shouldn’t happen, it should’ve never happened, we hate that it happened. We resist and fight against life all the time! We argue against why all this stuff happens. We invest so much time! Nothing sucks the life out of joy more than resisting and complaining and rejecting things that happen.

Somebody once said, “If you fight against life – if you argue against life – you’re going to lose… but only 100% of the time.”

[Congregation and Rev. Maraj laugh]

You know we argue against things all the time. We’re always fighting against stuff! We’re always resisting. We resist difficult conversations. We resist going after our dreams, because there’s too much work involved. We resist having to stretch too far. It’s amazing how much we resist!

How many people ever had a change happen in your life that you really didn’t like? And you resisted, and had a hard time getting over it? Anybody? And how many times have ever gotten you heart broken, and you resisted opening your heart to love again? Anybody? We resist way more than we think! And that is one of the single greatest things that reduces the level of joy that we experience in our lives.

So, I like watching HGTV. I like all those home makeover shows. I just love it! And two years ago, you know, I did my kitchen, and I just did my master bedroom and bathroom. The thing about renovations – they teach me a lot. Because one of the ultimate goals is to do something to make your life better: more beautiful, more convenient, more comfortable. That’s why we renovate our bathroom or whatever it is: to make it better, more functional.

But, the thing is – to make it better, you’ve got to break down walls. You’ve got to knock things down. Things have to get dusty and messy for it to happen. And the other one is that, no matter how much you plan, you’re going to run into some issue. You know you’re going to find rot, or you’re going to find termites, or there’s going to be a supporting beam that you can’t move the wall the way you thought you should. There’s always going to be something where you have to adapt and adjust the plan that you had, because it isn’t going to work out. There are things you’re going to have to deal with. And then the third one is no matter how prepared, you’re going to forget something. You’re going to have to run to Home Depot a number of times.

[Congregation laughs]

And so, my point is: In a renovation to improve and better our lives, there are things that are going to happen. Things need to break down, things you aren’t going to be prepared for; we have to adapt and adjust. And guess what? Imagine if there’s resistance to all those steps! If we resist, guess what? It would be harder. It would be less fun. It would be less efficient. We’d probably make poor decisions, if we were always resisting, and maybe we wouldn’t even do anything. Nothing would get done!

I wrote a talk once called, “Life is a Fixer Upper.”

[Congregation laughs]

There’s always renovations to be done in the house of life! And if you want to do it, guess what? There’s going to be things to knock down; it’s going to get messy. All those things are going to happen: unexpected things where you’re going to have to adapt and adjust and change. And if we resist, it’ll make it much more painful and much more difficult and much more of a struggle. You know, it’s important for us to not be too rigid in our lives. There’s always something to adapt to, to something to adjust to, something to accept. You know somebody once said, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”

[Congregation laughs]

And so, I was talking to a dear friend of mind, and she said to me… We were praying the other day, my prayer partner – we were chatting – and she said this line, “You know, it is only the people in life who are willing to adapt, adjust and accept that can go through changes and find peace quicker… Find a greater joy of a new version of life, and progress to something better.” That the more we resist, the more we hold ourselves back from joy and from moving forward and discovering new possibilities and a new life.

You know, we resist all kinds of different things. One of the things I am having some resistance with is… So the project is all done, and my bathroom looks phenomenal. It really… The floor tile, I actually turned it into a wet room. It really looks… The tile, the vanities, and there are two framed mirrors on each side. The whole thing is so gorgeous! For me, it’s gorgeous! There’s going to be a barn door for the bathroom door. [Grimaces, points, and clenches his fist.] But there’s a little chip on the frame of one of the mirrors.

[Congregation laughs]

And I walk in there every day, and all I see is the chip on the mirror. And I get steamed and annoyed about it. And there’s a whole bathroom that’s really good, but all I can see is that chip and how annoyed I am about the chip.

How many people ever get stuck and stewed on a little thing? I mean when your life – it’s like this whole bathroom is fabulous! And all I can do is see a little chip on the…

So what that is, is a resistance to opening my heart to how beautiful and great life is. There’s so much good in life and so much good in our lives. That little chip, Spirit must have put it there [laughs] so that I could learn. And I am going to leave it there now!

[Congregation laughs]

So, look at the areas of what you are resisting in your life. What are you having a hard time adapting to or adjusting or accepting? Because, I guarantee you, the moment there’s acceptance – the moment that resistance drops – we really open ourselves to really finding our joy. And to really living more fully and more richly and more deeply.

I found this fabulous quote; here’s what it says: “It’s funny how we outgrow what we once thought we couldn’t live without. And then how we fall in love with what we didn’t even know we wanted or didn’t even expect. Life keeps leading us on journeys and awakenings that we would have never gone on, if it were only up to us.”

So, the point is that life is always trying to teach us. Life is always trying to lead us to a more complete joy. To open our hearts and minds to something beyond everything going our way, to something greater and a greater plan. But we need stop resisting it. If life is showing it to us, maybe paying attention and opening our heart to it is the best and wisest thing to do.

In the book of James, the Apostle Paul said, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, count it all joy. You might let your faith be tested so that you will persevere. And let perseverance finish its work so that you will know that you are whole, complete and lacking in nothing.” Or some versions say, “mature, complete and lacking in nothing.”

So, what this is saying – count it all joy – is all the ways that life is trying to show you these things, be willing to be flexible, adapt and adjust, and go with it. Because it is really shaping us to be more whole, complete and lacking in nothing. To be more mature – more spiritually mature – and to know the fullness of who we came here to be. To know the fullness of God, to know the fullness of life.

So, the second way for us to experience complete joy is to stop resisting.

And then the final one is to rejoice. In the Psalms it says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” You know, the word rejoice gets repeated a lot. Scripture says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Always rejoice.” It says, “Let the people rejoice. Let the nations rejoice. Let the Heavens rejoice. Let the Earth rejoice.” One of my favorite lines is, “Let us rejoice in those who rejoice.” That’s a lot of rejoicing!

[Congregation laughs]

Rejoicing means to express joy. It means to celebrate. And so, we are called to rejoice every day. To rejoice in life! To celebrate life! To express joy in everything that we do – in our smiles, our faces, our interactions, in our relationships, in our work. To express that joy in all that we do and to make a joyful noise to life.

And so here are three ways I think we do that.

Number one is so be fully engaged in whatever it is you’re doing and whatever you have in your life. Make the best of what you have, and who you are, and where you are right now. So often we spend time comparing ourselves – and judging what we have – that we aren’t fully invested, and don’t put our heart and our spirit into actually who we are and all that we’re doing. And so, it’s important not to judge those things. It is important to give fully and the best of ourselves in whatever that might be.

And so, Henry David Thoreau said a wonderful line. It’s a poem from Walden Pond and he said this: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” And so, to me, we cheat ourselves of living when we don’t fully invest ourselves in making the best of what we have. And to me, whether you’re fully investing yourself in the laundry, or doing your taxes, or your prayer life, or your interaction with your child, or the work that you’re doing – all of it – we need to invest all of us in what we do. Not thinking of the past or the future, comparing or judging, but being fully present.

There’s a wonderful thing: Parable of Talents – I mention it a lot because it’s so brilliant. But one got five [talents], one got three, one got 10. But it didn’t matter how much they got, it’s what they did with it. It is what they did with it that was the most important thing. And it even says, “When you do well with what you have, you will share more in the Master’s joy.” You will share more in joy when you are enjoying what you have. The more we enjoy what we have, the more joy we will experience!

I have an affirmation that I say from time to time and it’s, “I live my life in joy, and I enjoy living my life. I live my life in joy, and I enjoy living my life.” Let’s say it together:

[With Congregation]: “I live my life in joy, and I enjoy living my life.”

Take a deep breath into that, and let’s say it one more time, half voice:

[With Congregation]:  “I live my life in joy, and I enjoy living my life.”

The second way to rejoice is try something new. I think it’s important to always try something new. We get stuck in ways of thinking and patterns. And sometimes learning something – particularly something fun that we like – really expands and opens us to ideas and perspectives and new things that are just really cool.

And so, I’m not really very musical at all. In fact, I love music; I’m just not musical. I tried the piano – it was bad. Guitar – horrible.

[Congregation laughs]

So, I was at a party last year and a guy busted out a harmonica. And he was smokin’ good! And he took it right out of his pocket and, boom! So, six weeks ago I started taking harmonica lessons.

[Congregation laughs]

And I stink!

[Congregation laughs]

But my teacher is so impressed with how joyful and enthusiastic I am every day! [Laughs]

[Congregation laughs]

And I said to him, I said, “Hey, Robert,” – and he’s kind of well-known Blues harmonica guy around town – and I said, “Hey, Robert, on Dec 1, at the church, I’m going to do a talk called, “The Spirituality of the Harmonica.” And I’m going to end by playing a little piece for the congregation.” And he said, “That’s great! But maybe you shouldn’t tell them who your teacher is quite yet.” [Rev. Maraj laughs joyfully]

[Congregation laughs]

So, you know, the thing is, I really am having a lot of fun with it. You’re learning so much perspectives and hearing different things. I love hearing how much joy he has in doing it. We do it by Skype at 8:30 every Wednesday morning, and it has brought so much joy just to learn something new.

So, what’s something new you would enjoy learning? What is something you’ve always thought of doing that you haven’t done? You know, taking a class, or maybe a dance class, maybe yoga… What is it that would be fun and something new just for you that would be enjoyable? You know, it’s easy to kind of fall into our comfort zones and get very “cocoon-ey” in our lives. And that can be fun for a while. But to stretch out – and ,particularly, learn and do something fun and cool – would  be just awesome.

And the final one is one of the best joyful noises in the world, is to laugh. To be able to laugh and giggle and smile and just be silly with our friends. I mean, go to comedy clubs, whatever you do just to be able to laugh at ourselves and to laugh at life.

You know, someone the other day gave me a book of funny facts by David Letterman.

[Congregation laughs]

And so I’m going to share some of those with you [laughs]. For people who drink coffee, this is a little-known fact: studies show that “half and half” is actually closer to 60-40.

[Rev. Maraj and Congregation laugh]

I thought it was funny. Contrary to conventional wisdom, surgeons have actually shown that it is the second and third cut that is actually the deepest.

[Congregation laughs]

Look, some of these will hit you on the drive home – but I guarantee you, they’re good!

[Congregation laughs]

The Last Supper, the Last Supper. Did you know the Last Supper was actually more of a brunch?

[Rev. Maraj and Congregation laugh]

Notwithstanding what most people think is the oldest profession…

[Congregation laughs]

I’m not going to say the word… Historians believe that the oldest profession was actually landscaping. Come on, I thought that was fantastic.

[Rev. Maraj and Congregation laugh]

Okay; it’s getting hot in here, man.

[Congregation laughs]

How about this one: Do you know, by law, that doctors cannot use tongue depressors to depress any other part of the body?

[Congregation laughs]

Whew, okay. Why was Van Gogh such a good friend? He was always willing to lend and ear.

[Congregation groans] 

Okay, here’s the last one: Why did the whale cross the ocean? To get to the other tide.

[Rev. Maraj and Congregation laugh]

Okay; I need to get to the other tide of those stupid jokes.

[Congregation applauds]

Yes, I will accept mercy applause. Thank you very much.

[Congregation laughs]

You know, the thing about it is: Life isn’t easy. Sometimes life is painful. There are challenges, and there are problems, and there are difficulties. But life is also beautiful. And it is incredible, and it is precious and wonderful. And the question is: How do we blend the handling of those two things together to experience the joyfulness of living? And to truly open ourselves and live more fully?

Sometimes it behooves us to pause and ask ourselves: Am I living as fully as I can live? And what role does joy play in my life currently? And what role would I like joy to play as I continue to live this day and the rest of my days?

And the way, I believe, is to reconnect with the Source of joy by making prayer a joyful priority. To stop resisting life and start adapting, adjusting and paying attention to what life is trying to show us. And, third, is to rejoice in life by being fully engaged in what we do. Trying new things and taking time to laugh, to play, to be silly and just have some fun.

Jesus said he came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. And he came that his joy may be in us. And that we would learn to live more fully to experience a complete joy.

God bless you all!

Copyright 2019 Rev. Richard Maraj/Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center

Thank you to volunteer Hollie Nelson for transcribing this message


Location and Contact Information

Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center

1500 E Greenway Pkwy
Phoenix, AZ 85022
Phone: (602) 978-3200

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