Troubled by Joy
Thought that might get the attention of some. The lady who proof reads my hubs and makes very smart comments about them is named Joy. Can't wait 'tll she sees this one. I've been married to her for 50 years.
But, make no mistake, it is not she who troubles me. In fact what joy I have experienced is often brought about by Joy.
What I find troubling is that the Scriptures command me to rejoice. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." (Philippians 4:4) It's not enough to say it once? Just pile on! I'm an Eeyore type of guy.
"Good morning, Pooh Bear," said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt," said he."Why, what's the matter?""Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it.""Can't all what?" said Pooh, rubbing his nose."Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush."
I can relate to that!
The last hub I wrote titled God's Idle Look is about the prophet Habakkuk's exchange with God over how the latter was running things. Habakkuk didn't like it and called God out on what he felt was a grave injustice. A pure God must not use wicked men to accomplish his purposes!
Well, as usual, God wins. Habakkuk ends up declaring,
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
There's that word again. He says it twice. Maybe that's where Paul got the idea to pile on.
You'll notice in the hub that I didn't address Habakkuk's joy. I just called it adoration. Of course adoration wouldn't honor God if joy were not a part of it. But I suspect there were deeper subliminal reasons I checked out on joy.
To make matters worse, I turned the hub into a sermon and delivered it at a nearby church. I skimmed over joy there too. I called it being at peace with God's ways and adoring God in the midst of chaos. Both are true, but again, why did I fudge on joy?
I know what joy isn't.
It's not happiness. There's nothing wrong with being happy. It's just not joy. Here's a clue. We usually ask, "Are you happy with your job? with your school? with your neighborhood? with the service provided?" We understand that happiness depends on something outside ourselves. I've never heard anyone ask "do you rejoice with your job?..." The Scriptures speak of rejoicing in something, usually someone, as "in the Lord." More on that later.
Further don't confuse true joy with the satisfaction of a job well done or the glee of seeing abundant results. These indeed are wonderful experiences but they are not joy. Luke 10 records Jesus sending his disciples out two by two to preach the kingdom. Upon their return they are ecstatic for even demons had been subject to them. Success! But Jesus warned,
Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 18:20
He knew that success joy will only last as long as results can be spotted. Instead, we're to rejoice that our names are written in heaven.
Finally, joy is not a mask for other painful emotions. Anger suppressed with a show of joy is still anger, not joy. Anxiety smothered with a smile is not joy. It remains anxiety. Fear covered by positive thoughts is not joy, but fear still. Whatever joy is it bubbles up from within and can't be turned on at will.
A deliberate act
It seems that it's not only Habakkuk who declares that he will rejoice in spite of horrible setbacks. Paul does the same. He wrote to the Philippians about some conflict that had developed between him and others who claimed to preach the gospel. The conflict itself isn't described, only Paul's response to it.
"Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance..." (Philippians 1:15-19)
Twice! Piling on again. So I can't turn joy on whenever I please, but I must rejoice. It can't be outward but it must be visible. Joy must bubble up from within, not just lacquered on the outside. Am I the only one troubled by this?
Surprised by Joy
That's the title of C.S.Lewis' account of his conversion. It covers his early years growing up in a stable home but shattered by the death of his mother. Lewis wandered about in various philosophies and religions until finally coming back to the Christian faith. Here's what he has to say about joy.
"It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?...Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse... withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased... In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else... The quality common to the three experiences... is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again... I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”
Methinks the Oxford Don is on to something - "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy."
A fleeting delight that always yearns for more
This morning I pulled into the church parking lot just a little late (one of the earned privileges of pastoral retirement!). I spotted a young couple getting out of their car. Before they headed in, they lingered in an embrace and kiss. I rolled down the window as I passed them and exclaimed rather loudly, "There'll be no loving in the church parking lot!" They doubled over in laughter. I smiled. The irony was delicious. We walked in together having known a fleeting delight of joy.
What had just happened? Three people had suddenly basked in an unexpected ray of understanding, love and acceptance. I thought to myself, "How do I get more of that?" I realized I couldn't possibly reproduce the moment. It had been a gift.
But there are conditions that seem to encourage such delights. The young couple and I shared a common reason for being in that parking lot. We loved God and were eager to worship Him, albeit a bit late. There was an understanding between us that freed me to fire off that crack. It was received as intended. Love and acceptance prevailed as we sauntered into the elementary school where the service had already begun.
Gotta be more than that!
Down deep in the human heart there's a longing to be known, i.e., to be fully understood, to be loved and to be accepted. There's also another awareness. That we are not worthy of being known. Like Adam and Eve we are afraid, because we feel vulnerable (naked). So we hide, but intensely desire to be found by someone who will embrace us. We stitch together our fig leaf apparel hoping both to protect ourselves and to attract an embrace. And so the fashion industry was born.
I suspect that the first instance of human joy was known by our first parents when God came calling. Yes, they were terrified at first and would have to bear the consequences of their rebellion. They understood their unworthiness. But before God left he gently peeled away their fig leaves and draped over their shoulders a cloak expertly tailored from the hide of a recently slain calf. They were stunned to be understood, loved and accepted by none other than their creator. Joy!
Thus was launched a plan by which God would place within human reach the opportunity to rejoice. After centuries of preparation the Lamb of God appeared. He was crucified to bear the penalty for our sins. All who embrace him by faith are clothed by God with a garment which both protects them and makes them attractive. It's the cloak of Christ's righteousness. And so we are freed to experience surprising instances of joy. That's what gave three people in a church parking lot a silly instance of delight.
Joy bursts forth whenever one person extends to another understanding, love and acceptance that reflects that we are truly known by our Creator, Savior and Lord.
Seven hundred years before Christ
Isaiah anticipated the joy that every believer may experience.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. Isaiah 61:10,11
Maybe even an Eeyore guy like me can find joy. Maybe not. :-)
What to do?
When Isaiah and Habakkuk assert "I will rejoice" what really are they doing? When Paul commands "Rejoice!" what are we being called to do? As already stated, we can't just gin up joy at will. It's a gift.
The calling is to focus our whole being on the boundless love of God in Christ such that every good received in this life is accepted as an advance on the glories to be experienced in eternity. Conversely, every ill suffered is but a mild reminder of what we really deserve. By God's grace ills suffered in this life are always tempered and temporary.
So we rejoice in Christ and find untold delights every day. Some will dance for delight. We Eeyore types reserve the right to smile and dance inside. Maybe not the smile. :-)