Recently Debbie and I took a four day retreat in the mountains to work through some important areas of spiritual formation in our own lives and to seek our Father’s guidance and wisdom for the next stage of our lives. One of the areas of spiritual formation we looked at was the importance of celebration and seeking joy in our lives on a daily basis. That sounds all well and good when things are going well but when life is a struggle and various events of sadness invade your life how do you find joy? During our four days together Debbie and I decided that you look for it, look for it every day.
We were reminded by word of G. K. Chesterton, that we had heard our good friend Charlie Jones, of Peculiar People, repeat a number of times in his one man portrayal of Chesterton that our God is a God of joy.
Here is what Chesterton says in his book Orthodoxy:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.
For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “do it again” tothe moon.
It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tire of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
It is all too obvious that something is wrong with our world. As Cornelius Plantinga said it is “Not the Way It’s Suppose to Be”. Because of that, Christians can fall into the trap of only focusing on the results of the fall and not the ways Jesus, the Messiah, is overcoming the fall and making all things new. We can become like the man Hank in Orterg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted who was just cranky and “had a knack for discovering islands of bad news in oceans of happiness”. So Debbie and I have been praying about not just finding joy but pursuing it, looking for it, asking God to develop it in our own hearts. Since joy is one part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), then like other fruit it must be cultivated. Only this fruit of the Spirit must be cultivated by the Spirit.
So now we find ourselves, often at the end of the day or over dinner, asking each other: where did you find joy today? We find it in both small (a beautiful scene in nature, a small unexpected surprise, a wonderful dinner together) and large (major reduction in our health insurance bill because of lifestyle changes made last year, good times of fellowship with other believers) events but we are encouraging each other and challenging each other to find joy even in the midst of pain and difficulty. It reminds me of a phrase that Jack Miller would often throw out to those around him: “Any joy today?”
In our English translations, the word “joy” is found in more than 170 Bible verses. Many of them in the Psalms speaking of the believer’s correct posture before God. As we look at our sinful nature and our failures we might think that the word to best describe our posture before God should be “fear” but the Gospel casts out that fear. As the disciple that Jesus loved writes to us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1Jo 4:18 ESV). That is to say that our purest, most complete joy comes from the gospel. So the best sources of joy for me and Debbie, from day to day is the good news of the Gospel that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners of whom I am foremost (I Timothy 1:15).
So maybe, day in and day out, our Father wants us, like C. S. Lewis to be surprised by joy because it is that joy that points us to a world and a life beyond this one. Maybe he is calling us in Chesterton’s words to become younger like our Father. And for those of you who know me so well, yes I did think of the words of Mr. Dylan:
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m older than that now.
(Bob Dylan, My Back Pages)