I received my annual homemade Christmas card from my friend, the author Beth Kephart, as good as a promise. Here are the first and last lines from this year's poem:
What was it he had said about joy . . .
Joy always-that's what he'd said.
Joy now, he'd insisted.
I like "he'd insisted." Precisely right. God insists on joy. He does not suggest or merely invite:
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1-2)
God doesn't mean everybody but you. You are not the one person this does not apply to. Do you think you have an excuse note for not having joy? I have a better one, a more valid excuse for pushing joy away. I always want to say to the Lord: "I know this is a command, Lord. I would have joy, really I would. I would do what you say except that it is not seemly for me to have joy because I have damaged people's lives, so how would it be right and how would it look if I went around cheerful and joyful while those I love are still carrying scars from my sins?"
There. That is more of my psyche than I have spilled on this website thus far. But I think I once told you about the inmate in Michigan who raped a young married woman who later committed suicide. He got saved in prison and today joyfully plays his keyboard to the glory of God at worship services. (This is the scandal of grace.)
If I single myself out for exemption from God's insistence on joy and stubbornly continue to resist joy, I am making myself unique, and that can't be right. Who am I, after all? Am I saying that the blood of Christ is powerful enough for that keyboard player but not for me? "How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified . . . ?" (Hebrews10:29-I like the original Greek wording here: It says the person has esteemed the blood of Jesus "a common thing.")
How do we "spurn the Son of God" and "profane the blood"? We do it by nothing other than not believing in its power. We do it by thinking that His blood brings us only partway. We do it by thinking that we must add our self-flagellations. We do it also by accepting from Him only half a salvation-His forgiveness but not His joy, and even imagining ourselves righteous in this.
But the second fruit of the Spirit (joy) is as much a part of your rightful worship as the first (love), third (peace), fourth (patience), fifth (kindness), and so forth. It is just as earnestly commanded to "rejoice" (Psalm 100; Ezra 3:10; Philippians 4:4) as to respect rulers (Romans 13:1).
A long time ago a great assembly of Israelites gathered to hear the Word of God, and many of them wept because all they could think of (like me) was how badly they had blown it. The Lord didn't let them get away with it. He insisted on joy. He insisted they understand that He is bigger than their past sins:
"'This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.' For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, 'God your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine . . .'" (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
There is no hint in this passage that anyone objected to the joy command with excuses like this: "It's hypocritical to rejoice when you don't feel like it." Or this: "If you only knew how bad I have been, you would see why I simply cannot have joy." By all accounts, the people stopped their morbid whining and started rejoicing. And my guess is that once they started it, it took on a life of its own and started to feel second nature. This is because there is a cooperative aspect to this grace thing after all. The Lord commands joy and the Lord gives grace for it, but one thing the Lord can't do is do the rejoicing for you.
Go ahead, lay down your guilty fears with me, and let us dare to have joy. He insists.
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