Joy; a Foreign Virtue?

Is there anything more challenging than the Bible's command to joy?

Psalm 95:1 (NIV)
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.

I'm not uncomfortable with the command to put on the other virtues such as love, or the call to walk in peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. But the command to joy makes me comprehensively faint.

I know how difficult these other virtues are and how far I've got to go in becoming Christlike in these areas too.

But all most other aspects of the Spirit seem familiar to me in some measure, except joy. 

Joy is the one quality of the Spirit that I feel estranged from and completely lacking. It is the one area of my faith (and maybe that of our Christian subculture) that I've made very little progress in - maybe none at all; maybe negative progress?

And so the command to "rejoice always" is troubling to me, to say the least. The Apostle Paul in fact, in his letter to the Philippians, goes as far as stating that "it is right for me to feel this [joy]..." So by inference it is wrong of me to not rejoice or have joy in Christ for my salvation.

So when I look at Psalm 95:1 and verses like it running throughout the entire Bible, I realize that my current and our modern Christian spirituality is not well. I and probably a whole heap of us are missing a key ingredient of the mature (not normal) Christian life, which to a significant extent means we carry a kind-of spiritual sickness. Our faith is lacking, and weak. We look like malnourished baby Christians.

And this is not an amazing discovery. The New Testament regularly points to people and churches who lack one or even many marks of a complete or mature faith; lovelessness, pride, foolishness and lack of self-control are chief among them.

But what is amazing is that our joylessness is so normal; it is so widespread in our western reformed evangelical subcultures.

Now I don't think that Paul would have believed in  completely joyless Christians, and I'm not suggesting for a moment that I or any of my sincere Christian brothers and sisters around me have no joy whatsoever in Christ; we are not devoid of joy, it is just not nearly big enough - it should be a strong and growing and evident mark of the Spirit in our behaviour and lifestyle.

And so there are a two things that Psalm 95:1 remind me of, rebuke me for and correct in me:

1. Joy is a command, just like love and peace and patience and all the other virtues. It is not first a feeling. It is firstly an obedient response of faith; the feeling of joy is subservient to the primary act of faith. It is right to be joyful or rejoice because wholehearted faith in Christ is right, and joy comes from faith in Christ. 

And that leads to the second thing that Psalm 95:1 reminds me of:

2. Joy is a response to Christ himself; for who he is (our Rock) and for what he has done for us, me and you (our Salvation). It is when I displace my reliance on him as my Rock by throwing the weight of my trust behind any other (false and counterfeit) confidence or hope or love that I lose joy. It is when I start looking to myself or my things or abilities or achievements or others (or whatever) to justify my existence or prove my worth that I lose joy.

This is why the Psalmist can call on his congregation to "Come, let us sing for joy to the Lordlet us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation." Because he knows that the remedy of his and every heart is to repent in faith by re-putting our hope in Christ alone; all other ground is sinking sand.

I'm so glad that, because Jesus died for my sins, I get to repent.

My Wayward Eyes

I went ten pin bowling for the first time in 20 years with our family a few weeks back. It reminded me of how hard it is to fix your eyes on the target; nine times out of ten my eyes would wander and fix on my feet or the track itself. Needless to say I didn't score well - but for brief bursts when I could control my focus it was quite thrilling to watch the result!

Gosh I need to learn this lesson, in general! This is exactly what I do in life. I'm always looking everywhere except at what I'm actually (meant to be) aiming for: Christ himself.

Psalm 25:15 (NIV)

 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
    for only he will release my feet from the snare.
My eyes are ever on myself! Or my to-do list, or that nebulous cloud of problems to solve and worries to resolve.

Everyday, every morning and evening and mindful moment, I need to tell the eyes of my heart to look to the only one who can save my feet from their perils.

Christ is the only one who can keep my feet from falling; he's the only one who can release them from the life traps that ensnare them - the "worries and troubles of life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things" that come in and choke the seed of God's Word in my heart, keeping me from fruitfulness; keeping me from the results of the Spirit.

Joe, control those wayward eyes! Keep them on Jesus! If you look at anything else, you'll suffer for it.

'My eyes are ever on Christ, for only he will release my feet from the sin that so easily entangles.'

Near or Not?

I find I often live as if the Lord were far off, but think as though he is always near, to everyone.
As a Christian I believe Christ is not only omnipresent but unconditionally with me "always, to the very End".

We know that not only did Christ promise his active ruling (reign) from the throne of our hearts, but that according to the Apostle Paul, even for those who refuse to believe "he is not far from anyone of us".

And here is the danger: I fall into the trap of assuming his presence and then getting on with forgetting all about him.

But then I see in the Scripture a constant reminder to hold this truth in tension with another:

He is near to those who draw near to him.

Psalm 145:18-19(NIV)

 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
Elsewhere we in fact see that he withdraws his presence to test us (e.g Hezekiah) and rewards those who seek him by drawing near to them (Hebrews 11:1-3)

In the Gospel of John Jesus says that he will come and make his home with those who love and obey him - and we think this just applies to non Christians.

But then in Revelation he says to the churches "here I am, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door I will come in and eat [fellowship] with him".

I guess this is why Paul constantly prayed for *Christians* that we would have power so that Christ would dwell [set up his home and throne] in our hearts through faith.

The shock to the way I live and think is that actually the Lord is near especially to some - and that will only be me if I respond to him with the step of faith that he calls on me to make!

He is near to those who call on him!

And that's me if and when I call out in hope, when I cry out in faith, when I pour out to him in love.

That's where I want to be; or rather, that's where I want him to be - near to me!

Come Lord Jesus!