The Joy Of The Lord, Or The Joy Of Our Stuff

Christmas_candles_wk_3In this third week of the Advent season, my church is focusing on joy. It’s a fairly common practice now for pastors to explain how joy is different from happiness. And it is. I’m glad for the good reminder.

But the reality is, many of us, while looking for joy instead of happiness, are looking for it in all the wrong places. Someone might look for her joy in owning the latest, chicest, most stylish dress or necklace or handbag. Someone else might look for her joy in creating the perfect home, with perfect landscaping, perfect decor, perfect meals. A third someone might expect her joy to come from her awesome family relationships—her academically strong, emotionally well-balanced, spiritually minded, socially accepted children; her best-friend, sexually-fulfilled monogamous husband; her pleased and proud parents and in-laws; her supportive and/or adoring siblings and their families; add in the grandparents, and her world is made!

Note that these “wrong places” aren’t wrong in and of themselves. If someone looks for her joy in her job, it’s not a bad thing that she works to be the best she can at what she loves.

The thing is, success or relationships or stuff or power or fame or influence or beauty or talent or accomplishment—none of it—is the source of joy, not the kind that lasts, not the kind that gives us strength.

Strength? I mention strength because the passage I quoted from Nehemiah in “Hilarious Joy” includes, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

It seems to me all other joys are weakness. The latest stuff will be outdated tomorrow, so where’s the joy then? The perfect yard gets weeds, the perfect house gets dirty, the perfect food gets eaten—or worse, gets turned into garbage! Relationships are constantly in flux as children grow and relatives die. Job fulfillment is as tenuous as the economy. The joy in all these things is fleeting and may actually be the source of much effort and worry.

In reality, then, all our stuff, even our relationships with friends as well as family, are dissipation rather than strength. We either have and want to hold on or we don’t have and want to gain more to reach that level where joy sets in.

It would seem joy’s companion, when sought in the wrong places, is contentment. When we have what we want, we’ll have contentment and joy sets in.

So when is this great contentment going to fall on us—somewhere around 2034? Maybe 2031 if we do things right. But possibly not until 2037 when the kids are grown, out of school, settled in their own jobs, making a good living, having their own perfect kids . . .

The joy of the Lord is our strength, not the joy of our stuff.

This truth was perfectly illustrated by today’s guest blogger at Spec Faith, Timothy Stone. Here’s the pertinent part of his article:

[Those in my army unit deployed in Iraq] had been told that the flights home would not happen until the evening of Christmas Day, and we had to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in Kuwait on the base. There had been this air of excitement in the building as we all (those of us who got to have leave at this time) awaited the details of our impending flight home in the early morning hours of the 24th. Then the sad news was given to us, that we could not make it home until the day after Christmas. The general feeling of dejection was palpable. We grumbled amongst ourselves, and at the travel staff. Our behavior was quite lousy, to say the least. Most of the day was spent in sadness, until the evening, when a surprising thing happened.

There were several services that evening, including one at midnight. As each service passed, it seemed that everyone’s mood – including my own – improved drastically, until finally the midnight service came. There, in that small Air Force chapel in Kuwait, we shut off the lights, took lit candles, and passed them around. In hushed tones, we began to sing “The First Noel.”

I remember looking around as I sang, looking at everyone’s faces faintly illuminated by the candles that we all held. So many different denominations, believers and lost alike, and countries of origin, were represented. Yet here we were, on Christmas Eve, thousands of miles from home, and we were all happy. Most people would wonder at that, that joy that we all seemed to feel that night, given where we were, but I know it was really what was in our hearts . . .

In that moment, no one seemed to be contemplating gifts, food, decorations, or any of the usual “holiday cheer”. We appeared to focus on the miracle that occurred a little over two thousand years ago in a stable a couple of hundred miles away in Bethlehem. God came to save us from our sins. He did so much for us, when we were His enemies. Not because He had to do so, but because He chose to do so.

That day we had spent sulking about not being home for Christmas, about “missing Christmas”. We (including myself and other Christians) didn’t seem to have Jesus or God’s gift of salvation on our hearts. We truly needed a wake-up call. The Lord had no reason to give us one, or to bring us comfort, as we showed nothing but ingratitude and lack of joy. Nevertheless, He chose to give us said comfort. He chose to bring us the joy of Christmas, and show us the true meaning.

Timothy and the soldiers with him were looking for joy in returning home, in being with their family for Christmas. What they found was the joy of the Lord—the true joy which comes when we look at the Savior instead of what we have or what we don’t have.

They were surprised by joy, as C. S. Lewis liked to phrase it, because they actually forgot about looking for joy and simply enjoyed worshiping the Messiah. Suddenly the joy of the Lord was theirs.

Therein lies the strength to face the loss of a loved one, the fear of an upcoming doctor’s appointment, being laid off at work, the unknown of a child’s illness, or whatever uncertain circumstances we might face.

Emmanuel, God with us, makes all the difference.

Published in: on December 19, 2014 at 6:13 pm  Comments (3)  
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