Friday, August 22, 2008

enjoying God (5) is joy a command or a gift?

It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can. (C.S.Lewis)

Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is (C.S.Lewis)

Well, which is it? Is joy a command or a gift?

How can you possibly command someone to be happy? It would be wonderful if our emotions were under our control: "Stop being sad! Go on, be happy right now!" Certainly, you wouldn't say to a discouraged friend, "Snap out of it. Time to be happy."

But God clearly commands us to be joyful, as if it's something we can choose:

Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:5)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Phil. 4:4)
Be joyful always. (1 Thess. 5:16)
How wonderful if you could give joy as a gift! If you could say to your discouraged friend, "Here's a nice parcel of joy, just for you", and watch them open it. If you could keep a pot of happiness on your shelf, and open it whenever you felt the need.

Joy is God's gift to us. In the midst of severe suffering, the Thessalonians received salvation with "the joy given by the Holy Spirit". (1 Thess. 1:6). And David, crushed by guilt, cries out to God to "restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Psalm 51:12).

How is this possible? Is the Bible trying to have it both ways? How can joy be both a command and a gift?

Command and gift?
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit: but we are to "keep in step" with the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25). How do these things go together?

Years ago I was trying to puzzle out the problem of our responsibility and God's sovereignty. I came to love these two verses so much, that they were among the first I memorised:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Phil. 2:12-13)
We work out our salvation - but why? Because God works in us to "will and to act according to his good purpose". We can't even want to obey God unless he gives us a new will. We can't obey unless he helps us to obey. We work hard, confident that God is at work in us.

Command and gift
Every part of the pursuit of joy is from God. He makes us want to pursue joy in him. He enables us to pursue joy. And if the battle for joy is a hard, back-breaking fight, then he is the one who fights in us and through us. We fight with every ounce of strength that is in us. But we fight with his strength.

We fight against discouragement, doubt, apathy, anxiety, all the different faces of unbelief. We fight to find satisfaction in God, rather than in earthly things. We fight with the weapons God has given us: his Word, prayer, faith, obedience. We can't turn on joy like a tap, but we can create the conditions in which joy will flourish. We fight for joy.

Having fought for joy, feelings of joy are not in our command. We may do everything we can, and joy may still seem to be absent. For in the end, joy is a gift from God. The day of joy is in God's hands.

We fight, and we wait.

image of Moses by Mickelodeon at Flickr; other images from stock.xchng

1 comment:

mattnbec said...

Thanks, Jean.

This post reminds me of Psalm 42, particularly of the repeated section in verses 5 and 11:

"Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and 6 my God."

I have found this verse in particular to be such an encouragement ("yet will I praise him") and a wonderful prayer-starter when I've found things hard. I used to have it on my computer screen when I was struggling with assignments at theol college!