Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Let Delight Shine!

“Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord... Let us greet Him with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to Him” (Ps. 94/95:1-2). What for? Sometimes we may feel like the person who, when greeted with a cheerful “Good morning!” responds with a grumpy “What’s good about it?” I'm pretty sure that you are not like that, but just in case....

A few of the obvious reasons we find in Scripture for rejoicing in the Lord are that He is a great God, the Rock of our salvation, and the great King. The Lord is our Shepherd, our Refuge, our Stronghold, and our Savior. He is our Creator, and He is good. The inspired word reminds us that He is faithful, He is loving, He is slow to anger and full of compassion. The Lord is Almighty, Holy, Righteous in judgment, Gracious and merciful, and He is super-eminently worthy to receive honor and glory and blessing, etc., etc. Are you happy yet?

If not, let’s see whence comes our joy in the first place. “At that moment, Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit...” (Lk. 10:21). St. Luke tells us that Jesus burst into joyful praise of his Father, hardly able to contain Himself because the Spirit in Him was overflowing. I describe it like that because Jesus did more than simply rejoice. When St. Luke spoke of the joy of Jesus' disciples after their completion of a successful mission, he used the usual word for rejoicing (khairo). But when he spoke of Jesus’ “rejoicing in the Holy Spirit,” he used a special word (agalliao). This word means to exult, to celebrate, to rejoice with exceeding, even extreme, joy. What was it that so utterly delighted our Lord at that moment?

The irrepressible Spirit in Christ moved Him mightily to exult exceedingly in the Father’s gracious will, in the divine wisdom which turns worldly wisdom upside down. He gave thanks to his Father for revealing the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven to the simple and unlearned, and for hiding them from the “wise” and learned of this world. This tells us something about the personality of Jesus, what fills Him with jubilation. To Him, it was just the greatest thing that the Father willed to entrust the Gospel of eternal salvation to the likes of these uneducated fishermen. He was elated that “the mystery hidden for all ages in God” was unveiled for these unpretentious, common men, and that the know-it-alls were kept totally in the dark!

The Spirit is the Source of joy, but how do we “access” this joy? One sure-fire way (though perhaps unlikely at first thought) is obedience. Being the more or less self-centered, self-willed, rugged individualists that most of us Americans are (or whatever form of hyphenated-American you may be), the idea of obedience—submission of our wills to another’s, or more precisely, to Another’s—is not usually one that spontaneously moves us to make merry. Yet the Psalmist says that the Law of the Lord—that which should rule our unruly wills—“rejoices the heart” (Ps. 18/19:9). Notice in the passage above that it was the Father’s will that was the wellspring of Jesus’ jubilation. All this should tell us something about our tendency to question, criticize, or otherwise undervalue the will of God in its concrete expression in the events of our lives: it should tell us that there’s something wrong with that tendency! Obedience to the will of God—and to those through whom God makes it known (aye, there’s the rub!)—is the path to peace and joy. Perhaps we need to begin by earnestly entreating the Lord: “Open my eyes that I may see how wonderful Your will is for me” (Ps. 118/119:18).

After all, Scripture tells us that we don't even know how to pray (Rom. 8:26), that our knowledge is imperfect (1Cor. 13:9), that God’s ways and thoughts are far superior to ours (Is. 55:8-9), that without Him we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), even that we bear a remarkable resemblance to brainless beasts (Ps. 48/49:13)! And, by the way, where were you when God founded the earth, created the clouds, arranged the stars and commanded the sun to rise (Job 38)? Given all the above, we should be quite actively seeking the will of God and even entreating Him to let it be done in full in our lives, lest we make a total mess of everything. Why did Jesus take the time and trouble to instruct us about how to live in his love, i.e., according to the Father’s will? “So that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (Jn. 15:11), of course!

The more we put on the mind of Christ and begin to love as He loved (which is not an option, but a commandment; see Jn. 13:34 and 15:12), the more we will joyfully accept whatever trials God permits to befall us. This task is beyond human strength (as you will readily agree), but despair not, for here is the answer: “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). This passage should make us realize, though, that the joy of the Lord cannot be identified with mere happy feelings. It has been said that joy is not found in the absence of suffering, but in the presence of God.

Finally, remember the words of the Psalmist: “If you find your delight in the Lord, He will give you your heart’s desire” (Ps. 36/37:4). It is quite logical that if you really find your delight in the Lord, then your heart’s desire cannot be incompatible with his will for you. Love God, and then all things will work for the good (see Rom. 8:28). Trust in Him and He will act on your behalf. Rejoice in the Lord and you will discover that He is your complete fulfillment. Believe in the power of the word of God to achieve its goal in you (Is. 55:11), and then drop despondency, dump discouragement, and depart from despair! Let the lugubrious lag behind, but you run the race rejoicing, you conquer crises and triumph through trials by the power of the Lord who loves you (Rom. 8:37). Don’t be intimidated by the thought that you have to muster the might or produce the power for all this by yourself (as if you could!), for thus says the Lord: “Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit...” (Zech. 4:6). So let delight shine!