November 4, 2009
One spiritual habit that has changed my journey is seeking the joy of the Lord. That sounds a little nebulous, doesn't it? Maybe a little too common sense? Let me explain.
I grew up in a traditional, Protestant church – and for the record I still go to a traditional, Protestant church. I saw theology, but little of the experience of God. Today, I also see many churches that focus on the experience of God and pay little attention to the theology. My view is that you need depth in both pieces to create a sound faithwalk. Experience coupled with ignorance builds your faith on a shaky foundation. Theology without joy steals meaning.
So, in these traditional churches, we had a great deal of instruction and a great deal of liturgy, really a great deal of tradition. But, I rarely heard anyone speak of how the Lord had touched their lives in a specific or deep way. As I got older, I found more and more people who shared those experiences. My own view of the Lord became more well-rounded. It was like taking a piece of swiss cheese and filling in the wholes with bread. Cheese and bread both taste good, but together, they complement and enhance each other.
As I pulled theology and experience together, I noticed one element that united them… the joy of the Lord. The Bible says that the fruit of the Spirit includes joy. My experiences of God were joyful.
This is what Noah Webster, the great man of language and faith, had to say of joy:
"The passion or emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good; that excitement of pleasurable feelings which is caused by success, good fortune, the gratification of desire or some good possessed, or by a rational prospect of possessing what we love or desire; gladness; exultation; exhilaration of spirits. Joy is a delight of the mind, from the consideration of the present or assured approaching possession of a good."
Notice that this definition of joy does not simply include rejoicing over something that has happened or is happening. It speaks specifically to the expectation of good. This was a piece that I missed for many years. Then, one of our pastors gave a sermon on this very subject. His point was that God wants to gift us with the desires of our hearts. God isn't sullen and stingy. We are His children. When we seek Him, He delights in giving good.
I had heard that before, however, this sermon touched me in a way that I actually understood what that meant.
Taking that expectation of good, and bringing it into my everyday world, has caused a shift in how I look at my day. Do I still struggle? Yes. Can life be difficult? You bet. Sadness, anger – are they all still there? They are. But, when the darkness comes, I can look ahead and feel joy in the midst of all of the junk. He promises that the fruit of His Holy Spirit is joy. It is with anticipation that I can then feel joy of the coming good.