When Jesus recounted the story of the Prodigal Son he described the Father’s house as a place of joy, dancing, music, and laughter. It sounds like a place of life and great celebration. The only one who didn’t appreciate the noise spilling out over the fields was a miserable and angry older brother who disapproved of the grace being demonstrated to ‘his Father’s son’. Last week someone came to me from the Citizen’s Advocacy group who rent space with us and said, “When you sing on Wednesday mornings we love to hear the sound – we really enjoy the music.”
A quote from Graham Cooke caught my attention recently:
“Christendom is called to give the Earth a taste of what Heaven will be like. If more Christians would stand up in the goodness of God, acting it out in every facet of their lives, society would be changed immeasurably.” There’s an invitation and a challenge! At the heart of which ‘a taste of heaven’ is not a serious doctrinal statement (and yes there is a time and place for those) but rather a people who are alive and unashamed to share their passion and joy.
Last night at the Craig Street Market a man came by and said he had ‘tennis elbow’ that had been hurting for quite a while. “It’ll heal naturally,” he said. “Why don’t you let us pray for you?” we suggested. “Why wait six months for what could happen now?” He sat on a chair and said, “If anything happens I will have to change my way of thinking.” Four of us knelt and prayed and three minutes later when asked how his elbow felt he replied, “That’s amazing, it really is more than 50% better!” We prayed some more and he left shaking his head. It was a long slow evening out there on the street but hairline cracks of breakthrough are to be celebrated.
On Sunday Lefty invited us to stand up and shout praise and thanks to Jesus as loudly as we could for thirty seconds. Perhaps a few years ago I would have thought I was being manipulated or hyped up. I see things differently now. I take what we do very seriously and the last thing I desire is for hype and manipulation to be on our agenda.
The reason we declare God’s praises and encourage an expression of loud vocal thanksgiving is precisely because we seem to have forgotten how to express ourselves with openness and some abandonment. We in church have become so serious and easily offended by emotions – it’s perhaps good for us to ask ourselves why that is? It’s not about beating ourselves up or becoming defensive – but rather about exploring why joyful celebration is a hallmark of God’s presence.
For the record: I have to say I’ve never seen:
People question a standing ovation at a theater performance
Someone leave a stadium because the crowd was on its feet, waving flags, shouting, dancing, or being rowdy because their team had scored.
A negative response to a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air before a famous person was about to appear on stage.
Objections raised when people danced in the aisles at a music festival
People standing silent when a home town hero is paraded through the streets
Parents not applauding with excitement when their child performs in a 1st grade concert or after 12th grade graduation etc.
All the situations described above are events attended by young and old, rich and poor, introverts and extroverts, multiple nationalities and cultures, representing a wide variety of educational backgrounds. They are people who are hard working, retired, have all manner of interests and personalities. The list could be much longer.
When I don’t have joy I know for sure that hope is low. My moods tend to be darker and my patience with others is irritable and impatient. When joy and hope are distant my faith in God’s goodness is encrusted with barnacles of frustration, probably disillusionment, and a sense of surviving and self-reliance. Much of what robs me of joy and hope is rooted in circumstances and/or the impact of other people on me – together with the negative inner dialogue that can chatter away forever if given free rein. Having lived in that joyless place without hope for years it’s not somewhere I desire to visit for long if I can avoid it. By the way, notice how we seldom are offended by the fruit of sorrow, depression, introspection, or ‘feeling blah’. They manifest as quietness, reserved, silent, non-expressive, non-communicative, non-expressive, serious – bodies that appear to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. In ‘church’ we even call such behavior ‘respectable’.
At the prayer time on Wednesday someone remarked that God is humble, “Why would He want us to praise Him rather than serve him quietly and humbly?”
It’s a good question echoed by many, including myself years ago when it seemed to me God had an ego problem. Until another helped me understand that joy and worship has nothing to do with God’s ego at all. He doesn’t need my response to fulfil himself…. I need it to be fulfilled. It’s like standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon; seeing the magnificent sight before me I cannot help but exclaim, “Wow, that’s amazing, breathtaking, so beautiful!” I take out my camera and snap photographs to show others – I update my status on Facebook with a picture of ‘me at the Grand Canyon’ :-). My response to the beauty I see is evoked and rises spontaneously from within me quite unrehearsed. I enjoy how I feel as I respond and it makes me come alive and refreshed.
That’s what God desires for us when we gather together: to come alive and be refreshed! It would be grossly unfair and insensitive to expect a blind person to rejoice at the beauty of the Grand Canyon – however if we could heal their eyes then all would be changed. We too can ask God to heal and release us where we feel unable, blind, or paralyzed. Rather than defensively justifying my lack I’d rather ask for more joy and hope. I want as much as I can contain and I’ve learned that Jesus is the source from which it all flows. Stand in front of a mirror and see yourself scowling, without expression, and smiling. Which face do you think is more appealing – it’s that simple :-)))))))!
When I lack joy or hope I can either become angry reading this kind of article, or I can recognize my lack thereof and simply ask God to help me know Him and see Him more clearly so that I too can experience more of His joy. Did you know that the command to ‘rejoice’ or ‘be joyful’ occurs 72 times in the New Testament. Seventy two times we Christians are told to be joyful. Joy is to be one of our defining characteristics. Here are some verses to inspire and encourage….
Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Romans 14:7 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit
John 7:37-8 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
1 Peter 1:8-9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
“Father, may all who read this know a greater measure of joy rising up from within, AMEN!”