“Perhaps, I seem to you rather fanatical and mad about a number of things. I myself am sometimes afraid of that. But I know that the day I became more “reasonable,” to be honest, I should have to chuck my entire theology.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. (Phil 3:1-4)
It is a biblical truth that our joy in the Lord is the source of our strength in spiritual battle. Nehemiah said it like this: “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10) Joy was clearly at the center of our Lord’s mission and it was his intention to see that his disciples were grounded in that same joy. On one occasion he said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Paul said it this way: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4)
What I would like to do in this devotional is to try and lay out what “rejoicing in the Lord” means and how it affects our faith. Certainly Paul has in mind something far more important than “Be happy. Don’t worry.” Every day I, like you, face tests and temptations that can keep us from living the world-changing life we were meant to live. There are “dogs” out there seeking to devour the freedom and power we are promised in Jesus. Financial pressures, unanswered prayers, ungodly thoughts, disappointments and satanic schemes beat upon our faith. Joy in the Lord is essential if we are to live up to our high calling.
First, we know that the joy in God is the most precious and valuable thing in all of creation. Nothing comes close to it in the sheer delight and satisfaction it brings to our souls. That is what Jesus was pointing to when he told the parable of the merchant who was looking for pearls. Jesus said that when the man found it, “he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matt 13:44) So, we know that this “pearl” is worth much more than a big bank account, a fancy mansion, a movie contract, a new shiny red Ferrari, a face and body that everybody admires or a four year stint in the White House- combined.
Second, we know that this joy is crucial in times of pressure and persecution. Hebrews encourages us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Heb 12:2] Jesus told his disciples that when men would hate and insult them because they served Jesus, they should “rejoice” and “leap for joy,” persecution was a sure sign that they were on their way to the eternal rewards of heaven.(Luke 6:23) Paul, likewise, after listing a litany of “troubles, hardships and distresses” (2 Cor. 6:5) declared that his heart was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor. 6:10 emphasis added) So, joy is not just a pleasant feeling, it is a deep anchor that holds us firm in any storm and keeps us satisfied and victorious in every battle.
Third, I know that this joy was the driving force of our Lord’s mission on earth. He told his disciples, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” [John15:11] He had been telling them that the Father loved them with the same kind of love he had for him. Think about that! His unflappable joy had its origin in his sweet, unbreakable, intimate, loving relationship with the Father. No power on earth or in heaven could steal or stifle that love and it motivated him to go all the way to the cross. His obedience to the Father’s will was not done in reluctance or regret but with delight and devotion. He wants us to experience that same joy. When we grasp the significance of this life-transforming love, it will also produce in us a deep joy that is so strong that it liberates us from a safety-first, self-focused existence.
Paul reminded his readers of this because it was a “safeguard” for them. He was not just concerned that they would “make it” but that they would “change it.” We are not told to “hold the fort” but to demolish strongholds [2 Cor. 10:4]. So, we need to be constantly reminded in a world that seeks to keep us “normal” that we are not made to act like our neighbors but called and equipped to be radicals. The enemy knows this and uses both pleasure and pain to distract us from this uncommon lifestyle. His pressures are designed to get us to question the goodness of God. His pleasures are designed to get us to question the preciousness of God.
If we have a shallow view of God’s love for us, we will lose our joy when life gets tuff. If we think that God’s ultimate goal is to keep us healthy, wealthy and comfortable, then disappointment, depression and despair will overwhelm us when “tragedy” hits. If our joy in God is dependent upon uninterrupted sun and fun then, we will lose it.
And, if our view of God does not comprehend how precious God is for us in Jesus, the allurements of this world will rob us of joy. This is a more subtle tactic and in many ways more effective ploy than the enemy’s use of pain. When trouble hits we are at least aware. But when pleasure rules we are amused. We are lulled into living like a civilian rather than a soldier. Little things like computers and cell phones and videos and movies become big idols in our lives. We forget why we were created. Comfort, safety and retirement keep us from a passionate, radical, faith-driven adventure.
Let me suggest a test. Suppose tonight, you had a vision of Christ, and in that vision he called you to go to Africa, to serve a people who needed to hear and see the Gospel. When you woke up, you were shaken because the experience was so real. Then, you managed to settle down a little and moving to your favorite chair with a cup of coffee in hand, you began to count the cost of obeying that call. You think about what you might face in Africa. It has snakes, bugs, disease and heat. The places that seem to have the most needs are the most dangerous and dirty. There is no cable TV or satellite discs and smart phones are not functional there. There are no movie theaters, Olive Gardens, Chiles and even McDonalds are not there. On top of all that, these places will take us thousands of miles away from family and friends. In the end, would you “come to your senses”? Would all of those “problems” wake you up to the unreasonableness of that call? Would you get up and leave for the day, satisfied that you had just had a bad dream and would let the missionaries do their thing.
I know some of you are saying, “I never got that call.” I know, but what if you did? What would be your response? Personally, I believe that Christ, through the Scriptures, gives everybody a call. Here is Jim Elliot’s take on this issue: “Our young men are going into the professional field because they don’t ‘feel called’ to the mission field. We don’t need a call; we need a kick in the pants. We must begin thinking in terms of ‘going out,’ and stop weeping because ‘they won’t come in.’” I think he is right. We don’t need a dream. It is there in black and white. Jesus declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. [Matt 28:18-19] I am afraid that we don’t go or even consider going not because we have not been called, but because we do not possess the joy of the Lord. It may seem radical, but I have come to believe that everybody should be ready, even wanting to go, unless restrained by God’s clear direction that orders them to stay, serve and send.
So, how did we get from the subject of joy in the Lord to serving in Africa? It is because I believe that all of us should at least want to go where the needs are greatest simply because our joy in Jesus is the controlling passion of our soul. A characteristic of true joy is the passion to share it with others. And, seeing the glory of God in the face of Christ will produce such a joy in Jesus that a desire to go and share what we have found will turn our hearts to the ends of the earth.
If we don’t have that kind of joy, it is time to fight for it. We need to confess to the Lord that our passion has been side-tracked and we have allowed the joy-stealing “dogs” of American affluence to rob us of the exciting life Jesus created and called us to enjoy. We need to open up the Scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to give us a fresh revelation of His glory and goodness. Then, getting on our knees, we need to ask the Lord to show us where he wants us to go.
Heroes and martyrs of the faith did not do the radical because they had a unique disposition or had an abundance of earthly resources. No, it was because their heads and their hearts were captured by the beauty of Jesus Christ. Like a lover “head-over-heels” in love, they didn’t care what others thought or what it would cost them. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, they were willing to lay down their lives if need be, to honor the One who laid down His life for them. When you are in love and joy rules your heart, reasonableness is gladly discarded for fanaticism. May the Lord open our eyes so that we may see just how satisfying Jesus is for us so that our joy in Him compels and propels us into a world-transforming madness.