If you missed it last week, Fridays this fall will be an on-line bible study mirrored after my working women’s study last fall called Fall Back Into Faith. We are currently studying aspects of our faith.
Today we study joy. The joy we find in our faith. The joy we find in receiving Christ’s blessings in our lives, no matter how big or small.
Often Christianity (like politics) can swing between two extremes. The believers that count it ALL joy and preach/study/believe only about the prosperity and blessings of Christianity without recognizing the struggles. But then there are believers who feel that their entire Christian walk has to be a struggle and to recognize, accept, or pray for blessings is to have only a shallow faith not rooted in the sacrifice of Christianity.
I do not have a degree in theology. But from my personal study and walk of faith, I reject that true faith has to exist at either of those extremes.
So today let’s talk about the joy of our faith and giving thanks to our Father for His gifts, and next Friday we can talk about the challenges and hardships our faith will encounter along the way.
Our faith calls us to joy. There are nearly 250 uses of the word joy in the Bible. Nehemiah reminded the people that “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10) Jeremiah and Isaiah repeatedly remind us joy is to be found and that we must sing or SHOUT for joy because of what the Lord has done. One of my favorites is: the Lord sent him to bestow “the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isa. 61:3) Of the nine fruit of the Spirit, aka qualities that show faith to people around us, one of the characteristics is JOY. (Gal. 5:22) Those are just discussions of “joy” – the Bible is replete with words like blessings, providence, provision, Healer, Deliverer, overflowing, goodness, bounty, and more. Talk about some language to fuel your joy!
Sometimes though I struggle with HOW, or even if, to share my blessings and joy. I never want my joy to be salt in the wound of a believer that is struggling with a similar issue and walking a different, harder, road. Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts, a book I highly recommend, wrote a passage recognizing the suffering of the world around us but simultaneously issuing a call to action to give thanks:
I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives. Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse is does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks.
Wow. What a charge. Our joy can bring Light into our suffering world! Always bear in mind though that your joy must have a strong foundation: a faith built upon solid roots and a deep and growing love and knowledge of Jesus. The authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all share the same parable of the seeds. A farmer was sowing his seeds and some were eaten by birds, some fell on rocky ground where lack of moisture prevented them from growing, some were choked by weeds, and finally some fell on good soil and yielded a bountiful crop.
This is what He tells his disciples the parable means:
“The seed is the word of God.H)”> Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.I)”> The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, richesJ)”> and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Luke 8)
Every single author translates those rocky ground people to have received the Word of God with JOY but fell away when tested. That is the prosperity gospel – God is good all the time and if you encounter struggles you just must not be believing hard enough. No wonder people run from God when they are confronted with challenges if that is their understanding of faith!
This joy, the real joy bubbling out of our faith, is rooted and grounded in Christ. This faith finds joy even when those around us might find circumstances joyless. Our joy, blessing we can see given to us by a gracious and loving God, is light in a dark word.