Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Journey of Joy

Jesus.  Others.  You.  That's the essence of joy, right? 

But what does joy look like, lived out, in the nitty gritty of life?

What about when things happen that are completely beyond our control and way outside of our comfort zone?  What about when life shakes us up to the point we can barely recognize anything anymore?

When things got like this for David, he regularly responded with praise, joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving.  You see this pattern noted frequently through the Psalms.  Take, for example, Psalm 35.  David has experienced the deep hurt of being betrayed by people he loved, slandered by those for whom he cared deeply. 

He understood the pain of betrayal, rejection, and strife against him.  He knew what it felt like to be injured deeply by those whom he had loved and cherished.  Tales arose about him that surprised his ears, they were so far from the truth of the situation—he says “False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not” (verse 11).  He relates the anguish of his soul and the way in which those who despised him paid him back for his love to them—“They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul” (verse 12).  That phrase “the spoiling of my soul” refers to the destroying of one’s life.  In the natural course of things, without the supernatural enablement of God to joy in his situation, David’s sensitive soul would have been worn down and whittled away by those who had slandered his godly reputation.

But notice David’s praiseworthy response.  He makes his request to God.  He bares his soul to the only One Who can do anything about his situation, the Righteous Judge of all the earth, who alone sees all, knows all, and understands everything about every circumstance.  He prays to God. 

He will not avenge his enemies.  He will not defend himself, explain the rightness of his cause, the justness of his character.  Instead, he pours out his soul to God and determines beautifully, “And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in His salvation” (verse 9). 

His soul would not be overburdened by the slander of those who had attacked him verbally.  Instead, from his inmost being, he would choose thanksgiving.  In verse 18 he says, “I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.”    Rather than using his tongue to return the evil against him, he would use it to bless God.  He would choose instead to let his joy of the Lord flow from a grateful heart, allowing himself to be overcome by the greatness of Jehovah’s deliverance in his own life.

What a powerful way to live!  This is grace in action—the ability to joy, regardless of the pain inflicted by unkind or untruthful words.  And this pattern is reflected numerous times throughout the Psalms.  David chooses joy and praise in the face of ugliness.  What a beautiful demonstration of the New Testament command not to be overcome of evil but to “overcome evil with good”!

As 21st century believers living in a generation who find no repulsion at unleashing unkind words against the people of God, let us embrace a biblical response to the unbridled tongues of those whose words may, intentionally or otherwise, seek to destroy God’s church, God’s ministers, and God’s worship.  

Let us praise and joy in God, nurturing a heart of gratitude and a spirit of joy despite overt unkindness over social media and words that criticize the people of God.  Let us live with a heart like him whom God called “a man after [His] own heart.”  

And then, daily, moment by moment, as we live in the spirit of praise, we can experience the journey of joy that our God, whose Spirit produces such joy, can give!