Sorry I missed last week. We had that whole natural disaster, no power, no internet, middle ages pastiche going on. It was actually probably a good thing, because I’ve been struggling with this one and thinking about it for awhile.
Back to the Question:
But what could be so hard about, “enjoying him (God), forever”? Why struggle with this? Isn’t this the fun part? I don’t know, maybe I don’t understand “joy” or maybe I don’t understand “God” or maybe I just need the practice.
I know, I know, The Book says, “The Joy of the Lord is [my] strength,” (Nehemiah 8:10) and “rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) And I try, or at least I think I do. But pretty much every time God made his presence known to a human being in the bible, there wasn’t joy; there was terror. The first words out of God's mouth, or that of his angels is always, "fear not." So, I don’t think I’m the only one that has trouble equating God with “fun” or joy, as opposed to seriousness and awe and holiness and fear. After all, The Book also says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Psalm 111:10) and even “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.” (Psalms 2:11). Rejoice with trembling?? What IS that?
And what about joy? In the way The Book uses the term it has to be something more than joy in the sense of “wow, that was fun,” or “boy, that food was good,” or “I loved those praise songs we sang this morning.” James, the brother of Jesus, says, for example, “consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your fatih develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3. And “Blessed [or happy] is the man who perseveres under trial . . .” James 1:12. Joy? Trials? And the Psalmist talks about “desir[ing] nothing on earth” when he is with God. Psalm 73:5. That’s a whole different kind of joy or happiness than watching a good movie or a fun evening out. This is not an undemanding joy or cheap grace.
So, with God, I have this problem. The Book tells me that “love,” is his very essence. The Book tells me that he is longsuffering and slow to anger, infinite in mercy. But The Book also tells me he is all powerful, holy and perfect. I know very well that I am week, unholy and imperfect. How does a sullied and limited creature like me have any “joy” and fellowship with an unsullied and limitless God? How do we even understand each other?
About the last time a human being is recorded as having hand-in-hand fellowship with God was Adam before the fall of man. After the fall, which is my current condition, Adam didn’t enjoy God. Adam hid from God. Look around and you see mankind at war with God, not enjoying him. As a Christian, I know that Christ is supposed to be the bridge that reconciles me to God, so why is it so hard? And not just for me. It was hard for Superstars like the Apostle Paul. Even Paul begged to be set free from his struggle. (See Romans 7:14-25)
I was thinking about it this morning, and wondered that maybe what’s going on here is somewhat the same thing as when sedentary folks having no idea how endurance athletes can take pleasure in their effort. Or maybe like when mid-packers like me watch an elite athlete. Look for example at Kara Goucher pictured above. I can only dimly imagine the amount of pain and effort behind an elite 10k like she is just completing, but surely there is joy in her face. Indeed, I can only dimly imagine the amount of joy she's experiencing.
Similarly, to a sedentary person, how could I possibly “enjoy” training. What joy is there in a 3 hour long run or a century ride? How many times have you been called “crazy” for suffering like that? And was any of this fun or “joyful" when you first began it. Maybe it was always fun and easy for you, but I remember quite well the first training runs--the pain, the discouragement, the struggle. This was not fun. Now, however, after a little practice, and a little success, the training sessions are play, they are joy. In fact, they are usually (though not always) the best part of my day. But it still doesn’t look like fun to the sedentary crowd who call us “crazy” while they eat, drink or smoke themselves into sickness and death. And yet we’re crazy.
So, maybe my lack of Christian joy is partly a lack of practice. Maybe I’m a sedentary Christ follower. Do I need to work out more and improve my spiritual diet? More fruit of the spirit, maybe? Do I need more practice with God? If I do, will the pain and discomfort lessen? Will this feel less like work? More like play? How do I find the joy?
Now, go run. See you next week.