Our Best Kept Secret
Aways be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice! (Philippians 4:4, NLT)
At its most basic level, Christian faith is about joy. It is about the deep, abiding joy of being in relationship with a God who accepts us as we are and pledges never to abandon us. The by-product of following this God is the overflowing joy of being received even when we are not worthy, of being forgiven and restored to a life buoyed by the redemptive, healing, recreating love of God. Because of this truth, Christians ought to be the most joyful people on the planet. And yet, for some reason, we’re not – or at least we don’t always appear to be. Rather than joy being our best-known attribute, it seems to be our best-kept secret.
There’s an old story about Mark Twain who cut himself shaving and burst forth with a torrent of swearing and vulgar language. His wife heard him and was mortified. She hoped to shame him into better behavior, so she repeated his tirade back to him, word for word. When she finished, he smiled at her and said, “you have the words, my dear, but I’m afraid you’ll never master the tune.”
Joy is our best-kept secret because we have the words of faith but haven’t mastered the tune. We remain people of the verse instead of people of the breath. We know our bible but are disconnected from God’s breath moving through it. Yet, joy is the tune of our faith. At each step of our spiritual journey, we need to bring the words and the tune together, immersing ourselves in the stream of love and joy that flows from God.
One of the best ways to do this is to think seriously about our salvation. In June and July, we focused on that salvation experience – recognizing our sinfulness and accepting the gift of God’s grace that heals us. And yet all too often the “realness” of that experience fades into the background as we travel farther along on our spiritual journeys. The farther we get from the reality of our salvation, it seems, the less visible our joy becomes.
There is a deep connection between our awareness of our salvation and the depth of our joy. To truly understand our salvation requires a true understanding of the intensity of our sin. The depth of our joy will be in direct proportion to the depth of our sorrow for our sin.
Scripture vividly illustrates this. In story after story, when people come into relationship with Jesus, the most grateful, most joyful ones are those whose need is the greatest – the woman who anointed Jesus with oil, blind Bartimaeus, Zacchaeus. The most joy-filled letter Paul ever wrote was written from prison. He tells the Philippians to rejoice and always be full of joy.
Martin Luther said that we will have as much joy and laughter in life as we have faith in God. That’s because the joy God offers isn’t connected to our circumstances. It’s deeper than that. It’s grounded in our awareness of our salvation and rooted in our commitment and trust that God will take care of us. Paul writes, the “same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19, NLT)
The biggest enemy of joy is self-pity. It separates us from the stream of divine love and joy because it dislodges God from the center of our being and focuses us entirely on ourselves as the center of the universe.
From the photos that have come from the James Webb Space telescope, it is very clear that human beings are not the center of the universe. God has created a vast and magnificent creation and we are minuscule beings in the midst of it. The good news that leads to deep joy is that even as specks amid the mind-boggling expansiveness of God’s creation, God has chosen to love US, reach out to US, and offer US love, forgiveness, healing, and restoration.
And yet despite that truth, human beings are still remarkably prone to self-pity. Scripture emphasizes this. Take Elijah for example. God cared for him throughout his life and ministry – kept it from raining when Elijah asked for no rain – used ravens to bring him food for an entire year – provided a widow to hide him from his enemies – sent fire to Elijah’s altar when the priests of Baal were unable to create even a spark. Yet, when confronted with the prospect of facing Jezebel’s soldiers, Elijah’s memory of those experiences faded and he was filled with self-pity, certain that God had abandoned him.
A difficult truth to accept is that God doesn’t always work in the way we would like God to work. Even more important is the truth that just because God doesn’t work the way we would like doesn’t mean God isn’t working. Our joy comes not in the WAY God works; our joy comes in the confidence and trust THAT God works.
Following Jesus isn’t meant to be drudgery. It’s not meant to be a joyless experience of grim obligation. Following Jesus is a process filled with the kind of immense and deep-seated joy that comes when we are aware of our salvation and trust that God will stick with us and care for us come what may.
As you pray and fast this month, my prayer is that you would consistently make the connection between your faith and daily living; that the joy of your salvation would become visible, and that joy would become your best-known attribute rather than your best-kept secret.