Joy


The LORD will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121: 8

 

This may not be what everyone has in mind when they consider a relationship with God. The degree of watchfulness on the Lord’s part that is indicated here is just too close and way too personal for our tastes as there are times when the idea that God sees it all is not very comfortable. In other words, we want to be invisible from time to time, and a God who has His hands on all of my life isn’t going to just ignore what I am about during those days of desired secrecy. Yet, there is a tension implied in all of this, too, for there are many situations and events when I really do want God in His power and with His strength to be watching over my life and guarding my pathway from harm.

 

In truth we cannot have it both ways. We do not get to select which aspects of life are under God’s view and within His area of involvement; rather, He is all in with our existence, and the Lord is fully engaged in the total package that forms the comings and the goings of life. There is no place where He does not go, and we cannot enter into activities or even have thoughts that He is not aware of. So, for me, I have needed to come to grips with the fact that God sees and will engage with everything that I do, say, and think. This part of my reality has caused me to consider the nature and the character of God more closely, for it brings out the question of my comfort with His proximity to my innermost self.

 

When I do carefully consider who God is and contemplate His nature deeply, the eyes of my heart are opened up to the fact that there is simply no one else who I would want to be that close to me. The Lord loves me with an unceasing depth of commitment that is not possible to match elsewhere, and He cares about the nature and the quality of my life to the degree that He has already sacrificed His all in order to redeem me from the pain of death that I so fully deserved. This God, who watches over each of my steps and who places His mighty hand of protection over my head every moment of my days, provides me with guidance and with the wisdom of eternity to use in considering the next steps that I will take. As I yield myself to His will, my Lord takes me into the glory of His will, and with God as my guardian and my counselor, my days are lived out in a form of freedom and peace that is empowering and joyous beyond all imagining.

On God rest my salvation and my glory;

my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Psalm 62: 7

 

Life in this world requires people to work hard. It’s a promise that rapidly becomes a fact of life. Effort, sweat and tears, and stress and strain are in the offing for each of our days. So, it is no wonder at all that people would hold fast to the idea that something really big like salvation needs to come our way through the most significant and intense of all of our labor. How else could it be when everything that we obtain of value or real worth is acquired and achieved by God’s promised “sweat of our face?”1

 

Yet, that is not the way that the Lord intends for it to be. He has taken on the burden of saving us from our state of being lost. Jesus put out the immeasurable effort for the sakes of each of us so that we could return to the full presence of God by the profound yet simple act of faith and obedience that is found in believing in Christ. Redemption from the death that sin cast upon everyone of us is ours because God desires to be intimately close to each of us, and so He took the burden and the pain of eternal sacrifice upon His own flesh for us. Now, as redeemed beings, our labor has a new meaning and purpose.

 

In this life we still need to work, for we are required to be active agents for the care and the utilization of the resources that God has provided to us on earth. The Lord also sends us out into our world to do work for the sake and the glory of His kingdom. Yet, the effort that we put forth in this manner has nothing to do with our salvation or even with our status in God’s eyes. All that we do as followers of Christ is to be done out of the security and the confidence that we have as Christ’s redeemed people and God’s beloved children. Thus, the effort that we put out is not fueled and powered by personal capability or capacity, but rather, it is accomplished because Christ is in us and His strength, wisdom, love, and grace are supplied to us in unending abundance. In Christ we can truly and fully rest.

 

  1. Genesis 3: 19

Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright.

Psalm 33: 1

 

The sound that comes out when I open my mouth and start to sing may not please everyone, but that shouldn’t stop me from singing. The words to the song may become confused or a bit jumbled at times, but I should continue to hum along until they become clear again. Music has a way about it that makes everything seem better, and it also tends to penetrate deep into the center of things in a way that connects and that joins people together.

 

God is pleased to hear the music that we make; yet, we don’t even need to make a sound in order for Him to appreciate it, for the Lord hears the vibrations that come from our hearts, too. He knows when we are seeking to follow the truth of the word and when we are surrendering our will and our self-determined interests to the Lord’s greater purpose. The simple footsteps of people who are following the straight path of righteousness through the day set off vibrations that resonate throughout the world with the song of salvation.

 

As each of us chooses to sing the words of life that God gives to us, we become part of a great choir of voices that will be heard above all of the noise that our world sets off to oppress people and to confuse their thinking. When we open our hearts with expressions of thanks to God for all that He is and everything that He does, the beauty of His presence radiates out from us, and our heart’s song will cause others to desire to join the chorus.

 

And Mary said, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1: 38

 

Here she is; the young woman, really a girl still, who has encountered a form of being that has been nothing more than a fantastical image that exists only in the stories that her grandmothers tell. Now an angelic figure has told her that her life will never be the same; for, she will become a central figure in the singular world-changing event of all time. Whatever dreams, hopes, and plans she had formed would need to be set aside, and events that she could not begin to comprehend were to become her reality. This is the definition of a life turned upside down.

 

Mary’s response is what is so amazing. She hears the sort of news that would send most of us running for cover or at least to the safety of family or friends, and she opens her heart and her mind to the will of the Lord. This is faith, and this faith requires that Mary trust God to a degree that cannot be solely taught. Mary has heard the voice of the Lord speaking to her heart, and she has surrendered her life to His loving will; so, she says, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord.” She is ready and willing to lay it all on the line for her God. Mary enters into a journey without a known destination, and she does this with peace and with joyous anticipation settled well upon her heart.

 

How is it that this young, teen-aged woman who is the product of such a humble, small town upbringing would be so well prepared to surrender herself in the most absolute way possible to do what God was calling her to do? That same question rings loudly in my ears as I think about Mary and consider the fact that her faith stands as a crucial aspect in establishing the way for me to exist in intimate relationship with Christ. Mary did what she did because she trusted God and had an unshakable faith in Him. Christ speaks to me, and He asks me to respond to His much simpler request to love others, to share Him, and to live righteously with the same total surrender and joy that Mary had. O, Lord let me answer, “Be it done to me according to your word.”

 

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

2 Peter 1: 16

 

This was a literal fact for Peter; as, he had been there, and he had walked with Jesus on a daily basis for several years.  Additionally, Peter was there when Christ overcame the ultimate end of human life by defeating death, itself; then, Peter experienced Christ in a form that transcended this world and that clearly demonstrated the presence of heaven in the midst of his earthly life. However, I wasn’t there, and you weren’t there, either; in fact, almost all of the people who have read Peter’s words did not have the opportunity to meet Jesus while He was living on this earth as a human. Yet, it seems that I can claim what Peter is saying as my own truth.

 

This is a part of the great mystery that is God come to dwell among His people as one of us. Although, this was an event that took place in history, and by all of the rules of nature, it is something that should bound by time and by place; that is not the reality of our relationship with Christ. He is every bit as real and as tangibly so for me as He was for Peter. Christ walks with me through my day; for, He is both in me and in my world. In fact, it seems that I have become integrated with Him. Once in Christ, He defines who we are, and Christ invites us to live each day with Him in the majesty of heaven.

 

There is no cleverness required, and the story of Christ in this world does not need to be written by people using well crafted phrases and creative story telling; for, the story of Christ is told in and through the lives of the multitudes of people who know Him, and who He has claimed as His own. My Lord, Jesus Christ, is clearly present to me in my entire world. He speaks to my heart, and He informs my mind. Christ lifts me from the depths of the darkness that continually swirls about in this world, and He fills my soul with His glorious warming light. Christ is as alive and present in my world as He was in Peter’s, and His majesty fills my days with abundant hope, joy, and peace.

 

I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.

John 14: 18

 

Isolation, separation, and being alone are states that cause most of us concern. We don’t like to go it on our own even if we put up a front that says to the world, “I am fine, and I have it all handled.” This just isn’t really true, and its lack of sincerity comes about because God didn’t make us to travel through life as individual actors who have everything we need to live well. We were made for relationships with other people, with the rest of creation, and especially for direct engagement with God. This is how the first humans lived as they went about their days in the near perfection of the garden, and God’s desire to be in continual relationship with us is one of the great and miraculous aspects of that account of our beginnings in that He set into motion a fully fleshed out plan for both ongoing engagement with us but also for permanent restoration of the original form of relationship with all of Creation.

 

Yet, life does get in the way. Our own capacity to think, process, and analyze disrupt our peace and calm. We act badly toward others, and they act likewise toward us; so, the bonds of care and affection that once held us together are severed. There may even be a divide and conquer sort of ethos at work in the world at large that seeks to cause people to accentuate our relational pain so that we move away from others when things get challenging and we too easily abandon the person rather than entering into the hard work of processing through the hurts and seeking restoration of the relationship through honest confession and forgiveness. To add to the difficulty that many people have in coming together and staying together with others, most of us have aspects of our personalities that are simply hard for others to handle. So, we move away from those who we have been close to, and this allows room in our hearts and in our minds for this world’s ideas and concepts of love and relating to enter in and to take hold of our thinking. This is also a state of mind and of heart where we often move away from God and out of the counsel of His word of truth.

 

This is where that great and miraculous promise that God made in the garden becomes even more powerful and important. God gave us Himself in the person of Jesus, the Christ, as the final and complete means by which all people could be returned to full and undiminished relationship with God. The powers of this world attempted to disrupt and this restorative work and to destroy the means for its continuation, but they were utterly defeated in this attempt. In Jesus’ statement above we have His reiteration of God’s unending commitment to continue in close engagement with us through all of time and in all circumstances and situations. Jesus may have left this world in the flesh, but He is present in the most real sense possible in the all-knowing, all-seeing, and fully engaged manner that the Spirit dwells with and in us. As we are in Christ, we are never alone in this world. We are fed by His truth, counseled by eternal wisdom, and provided with the companionship of the Great Shepherd. Additionally, we are provided with a family of faith to join in with as we journey through life, and Christ in Spirit and in God’s Word gives to us the tools and perspective to use in working through the conflicts and the challenges of living with other people. None of us are alone in this life when we know Christ. He is with us always and in everything, and Christ desires for us to know His presence, to express its joy, and to remain in the center of His peace throughout our days.

Declare his (the LORD’s) glory among the nations,

his marvelous works among the peoples!

Psalm 96: 3

 

The writer of this psalm has stated that God’s people will declare their relationship with God by singing; in fact, they are commanded to do that. I understand that song is powerful and that singing touches us in ways that simply saying words does not. Singing reaches into our emotions and sets our hearts into motion, and it seems to reach deep inside both the singer and the hearer of the song to engage places and to bring about responses that are unique and profound. Yet, I doubt that the actual intent in these words was to turn life into a musical play style of existence where messages, at least the important ones, are delivered by choruses made up of ordinary people going about their daily lives. This sort of thing makes sense on the stage or in film, but causes genuine confusion and even chaos when it happens on city streets.

 

Yet, the ideas here are important ones, and they are the sorts of things that matter to God. He wants for us to be people who desire to sing out about our relationship with Him. He engages with us and with all the rest of creation in a manner that is more than worthy of the highest praise possible. The presence of Christ in me and His involvement with my life is such that He is the source of all joy, peace, and goodness; thus, my Lord is the reason that there are songs for me to sing. Still, I think that the songs here have a different form so that their nature is made up of an alternative type of melody and lyric to those of traditional music. The writer is telling us that our lives are songs and that the content of those lives, when lived in service to God’s will, is itself a poem that has been set to the eternal music of heaven.

 

When Christ brings about this sort of expression in us, we move beyond the boundaries of place, culture, and language and into humanity’s common ground of love, care, and relationship. The Lord is calling to His people to specifically and deliberately take the expression of our joy that comes out of our relationship with Him out into the world around us so that the hymn of praise that naturally comes forth from us will be on view for all around us to see and to hear. This should lead to questions about this unnatural response to a life that does not always go as we would desire or plan, and these questions provide the opportunity for us to tell about the love of Christ, the redemption that comes through knowing Him, and to invite others to join us in the chorus of praise that we have been declaring openly as we travel through the day.

 

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