Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Strange joy

How many people would describe you as 'strangely joyful'?  The world understands joy only on its own terms.  Today is Halloween, and some of my neighbors are finding joy in decking out their houses and yards with images and decorations which glorify fear and death.  Others are simply joyful to be back in their homes, or joyful that their kids are doing well in school, or that they're physically well or prospering financially or have escaped the ravages of Hurricane Sandy.  Those joys are natural.

But uniquely Christian joy is different.  Our joy, found in heavenly realities, strikes the world as altogether strange.  Joseph's positive perspective on his imprisonment (Gen. 50), David's contented trust in spite of 'the shadow of death' (Ps. 23), Daniel's peace in the face of threatening kings and vicious lions (Dan. 6) and persecuted Christians who 'joyfully accepted the plunder of their property' for the sake of Christ because 'they knew they had a better possession and a lasting one' (Heb. 10) - these joys are strange; they're utterly supernatural.  This joy is uniquely Christian.

In his book The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit, Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646), goes to great lengths to describe why and how every Christian should stand out in the world as strangely joyful.  The joy of unbelievers, which vacillates each hour, is predictable because it is based upon the transient joys of the world.  As I think about how my own joy vacillates too much with the winds of earthly change, I've found his book helpful.  For instance, he writes,
The spirit of a true Christian lives upon other, higher comforts.  The life of a dog is maintained by carrion, the life of a swine by swill, but what does a man care for these?  Each source of food is suitable to the creature...Though the men of the world, living by sense and lust, have no other comforts to feed upon but such as are suitable to them, yet the godly, having a life that has higher and more noble principles, feed upon higher and more noble comforts.
The joys of the spirits of the godly are like the light of the sun, fed by heavenly influence; but the joys of other men are as the light of a candle, fed by base and stinking matter....If Christians are often sad, it is because they meddle too much with things below....A Christian can sing in the rain, rejoice in loss and dance in adversity.  A Christian can rejoice when the world cannot, in the same way that a bee can suck honey out of a flower that a fly cannot do.
As Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:16, "Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father Who loves us, has given us eternal consolation."  What?  Did Jesus Christ come into the world, suffer so many sorrows and miseries, die such a painful death and all only to bring us to a more sorrowful estate than before we knew His grace?  May it never be!  (pp. 42-45)
So, I ask you again, are you a strangely joyful person?  If our joys are simply those of the world around us, we will never shine as lights, pointing others toward Christ, the true Source of joy.  Today, on this day of earthly darkness, may He fill us with the light of holy, otherworldly joy.

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