"Choose Joy" Now?
I've had lots of time to be alone in my house sorting stuff and cleaning and planning and dealing with contractors and workers . . .
So I listened to Jim Birchfield's Thanksgiving Service Meditation a couple of times, despite finding it somewhat annoying in the middle of all that I am not happy about to be told to just "choose joy" and to look for the blessing in the trial. I liked his message -- as I like most of what he does in preaching and teaching -- but something didn't sit right, and so I listened and sorted out what that was as I sorted physical stuff into boxes.
What I concluded was this: that I had a problem being told to "chin up" or "have a good attitude" or "keep the eternal perspective", but that I had no problem remembering that God is the writer of my story, and that my role is just to follow His instructions about what I do next and to trust Him that He is indeed in control of all the stuff I'm not in control of.
I have been through way too much over my life to buy the "put on a happy face if you're a good Christian" kind of line . . . and I don't think that Jim would sell that line, either! What we are called to do is just feel what we feel -- anger, depression, despair, grief, frustration, exhaustion, apathy, hope, peace, joy, love -- and still act in obedience, trusting that God does care about how we feel and has joy and abundant life as His goal for us. BUT -- it is real joy and real abundant life, not the "put on a happy face and pretend" kind of joy and abundant life.
So, what do we choose? Well, we choose to "trust and obey", just like the words of the wonderful song. And we tell Him honestly how we feel and what we want, but then we listen to His command in the midst of it and receive His comfort in the midst of it, and we become who He wants us to become and we do what He wants us to do -- in reality, right here and right now.
And by choosing to trust Him and do what He says -- about telling Him and ourselves the truth about how we really feel in it all, and about loving the people around us fully -- we find that we have chosen authentic joy and authentic abundant life. We find that we can see the blessing in the hard situations of life, because we can see Him and come to know Him well enough that we do indeed trust Him based on a lifetime of experiences that teach us that our trust is founded.
So choosing joy and choosing to see the blessing in the hard situations is not an act, and cannot really be accomplished by just "choosing joy" or "choosing to have the right attitude". Authentic joy and authentic abundant life get thrown away if we put on that act that isn't based on what's actually the condition of our hearts.
The way to real joy and to real abundant life is through the "vale of tears" that scripture and hymn-writers talk about. We don't have to display the tears and anger and frustration indiscriminately, but we do need to feel them and to share them openly with the Triune God in prayer and with anyone else that He directs us to open up to. There is no way to real joy and peace without wading through that river of anger or despair or depression when it is there in front of us. God doesn't fly us over the river just because we "choose joy". But He will walk us through the river with a tight grip on us when He calls us to go there, and He will share our negative emotions fully. (He can fully empathize, you know, because He has truly been there as a human just like you and me, and even now has a real human body, although it is the perfected resurrected body that we do not yet possess.)
We can "choose joy"! We can "see the blessing in the trial"! When we choose to affirm our trust in the Triune God and submit to the reality of the life He gives each of us -- in honest confession of what we love about it and what we hate about it and what we want Him to change right now and what we are angry at Him for doing or for not doing -- and obey in His leading toward action where He gives us something to do and obey in His leading to wait when He calls us to wait . . . that is choosing joy and will give us eyes to really truly see the blessings of our lives even when they are not what we would have chosen.
But let's not ever believe that God calls us to "put on a happy face" and pretend for the world that things are what we know they are not if we are honest with ourselves. Living in the light of the TRUTH Himself allows us to own all the pain of life without fear of being discovered to be people who need a Savior. We do need a Savior, and we have One, and He is working so that our joy is complete and our life is full and abundant, and so that all creation will testify to His transforming power in bringing that about.
So . . . "Choose Joy" now by whatever "right here, right now" kingdom living requires. Just know that it never requires you to lie to yourself or to God, and it will not -- on this side of the grave -- result in a life without pain, tears, and anger. But know also that all of that is part of what He is using to bring His Kingdom in all its fullness as He fulfills our request that His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as fully as it is in heaven.
Thank you, Jesus, for your gift of real abundant life! Don't let any of my readers settle for pretend abundant life when your real version is available to them . . . right here and right now!