A friend of mine challenged me last week that I had no joy in my life. It was a good rebuke, even if he would say it wasn’t a rebuke, because it passed the single test for the goodness of a rebuke: rightness. He’s right; I have little to no joy in my life.
Some context. Our pastor has been teaching from the gospel of John, starting around the so-called Upper Room Discourse in chapter 13. In this gospel, Jesus makes it clear that we didn’t choose Him, but He chose us—specifically appointed us—to bear fruit. The verse that we’ve been reciting as a church body sums it up well (15:8): “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” Prove it. That’s the name of this sermon “series”.
The easy interpretation of what it means to bear fruit is to help widows and orphans and be good little boys and girls, but there’s just a wee bit more complexity to bearing fruit than any of the Pharisaical re-inventions du jour. As our pastor has been rightly teaching, by the power of the Holy Spirit every aspect of our lives may and must be impacted by God to bear fruit. And given this fact, it makes sense to learn and know what that fruit looks like. A good place to start is the famous Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit passage: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Every thought, every action, every attitude and every whatever can and should be measured against what God says about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And when the assistant pastor one Sunday urges everyone to invite and welcome these measurements in their lives by other believers, well, you end up with your buddy at McDonalds politely telling you that you’re missing the fruit of joy in your life.
Again, rebukes aren’t nearly as dangerous as we’ve made them out to be. The word now comes off our tongues with hesitancy, as if a rebuke is only a last ditch effort, the Big Boy strapped to the underside of the Enola Gay that flies nervously over the Hiroshima that is your unrepentant brother-in-Christ’s heart. But wounds from a friend can be trusted, at least that’s what God says, right? The reason rebukes are so hard for us to handle these days is that we give and receive them so rarely; they get easier through good and consistent use. So it may have been a slight hit to my pride to be reminded that I’m trudging through life with a bitter and cynical heart, but it was right and said with good intentions and at my own request.
The tricky part, though, still looms ahead. Whether you want to tell me to be joyful or to not be unjoyful, you’re in some respects spinning your wheels in the long run. It’s like telling someone they’re fat. They probably know it, and they may even know how to address it. (Or maybe not, which is why teaching, correcting, rebuking and training should always come as a package deal when possible. It’s not enough to tell someone their sins; discipleship involves time, involvement and getting your hands and jeans dirty). So being fat, as our example, is not something many people want to be, and yet it’s something that many people are.
As I’ve been thinking about it, joy isn’t my ultimate “problem” (sin), but a symptom of the lack of another fruit: patience…and another fruit that isn’t even on the Galatians 5 list, but is unarguably still a fruit: contentedness. My joy “problem” (in other words, the sinful lack of joy in my heart) isn’t that I haven’t been doing a good enough job of smiling a lot and willing myself to randomly erupt with loud and exuberant praise. [HALLELUJAH!] It’s that I am not content with where I am, and am impatient with a seemingly slow-moving God as I petition Him to move me to the place I’d like to be. Joy and contentedness are very intertwined. I might even say, as with many of the other types of fruit that God wants to see in our lives, that over the long-term one really doesn’t exist without the other.
Will I be joyful? I’m never going to be that (annoying, in my estimation) Teflon-coated guy that’s always happy and exudes gratefulness and sunshine smiles. But as God teaches me the secret of being content with a lot and/or a little, I’m sure the joy of the Lord will be more and more of my strength.