Richard Foster, in his book Freedom of Simplicity shares this observation about obedience to God, “Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be lighthearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride. Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry. Utter abandonment to God is done freely and with celebration. And so I urge you to enjoy this ministry of self-surrender. Don’t push too hard. Hold this work lightly, joyfully.” Foster argues that Christians should be joyful people. That celebration and happiness are some of the hallmarks of Christianity. And although being a Christian, or being a disciple, is not always easy, it is an endeavor that should bring joy to life. Not a superficial happiness and giddiness, but a true inner sense of joy and peace that radiates out of one’s life no matter the present circumstances.
Sadly I fear that we in the church have sometimes missed the mark when it comes to a joy filled life of communion with God. I understand that it is an over simplification or exaggeration to lump all of Christianity together and label all Christians less than joyful or to assume that what is apparent in one community is true of all communities or that what might be an accurate label of Christians in the United States would automatically be true of Christians in other countries like China or parts of Africa. And I also understand the dangers of trying to judge the heart based on external observations only. However, I have been in too many services where songs like “Oh Happy Day” and “The Joy of the Lord” sound more like funeral dirges than expressions of gratitude. And I have been around too many Christians who say, “I can’t find the time to read my Bible for fifteen minutes a day,” that I wonder if we are focused on what really matters. And I fear we’ve forgotten that of all people we should be the most joyful and happy people in the world. Serving others should bring joy to our hearts. Following God should be a blessing and not a burden. Bible reading and prayer should never feel like a chore that must be completed but as an opportunity to spend time with the King of the Universe.
There are times when we have a tendency to view Christianity as what we can’t do as opposed to how life was meant to be lived. We view Christianity as a set of rules to be followed instead of guidelines for how to get the most out of life. We view obedience to God as a tightrope that must be walked making sure we don’t veer too far to the right or to the left instead of a reaction of gratitude and a response to the blessings we have received in Christ.
Now, I’ve never met a Christian who was not thankful for the blessings of God. I’ve never met a Christian who would not proclaim how grateful they were that Jesus went to the cross and died for their sins. And I’ve never met a Christian who would say “I only serve God because I have to.” Yet I can’t help but wonder if too many of us, myself included, go through the motions and serve and read and obey out of a sense of duty far more often than we care to admit. We serve, but we do it reluctantly because we feel obligated. We read our bibles, but only when we can find the time or it is convenient. We sing, but not always with a smile in our hearts, or on our face.
Maybe we need to be reminded of the words of the Psalmist, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Psalm 32:1) Maybe we need to be reminded of all that we have to be thankful for, of all the wonderful blessings God has bestowed on us. Maybe we need to be reminded that no matter how difficult our days may be we are loved by God, and that is worth smiling about. We should be a happy people. We should be a joyful people. We should be a people who always have a smile on our face and a song in our heart.
What would happen if we were always so happy that people noticed? What would happen if we radiated joy to such an extent that other people stopped to ponder where this happiness comes from? How would relationships at work change (or school, or at a restaurant) if we were always smiling because we were reminded that we were forgiven by God?
I am convinced that the more we come to understand just how much we are loved by God the happier and more joyful we will become. Not because we are always happy or because life is always easy. But because we will know, at the very core of our being that God loves us and forgives us and redeems us and saves us. And when we understand those truths we can’t help but be joyful, not superficially, but abundantly, pouring out from every ounce of our being.