Chances are good that you’ve experienced enough of life to know that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. We live in a broken world which seems to be getting more and more out of hand. But there is hope. Our broken world is loved by God and is being redeemed through the good work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. If you’re looking for it, things are actually getting better. You just have to see it with Kingdom eyes. As individuals find, follow, and become like Jesus, a whole community of renewal expands, helping to bring about the healing that will culminate in a new heavens and earth. There is reason for joy, not based on platitudes but on the gospel promise of Jesus. That which plagues the globe will not prevail, and time continues to march forward to an eventual healing of all things. Plug the joy meter into that outlet and you’re cookin’ (literally).
But oh, how we want to fix it now with superficial and ineffective ways which blatantly ignore the gospel. Well intended policies, plans, and procedures all fall short of the glory of God. Economic restructure and societal engineering promise what they cannot deliver. We don’t even know how to handle our scientific triumphs with responsibility. Atomic energy? Let’s make a bomb and regret it. Anti-bacterial soap? Let’s use so much that our immune systems forget how to count. The internet? Let’s connect with each other… via Ashley Madison. Try as we might, we can’t seem to create anything good without someone using it for evil. Even though we knot better, sometimes it’s like we’re supposed to be bad. Strangely enough, all we were trying to do was fix it in the first place.
You’d think we’d be joyful people, what with all the advances that have come in the last century. This is especially true for those who live outside the majority world of poverty and disease. With all this medicine and technology at our fingertips, what could we possibly want? Why aren’t we happy? Where’s the joy?
As we continue to live in abject isolation by mimicking authentic human interaction through social media, we grow more despondent. Our desperation drives us to acts of self-destruction, fear, or simply general malaise. We read the news, but only to find out what we should be afraid of. We binge watch Netflix, but only because our array of entertainment choices has paralyzed us, and finding just one show that “works” is much less work than skimming through endless virtual shelves, finding everything and nothing at the same time.
Here we are: hyper-advanced, hyper-connected, hyper-entertained. We’re hyper but we’re not happy. What does happiness even mean? Perhaps a better word would be joyful. Isn’t our advancement, connectivity, and entertainment motivated by our searching for something good, something decent, something right… something that might generate joy? The irony is thick: all of these tools for human expression and vitality are killing us. Selection and opportunity are making our choices impossible to make. What do we do? What do we watch? Do we…panic? Stock up? Change jobs? Move?
It’s called analysis paralysis. We know we’re supposed to choose something and use that as our framework for whatever decisions and actions we take afterward. If you think about it, we are motivated by only a few emotions. Fear, sadness, anger, and joy. Behold:
Fear: Fear is good because it keeps us alive. Fear unchecked is bad because it limits our choices beyond what we should reasonably be afraid of. Fear is a primary motivator in our world today. Fear is the emotion that stops us from taking risk. Following Jesus, by the way, is the biggest risk we will ever take.
Sadness: Sadness is good because it expresses our pain. Sadness unchecked is bad when it goes from a temporary expression to a permanent outlook. Sadness is usually the result of unmet expectations. Jesus was sad on several occasions. He fully expressed his sadness and then moved on. Some people struggle with expression. Others struggle with moving on.
Anger: Usually a secondary emotion, anger is what drives us to do something drastic as we’re responding to either 1) fear or 2) sadness. Anger is good because it moves us to take action by making things right. Anger unchecked is devastating and the source of much regret in our world. Jesus was angry in the temple, motivated partly by fear of God and partly by the sadness of seeing people be so off base. His anger got something done. I’ve been angry and said really stupid things. Anger is like dynamite which can be quite useful, say, for moving a mountain to build a freeway, or extremely destructive, like when someone uses it to harm themselves or others.
Joy: Sublime, complete, fulfilled, free — this is the ultimate human existence. Joy is what we were originally made for. Joy is good because it means we’ve found the sweet spot. Joy unchecked is… also good. Is it possible to be too joyful? Certainly someone could be too euphoric or too excited for their own good. But too joyful? Yes, people can be annoyingly fake happy or giggly. We’ve all been around people who are a little too effervescent. Could someone be actually too joyful?
Interesting. Of our list of four basic emotions, Joy stands out as the only kind that is entirely positive. Joy can’t be overdone or abused. Joy can’t be misdirected. Joy works in every circumstance. Joy is one strange bean.
Perhaps we should look to Jesus. Was Jesus a joyful person? A quick read of the gospel accounts all point to a solid “yes.” Children flocked to him. People of all different social levels were drawn to him. He made people laugh. He challenged people to think. He revealed the love of God, that most awesome and overwhelming and complete love that nothing else can even come close to. Throughout his earthly ministry, joy was the mode of Jesus. It’s how he rolled.
Even on his worst day, Jesus was motivated by joy. He didn’t go to the cross because he was afraid, nor did his fear keep him away from it. He didn’t die because he was sad, nor did his sadness about his own death stop the crucifixion. He had every right to be angry about the situation that we got him into, but the only anger in the mix was God’s righteous anger — fitting, considering the situation. No, the motivation for Jesus was love. In fact, Hebrews 12:1-2 puts it like this:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis added)
We often talk about the love of Jesus, the faithfulness of Jesus, and the humanity/divinity of Jesus. We should talk a bit about the Joy of Jesus, too, since that seems to be a central part of who He is. As a follower of His, I want whatever Jesus has. I want to be like Him, and it seems that His joy sustained Him in all things… even the worst possible thing, namely death on a cross.
Marilynne Robinson said “First, contemporary America is full of fear. And, second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” She’s absolutely right. If anything, joy should be a Christian habit of mind.
But how? Consider the facts:
Our reality is such that the brokenness of the world and the brokenness of our own selves pushes against authentic joy.
We tend to be motivated most by fear. Fear is our primary reaction to the world.
Jesus was motivated exclusively by joy, fueled by love. Joy is the primary reaction of Jesus to the world.
Which one do I want to be like? Me, as I am? Or Jesus, as He is?
The best choice, obviously, is to be like Jesus in our joy. We clearly have some things against us, starting with our own sinful nature. Jesus came to set us free from sin. We are bombarded by joy killers from a broken world. Jesus came to bring the renewal of all things. We have at our disposal a list of issues and resolutions. In fact, everything for our healing is addressed except for one part:
The choice. We have to choose it.
Philippians is a book of joy. It’s what happens when the joy of Jesus is carried out in life. It’s chock-full of joy chunks. Joy chunks fly everywhere as Paul writes from the heart of someone who chose joy. Paul wrote it, but the Holy Spirit inspired and preserved it for us. This series will look at just 10 chunks of joy found in the book of Philippians. May we be refreshed as we find the true source of joy (hint: it’s not inside us or in the world around us).
(Next: Chunk 1 — Philippians 1:1-11)