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Joy to the World, the Lord is Come

September 19, 2012

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. — Proverbs 17:22

Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. — Mother Teresa

C. S. Lewis titled his conversion autobiography Surprised by Joy, using the phrase from a poem by William Wordsworth. The feeling overtook him in a series of realizations as he examined the philosophical weakness of his previous atheism. From intellectual considerations and weighing of pros and cons, he was catapulted into pure joy with the conversion of his heart to belief in Christ. He experienced Christian Joy – a bliss in the depth of the soul from the understanding and appreciation of our position in God’s kingdom. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. The title above of the famous Christmas carol does not mean that everyone in the world will experience joy because of Christ’s coming, but that it is only because He came that any real joy is possible in the world at all.

Why then do some Christians, particularly those most serious about their beliefs, struggle with sour attitudes about life? – not often in a form of depression or sadness but more frequently in a judgmentalism toward others and/or a legalism toward themselves and their spouses and children? Martyn Lloyd Jones once said “Some people think Christianity or religion is scorning at everything that gives someone joy.” Should strong Christians not have even more joy in their lives than secular humanists who struggle to find something meaningful to do with their lives? I believe there are many traps set especially for Christians in our postmodern world which can steal our joy, or blind us to our reasons for it:

Christians’ eyes have been opened to the emptiness of most of the world’s pursuits, and yet we see our nation driving toward those goals headlong, no matter the debt levels required. Believers who have been convicted to take every thought captive to Christ are saddened to see the world entering our churches via computer games and music videos. We are heartbroken to see families fall for the Myth of Having it all, chipping away at their focus on raising their children. Christians who have been convicted to teach our children at home are daily reinforced in that decision by ever-growing moral and academic decay in both public and private schools. We see our great nation, which was founded on the moral foundation of Christianity, now chiseling away at that very foundation and rewriting history to deny there was ever a Christian basis for it in the first place. We understand the clear teachings of the Bible about same-sex sin and abortion, and yet we see our world pushing both under the banner of Progress. And yet – as has been noted…

Early Christians did not complain “Look what the world has come to”, but instead marveled “Look who has come to the world!”

On a more personal level, strong Christians want to be lights in the world, and we know our children will be watched closely for any missteps. Neighbors, coworkers and family members are sometimes put on the defensive about their own life choices simply by being in the presence of a family with convictions, and would like nothing better than to find a chink in the armor of a religious family to validate that their own lifestyle has led to no worse results. And among other homeschooled families there is a temptation to perfection which can lead individuals to create false veneers in order to avoid demonstrating any failure – after all it can be embarrassing to put so much effort on “the right priorities” and still fall short, right? And yet, we know that:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God -– Romans 3:23

I believe the lack of joy and an unhealthy focus on “good behavior” can be an extremely damaging thing even in a strong Christian household. … Damaging to the family, as children raised in such a household may be more tempted to rebel violently as teens or adults. Even if they are somehow saved by grace, they will have few reasons to emulate their parents’ decisions, and likely a good deal of resentment to push them far away. … Damaging to their friends, neighbors and family, as a counter-testimony that may drive many to harden their hearts against the gospel. This is tragic since it is only by the power of the gospel that any of us are separated from the very kinds of sin that we’re often so quick to judge!

Even if this kind of damage is avoided, it remains a tragic circumstance for an individual or a family to be trapped in this kind of cycle. What is the solution? Should we care about fewer issues and be open-minded on more – take “fewer thoughts captive” so there will be fewer news stories to feel sad about? No – syncretism with the world will not lead to joy but to lukewarm faith – something of which there is already far too much in the world. Should we drop our cares about our own family’s testimony and not worry if we represent hypocrisy? No – laziness is not a path to joy by any means.

There must be the keenest sense of duty, and with it must go the joy of living. There must be shame at the thought of shirking the hard work of the world, and at the same time delight in the many-sided beauty of life. — Teddy Roosevelt, introduction to his autobiography

I believe that our focus should be on our own hearts. Of course we should absolutely judge discerningly between life choices, and take every thought captive – but WHY? Let us judge decisions and intellectual concepts seriously – this world is engulfed in a war of worldviews and we must be stalwart. But our judging should be focused on ideas, and be coupled with showing care and Christian love to others no matter whether they agree with us. Did Jesus not teach us:

And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not the Gentiles do the same? — Matthew 5:47

Focusing on our own hearts is also a key for adopting a healthy attitude about our own family’s behavior and testimony. Are we focused so much on how we are perceived that we’re training our children to outward conduct? Of course our children should want to be lights to the world, and we want that for our children – but WHY? Not to maintain an image that they or their parents or their churches have in mind, but in gratitude and obedience to their savior and in love for others, that they might plant or water a seed in someone else’s life which might lead to the growth of faith? Again the words of our Lord, this time addressing the Pharisees, the judgmental legalistic enemies of joy during His time on earth:

First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may also be clean. — Matthew 23:26

Restoring joy to our homes does more than increase our enjoyment of life and comfort – it restores the fruit of the Spirit and heart attitude that we should always have, one of bliss in the depth of the soul from the understanding and appreciation of our position in God’s kingdom.

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