Jubilee Community Church • October 06, 2022
Three things interact with each other as I sit down to type to you. I call them things because they comprise an event and words. This past weekend I was honored to speak at Bethlehem College and Seminary’s inaugural Godward Life Conference. I want to encourage you to mark your calendars for it next year. It was an excellent time for intergenerational ministry aimed at ages and stages across the board. The plenary talks centered around Piper’s mountain of a book called The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God. Piper starts his book with a quote from Henry Scougal, who wrote, “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” That is worth giving your thumbs a break from doom-scrolling to sit and ponder over for some time. Piper takes Scougal and extends his thought toward God. “If it is true for man, may it not also be true for God? Is it not also the case that the worth and excellency of God’s soul is to be measured by the object of his love?” This question produces the title of his book. What are the pleasures of God? What is the object of his love? Piper then explains that the object of God’s love, the pleasure of God, rightfully is himself, for if there were a more excellent object, then God would cease to be God. This matters a lot for a ton of reasons. I recommend the book to you, so you find out. One reason why it matters is that our joy depends on God’s happiness. It is God’s happiness in himself that is the foundation of Christian happiness, Piper writes, as he unpacks it another way in Desiring God, “Can you imagine what it would be like if the God who ruled the world were not happy? We would relate to God like little children who have a frustrated, gloomy, dismal, discontented father. They can’t enjoy him. They can only try to bother him, or maybe try to work for him to earn some little favor…Children can’t enjoy the fellowship of their Father if He is unhappy.”
Joy is on my mind for two reasons this morning. First, over the years, I have aimed to get acquainted with an author named Frederick Buechner (I’ve heard it pronounced Beekner). I came across a quote of his this morning concerning joy — “We tend to think that religion is sitting stiff and antiseptic and a little bored and that joy is laughter and freedom and reaching out our arms to embrace the whole wide and preposterous earth which is so beautiful that sometimes it nearly breaks our hearts. We need to be reminded that at its heart Christianity is joy and that laughter and freedom and the reaching out of arms are the essence of it. We… are made for joy and anyone who is truly joyous has a right to say that he is doing God’s will on this earth. Where you have known joy, you have known him.“ What stood out to me is that “the heart of Christianity is joy", which I take to mean happiness. Connecting Piper above, how can that not be the case?
The second reason that joy is on my mind is that sometimes, if I can keep it real, it seems like joy is hard to come by when life brings circumstances that I didn’t order to my table. My message at the conference was on God’s happiness in his sovereignty and providence. I probably should say that it can be hard for joy to come when in God’s wise providential plans, circumstances arise that I don’t care for. Tuesday morning, I entered a place of struggling with joy as we tasted the brokenness of this world afresh through someone breaking into and vandalizing our car. I can’t say I felt happy then or even now as we stare at the process and hassle of having the vehicle fixed due to someone else’s sinfulness. Here is the third thing that is swirling in my mind, interacting with each other. David Mathis’ words comfort me when the thoughts arise that since I claim to be a Christian whose happiness rests on God’s happiness, I should be a champion at having joy, even in trying situations. "Shame on you," the accusatory thoughts ring loud in my head, "because you shouldn’t struggle with having joy the way you are if, truly, you are in the one who is happy himself.”
In his recent article Not by Head Alone: The Warm Heart of Justification, Mathis writes that joy in God grows with time. In the season of life where joy and happiness in God wanes and is challenged, it is good to know that joy can grow where it has withered due to the brokenness of this world. Joy can spring forth like flowers after a cold winter of trying circumstances. More biblically stated, joy can spring up IN and DURING the cold winds of trying circumstances. Favorable circumstances are not the foundation of a Christian’s joy. Our happy God is the foundation of our joy, which grows with time and is the heart of Christianity.
Praying for your happiness in God come what may, Jubilee,