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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two Sides of the Story

The Bible speaks of a Christian’s joy as a deep thing. It is unshakable. Often, the stronger the Christian, the deeper and more abiding their joy.

A Christian’s willingness to serve should be practical and quick. The Christian who shows up at your door the moment you call, bringing help and a smile, is usually the experienced one.

These are two items all experienced Christians seem to have in common. Not all of them serve in the same way, and their joy doesn’t manifest itself in the same manner. Yet they have these two beautiful qualities and I don’t believe it’s an accident that both are evident in their lives. Service and joy, duty and happiness, these are two unshakable truths that tend to mark a Christian who lives like a Christian.

When I started writing Knight Duty, the third Dreaded King book, I had a vague idea of where I was going with it, but I wasn’t quite sure. This is where I ended up; that you have to have both these ideas to make the Christian life work like it is supposed to.

A man who lives for service and duty alone, and takes no joy in anything around him, is a man destined to grow weary and wearier still. We all burn out without joy. Without enjoying what we do, without laughter and fun, we all lose it. The world grows gray and drab and every service becomes a heavy, heavy chore. Every step becomes hard. Yet the Bible orders our service. “And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the LORD, and His statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” (Deuteronomy 10: 12-13) It’s everywhere you look in Scripture. Serve the Lord. Love the Lord, love Him practically, through service and doing His commands, and loving your neighbor. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3: 23-24) You cannot step away from reading the Scriptures without gaining this certain knowledge: we are required to serve the God who made us. As Anselm points out once, if to merely look one direction would save the entire universe from crumbling but God tells me, “do not look”? My duty is clear, it is better to let the universe disintegrate than to disobey even in a look. Our service is required.

But, of course, the universe doesn’t disintegrate when we do our service to our good God. It gets better. God’s orders repair the broken world around us, and inside of us, if we follow them. It’s not always easy to do our duty, but it is always better than the alternative. No, it’s not always easy… but when done as God intended, it doesn’t make our feet drag with weariness or the world turn to ashy gray.

“Rejoice in the Lord[1],” “Come before His presence with singing[2],” “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing[3],” “The joy of the Lord is your strength[4],” “In Thy presence is fullness of joy[5]”… The Bible is not a depressing book. People are singing and dancing all over the place in its pages. Yeah, it has its depressing chapters, but taken as a whole it is a book overflowing with hope, encouragement, joy, and just plain gladness. The God we serve is not a drab depressing one. Look at the Psalms; over and over again we see David cast down, depressed, worn out, stricken… then God comes, and what happens? Joy. Gladness. Dancing. Singing. Suddenly David can’t contain his joy inside his own soul, it’s so strong it just has to break out in some form or another.

We are required to serve, but when you look at the lives of Christians who actually do that, who really give their heart and soul to the God they love and strive to do their duty, you see lives filled to overflowing with joy. It’s an abiding thing. It’s an unshakable thing. No matter what comes and goes in life, there is always that deep joy that shines out in their words and the way they serve. There is one key thing with this joy that I want to mention, and it’s right in that first phrase cited: “Rejoice in the Lord.” There is a reason the Bible phrases it like this, again and again. Joy is misplaced if it is founded in anything less than the everlasting God. Take joy in entertainment, in friendship, even in family relationships, alone and it will fail you, wear you thin, and leave you hollow and wondering where you went wrong. Have you ever wondered why the unsaved who seem to have everything are still so miserable? It’s because of this right here, they rejoice in everything but the Lord. C.S. Lewis once drew the illustration of a child, building mud-pies in a filthy alley, who cries and begs not to be taken away from his dirt when his parents are trying to take him for a holiday at the seaside; the child doesn’t understand what he is in for, the great enjoyment of where he is going. That is the unsaved, but the Christian is the one with the seaside in their sights. This is the abiding joy of a Christian, that their joy is founded in a God who holds them fast and will never change. We are headed somewhere beautiful, brothers and sisters, and that gives joy even here, before we get there. “In His presence is fullness of joy…”

We have an innate desire built into us, we all want to have a good time. But we all also want to have a purpose. These two don’t have to be at cross-purposes! God says, “serve Me,” and when we watch people actually do it, they gain joy just from the doing. How is this possible? Here are just a few possibilities. When we love someone, making them happy makes us happy. It’s a fact, look at the sinless dog, they are happiest when they get praise from their master, or the innocent child staring up at their father waiting for a word of praise after a job well done. A sense of peaceful, happy well-being floods in when we make someone we love happy. Do you love God? Then doing what He commands should please you, because you know it pleases Him. There is also a joy that comes from the peace of a clear conscience, and the more ethereal joy with the peace of fulfilling the purpose you were created for. And of course there’s the fact that joy, laughter, singing, is not only allowed to us as Christians but expected. If we do it the right way, with our eyes focused on God and not the world, without neglecting our duties, we are perfectly allowed to let the good times roll.

These are two sides to the same story, two attributes of a single Christian life. Duty and joy, service and gladness. We shouldn’t be a drab people. And we shouldn’t be a lazy people. Look up, the world is a wonderful place, filled with people that need help, beauty waiting to be found, and joy lurking behind a thousand corners. Go do something for your God. He is watching to see your service, a smile on His lips, waiting to offer you the joy only He can give.  

[1] Psalm 33:1, Psalm 97:12, Isaiah 41:16, Isaiah 61:10, Joel 2:23, Habakkuk 3:18, Zechariah 10:7, Philippians 3:1, Philippians 4:4.
[2] Psalm 100:2.
[3] Psalm 30:11.
[4] Nehemiah 8:10.
[5] Psalm 16:11.

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