Joy, joy, joy, is there still joy in The Salvation Army?

Joy, joy, joy, is there still joy in The Salvation Army?

by Bob Docter –

I sure hope so! Have you got some?

If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy …

… finish that sentence.

If you want joy in your life, you must put it there. It is a gift from God—a gift, and gifts have to be opened.

Why are too many Christians at such enmity with joy? Sometimes, I conclude that many of those who consider themselves highly devout seem to believe that some kind of sin exists in the expression of strong, intense feelings of unbound joy.

Where’d that idea come from? I don’t know—maybe it’s a leftover from the Puritan ethic.

Guilt and punishment
I think too many who feel compelled to move toward Christianity are motivated by guilt. This, obviously, works to push them in the right direction. Unfortunately, however, they are often unable to release the guilt and, therefore, can’t accept the notion of forgiveness without punishment. They consume the remainder of their lives with self-punishment. They seem to refuse to accept the reality of an absence of perfection in their own life and assign the same failure to others. This culture unquestionably demands punishment. Forgiveness takes a back seat.

At least, look pious
Additionally, they believe that either they must be pious or look pious. To them, piety is best represented by an absence of joy. They appear stern, without humor, deeply burdened by the weight of their own judgmentalism concerning the sins of humanity including their own. They become rule-based, legalistic. They’re not Jesus wandering through a Sabbath field munching picked seed. They’re John the Baptist wailing in the middle of the desert in sack cloth and ashes.

Even Frederic Nietzche, son of a Protestant minister and certainly no advocate of Christianity, when asked what he thought about Jesus said: “His disciples should look more redeemed.”

Distrustful of nature
The beauty of the gifts of God’s creation—nature, are undervalued, undefined and not understood. “Seen one tree, you’ve seen ‘em all.”

These joyless worshippers seem distrustful of nature, wary of its unpredictability and unwilling to protect it. They certainly aren’t Wordsworth composing lines a few miles above Tintern Abbey where he wrote:

I have learned
To look on nature, not in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing often-times
The still, sad music of humanity,
Not harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.

Happiness, pleasure and pain
They don’t seem to know what joy is. They can’t define it and confuse it with such things as happiness, or pleasure, or the absence of pain. Life’s goal seems to be for many to escape pain and maximize pleasure. If this is your goal, I urge you to abandon it. Life’s a lot more. How long has it been since you have smelled a rose?

Pleasure is ephemeral—it’s fleeting. It’s like excitement—a burst. In reviewing Paul Tillich’s book The New Being, Ted and Winnie Brock write for Religion online: “If we desire something because of the pleasure we may get out of it, we may get pleasure, but we shall not have joy. If we try to use someone to protect us from pain, he may protect us from pain but he will not protect us from sorrow. Joy is possible only when we are driven towards things and persons because of what they are and not because of what we can get from them.”

Happiness can be less fleeting than pleasure, but it’s not nearly as deep as joy. It’s a state of mind that relies on various conditions—some internal, some external. It will not remain present in the absence of joy.

Jesus, on the way to Gethsemane, only hours from his betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion, seizes a last opportunity to share his thoughts with his disciples (see John 15-16). He repeats to them again to love one anotherto bear fruit—fruit that will last by remaining attached to the true vine—and that his joy may be in them and that their joy may be complete.

Joy, you see, is fulfillment—becoming a complete person—a completion of promises made, of responsibilities accepted, of persevering in the face of major difficulties, of full and complete involvement in the “little things of life,” of bearing fruit, of respecting the creator and his creation. Joy is deeply spiritual. It awakens the soul. It triggers feelings and thoughts deep within us, a “presence that disturbs” us.

On occasion I weep with joy as tears fill my eyes and the immensity of love overwhelms me. In those times I am blessed—and I rejoice.

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