A few thoughts on Joyful Obedience

Here I am, back in Wisconsin after a wonderful weekend attending a wedding and visiting friends in our beloved state of Colorado.  The Lord has been teaching me a lot here, but most of all I think I have been learning about joy. And as I just finished Ann Voskamp’s wonderful book One Thousand Gifts, I have been thinking and meditating on it even more than usual. Here are a few verses that have stuck out in my mind while reading Proverbs the past few months.

“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.” Proverbs 15:13

“All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.” Proverbs 15:15

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

I used to think these verses were simply different ways of saying the same thing; that joy makes us happy.  The past few months have showed me more clearly than ever what a shallow perception that is of the work that joy does in our lives. I have read One Thousand Gifts and seen the struggles and successes of my sister Ann Voskamp as she learns to count every moment as a Gift, and to be thankful and live a joyful life as a result. I have been encouraged by my sister Emily P. Freeman in A Million Little Ways to pursue the ways God calls me to uniquely worship him through the Art of my every day living, and how I don’t have to shut down my desires, but in fact, I must recognize those desires for the gifts they are from the Lord and I must also become fully and joyfully alive as my unique self in order to better glorify God. And then I read these verses in the Proverbs and I see that Joy is the water we are thirsty for. Joy feeds us when we are suffering and starving. Joy is the medicine we need when we are sick and dying; when our bones decay from the inside out.

I had always though to joy as the feeling you get when a glimpse of heaven comes to earth; when the sun shines through the golden leaves of the trees on a wedding day as a bride comes over the hill in a horse drawn carriage to meet her groom on their wedding day. (Yes this actually happened on Saturday! What a fairy tale!)  And true, that is a joyful moment! But heaven comes to earth in so many ways; and that is why Jesus has given the commands that he does in this passage in John.

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one that this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:10-13 (emphasis added)

His greatest commandments; to love God and to love people. How do we perform this love? Sacrifice.  Of course you’re thinking, “Yes Grace, you’ve blogged about this before, Love is Sacrifice, we get it, yada yada.”  No. This is what I am telling you.  Love is sacrifice, but sacrifice is what brings us an even greater joy.

Are you with me? I’m not talking about a heavenly joy that we’ll get as a reward for all the do-gooding we did in this life. But I’m talking about a heaven-on-earth kind of joy that is meant for the here and now. And it comes in this obedience, in this sacrificial love, that is where we find the joy that turns our sickly bodies into instruments of grace.  And it comes in that moment; true joy comes with the pursuit of loving God and loving people well.

That means that just as there is joy in spending a glorious Saturday with a best-friend coffee date, a baby shower and a wedding, there is also joy in the day where you spend your time wiping poopy bottoms and attempting to tackle the seemingly endless piles of laundry and dishes. Jesus says there is! He wants to give us the joyful life, even here on earth. Even in the middle of the mundane. Even in the midst of suffering. Even when the days are dark and it seems like the world has swallowed every last shred of light. He commands us to love one another and to sacrifice, not just because he’s the boss and he has the right to tell us what to do, but because he wants us to have the joy that he has. There is joy in obedience to Christ.  Maybe that is because obedience to Christ is what we were made for, in the beginning before Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. Maybe it’s because he makes the rules he does for our protection and our welfare. Maybe it’s because obeying him molds us to be like him, and he is a God of incredibly fruitful joy.

Sometimes obedience is hard. I look at the darkness around me, and I feel like it’s closing in…but then I realize I have taken my focus off of the Son and no wonder the forest seems dark when I’ve gone and stuck my head under a rock! I need to “[fix my]  eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrew 12:2 (emphasis added)  When I stop looking at Jesus and start looking at circumstances I lose my joy because I am disobeying his command to trust him.  

He doesn’t punish me with this, but I punish myself.  Trusting him brings joy; not trusting brings fear. Cause and effect.and because he knows the way my heart works better than I do, and obeying him is what will bring me truest joy in this life as

Like any good Father, he asks me to obey him; because he knows the way my heart works better than I do, obedience is what will bring me truest joy in this life as well as the next.

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