We had a wonderful class experience yesterday as we continued our conversation on Joy. Last week, we talked specifically about what biblical joy looks like and the shape it takes in our lives and in the world. This week, we expanded the conversation, as we dealt with two questions:
1> In our society, what are the obstacles to cultivating joy?
2> What practices might we engage, in order to cultivate biblical joy in our lives and in the world?
As usual, I was floored with the powerful dialogue from our Young Adults! I’ll share some of the interesting thoughts with you.
“In our society, what are the obstacles to cultivating joy?”
Well, the list was long – as it should be. Because there is so much in our lives that choke out joy. Like we said last week, biblical joy is deeper than pleasure and happiness. Rather, biblical joy is a fruit of a life lived with God, a sense of wholeness in the midst of brokenness. And because brokenness is so pervasive and unavoidable, such joy would not be possible without God. So, in a sense, that which chokes out joy, is really that which chokes out our relationship with God. The list of obstacles to joy looked something like this:
Discontentment / Lust
Worry / Fear / Anxiety
One of the exercises we engaged as we named these, was to name their opposites as well. For example, the opposite of lust is contentment. The opposite of begrudging is forgiveness. The opposite of worry and fear is radical faith and trust. The opposite of anger is love and reconciliation. The opposite of complaining is thanksgiving. The opposite of busyness is silence and solitude and prayer.
You see a theme? The common thread is that the world we live uses the tools of lust, anger, fear, worry, anxiety, despair, busyness, complaining, begrudging, etc., to cultivate in us a life depleted of joy.
Think about it! The last thing the marketplace wants is for society to be joyful! If you have a joyfully content people, then who is left to buy and consume?
Two examples to prove our point:
1> Take worry, fear and anxiety. Who employs these tools in marketing? Nearly anyone who can! “If you don’t buy this product your family will not be safe. If you don’t possess this good, then your future will not be secure. If you don’t purchase this service of ours, then what does the future hold for you? If you don’t jump on this now, you will miss a golden opportunity! If you don’t get this or that then what will everyone think of you?” Of course no one comes right out and says it this way, because marketing is too clever for that. But we all get the subtle message, don’t we?
2> Another example using the same – worry, anxiety and fear. What is the primary tool politicians employ to motivate their constituencies? Is it thanksgiving? Is it reasoned thinking? Is it honest and calm dialogue? Is it peaceful rhetoric? Of course not! It’s fear! “If you don’t vote for me then my opponent will do A,B,C.” And, if we reflect on how our political leaders choose to lead (by the power of fear) then we realize that fear is a real “power” – a real force over us. It’s so powerful, that we never stop to think that no one can predict the future! But we hang on the words of politicians bleak outlook and forecast “if you don’t vote for me” as if they know! But what sort of clever move is that? What technique are you employing when you use the power of the unknown future to wield control over voters? It’s fear!
These two examples serve to show us that what the New Testament name as “principalities and powers” never want a society full of joyful people. Because joyful people don’t fall prey to fear and anxiety and worry as tools to motivators to get us to vote this way or that, or to buy this good or that!
And it is crucial that we name the power of politics and consumerism in our lives, as primary forces working against our discipleship! We are the “called out ones” – the emissaries of another “way” – or, as Peter names us, “Resident Aliens” – foreigners in strange land – and, if the Sermon on the Mount is to be believed and taken seriously, we are a “counter-culture” – an alternative society.
So, we have a dual task. We have the task of avoiding that which “captivates” us, dominates us, enslaves our imaginations, and holds our joy in bondage. But we also have the task of engaging with those counter-intuitive practices that cultivate real joy in our lives. Here is, finally, what we named as the practices that cultivate (in our lives and in the world) authentic joy.
What practices might we engage, in order to cultivate biblical joy in our lives and in the world?
Confession and Forgiveness to combat Begrudging & Guilt
Prayer & Communion to combat Despair and Loneliness
Love of Others to combat Anger
Worship & Thanksgiving to combat Idolatry, Emptiness, & Complaining
Acts of Radical Trust & Sacrifice to combat Fear, Worry, & Anxiety
Silence & Solitude to combat Over-extended & Busy Lives