Friday, June 26, 2015

Working out Our Own Joy (All Joy and Peace in Believing, Pt 2)

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 ESV)

Last month, I wrote about my pursuit of joy as a believer, and how Romans 15:13 has become a foundational verse for me in understanding joy: It’s an unshakable confidence, despite the fickleness of life, in a settled hope that looks to Christ and our eternal standing in him. The more firm our hope the greater our joy, and so we need to labor after hope, even as the Spirit enables us to both hope and experience joy.  That’s helpful theory, but what does that look like practically?

Recently, I’ve been working through Philippians with a couple friends from church.  In my quest for joy and contentment, I’ve been continuously drawn to verses from this epistle over the years. It’s been good to begin to comprehend the big picture of Paul’s message to the Philippian church. Joy is certainly a central theme of his letter. Paul is rejoicing over the progress and partnership of this beloved body of fellow believers and encourages them to have a mindset so established in truth that they rejoice in the Lord always. And this is exactly what Paul models for them. Even as he faces imprisonment and the possibility of death, he remains confident of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness, and of the sure outcome.

Paul’s opening prayer lays out key ingredients for the life “filled with the fruit of righteousness,” which includes joy.* It is marked by love coupled with knowledge and discernment. Joy is best worked out in love and fellowship with fellow believers. It’s rooted in unshakable confidence in hope in Christ, but there must be a practical pursuit of knowledge that fuels joy.  It’s the gift and fruit of the Spirit, but we train our minds towards joy through the discipline of discernment.

Once a year, our family makes the trek the Joni and Friends Family Retreat on the banks of Lake Michigan. As each family enters the welcome center, a host of volunteers cheers our arrival. Then, we are paired with short-term missionaries, who have raised funds and traveled long and far to serve our families and loved ones with special needs for the week.  We went the first time for the prospect of a week’s vacation and respite from caregiving. We return for what we know will be the best representation of the Body of Christ we will experience all year.

A place like Family Retreat is a unique picture of how Christians can function in love.  Barriers of ethnicity, culture, social status, and ability are left behind. Intimacy and vulnerability happen fast. It’s an opportunity to receive love, but also to be free to love in a way that we may be reluctant to risk outside of this environment. As a result, it’s the most gracious and joy-filled gathering of believers I have ever experienced.  Our joy, rooted in our solid joy in Christ, is intensified in sacrificial love and fellowship.

Just as love is foundational to joy, so are our knowledge of God and the convictions of our heart. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it this way:

 [T]here is only one thing that can give true joy and that is a contemplation of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He satisfies my mind; He satisfies my emotions; He satisfies my every desire.  He and His great salvation include the whole personality and nothing less, and in Him I am complete.  Joy, in other words, is the response and the reaction of the soul to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Life in Christ, p 30)

We walk in joy practically by internalizing our understanding of the works, promises, and character of God by continuously feeding our minds the satisfying Word of God. A group of friends and I were remarking recently that this looks different for different people.  What’s essential is prioritizing a steady diet so that truth becomes the prevailing influence over one’s reasoning, emotions, and longings. At this year’s family retreat, our camp pastor described joy as a journey that begins with an intense longing, that the Christian understands it to be a journey to Christ, and that longing is only met in him, the “Hope of all hopes.”

Christ as our Hope shapes our understanding of the big picture of our lives.  Paul reminds us that our ultimate goal is the glory and praise of God. True joy requires the wisdom to choose well in light of this knowledge. Again, Martyn Lloyd-Jones says:

The difficulty in life is to know on what we ought to concentrate. The whole art of life…is the art of knowing what to leave out, what to ignore, what to put on one side. How prone we are to dissipate our energies…by forgetting what is vital…. (The Life of Joy and Peace, p 54)

As the parent of a child with a disability, I am tempted to become consumed with his very real needs. I need godly wisdom to know how to be diligent in caregiving and advocating, yet keep them in the perspective of God’s sovereignty over my child’s future, and the greater need for us both to know and grow in Christ. We need discernment to choose the excellent over the urgent or tempting, and to focus our mental and physical energies to live a life of purity, blamelessness, and righteousness.

Paul’s prayer is a reminder that the fruit of righteousness in our lives come from God, even as we strive towards godly love, knowledge, and wisdom.  Ultimately, we will be filled with the fruit of righteousness and with joy when we are face to face with Jesus, for finally in his presence, we are promised fullness of joy.

*Galatians 5:22

Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993. Print.

Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. The Life of Joy and Peace: An Exposition of Philippians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999. Print.

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