By David Faust
Some might find it surprising and almost sacrilegious to suggest that God built fun and enjoyment into the Old Testament law, but how else can we explain celebrations such as the Feast of Tabernacles? This annual feast required Jewish families to camp outdoors for a week in early fall. They lived in temporary shelters made from the branches of palms, willows, and other leafy trees. Can you imagine how much the children enjoyed helping to build those little tabernacles and sleeping outside for seven days?
Joy was an intentional part of God’s plan. The Lord even scheduled seasons of rejoicing in the stern Mosaic law. Moses commanded, “For seven days celebrate the festival . . . .
For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete” (Deuteronomy 16:15). Centuries after Moses died, the Israelites rediscovered the Feast of Tabernacles (which they evidently had neglected and forgotten), and when they celebrated it again after all those years, “their joy was very great” (Nehemiah 8:17).
Joy is incomplete without the Lord. Are you a joyful person? Is your joy complete? When others talk about your church, would any of them say, “Their joy is very great”?
Joy as a Feeling
Joy comes to us in different ways. Sometimes we experience joy as a feeling—a pleasant emotion stirred by music and art, by jobs well done, by personal or team victories, by natural wonders and transformed lives that give us glimpses of God’s grace. I felt excited when I graduated from college, but years later I experienced a deeper joy as a college administrator when I saw the accomplishments of our graduates. It was fun to play high school sports when I was a teenager, but I feel an even greater joy when I watch my granddaughter play volleyball with her teammates.
Joy as a Choice
Joy is more than an emotion, and is it not merely a response to outward circumstances. Often we must embrace joy as a choice. The apostle Paul was chained in prison when he wrote the book of Philippians, yet this short letter overflows with rejoicing. How could Paul say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)? It was a choice! He decided to “always pray with joy” and made up his mind to “be content whatever the circumstances” (1:4, 4:11). He chose to view other Christians as his “glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:20).
Joy as a Gift
Whenever we experience joy—whether it’s an exuberant feeling that fills our hearts or a choice we make as an act of the will—we need to receive joy as a gift. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness comes from what happens to us, but authentic joy goes deeper. It’s a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). You can’t flip an on/off switch and manufacture joy, but you can ask for it and accept it from the heavenly Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children.
God designed the human heart with a capacity for great joy. Jesus said “your grief will turn to joy” and “your joy will be complete” (John 16:20, 24). Are you making room in your life to embrace joy as a choice and to receive it as God’s gift?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
|Feb. 22||M.||Psalm 68:5-10||God of the Journey|
|Feb. 23||T.||Exodus 3:1-6||The Journey Begins|
|Feb. 24||W.||Deuteronomy 1:29-33||The Journey Falters|
|Feb. 25||T.||Deuteronomy 8:1-11||Remember the Journey|
|Feb. 26||F.||John 3:14-21||Jesus and the Journey|
|Feb. 27||S.||Acts 7:30-42a||Stephen and the Journey|
|Feb. 28||S.||Leviticus 23:33-43||Heritage and Hope|