“Begin the day joyously, and let no shade of doubt come between thee and the eternal sunshine.” Spurgeon
At 23 years old, I have lived much of my Christian life in a spiritual shade. This is not to say that I haven’t seen the light, or had truth illuminated by it, but that I myself have far too seldom been warmed by it. Exiting college over a year ago made this exceptionally apparent. With access to far fewer spiritual conduits and conductors, I began to grow cold as the process of separation from college unfolded. With my separation went comfort, peace, and especially, joy. These losses seemed to contradict my education and achievements – I was lead to believe they were the path to security. In time I came to realize that I didn’t truly have the authentic form of those aforementioned qualities, only imitations, and thus that loss was really an enlightening blessing. But still, far from painless.
I had shielded myself from opportunities for the worth of my pursuits to be tested. As Scripture says, “the fire will test the quality of each person’s work” (1 Cor. 3:13), and when exposed to post-college flames, I was burned, my attainments proving to be little more than psychological-padding. Yet though terrible, the furnace is often the best place for Christians to be found. As one of my favorite hymns says, it was necessary for God to “break thy schemes of earthly joy,” not that I may be lost and lonely and confused, but that I “mayest seek thy all in [Him],” and thence find my truest joy. This process has been long unfurling, and my time in Nashville within the Fellows program has been a wonderful continuation.
In our program we have a majority of women. This has been excellent, as they bring a purity of expression and a gentleness that comforts. What I like is how at every location we gather, in churches and homes, large and small, the rooms are filled with the sounds of merrymaking. Before you arrive at the meeting place, you will hear their voices from afar. It’s inviting and soothing. Their laughter and glad spirits are a source of great encouragement to me. Our other male fellow adds his earnest optimism, contributing uniquely to the tone of our fellowship.
They have all served me well through their honesty. While certainly not without struggle and pain, as I have learned through the privilege of being a confidant, they model celebration so well as to make joy their dominate theme. This is solid gold and I hope they never stop. You cannot stay somber long among them. They are helping me to grasp deep, essential truths about being a Christian. I’m grateful for their example.
As I spend time in Nashville, the gift of each friend is unwrapped. Each life, each face, reflects a piece of God’s beauty that has a dazzling effect when combined. I need to be surrounded by a community seeking to properly manifest God’s character. The eight friends who have joined in this community-compact provide that light for me. The mutual act of commitment among us, to one another and Jesus Christ, is a simple yet striking display of God’s covenant love. Dim though our own lights may be, our fellowship can be blown into a blaze, and only then do we begin to approach and reflect the brilliance of our Father. And this Father becomes to us our guiding light and pursuing joy.
“O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.”
As comforting as treasured friendships can be, how much more security and satisfaction can be found if you know, as Spurgeon said, “your glorious standing”? No lover is better, no hope more reliable, no future more certain. Additionally, Spurgeon remarks: “Once again, think of the doctrine of justification, namely that through faith in Christ’s redemption every believer is ‘accepted in the Beloved,’ and stands, clad in Jesus’ righteousness, as fair in God’s sight as if he never sinned – why, surely, here is a theme again for overflowing joy!” Truly.
For my joy to be effective, I have to be reminded of the gospel every single day and appropriate its truth. I cannot rely on yesterday’s understanding; I need a fresh view of it today. I often write words on my hands before I go to bed so as to wake up with the truth in mind. My depressive tendencies will have me sinking in despair before I’m even dressed if I do not look to Christ’s waiting provision for each day. Spurgeon’s words are no abstraction. The gospel can secure delight, more than any item or idea or relationship. Shame, disappointment, rejection, failure, sin: no match; they don’t have to rob us.
In his book Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote the following words that have grabbed me: “Do not worry about what you feel. The truth about you is glorious. If you are in Christ, rise to it ‘o’er sin and fear and care’. Take your full salvation and triumph and prevail.”
This privilege we have as Christians, this constant access and rescue in trouble, is luxurious. When I think of God’s favor, his smile upon me, I become a rich man. I must return “to God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4) every day. My friends remind me of the truth and take me there.
Finally: “God cannot endure that unfestive, mirthless attitude of ours in which we eat our bread in sorrow, with pretentious, busy haste, or even with shame.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
No. Christ has purchased joy for us. I am learning to come to the feast, and joyously so.
Songs for further reflection:
“The Lord Is My Joy” – Nathan Partain
“Joy” - Sleeping At Last
“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” – Indelible Grace
“Fast From, Feast On” – Page CXVI
“Good To Me” – Audrey Assad
“Cherry Blossoms” – Andy Squyres
“Jesus, I Come” – Shelly Moore Band