May 13, 2010

Those Were the Days, My Friend: Lingering in the Antechamber to Joy

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged , , at 8:56 pm by Mo Dardinger

One of the songs that I liked back when was a song about “the good old days.” I was too young at the time to have shared the experience elucidated in the verses, but I liked it all the same. It rang true. It told the tale of a group of friends who were sure, as young adults, that the good times they shared together would never end: “We’d sing and dance forever and a day.” They also experienced (and expected to go on experiencing) victory of some sort: “We’d fight and never lose,” the line went.

This song always drew for me a mental picture. Friends gathered in a wood-paneled restaurant or bar. They chatted, joked good-naturedly, lavished their free time on one another. I craved that depth of friendship and fellowship. But I always saw myself as on the outside of the good times, as someone on the other side of the window, out in the street, gazing in longingly.

Then one Sunday morning our worship leader (who was also our senior pastor) heard a word for someone in the congregation. A word from the Lord. (This happens a lot in charismatic congregations, but not so much in the more staid churches that I’ve belonged to since then.) It was something about a wagon wheel and being on the outside looking in. It reminded me of the song, but that’s all. It took my friend Karen to point out to me (after the service had ended) that this was an image I had of myself, and that I should go “claim” the word.

So we approached my pastor, and he and Karen prayed for me. As they prayed, an image came to me. This rare occurrence is what believers usually call “a vision,” as in “your old men will dream dreams, and your young men see visions” (Joel 2:28). The image was of being in the gathering place, enjoying the fellowship of friends. Then the curtain across the back doorway moved aside to reveal a gigantic meeting place, a large auditorium. It was brightly lit, especially in the center. Concentric circles of worshipers joyfully adored the Being in the center.

This was where I belonged. This was what I should have longed for, in addition to friendship. This was true friendship, true fellowship, with all eyes fixed upon the Most Lovely, the One who dwarfs all others, the One who loves incomparably better than the best of us.

“You and I were made to worship,” another song I like proclaims. That truth was brought home to me through this vision. I had been longing for mere earthly friendship. True joy was offered to me (and to all who will come and join in).

Our relationships with our husbands, wives, co-workers, friends — they’re great, sometimes. But they’re out of kilter if worship of the true and living God is not the center of our lives.

The happy gathering place with chattering buddies has its place in our lives. (Grieving with those have suffered loss has its place, too, certainly.) But we must remember that human fellowship is merely the anteroom to heaven, not the main event. The Lord’s love draws us in to a delight that surpasses our happy, youthful, zestful moments. The worshipers in the circle of light enjoy one another’s company, but they don’t make that particular enjoyment their chief aim. They delight in the Lord’s infinite goodness. Other joys are appreciated, received with gratitude from our heavenly suitor, but not sought as the purpose or goal.

Since the day of the vision, I have often lingering on the outside looking in. And I have sometimes participated in true friendship. But we are offered a much greater joy, and I plan to cling to this vision and pursue that joy. I have lingered too long in the antechamber to joy.

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April 26, 2010

Why Joy?

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged , at 6:36 pm by Mo Dardinger

Joy is hard. Hard for me to get to. Hard for me to maintain.

Couldn’t the Almighty One require something simpler of us?

How about this for a commandment: chuckle a little every day. I could handle that. I’d just IM one of my fun friends or hunt for jokes online. Funny stuff comes in book form, too. And on DVD. It would be a simple commandment to obey. A cinch.

Or try this commandment on for size: Once a week, do something nice for someone you don’t like. I could do that, too. Maybe not without grumbling a little, but it’s in the realm of what I can handle.

Why did He have to pick joy??? And why does it have to be all the time, without any “time off”?

Always rejoice, constantly pray,  in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:16-18, NET).

Rejoice. Give thanks. Always, not just from time to time.

Joy is not easy. I can’t manufacture it. It’s an imported item, not something that my mind and heart naturally produce.

It’s mid-year-review time at my office, and that makes me keenly aware of my inadequacies (not that they are ever far from me). When I focus on my failures and needs, though, I’m not obeying the commandment to rejoice. This is a major clue, I think. The only way to consistently obey the Father’s command to rejoice is to get our eyes off ourselves.

If you’re proud and blind, like I’ve been most of my life, then you may be happy about where you are, pleased with whom you are. I was for years on end, silly Mo. But most of us who truly know the One who made the space-time continuum know that cannot rejoice in ourselves. To find joy, we must focus on Him, on the Giver. He gave us life. He gives us joy. When we come to Him for it. When we bend our wills to follow His will. When we give up our worries and trust Him.

That may be the key right there. When joy is required, the Giver of Joy is needed.

So if we are successfully rejoicing all the time, then we are going to have to be focused on God and His goodness all the time. There just isn’t any substitute. The Giver of Joy wants us thinking about positive, profitable things — which mostly means thinking about Him, about what He has done for us, and about what His great and good plans for His redeemed are.

Go forth, then, and rejoice!

 

Scripture and/or notes quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.  All rights reserved.