The burden of knowing.
Knowing that millions of children are going to bed tonight without a father or mother.
Knowing that a billion people don't have clean water to drink today.
Knowing that, as an American, I am one of the richest of the rich, with access to free education and caring doctors and healthy food and warm clothes and the right to worship and vote as I choose.
It's good to know. It's wise to live with eyes wide open, to feel God's spirit stir a desire to live radical, to taste God's crazy love and want to share with the world.
But sometimes, the knowing feels like a weight in my soul. It makes me sigh. I live bowed low. My steps are wearied and worn.
I think that's because I've forgotten about joy.
I'm re-reading one of my favorite books right now, "The Life You've Always Wanted" by John Ortberg. I often joke it's a great book with a lousy title, because while it sounds like something Joel Osteen might write, its contents directly contradict prosperity gospel.
Instead, John Ortberg (good gravy, even their initials are the same), talks about how ordinary people like you and me can be transformed to be more like Jesus through the spiritual disciplines.
This morning, the chapter I read talked about the spiritual discipline of celebration, a way to grow more of the spiritual fruit called joy.
If you are a disciple of Jesus, you need joy. I need joy. It's not optional. It's a necessity. The joy of the Lord is our strength. (Need some strength? Focus on joy.)
God Himself is joyful, the most joyful person in all of creation.
More joyful than Connor on his birthday last Friday? More delighted than Kieran when he sees his Daddy's face? More excited than Teyla when she spies a butterfly? More filled with laughter than Natalie when she makes a joke?
All that and more. Our children's joy is but a drop compared to the ocean of God's joy.
Maybe you've seen this famous quote by G.K. Chesterton. (Surely, if you are a parent, you can relate to it.)
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be tht He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.Joy -- even though He sees poverty? Joy -- even though His creation is hopelessly broken? Joy -- even though His ultimate sacrifice is rejected again and again?
In fact, joy bubbles up strongest in the midst of suffering. John Ortberg writes, "Friends of Mother Teresa say that instead of being overwhelmed by the suffering around her, she fairly glowed with joy as she went about her ministry of mercy. One of the English officers imprisoned at Flossenburg with Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of him, 'Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive.'"
It seems counter-intuitive. But then again, God's seems to do His best work backwards. He hardly ever works the way we expect Him too. After all, He's not a tame lion.
Which is why I'm starting to understand with a fresh portion of hope that God's answer to my soul heaviness over poverty isn't only action. It's joy.
Because He is good. He has written the end of the story. He hasn't forgotten. He always keeps His promises.
Though the cherry trees don't blossom and the strawberries don't ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I'm singing joyful praise to God. I'm turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God's Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!
Light-seeds are planted in the souls of God's people, Joy-seeds are planted in good heart-soil.