Quote – Henri Nouwen -“In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”
Take a moment to not only reflect on today's verse, but to read the full scripture passage, Luke 15:1-32 to highlight or list all the places we see Jesus referencing joy or celebration. For instance look at how often the word 'rejoice' is repeated in the first parable alone. The lost and found sheep is placed on the shepherds shoulders 'joyfully.' He returns home and invites his friends to rejoice with him and then Jesus comments that this illustrates the joy in heaven when a sinner repents. Three references to joy in three verses. There is a similar pattern in the parable of the lost coin and lengthy descriptions of the father's joy, giving of gifts and planning of an elaborate celebration along with the repetition of the word celebration. It seems quote obvious once we put the list together that Jesus wants the Pharisees to see that God is joyful and always prepared for celebration.
I wonder how refreshing it might be for people to hear that God is joyful, that God is Joy?! It seems to me that there are far too many public voices and television preachers who present an angry, wrathful, punishing God. It also seems to me that for many American's God is largely distant and uninvolved in our lives, at most a butler waiting to serve when we require. And if God is most often either presented as angry or distant and unobtrusive, no wonder increasingly people doubt that there is a God at all. I wouldn't want to believe in that god either. But the God that Jesus presents is a God of joy and celebration. A God who loves lavishly and even foolishly. A God who is always watching and even more searching for a reason to celebrate. And what causes God joy, what makes God want to celebrate, is wholesome, intimate connection with those whom God has created. God takes great joy in us! In listening to us, in sharing life with us, in guiding and instructing us, and in working with us!
Pondering this makes me wonder further, how really focusing our lives and ministries and mission on the joy of God would cause us to grow as individuals and as a church? Would we feel more confident inviting people to visit our church if we were inviting them to a joyful celebration? How would the tenor of our committee and team mtgs grow and develop if celebration was the main theme? Might we discover new missions if we were watching and listening intently for celebration and furthermore might we also find the courage to take risks and accept new challenges if we were increasingly confident that God would be celebrating our efforts? I'm personally wondering how my sermons might develop if some form of joy and celebration were a part of my remarks, even when the main theme was challenging? And how might each of our days unfold before us if we started the day by preparing to find and share the joy of the God who seeks and rescues those who are lost? It seems that focusing on the Joy of God just might reframe everything in a new light if it became center of our spiritual, worship, and ministry lives. And perhaps that is exactly what Jesus's intention is.
Study – John 15:1-17; John 16:19-24
Prayer – Help me greet this day, and every moment within it with Joy. Not the joy that simply dismissed hurts and injustice. Not the joy that sugarcoats problems and challenges. Instead, fill me with the joy that inspires me to resist fear, anger and doubt. Fill me a joy that frees me from the power and influence of all that is negative and allows me to meet each challenge with hope in your blessed promise to be with me, and to transform every ill into something good.