There is an old children’s song that goes, “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart…” As a kid I sang it with gusto! But I didn’t really understand what I was singing. On the surface I did, maybe, but not really. I had no idea then that someday I wouldn’t get excited about going camping because I would instead be too worn out from all the work involved, or that someday I would no longer be able to fit into that space under the stairs where I used to curl up and read for hours, or that I wouldn’t be able to sit in one position that long anymore, or that I would lose the ability to forget about all the work that needed doing and get lost in a story. I grew up. Life changed. And the terms on which joy is found became more complicated.
Now when I read Galatians 5:22 as I did this morning and I read through the list of the fruits of the Spirit, I pause momentarily on the word “joy” because I have to admit to myself and God that this is the one on the list that most eludes me. If you are reading this and thinking to yourself, Girl you have issues, well, yes, I know I do and this is one of them. Where has my joy gone? I know I can’t just go on without it. After all, Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice, and again, he says, rejoice! (Phil. 4:4) And he tells the Thessalonians to have joy ALWAYS (1 Thess 5:16). Joy is clearly supposed to be part of the picture for us. And yet it’s so often absent. It’s not one of our great American values, after all. We’re supposed to work hard, and work hard some more, and keep working harder, right?
One of the great revelations of my adult Christian life was the discovery of the first question of the Westminster Catechism. I was hunting for purpose, asking God, “What am I supposed to do?” I was hoping for the key to a more fulfilling career, and clearer direction in my job search. I was terribly frustrated by the sort of answers I was getting from friends and pastors—you know, the love-God-love-people kind of answers. During this time of searching, I was asking God these questions as I drove home from work one day and heard in response a voice that I cannot describe but was most assuredly God saying, “Love me.” Whoa! Yes! Ok, God, thanks. Um….how am I supposed to do that? Around this same time I found a blog that talked about “man’s chief end.” This is question #1 of Westminster—“What is the chief end of man?” And the answer is, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” There’s that word “joy” again.
I figured out the career path in bits and pieces along the way and eventually ended up in seminary where it didn’t take me long to learn a trick--if you don’t know the specific answer to something, you can often still get it right if you answer with the first article of the Westminster Catechism, especially if the question was about why we do some particular thing. The safe answer was always some variation of “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” It’s not surprising that the “Westminster Divines” put this right up front. This is, when you get right down to it, the overriding theme of the Bible. It’s also the overriding theme of our PCUSA Directory for Worship. And it’s the theme of our lives as Christians, and of our worship each Sunday morning. It’s one of the reasons I love the Chris Tomlin song that says “You and I were made to worship...”
One of the places that I have found joy is in worship. I grew up taking piano lessons and flute lessons. I followed my husband around running sound for his bands and dancing by myself behind the sound board. And one day I got to play keyboard with the worship band at our church and I discovered that I love love love doing this. And God blessed me incredibly as I played and sang. I was a small part in a group of very talented people who carried me along, and I relished every deep pocket groove and complex harmony. The words of the songs were so often the words of my heart and I learned how to connect with God in moments of sheer joy.
After awhile, though, I started to take this for granted. I expected the joy and forgot to be thankful. Circumstances changed, as circumstances always do, and there was a long stretch of life with no opportunities to play keyboard and sing. The next time I got to play again, though, I was in heaven. I couldn’t stop smiling. We sang a song about praising God forever and I thought to myself, yes, I want to do this forever! I want life to be like this always! But eventually I forgot to be thankful again and took things for granted and circumstances changed.
You’d think by now I’d have this joy thing figured out, wouldn’t you? But as C.S. Lewis points out in his book Surprised by Joy, you can’t just go looking for the joy and expect to find it. Joy finds you. God finds you. I know in my head that I’m supposed to focus on God, and not the joy, but my heart doesn’t always listen to my head. Does yours? Maybe that’s why Jesus tells us to receive the Kingdom of God like a child (Mark 10:15), which takes us back to where I started, back when my heart and head weren’t so disconnected. That joy joy joy is down in there somewhere. Paul says God’s love has been poured into our hearts (Rom. 5:5), after all.
Maybe I understood that song better than I thought I did.(This post was originally published June 12, 2013 on a worship blog)