Lighting Up With Christian Joy



Jesus invites us in scripture to ask, to seek in prayer, to knock and it shall be opened. He promises in John 16: "Anything you ask for in My name...Ask and you shall receive so your joy will be complete."

Our Redeemer loves us and urges us to seek fulfillment of our requests because he wants us to be joyful. How joyful is it to be of and with and in Jesus? Ask the fulfilled Christian, whose life is committed to Jesus and in whose life Jesus calls the shots by bending our will in His direction.

Have you ever noticed the distinguishable hallmarks of a bona fide Christian, and not just a part-time Sunday Christian, for an hour, mutely? One characteristic is affection and concern for others. It does not flow on and off as a matter of conscious will to different individuals in varying situations.

Moreover, mature Christians don't accept defeat from life's hard knocks. They bounce back. They see the bright side. The rounded Christian laughs a lot, because Jesus is in control.

In-love Christians don't go around with doleful, hang-dog expressions, weighted down by sin-induced drug and alcohol overloads. They are aware of their sins but through faith, repentance the atoning stripes of Jesus they know they are healed. The guilt of a shadowy past has melted away. They are exuberant people in the Lord who have fun together. As the song goes, "You know they are Christians by their love."

We can all be affected and turned off by gloomy weather and events that trigger emotions. Also by people who are downers, bogged down by defeat, real or imagined. Ecclesiastes 3 tell us there is a time "for tears, a time for laughter, a time for mourning and a time for dancing." But the graybeards have time and inclination for only the tears and mourning.

In his book, "Overflowing Life," biologist and Christian writer Robert Frost observes, "Some individuals are so bound they have almost lost their will to the power of the Enemy. God can set them free by the power of faith and the authority of Jesus' name. Such a release, however, can be maintained only if they choose to remain free. Some individuals enjoy the attention and pity which their condition evokes from others and don't really want to be set free!"

It is true that that deep-seated mental problems, such as clinical depression, definitely require the attention of experts in psychiatric and medical fields, to prescribe solutions through counseling and life-saving drugs.

However, there many individuals who are not afflicted with such serious ailments and bury themselves in darker views of life.

Father George Maloney, at an Atlantic City Catholic workshop, had insights on some--not all-- of the nuns he had had encountered in monasteries where he had heard confessions and celebrated masses. They had given their lives to the Lord but by every appearance they had been unable to find contentment. At least it was not visible in their woeful faces. Father Maloney described people who wallow in gloom as "sad sacks."

Too often we encounter such individuals and indeed they do invoke the pity of onlookers. Virtually everything in life is a burden. They don't know how to laugh. They don't know how to go about unveiling themselves to either God or fellows.

Of course, sad countenances can be observed at church services, too, perhaps above a Roman collar, or a church elder, whose dark business suit is a perfect metaphor for the mood the face expresses. (The impression conveyed in some churches is that the somber gray-to-black suits preferred for elders and pastors infers a funereal, rather than joyful, aura)

Mournful attitudes usually mirror people who are crushed and defeated by life, oblivious to the victory they can have in Christ, refusing or lacking enough faith to claim victory. They need to call upon the power of God to switch their lives to the positive!

Contrast those beaten-up folks with those baptized and born-again by the Great Transformer, the Holy Spirit. The dramatic result: they are abundantly blessed with a peace that can flow like a river out into the parched desert, changing and setting free that captive old self from the insidious bondage of Satan.

And what results from the flowing of this great river? You get that "joy, joy, joy, joy down in your heart!" as the song says. All we need to is ask for it in prayer, have faith in God and let the Holy Spirit unleash Himself in you!

It was literally shocking for me years ago to attend my first charismatic event, a mass at St. Agnes church in Arlington, Virginia. People, including nuns with habits swirling, were dancing in church aisles, no less, like King David on a road into Jerusalem.

Later, the performance was duplicated on a massive scale at a charismatic conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Not only nuns but priests joined lay people in dancing and singing in abandon before thousands of hand-clapping, enthusiastic, loudly-singing Christians raising a joyful noise unto the Lord. New wine in new bottles, maybe slightly intoxicated in emotion and God's love, but worshiping like David.

I have witnessed similar, if not quite the same level of enthusiasm, in Protestant churches services. One was in a church in which a leader described his Presbyterians as people who "clap internally." Some retain that approach to worship in that particular church, but most celebrate Sunday services with increasing exuberance in a mix of contemporary Christian music mixed in with centuries-old hymns to mollify conservative folks.

Isn't it possible to have fun and be holy at the same time? The Lord is not calling us to parade around with long faces because we are trying to be righteous, fasting or face trials; in fact, just the opposite. We needn't don a veneer of negativism to God or those in the crossroads of our existence. We do need to allow the Lord and His Holy Spirit to boost us out of any lingering compulsion for darkness, sadness, depression or oppression as the case may be.

King David in Psalm 40: 2-4 provides this guidepost:

"He set my feet on a rock
"And gave me a new place to stand.
"He put a new song in my mouth,
"A hymn of praise to our God. . .
"Blessed is the man
"Who makes the Lord his trust."

We don't have to accept those old ways: the tear-streaked faces; the loneliness, beaten into the dust by life. Jesus came to wipe away the tears, to heal the sick and the lame, and to chase away the Devil forever. He is the most powerful force for good in the universe. He made a world for us to enjoy and have dominion over in concert with God.

The formula is to turn to Jesus, seek Him more and more, and praise Him and testify to the changes experienced in our lives. We can all take advantage of the prayers of our brothers and sisters and our own. We can open and unfold like beautiful flowers on the vine of Jesus under the loving care of the Father, our Divine Gardener.

Persist in asking our Mighty God for help, even when immediate results are not visible with human eyes or senses. Even when we hurt, deep down, we can try to set aside some moments to praise Him, for He will never allow a heavier cross than we can bear, according to scripture. Jesus promised His yoke would be sweet and His burden light, and He would share our load.

Christian fellowship is key for it mingles people who are free; who are having a great time in life because they are on a solid foundation with God that the storms of human existence cannot splinter. Some are tasting already a bit of heaven right here on earth because of their special ties to Jesus. They adhere to His great commandment to love God and "Love each other as I have loved you." They are in-filled with buoyant Christian joy.

One road to brightening our days is reflection on the beauty of the world God has created for us, His children. We are not expected to ignore the magnificence of His creations and totally separate ourselves from the world, which is impossible anyway.

Read Genesis and note how an infinite God created the world and found that it was "very good," full as it is of magnificence and great mystery that finite man continues to try to fathom.

And if that doesn't move you, check out for inspiration the bright, shining faces of children, with their captivating personalities, boundless energy and promise and minds that absorb new marvels daily. Although some of us can't be young again, we can pursue the childlike awe and fascination with the universe and people around us who scripture says are made to the "image and likeness of God."