I love freebies.
If I am at a store and spot a table where something is being given away, I stop and get it even if I don’t like it or need it. If they are offering free samples at Jewel of “barbeque sushi on a spinach roll” I would probably stop and try it if it is free.
Last year, I was shopping at Home Depot. As I came out of the store, they had a promotional table for contractors. They were giving away a boatload of free stuff plus food. I mean this is dialed up for me. How could I resist? So, I casually but intentionally walked by the table. The person manning the table offered me a hot dog, chips, and pop. I informed him that I was not a contractor. He said, “No worries. We are wrapping up for the day. Take what you want.” Timing is everything. I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “Yes. In fact, take a couple of everything.” Well, how could I say no? I would not want to disappoint him so I guess I will have to take some stuff home. So, I loaded up my arms with several screwdrivers, a few multipacks kits containing needle nose pliers and assorted small tools, and of course a couple of small screwdriver kits for precision projects. Then, he said, “Do you have kids?” I said, “I do.” He handed me a couple of extra bags of chips and some pop. “Take these for them.” I was happy! Christmas came early for me! I got home excited to show off my spoils. My wife was surprised. She was thrilled at the free stuff although she did wonder how many screwdriver a person actually needs. For me, obviously, a couple more!
In thinking about the Christian life, I wonder if we oftentimes approach Jesus looking simply for all the free stuff. In some ways, it shouldn’t surprise us if we lean this way. We emphasize the free grace of Christ. We talk how Jesus is available to everyone without having to do anything – simply embrace the free offer of forgiveness. Penance is not required. We don’t have to earn it. Prayer is free. We don’t have to buy three minutes with God. He is always available. It is not a surprise then that we begin to assume that we don’t have to do anything in the Christian life, we simply receive it.
I think this is true for joy. We expect God to give it to us. And when it doesn’t readily come, we are surprised. I have chatted with many people approaching joy this way. In some cases, they get quite distraught that God would not dump joy on them. It has even led some people to wonder whether God is real because there is an absence of joy. When I probe these situations, I typically discover something interesting. There is usually unresolved sin in that person’s life. Yet, they don’t want to address it. God is meant to bless us, not to fill our deepest longings. God’s job is to cater to our needs not to be worshiped. Obedience is optional; the need for joy is not. We want the free stuff but let’s leave commitment at the door.
John probes this mentality in 1 John 1:4-6,
We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
Interesting. Convicting. John links joy to obedience. If we want joy that is complete, overflowing, life-sustaining, can’t sit down because God is good joy, it necessitates obedience. Joy is made complete as we obey Him. It is not free. It requires our commitment. Oh, it makes perfect sense. When we embrace God’s standards (obedience), He blesses us with the fruit of living in a right relationship with Him (joy). I mean if God gives us joy while we live in sin, what motivation would we have to change? Not much. Honestly, not everything can be free lest it make us entitled.
As I think about joy today, I am reminded that it involves more than simply asking him for it, it requires seeing joy as the natural result of obeying Him. Yes, it is a gift. But it is also a privilege that is manifest as we live for Him – genuine joy from genuinely living for Christ.