One major way Christ shows Himself to be God is by surprising us with joy. The joy that sneaks up and surprises us is the truest kind of joy.
Joy is a universally sacred thing. All of us naturally desire it, whether or not our intentions are pure.
And it is our spiritual uncleanness that ruins our chances of having joy. Because our tainted natures are incompatible with God's pure, heavenly joy, therefore we spoil the very joy we desire without having to try very hard.
We sin when we try too hard to force joy into our lives. It is a sure sign of the insane influence of sin that we presume to decide when, where and how much joy we will obtain for ourselves. This is an insane pursuit because it never works and yet we keep trying it just the same.
The artificial joy of sin is the presumption that we can take control of our joy, whereas substantial, Godly joy is more of a letting go of all presumption in order to embrace and appreciate whatever God sees fit to provide. Godly joy depends on God, but that's okay, because He is eternally dependable. Fortunately our relationship to God depends completely on His unwavering grace and not at all on us.
However, when we go too far out of our way to obtain happiness as an end in itself, then we can be sure we are falling into the deceptiveness of life-enveloping sin. Just as heaven is distant from us except for one Way, so also this heavenly gift called "joy" is concealed from us except by that same Way.
Even the most dedicated saint in the world might forget for a while that Christ embodies all joy for God's people. This basic truth might slip any Christ-seekers' mind, that He alone is our joy as well as our every provision for life.
And those of us who have tasted joy in Christ prove our forgetfulness by concocting all kinds of little security devices designed to ensure joy. These inventions are designed as a backup plan just in case God accidentally forgets to be Himself to His own chosen people.
All things considered, letting Christ be the only Way to joy is a lot like riding a train. This is not because He takes us up and out of this reality, but because the work required from us to receive joy from Christ is more of a non-work. God's requirement from us is to let go and let Christ fill us with Himself. He gives, we receive. He drives, we sit quiet and trust His driving skills.
Work is not a factor in Godly joy, just as running back and forth between train cars won't help you get to your destination any quicker. In this way, joy in Christ is as straightforward as letting some medium of transportation, such as a train, whose functioning lies outside of your control, carry you someplace where your legs could not take you on their own.
The fact that every human being has sufficient opportunity to hear about Godly joy makes the whole world like a giant train station through which this train toward joy passes. God might be called the Conductor of this station, who designed and built the station in such a way that all people get a chance to hear about this blessed train toward joy.
Remember I am not talking about any complicated theology, just simple, straightforward joy.
Everyone's mindset for seeking out real joy can be compared to one of two opposite characters a patient, unassuming young man or an impatient, control-happy businessman. The few people who embrace the freeing nature of joy in Christ can be likened to a young man who still has such childlike virtues as trust, patience and innocence. Most people, however, never embrace anything more powerful than their egos and are therefore more like a controlling businessman, who prides himself in his accomplishments, who commands respect, who expects to get what he wants when he wants it.
Though the businessman and the youth are dissimilar in most ways, yet they have the same desire for genuine joy as everyone else who passes through the great train station of life. Whether or not the general masses confess this desire with words, their actions confess it for them.
The control-happy businessman has a wider variety of experience than the youth, but the train carrying its passengers toward joy remains the same apart from any measurable, human achievement. This train continues forward according to the Conductor's schedule, unaffected by all the human exertion in the world. It steams forward at exactly the right, unhurried velocity toward the same joyful destination.
The businessman's experience leads him into the false belief that, because he has been innovative in some things, therefore he is equally innovative to accomplish anything. His life experience thus far fools him into assuming that he can apply his own little set of rules to those aspects of life that he does not yet understand. Therefore he assumes that he can acquire his own, personalized joy the same way he has acquired other worldly success. He calculates that the self-motivated option (which is not a real option at all) will get him the joy he wants all the while giving him all the credit for getting it. Getting credit means a lot to this businessman, who would like people to see what an accomplished expert he is. But the businessman assumes too much about himself.
At the station, the Conductor continually speaks out loud about all kinds of useful information, so that anyone can stop and listen and learn all they want about joy, the station or even the Conductor Himself. Therefore, the young lad and the businessman hear the same information about joy at the same time and yet their hearts process this information very differently.
The young man recognizes a straightforward opportunity to accept what is freely offered. He is thankful for any way at all that might carry him to the joyful destination he desires. He listens to the Conductor, sees his chance and goes for it. In this way the young man represents the extreme minority of this human race who are reasonable enough to accept Christ for who He is.
The young man looks at himself and his lack of expertise in everything. Then he looks at the Conductor who has been around literally forever. The young man perceives that the station, the train to joy, joy itself and even he himself were all designed by this same Conductor. In light of everything, he takes the Conductor at His word. The young man might not know a whole lot, but at least he has enough sense to confess to himself his cluelessness about trains and especially about this particular train's joyful destination. He sees no point in faking joy or in trying to invent it himself. Besides that, the Conductor clearly states that every other way to obtain joy will fail.
The fact that the young man has little choice in the matter does not bother him either. Nor does this lessen the kindness of the Conductor, who goes out of His way to inform everyone about His train, which He built to convey people to this desirable destination. The young lad shows priceless wisdom by choosing to rest peacefully about the obviousness of the decision. He thinks to himself, "Why complicate things more than necessary? I have the opportunity to get exactly what I want, and all I have to do is wait for this train!" He can't imagine a better deal.
The boy is also content to be avoiding a lot of dreadful sounding hardship between this station and the train's joyful destination. According to the Conductor, there exists an immeasurable distance between here and there, with unending perils all along the way. The Conductor, who has no reason to lie, is extremely familiar with all that exists between the train station and joy. He has been around since before everybody and He knows beyond a doubt that no one has ever gotten close to joy by setting out on their own.
This knowledge, that the train to joy skips over an unimaginable mess of hardship, inspires the youth to sit more content than ever. "Well," he thinks to himself, "I might as well enjoy these comfortable seats all around."
Just before the young man dozes off, he looks around in astonishment at the station and sees that most of these wonderful seats are empty! Why? Because most people, though they can hear the Conductor perfectly well, choose for some reason to keep walking through the station, down the stairs and out into the wasteland beyond the station. For some reason, people can't bear waiting for even one moment to listen to the Conductor. But the longer this lad waits, the more he perceives boundless reasons to sit content. He settles down and, before long, nods off to a peaceful sleep.
Now the business man hears all the same explanations of joy as the young lad, except his own folly leads him into very different conclusions. He remains standing for a little while, having watched the young man slip off to sleep. In the privacy of his own mind, he scoffs at the sleeping lad. "How naïve," he sneers, "Foolish, simple, little boy. Lazy, that's what he is. He doesn't realize that there's things to be done, and just sitting around isn't going to accomplish anything."
The thing that really bothers the businessman is the Conductor's lack of definition. "What are the Conductor's credentials? What kind of insurance policy does He offer for His passengers?" the man wonders to himself. And the fact that he would have to wait an undefined period for this train toward joy sounds especially tortuous because he is used to getting what he wants when he wants it. "Anyway," the businessman thinks to himself, continuing in vain to justify his skepticism, "I'm sure that I'm more experienced than that irresponsible, snoozing, little youngster. And I think I've experienced something like joy already how could all my impressive accomplishments not have given me at least a little joy? And who does that Conductor think He is to say when I can and can't get joy?" The more the experienced businessman considers this situation the more his helpless frustrations turn into pent up rage. He feels as though he is the brunt of some gross injustice.
As far as the businessman is concerned, all this waiting is a joke, or maybe a trick designed for the weak-minded. "Why should I wait for some old-fashioned train, when I just started making payments on a stylish new luxury car? Can this train go faster than my car? Hmph, I doubt it. And haven't all those years of schooling earned me at least the right to be content and joyful whenever and however I want? Hasn't my experience in the world earned me at least some control?"
The businessman can't help ruling in favor of himself. He continues to reason all the while stepping slowly out of earshot of that bothersome Conductor. "That silly little boy will have to learn the hard way, just like I had to. If he ever wants to amount to anything he can't just wait around and expect success to come to him. No, if there's one thing experience has taught me, it's that you can only expect to get what you work for. Just watch, I'll have my very own, personalized joy before that brainless, lazy kid even wakes up from his nap. I'll go straight home and see if I can get it over-nighted from a reputable online vendor." Thus he reasons with himself, as he walks briskly away from the station.
The businessman does not suspect that his worldly success has led him astray from understanding what is true joy, or true success for that matter. He has learned that anything worth having should be buyable, or in some way obtainable. So it goes for humanity in general, that we cannot understand something that exceeds our inherently tainted thinking. We would like to think that we can obtain heavenly riches in the same way we have succeeded in our own little goals. In this way most people, whether churched or un-churched, are like this businessman, hopelessly distant from the freeing quality of joy in Christ.
The aforementioned, restful lad eventually wakes up, eats and drinks. As he waits, he continues to talk and reason with anybody who crosses his path, telling them how they might also sit still and wait for the Conductor's timing. He does his best to tell them the things he learns from the Conductor, especially that they shouldn't strive toward something that they cannot obtain by striving. He even begs and pleads with people at times to trust the Conductor because He is obviously the only One who knows what He is talking about.
The young man sits down to sleep or eat when he needs to. This is possible because the Conductor provides food and seats that are comfortable enough to sleep in for all who wait for His train.
The young man goes on waiting and yet he also takes every opportunity to draw others in to the same freedom he has found in waiting. He talks with people around him so that his lively hope sometimes rubs off on the solemn crowds marching through the station, heads pointed down, ready for the worst. The young man learns from the Conductor's constant flow of useful knowledge about the joy to come and other useful things that facilitate his waiting.
People come and go but the lad chooses to sit tight and eventually he catches his train. As for the self-confident businessman, he is never heard of again. His dried up bones are strewn about somewhere in the unforgiving desert of self-determination.
This is an excerpt from To the Church of the West, Scattered Throughout the World. Find this book and similar articles at www.BooksByPatrick.com
Patrick is an average Christ-seeker. His goal is to turn people to Jesus Christ.