Rise Up, Rejoice
If you had to sum up the basic underlying sense of your faith in a word or short phrase, what would it be? Grateful, fervent, relieved, intent, hopeful, serious, tepid, expectant, weary, factual, joyful…? Coming from a long line of rather stoic Scandinavian ancestors, the Evangelical Free denomination is not known for its irrational exuberance. And that can sometimes work against what this anthem appears to be calling us to. Many of our congregants would be more comfortable with the expression in the center of the piece where things get more mellow and contemplative than they would with the tone at the beginning, or the calls at the end to dance and shout.
Personally, I’m kind of a level bubble kind of person. While I’m generally upbeat in nature, my highs aren’t giddy, and my lows are rare. I’m pretty comfortable in my flat-line world—maybe too comfortable. Sometimes I wish I was better at rejoicing, and I find anthems like this one challenge me to let loose a little on the reins of my controlled exterior, and give God a greater honor by enjoying Him more intensely.
John Piper says, “…to honor God in worship we must not seek Him disinterestedly, for fear of gaining some joy in worship, and so ruining the moral value of the act. Instead, we must seek Him hedonistically, the way a thirsty deer pants after the stream, precisely for the joy of seeing and savoring God! Worship is nothing less than obedience to the command of God, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord.’” Piper also slightly amends the Westminster catechism by saying, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” And he states, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied with Him.”
Piper draws a lot of his thoughts on this subject through study of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards said, “God is glorified not only by His glory being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.” Of Edwards, Piper said, “The great goal of all Edward’s work was the glory of God. And the greatest thing I have ever learned from Edwards…is that God is glorified most not merely by being known, nor by merely being dutifully obeyed, but by being enjoyed in the knowing and the obeying.”
As we let some of these quotes sink in, we begin to see that joy may not merely be an option, which when added to our faith makes the going more pleasant. Perhaps joy—indeed the command to rejoice—is an essential of true faith. In fact, Deuteronomy 28:47-48 tells us, “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you.” Joy sounds a bit less than optional in that passage, doesn’t it? God does not want to be served out of mere duty, rule-following, or servile fear. He desires us to delight in Him, to love Him, and to find true joy in Him.
Piper says, “It is possible to pursue God without glorifying God. If we want our quest to honor God, we must pursue him for the joy of fellowship with him. The enjoyment of God and the glorification of God are one. His eternal purpose and our eternal pleasure unite in one experience of worship. This is what the Lord’s Day is for. Indeed, this is what all of life is for.”
Not only is this essential for true faith and abundant life, it is a powerful witness. We’ve all heard those stories over the years of Christian patients in hospitals who were the delight of both the staff and visitors alike, because, despite their hardships, the joy of the Lord was present with them. Paul and Silas set the example of joy during suffering when they sang praises while in stocks, and after having been beaten. Their joyous witness at such a time was instrumental in the salvation of their jailor and his family.
So, joy is a command and expectation for a believer in Yahweh. It is an evidence of true faith, and a witness to the world of the winsomeness of God, even when His people are under trial. But where does joy come from? If we feel deficient in it, how do we obtain more?
The first step is just recognizing what has been said above. Sometimes we don’t realize joy is ours to be had. Once that becomes clear, it then becomes our responsibility to embrace the truth and the possibilities of experiencing deepening joy in our lives, and pursue it by pursuing God. Second, joy is a fruit of the Spirit. As such, it is given to us in proportion to our connection to, and our abiding in the Vine. (A quick note here: While the gifts of the Spirit are irrevocable, the fruit of the Spirit are evident in proportion to our walk with Him. When we get out of step with the Spirit, the fruit will diminish. We will experience and demonstrate less love, joy, peace, patience…etc.) Fruit of the Spirit is something to be cultivated, and grown in us as we grow closer to the Lord and walk in obedience to Him. It diminishes when we grow cold, are disobedient, or seek joy outside of the Lord.
Could it be we lack joy simply because we have failed to ask for it? Maybe we haven’t realized we can ask, or that we can affect our joy-level by our level of desire. Perhaps we need to plead for it, not just for our benefit, but so God can be truly glorified in us as rejoice more fully in Him. Let me challenge us all to pray for more joy in the Lord for the month of February, and see how God answers!
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries