Theology

Joy Misunderstood


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The Bothy Sessions are, in part, an autobiographical commentary regarding part of my pursuit of Jesus for the last thirty years. It has been (and is) a pursuit that is both deleriously joyful and deeply depressing.

As a disciple, husband, son, brother and friend, I am, of course, far from perfect, but it seems glaringly obvious to me that far too much of what goes on within the life of the church is completely at odds with what I read in my Bible.

And we genuinely wonder why there is so little presence or power?

This often leads me into confrontation – and inner turmoil – with the hypocritical structures and institutions that the Church has become, not to mention the appalling para-church organisations that are more concerned about their “giving, legacy bases” than they are the glory of His beautiful Name. (Related reading HERE).

And people don’t seem to care! They don’t give a rip.

Sunday in, Sunday out, they turn up to church like headless chickens, preferring the à la carte of pet fancies to the vintage, heady unchangeableness of I AM.

Whether due to the redefinitions of the basic building blocks of what it means to be human, the oh-so popular reinterpretations of New Testament passages to suit our cultural progressions or the flagrant ignorance of God’s essential nature, authentic faithfulness to Jesus Christ in the 21st Century is not without cost.

Physical, relational, financial, emotional and mental costs.

One of the major problems in the current Church is her utter contempt for the Bible that, in part, coasts like driftwood from rhythms of over-familiarity. James, the brother of Jesus, railed against this in his uncompromising and reflective ‘memoir by God’ (James 1:23).

What do we really know of carrying our cross towards Golgotha? How does our identification with Jesus in Gethsemane relate to our disregard of Paul’s words in major New Testament passages?

What treasures are we sweeping under the carpet by the incessant turning of blind eyes to Greek verbs in favour of pop culture and obsessions with self? 

How can we worship God with one foot in the grave and the other beautifully ‘brogued’ and buffed with the deluded pleasantries of this world?

We love to quote and herald Paul one second and then defy him the next.

I’ll talk more about this in the final blog in this series, next week, but I am physically – and increasingly – repulsed by the low view of the Bible in our church ‘cultures of freedom’. How much have we to learn from those imprisoned or (properly) persecuted in the East?

Are we really the free ones?

The Pursuit of God

I recall exactly where I was in 2005 when I read it. Thirteen years ago, I was sat on the number 12 bus travelling from Paignton to Torquay. I was on my way somewhere and I’d picked up a copy of A W Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. (You can read it for free HERE).

I re-read the first chapter before the second; I might as well have been on my knees on the bus such was the potency of what I’d just read. It was like a glorious, uplifting, air-expelling punch to my belly.

I knew then that I was reading something that would catalyse a new proximity to God in my life – a chemical reaction by the hands of the Cosmic Chemist.

I’m still pursuing like this today, often through tears.

The Pursuit of Happiness

But so much of what I see in culture and in society and in the Church today has nothing at all to do with the pursuit of God. Try typing into Google the title of this Tozer book and look at what pops up first…the pursuit of happiness. 

This is the mecca to which so many of us bow.

We quite fancy female elders? Bow. We prefer to remarry after divorce than remain single, though no-one has died. Bow. We’d rather get to play God by choosing gender. Bow. We’re not really sure about the gifts of prophecy or of tongues? Bow. We make bisexuality the ‘next best thing’ for our live TV reality shows.

Bow, bow, bow, bow, bow, bloody bow.

We’re like puppets of Nebuchadnezzar more than we are the messianic messengers of God.

Forgive me, I’m angry at the state of the world and the state of the Church, but all this to say:

If you love God, if you miss Jesus, you will be deeply distressed and angered by the current state of play.

The injustice and sacrilege that we see in culture and in the four walls of the Church is a disgrace. Our hermeneutic is of transient pop culture rather than inspired Greek verbs. It’s worth saying it again: we pic and mix what the Bible says and we justify it – our consciences soothed – because culture endorses our blasphemy and wilful rebellion.

Can you explain to me, from the Bible, from the original texts, how you got to where you are, or are you just banking on the constitution of your denomination or the accumulation of tradition? This is like trying to build a house on a blade of grass.

Ludicrous.

There is a responsibility that comes with Grace and it teaches us to literally say “No!” to ungodliness.

Personal and corporate ungodliness.

Jesus Sojourn

Quite simply, it is depressing following Jesus. It is depressing being in this world but not of it. It is depressing constantly missing Jesus when vague, shadowy, celestial Skype-forms of prayer seem to be the best that’s on offer…for now.

Imperfect, hesitant prayer will one day turn into perfect, unending praise.

But, as per usual, there isn’t much of this taught from the Bible. The lamentations, the ‘psalms of descent’ as well as the mountainous victory cries, the splinters in one’s head, the lashes on one’s back, the yanked hair from one’s face….generally all have very little air time.

C.S.Lewis understood this well.

Lucy was a character unlike the other three English children for a very specific reason: she missed Aslan desperately; she’d have given all of Narnia – and all the Turkish Delight – ten thousand times over just to be with him.

If you’re tracking with me, pause now and read the brief introduction to this book (Page 17).

Most ultimately, our ‘Jesus sojourn’ is rooted in homesickness – one of the most powerful, human emotions possible. When you’re homesick – or lovesick – nothing else will do, and Skype is but a temporary anaesthesia for the heart-wrenching pain.

Joy Misunderstood

There is nothing at all in what I’ve just written above that is at odds, in any way, with gospel joy. It is, in fact, gospel joy itself.

Much pressure is heaped on believers every Sunday to be “joyful” to “put a smile on one’s face” and all “because of Jesus”. That kind of pentecostal leverage is not joy! A smile pasted onto your face for the cameras, and that is just as easily washed away when they’re turned off, is no smile at all.

But there is a colossal smile on the seat of the human heart that longs for Jesus and that would rather die and be with him than remain here in the body.

Does this mean, suicidally, sour-faced and melancholic 24/7? Does it indicate an atrophy of faith? Of course not! Again, quite the contrary. But might it mean a fundamental rejection of the pursuit of fleeting human happiness? Heck yes. Or repentance from the pretence that “all is well” when it really isn’t? Yes, sir.

Joy in God looks very different to how the prosperity gospel (or partial prosperity gospel) wants us to believe it does. Joy in God is to do with one thing: Him. His face. His eyes. His voice. His wisdom. His ways. His company. Him.

Counterfeit joy in God is really to do with a heap of other lesser things: the gifts He gives, the lifestyle He provides, the faithfulness He demonstrates – and the frequency thereof – and, crucially, the purpose and fulfilment He provides.

Idols.

But He alone is to be our joy. He alone is to be our strength.

Like your incomparable husband or wife: their eyes, their unique personality and nature, their fragrances, their turns of phrase and unique thought trains, their bespoke histories, shared.

How can we be happy in God when our lives aren’t really laid down? When we’re tangled in webs of “non-negotiables”? When our finances are controlled by the lie that our time is our own?

Not a single second in today belongs to you, Christian! And yet the whole trajectory of your life proclaims that it is.

“Son, daughter…I’d like you to stop that please”. Quickly skip the page, avoid the word, feign spiritual deafness.

No chance, Lord.

“Beloved, you really must go there and do this, it’s critical that you do…”.

Jog on, God.

What I’m trying to Say

It’s just that when you follow Jesus, when you love Him more than anything, you become as much like a parched desert-dweller as you do a redeemed grace-gulper. Psalm 63: as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 

There isn’t water here to fully assuage the thirst and longing that you have. Jesus said, blessed are you who thirst for righteousness for you will be filled. It’s coming, but it’s not yet.

In the time that is, of course this is going to take its toll on our minds. This is a unique mental health strain for the Christian because there is no other God like Him.

There is no other God and there is no other Saviour.

The world don’t know a homesickness like this; the world can not know or understand a mental health strain like following and pursuing God.

This is perhaps more half the story more than the other, but it is a half that has almost never been told. 

But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
 until I went into the sanctuary of God;

Psalm 73:16-17(a)

Related sermon

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