Continuing with Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society… This time we are looking at chapter 8, Psalm 126. The theme is Joy.
“Joy is characteristic of Christian pilgrimage” (p. 96). Sometimes Christians have a reputation as being sticks in the mud–and sometimes it’s true. Joy is not “a moral requirement for Christian living.” That sort of ethos just encourages people to keep up a facade and denies the reality that Christians, too, experience low points in life when happiness is absent. So, to clarify the situation, “Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence. It is not what we acquire in order to experience life in Christ; it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience.” It comes when we decide to live “in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs” (p. 97).
“Present gladness has past and future” (p. 97). The background for joy is represented by the perspective of hindsight: “God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.” When we recall the ways that God has been with us–noticed or unnoticed at the time–we experience joy in the present and gain strength for the day’s troubles. We find that counting our blessings really does make a difference, tapping into what God has done with us in the past in order to put us in the right frame of mind in the present. “Joy has a history. Joy is the verified, repeated experience of those involved in what God is doing… Joy is nurtured by living in such a history, building on such a foundation” (p. 99).
“Joy is nurtured by anticipation” (p. 99). “Just as joy builds on the past, it borrows from the future. It expects certain things to happen.” The foundation of God’s past action builds up an expectancy regarding what God will do in the future. This is why people say that no matter how great the days are in the present or the past, the best days for the Church are ahead of us–what God has been true of God in the past will be true of God in the future.
“Christian joy is not an escape from sorrow” (p. 100). The writer of this psalm is familiar with difficulty. He remembers the pain of the exile (v1). “One of the most interesting and remarkable things Christians learn is that laughter does not exclude weeping… Pain and hardship still come, but they are unable to drive out the happiness of the redeemed.” We commonly attempt to acheive joy by subtracting what is painful in our lives. But “laughter is a result of living in the midst of God’s great works… Enjoyment is not an escape from boredom but a plunge by faith into God’s work.” Joy occurs in the midst of life’s sorrows because of God’s gracious presence there (Just read Paul’s letters!). “Joy is what God gives, not what we work up” (emphasis mine). Our lives are surrounded by the grace of God, which sustains our walk of discipleship and produces joy among God’s people, “whose lives are bordered on one side by a memory of God’s acts and the other by hope in God’s promises” (p. 102).