Magdalene, our older dog, seems to enjoy the little one, even though she did have to growlingly remind her yesterday that her tail is NOT a chew toy. They both walk with me now, Chloe struggling with her short legs and puppy-plump tummy to keep up, and we look like a parade as we make our morning laps. Magdi has developed some arthritis in her hips so they sit out after the first two rounds, but Chloe still had excess energy this morning. She wanted to be with Magdi, but wanted to run too, so she compromised by running circles around the patient older dog, by turns prancing and ripping back and forth, turning on a dime, as that breed is capable of doing, and yipping playfully. I thought, as I rounded my last bend and came upon this scene that no matter what the scientists tell me about dogs not having emotions, if she did not have it, Chloe was managing a very good impression of pure, unadulterated joy.
First century Christians had that feeling in spades. I did a study on joy recently. Do you know what surprised me? Not a single time does the New Testament say their joy was caused by the physical things in this life—not their health, their wealth, their careers, their homes, not even the weather—is listed as a cause for their joy at all. If it’s in there, I missed it.
What caused their joy? Hearing the gospel, Acts 13:42; being baptized, 8:39; having a hope, Rom 12:12; being counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Christ, Acts 5:41; being afflicted, 2 Cor 7:4; being persecuted and having their possessions confiscated, Heb 10:32-34; being put to grief through trials, 1 Pet 1:6-9; becoming partakers of the suffering of Christ, 1 Pet 4:12-16—whoa, now! What’s going on here? Are these a bunch of masochists or what?
The problem is that we confuse joy with happiness. Hap-piness comes because of things that hap-pen, as does un-hap-piness. Joy is an overriding foundation for how we live our lives. I may experience moments of unhappiness, but as long as I do not let them overcome my life of joy, I am able to survive with that joy intact. I may lose my belongings, lose a loved one, contract a serious illness, even face death, and still not lose my joy.
All those things that caused joy in the early Christians are based upon having a Savior who has gone through every type of problem I ever will have (Heb 4:15), and more than that, gave up an incomprehensible position (Phil 2:6,7), and separated himself from the Father for the first time in all Eternity (Matt 27:46), all so I could have salvation. Anything I have to face in this life, no matter how dire, is petty compared to that. That is why I should only experience moments of grief. To make a “career” of sadness is to devalue everything He went through for me. Nothing I have to face is worse than He faced so that I might some day be in a place where joy will reach its full potential.
Maybe, as Thoreau said in Walden, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” but not Christians. We lead lives of joyful anticipation.
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which comes upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened to you; but insomuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice, that at the revelation of his glory also you may rejoice with exceeding joy. 1 Peter 4:12,13