A few years ago, my wife and I went to see the movie “Mom’s Night Out.” This Sony/Tristar movie was produced/directed by a believer who was homeschooled, and he made it as a tribute to his mother. It’s truly a funny, well-made movie (I say this as one who usually expects to be disappointed by films made by Christians).
I wasn’t the only one pleasantly surprised. The CNN religion blog began an article on the movie this way: “"Moms’ Night Out" starring Patricia Heaton and Sean Astin is opening on more than 1,000 screens, and it aims to do something no other Christian major motion picture has endeavored to do: make you laugh. On purpose.”
Notice the premise of CNN’s post: Can Christians even be funny? Evidently, we have an image problem when it comes to humor, happiness, and joy. We truly are expected to be joyless, somber people with no place for laughter in our lives. On the one hand, it seems absurd because I work with a bunch of Christians and we laugh heartily and often. But on the other hand, the premise exists for a reason—on average, we Christians are a pretty dour bunch.
But what exactly does it look like to be a joyless Christian?
I’m drawn to Philippians 4:4-7 (CSB).
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your graciousness† be known to everyone. The Lord is near.† 6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses† all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Is Paul’s command that we rejoice in verse 4 defined in the verses that follow, or is he simply listing a series of traits and practices Christians should emulate? Either interpretation, I believe, is hermeneutically sound, so let’s explore the idea that verses 5-7 at least in part define Christian joy, and do so by stating them in the negative.
Joyless Christians have little respect for others. “Let your graciousness be known to everyone.” How I love to be around people who accept me for who I am … who go out of their way to protect me from my own sin … who cover me when I sin rather than judge me when I sin. Such people have a deep, abiding joy because they are all the more aware of God’s grace in their life and receive even more joy by demonstrating that grace in their relationships.
If you lack joy, ask yourself: “Am I a gracious person?”
Joyless Christians have not taken to heart that God is near. “The Lord is near.” In every room in our home is a web-based wireless security camera. At any point and time, I can open an app on my phone to see and hear what’s going on any given room. The room we don’t have one is the basement because it’s there that we host travelers thru AirBnB. Guests demand and expect privacy (as they should). Sometimes Christians act as if they’ve gotten what they need out of God and then live a very private life without Him. “Thanks for the salvation. I’ll call you when I need you.” It’s a joyless life based in the lie that happiness is found in freedom of the self. Paul reminds us, though, that the Lord is near. He’s always with me, and reminding myself of this doesn’t creep me out, but fills me up. He went to great lengths for this relationship to begin and blossom: why would I ever think I could be happy without Him near?
If you lack joy, ask yourself: “Do I know and treasure the fact God is near?”
Joyless Christians are mired in worry rather than devoted to prayer. “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” As I wrote yesterday, if God knows what I need, God is faithful to provide what I need. There is no scenario in which I don’t have what God knows I need. He doesn’t know things I need and not provide them. So, when I worry about not having what I think I need, I am demonstrating both a lack of faith in God to give and an over-confidence in my own responsibility to make sure I have it. The net result is a prayerless, joyless life.
If you lack joy, ask yourself: “Am I praying every time I am tempted to worry?”
Joyless Christians are focused on the issues rather than the Issuer. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” If God is faithful to know my needs and give me what I need, I should first seek him, not the needs. Doing so removes the source of worry all together, grows my faith, and glorifies him.
If you lack joy, ask yourself: “Am I more obsessed with God than I am my circumstances?”
This last point is crucial and should not be easily dismissed. As consumers, we are prone to find joy in circumstances. We go to great lengths to find happiness in experiences, goods and even other people, when ultimate joy cannot be found there. It is found in a gracious, present, Provider that we often forget, to our detriment and those we love and serve.