The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 2: Joy in God’s Word [1 of 3]
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
–John 1:1 (NIV)
Productive thinking disrupts unproductive thinking. You overcome evil with good. And when you preoccupy your mind with God’s Word, you go a long way toward shutting out temptation.
—Tommy Newberry, The 4:8 Principle,
Hannah’s a great kid. Yes, I’m a teensy bit biased, but she really is awesome. She’s got a great memory, unshakable persistence, and a command of the English language like her dad. She’s got a spunky attitude, confident fearlessness, and a natural wisdom like her mom. And she sings better than either of us (especially Mary). She’s strong, she’s persistent, she’s got a giving heart, and she’s an amazing prayer warrior. All around, she’s **sigh** perfect . . . . well, there is one character trait that drives both Mary and I to the wine fridge occasionally, and if you have children you’ll agree it’s a chronic symptom of childhood. What am I talking about? Disobedience. Yep, good old-fashioned not listening when told to do something. Thank you Adam and Eve.
“Why are you so mean to me?” Hannah gripes when we get onto her case for disobeying.
“Because you don’t do what you’re told!” we reply, teeth gritted, voices one notch above annoyance and a hair below outright anger. “If you’d only listen to us, we’d never have to spank your butt or yell at you or put you in time out!”
I can just imagine God smiling and nodding His head knowingly, a twinkle in His all-seeing eye. Yep, pot calling the kettle black and all that. As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . .” (Romans 3:23) And disobedience is at the heart of our sinful nature. How often do you go to church and listen to the sermon, or tune in iTunes or the radio or television to hear the message, or click on and read a Spirit-guided blog, then walk out the door, turn off the radio, or close out Internet Explorer without giving it a second thought, or worse, remembering the message but not putting it into practice? Don’t raise your hands all at once. Those of us who have reached the golden age of reason can be just as obstinate about obeying God’s edicts as a child is about obeying her parents’ commands. No wonder joy seems elusive sometimes.
Throughout the Old Testament, God constantly reminded the Hebrews of the benefits of obeying His precepts, and the consequences of disobeying them. Leviticus 26:1-13 clearly spells out these benefits in plain Hebrew: “’If you live in accordance with my precepts and are careful to observe my commandments, I will give you rain in due season, so that the land will bear its crops, and the trees their fruit. . . .’” (Leviticus 26:3-4 NAB). In verses 5 through 13, God promises abundant food to eat, strength to defeat their enemies, and to hang out with them.
In verses 14 through 39, God just as clearly spells out the consequences of disobedience: “’But if you do not heed me and do not keep all these commandments, if you reject my precepts and spurn my decrees, refusing to obey all my commandments and breaking my covenant, then I, in turn, will give you your deserts. I will punish you with terrible woes . . . .” (Leviticus 26:14-16 NAB). Like the Lorrie Morgan lyric, “What part of no don’t you understand?” When the Hebrews didn’t listen, they got sent to timeout–a lot. And they got spanked a time or two.
In the New Testament, Jesus tells His disciples before going to the cross “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:10-12). Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Law, but He still expects us to obey the commands He gave us out of love, for our own good and the good of all His people. We seem to constantly tell Hannah “All you have to do is obey and you won’t get into trouble.” Likewise, listening to God’s word, believing it, and obeying it will keep trouble at arm’s length, with the subsequent benefit of remaining in joy. All we gotta do is love!
In my experience growing up Catholic, my only exposure to Scripture was during mass, when the lector read the weekly first and second readings and the priest read the Gospel then preached on it during his homily. I was well-versed in my Catechism, I could recite Catholic prayers by heart, and I regularly received the Sacraments, but I don’t remember reading Scripture, I never memorized it, and as a consequence I didn’t enter adulthood with a strong appreciation for God’s Word and its power and capacity to instill joy.
In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to not only remember Scripture, but to use it as a tool for becoming wise and for doing good: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17 NIV).
Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes