A friend wrote recently about the destructive habit of self-denigration in so many of the now abundant diary-like web logs – even among Christians, who are called to joy. “Life’s terrible, I’m terrible, I’m a wretch, my life is pathetic, I hate myself . . .” is the litany, often with far more details than any but a voyeur should really want to know. I come away from reading a series of such diaries feeling rather like I need a shower to remove the grit and grime of other people’s self-absorption. My friend points out three particular dangers of this bent:
1. “[I]t leads to constant self-absorption. It seldom looks for answers and rarely, if ever, considers any long enough to act upon them.”
2. “[It] is the [. . .] excuse for NOT doing what we were called to do. ‘I have to get my life together before I can reach out.’”
3. “Perpetual agony over something we cannot change will accomplish little, if anything, productive.”
Right after reading this, I came across an especially appropriate meditation in Chambers, as I was catching up on those days I’d missed. In the 21 June entry, he writes, “The continued grubbing on the inside to see whether we are what we ought to be generates a self-centered, morbid type of Christianity, not the robust, simple life of the child of God. [. . .] How long is it going to take God to free us from the morbid habit of thinking about ourselves?”
It is an indication of just how fallen we are that when offered a feast of joy in full forgiveness and intimate fellowship, we choose instead to wallow about in the mire of our imperfections. Paul reminds us that it is sin that makes us fall, that the truth of who we are lies in this: our hearts made whole and perfect in Christ. “Thanks be to God! There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus Himself assures us that He has come to bring us joy, His joy: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). He told the disciples right before His crucifixion, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). We see Him now; He is the resurrected Lord: why do we remain in the mire? Why do we refuse the joy that no one but we ourselves can rob us of?
We have the Holy Spirit as the seal of our salvation, and the fruit of the Spirit is . . . oh, I’m a worm, I’m despicable? No, the fruit of the Spirit is joy. Nehemiah tells the Israelites after they have repented of their idolatry to no longer grieve, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” If we have tired of doing good, of living righteously, perhaps it is because we have sought self instead of Him, focused on sin instead of the forgiving Savior.
Of course there are trials, sometimes horrific ones. Of course there is sorrow, sometimes deep, haunting sorrow. Of course we still stumble, sometimes badly. The world is still the devil’s and our flesh is not yet burned away. (And remember that the disciples went through trials and sorrows that most of us can’t even imagine - after the time that He promised His joy could not be taken from them.)
But our hearts have been made new. And He has promised joy, abundance of joy, fullness of joy – His own joy. This does not mean we will always feel happiness. Joy is not a trumped-up emotion of our fickle flesh or a fleeting response to changing circumstances, but rather a reality of His life in us. “The joy of the Lord,” Nehemiah says. This means that even in the midst of tragedy – much less the mere daily grind of living in a fallen world – His joy is there to sustain us. We rejoice, not in circumstances, but in Him. We recognize that trials can make us more like Him as they force us to rely on Him, know Him, look to Him instead of ourselves, and so we can agree with James to “count it all joy.”
Chambers exhorts us, “Launch out in reckless belief that the Redemption is complete, and then bother no more about yourself [. . .]. There is only one place where we are right, and that is in Christ Jesus.”
Oh, that Paul’s prayer would bear fruit in our lives: that the Father “may give [us] a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of [Christ], having the eyes of [our] understanding enlightened, that [we] may know what is the hope to which He has called [us], what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe [. . .]” (Eph. 1:17-19).
May we stop lying against the truth and begin acting as though we are what He calls us: His glorious inheritance, bought with a price, created and reborn for joy. How dare we slap Him in the face by calling His glorious inheritance a wretched worm, a despicable clod of dirt. His glorious inheritance – humbling and exhilarating and true.