“Yet he was such a fighter for joy that he never ceased to win his battles and make his sacrifices as he reached the highest realms of all happiness-a spiritual contentment in Christ.” -Jonathan Aitken
This quote is about William Wilberforce, the great man who fought for over 40 years with zeal and passion to see the slave trade abolished in Great Brittain. He was not only a man of courage and conviction, but a man of abiding and contagious joy. If we claim to love Christ, are we not also called to live out our love with incredible joy and mirth, in continual worship to Him? Justice and joy are two sides to the same coin, my friends. You see, we serve a God of profound glory and holiness, who deserves our highest praise. We cannot enter His presence but by becoming righteous at the cost if His son, Christ, our Savior. His presence and law are so holy that justice is absolute and imperative for His Kingdom. We who are His heirs and servants and friends must live to carry out His justice on this earth where sin and brokenness far too often destroy the very foundations of life and His created order. However, justice alone will not save the world. Justice without joy is like an old schoolmaster with a whip in hand, ready to chastise the child, but never freeing the little one into the realms of gladness and joy for which the blessed person was created!
What good is it for one to practice right living without a heart that is glad in doing so? May I dare say, it might be more worth our time to live the life of a happy heathen than to live “righteously” and dutifully while lacking the very joy that ought to be the bedrock of that righteous life? What good is it if the exterior picture of our lives is clean and kempt, yet the inner life is filled with gloom and godlessness (anger, malice, envy, bitterness…) For, our beloved Jesus said in Matthew 23:26, “Blind Pharisees! First wash the inside of the cup, and then the outside will become clean, too.” I pray that as believers, we would let God do the deep soul cleansing, the surgery of our hearts, to wash us in the suds of joy and scrub us with the power of His love, so that we would not go out and try to do justice in this world without first having the secret strength of hearts free and overflowing with glad faith.
We find that very secret weapon of warfare for the spiritual realm and guide for everyday living in Nehemiah 8:10- it is as clear as the cloudless sky…joy is our force, our fighting chance at the abundant life. The prophet Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothingprepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Only the joy found in Christ can carry us through trial, tragedy, and temptation to eternal triumph.
How do we assume we can overcome evil in this lifetime if we are fighting with a hardened, callous heart for that which is noble and true and right? Does not Scripture command us to overcome evil with good? What is good if not rooted first in a joy-filled heart? Our enemies of affliction, abuse, anger, and all the sums of evil this world has to offer will never be defeated without the single, matchless ingredient of joy. Joy is like the ticker of the clock that keeps the constant and persevering rhythm of time, so it never loses its pulse. Joy is like the small breeze that is unseen and unheard, but rustles everything in its path, moving trees and stones and even reshaping mountains as it picks up pace and force…steadily, over time, transforming the face of the land. Joy is this unseen, unheard, uncanny power to change the course of history for good, for justice, for virtue and freedom. Without joy, I believe it is hard to stay long on the road of faith, hope, or love. These three remain, but is it not joy that weaves its way like a strong threaded needle, binding them together, making them able to withstand the tempests and gales of life that would try to tear apart the very seems of faith, buttons of hope, and knots of love? I ask Jesus today for that mighty joy! To weave a tapestry of joy and dress me in His abiding strength!
As we reflect on one of the greatest heroes history has ever known- the man responsible for abolishing the horrors of the British slave trade- we find the quintessential recipe for conquering the evils of our day and rising above in passion and purpose. “Here is a great key to his perseverance and effectiveness. His presence was ‘fatal to dullness…[and] immorality.’ In other words, his indomitable joy moved other to be happy and good. [Wilberforce] remarked in his book A Practical View of Christianity, ‘The path of virtue is that also of real interest and of solid enjoyment.’ In other words, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). He sustained himself and swayed others by his joy. If a man can rob you of your joy, he can rob you of your usefulness. Wilberforce’s joy was indomitable and therefore he was a compelling Christian and politician all his life. This was the strong root of his endurance…The joy of the Lord became his strength. And in this strength he pressed on in the cause of abolishing the slave trade until he had the victory. Therefore, in all our zeal today for racial harmony, or the sanctity of human life, or the building of a moral culture, let us not forget these lessons: Never minimize the central place of God-centered, Christ-exalting doctrine; labor to be indomitably joyful in all that God is for us in Christ by trusting his great finished work; and never be idle in doing good-that men may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).” –John Piper
“Oh Lord, purify my soul from all its stains. Warm my heart with the love of Thee, animate my sluggish nature and fix my inconstancy, and volatility, that I may not be weary in well doing…Lord, thou knowest that no strength, no wisdom or contrivance of human power can signify, or relieve me. It is in Thy power alone to deliver me. I fly to thee for succor and support, O Lord let it come speedily; give me full proof of thy Almighty power; I am in great troubles, insurmountable by me; but to Thee slight and inconsiderable; look upon me O Lord with compassion and mercy, and restore me to rest, quietness, and comfort, in the world, or in another by removing me hence into a state of peace and happiness. Amen.” – William Wilberforce
Here, my friends, is a little reminder as you face whatever comes this day:
“Joy is like honey: it’s hard to spread it around without getting some on yourself.”