There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.
A couple of nights ago, my sister-in-law and I teamed up to out-vote my health-conscious wife to have fish and chips for dinner. We walked to the takeaways shop to pick them up, and on the way back decided that we needed a bottle of soft drink to accompany the meal. It is tradition after all. I nipped into a convenience store to grab a bottle of Coca-Cola, and while I was waiting to pay for it I amused myself by reading the label:
Sure. Like happiness is really a black fizzy drink, that if you over-consume, can have you at the dentist getting costly work done.
But, a few minutes later as we sat in the last of the summer sun on our deck, with the hot chips and a cool drink of that black-fizzy-happiness-juice, we were laughing and talking together. We were full of joy. Maybe it was because we had opened some happiness – or maybe it was because there was joy in each of us all along, and it took getting together around that table to bring it out.
Do you open happiness, or is happiness the opening of something bigger?
Here, in this letter to the Thessalonian followers of Jesus, Paul is telling them that to live in this new life is to be one of being full of joy. Read enough of Paul and you’ll see why he would say this. His message is continually the Good News that God's activity is near and is restoring the brokenness found in the world through Christ. Everyone is welcome to join in on this, entering what he calls “the new life". It’s a message of grace drenched hope, one that should make us content, and as a result, joyful.
Joy is different to happiness in so many ways and on so many levels; it's much harder to find than happiness, but once found, it’s a generous treasure that is hard to forget. The author Henri Nouwen put it this way:
It seems joy – like so many of the fruits of the Spirit – is made in us by daily choosing it, making a thousand small Spirit-led choices to be joyful in what ever circumstance may show up.
So what would a church that has chosen to make “joy” one of it’s benchmarks look like? I think it could change everything – if joy was the fuel, I could see a big fire. When we get together, joy would make us sing loud and serve gladly. It would make us celebrate treasured moments, and help us be content with the mundane ones. There would be a healthy motive for us to live out the hope that we could be to our city, with more zeal and self-sacrfice. We’d feel alive because we are completely aware that we are living a new life gift from Christ himself.
And so we choose to aim for this benchmark, and by God’s grace may we make it so that we can bring out the joy to be found in everything we put our hand to, opening happiness along the way.