I recently re-read this quote from Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry, about the chance you have had in life. I’ll paste in the last paragraph so you, dear readers, don’t have to click.
And so Nathan required me to think a thought that has stayed with me a long time and has traveled a long way. It passed through everything I know and changed it all. The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives, even about your children being gone, but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.” I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.
Those are not such easy instructions, but oh how splendid the life of following them.
In the beginning I didn’t want to post about singleness here, and it still makes me cringe every now and then to think of being a “singleness blogger”. But I mention it occasionally because I think it’s helpful for other single people to know that someone knows how it is, and maybe for married folks to know what single life can be also (because it’s not the same as their memories of singleness if they married young) and to, hopefully occasionally, write here or point to helpful words elsewhere. But all of it is failing if, in the end, I don’t also keep testifying to the goodness of God in all things and following those instructions.
The quote above reminded me of a sermon I wrote out years and years ago (I think I had it on a tape – I have no idea how I came by that tape – and I spent hours transcribing it before I knew it would one day be on the world wide web), called Rejoicing Always, by John MacArthur. I’ve mentioned it on the blog in about 2008. But in the sermon he helpefully separates out the difference between happiness, based on happenings and happenstance, and joy, then defines Christian joy like this:
Christian joy is the emotion springing from the deep-down confidence of the Christian that God is in complete and perfect control of everything, and will bring from it our good in time, and our glory in eternity.
It’s notable that he still calls it an emotion, but how could joy not be an emotion? Then he lists ten reasons for rejoicing always and ten hindrances (it’s quite the sermon, which is well worth reading if you have a chunk of time and a very hot coffee, but here is a summarised list of the reasons and hindrances):
- Reason number one: as an act of appreciation for the character of God
- Second, another reason for rejoicing always is as an act of appreciation for the work of Christ
- Thirdly, rejoice always, not only as an act of appreciation for the character of God, and the work of Christ, but as an act of appreciation for the ministry of the Spirit
- Number four, as an act of appreciation for spiritual blessings
- Number five, we ought to rejoice always as an act of appreciation for divine providence
- Number six, we ought to have unceasing joy as an act of appreciation for the promise of future glory
- Number seven, as an act of appreciation for answered prayer
- Number eight, another reason to rejoice unceasingly, as an act of appreciation for the Scripture
- Number nine, you should rejoice always as an act of appreciation for Christian fellowship
- Number ten, as an act of appreciation for gospel preaching
Then the hindrances:
- Number one: false salvation. There are some people who have no joy because they have no true source of it.
- Second hindrance: Satan himself. I believe Peter says it when he says, “Satan goes around as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” There is a destruction there, and that destruction is the destruction of joy, and peace, and contentment.
- Thirdly, a third hindrance is ignorance. Listen to it as simply as I can say it: bad doctrine steals joy.
- Number four: unbelief. Unbelief is simply the failure to believe what you know.
- Five: ingratitude. This is the attitude that never has enough.
- Number six: false expectations. This is the aberration, by the way, that Jesus has promised to make your life happy, rich, successful, healthy, and full of miracles.
- Number seven – and this is the source of the last two – is just plain old pride. Self-centeredness.
- Number eight: forgetfulness. “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” Psalm 103:2 says, “and forget none of His benefits.” Forgetfulness will steal your joy.
- Number nine: prayerlessness. This is the attitude, I’ll trust in my own resources, I don’t need prayer, I can figure it out.
- And one last one, and listen very carefully – this is the climax and the conclusion. Feelings – feelings will steal your joy. Emotions – this is the major issue that hinders joy. (This is where, having called joy an emotion, he actually talks about controlling your emotions.)
It’s helpful to ponder that list if joy is hard to find.
I was actually fishing around for Christmas songs the other week, and I actually rediscovered this old one sung by the Indigo Girls called There’s Still My Joy, which seems an apt way to finish (I don’t know why the Indigo Girls sing this, but I am glad they do). Many things might not be working out as we’d hoped this Christmas, but the joy of Christmas does eclipse them all.