Gloomy Christian Clones
John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
I remember singing in Sunday school at the age of five, being told by the teacher, Heaven will be just like this. In heaven, we will get to sing for eternity. Heaven sounded awful. I had a short attention span, so sitting in a hard, wooden chair for eternity sounded like the other place. I am sure that the idea of an eternal song truly appealed to her, but in the back of my mind, I was a little worried that my personality did not match up with God’s plan.
I still tend to do this. I see the Christian life as a joyless, bleak existence in which I surrender all pleasures. Like a monk, I must put on a sad face, wear gray clothes and never smile… I often think that becoming a good Christian means losing everything that makes me unique. Self-denial means that we all become boring, cookie-cutter clones of each other, right? As I have caused myself destruction in my pursuit of pleasure, I must now pursue a joyless existence.
Jesus insisted in today’s passage however, that we are to be joyful. We are to remain attached to him as a branch is to the vine, so that our lives may be full of joy. He said I was made not for misery but for happiness and joy.
How then, do we know this joy? Why are Christians not the happiest people we know? Why do we still struggle with the same defects everyone else struggles with? Most of us have an expectation that when we follow God, He will remove all our problems and make us happy. We go to God, asking him to take away our depression and then when He does not magically make us happy, we feel cheated and abandoned. I asked you to help me and You failed me. I’m still miserable. Are you really there? Don’t you care?
In the misery of my addiction, I prayed time and again that God would take my defect from me. He did not, so I remained in my misery and became bitter at God. It became his fault that I was an addict and He became the source of my misery.
Paul tells us though that this is not how joy works. He repeatedly asked God to remove his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12) but God refused. Paul then learned that his joy was not found in removal of all miseries of this flesh life, but rather, in realizing the greater reality of our spirit life. I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content… I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11,13).
True joy is not found in God removing every problem in this temporal life. True joy is found in realizing the profound reality of our life in Christ. When I daily abandon self to follow Christ, I come to know joy despite all the miseries and defects of my flesh life. God may never completely remove my addiction, but in following God, I do not have to live enslaved to it. I can know freedom and joy in Christ. The defect may remain, but I find joy and freedom when I daily pursue God instead of me.
Does this then mean that I must become a dreary clone of every other Christian? Absolutely not. It is only in pursuing my spirit life above all that I can truly learn to enjoy the pleasures of this life appropriately. Paradoxically, I only truly find myself when I first lose myself in God.