People usually get entirely the wrong idea about how we live as Christians.
The first mistake they make is to imagine that we have trapped ourselves in an austere system of rules, moral laws from on high that we absolutely will not and cannot break. That life in Christ is like being in prison, or a particularly strict military school. They believe that we live regulated lives, and that our lives are defined by that regulation and discipline.
Visions of tightly-wound and fiercely buttoned up men and women float before their eyes; the stern countenances of the pilgrim fathers (and mothers) who first settled in America. From there, other assumptions are made: Christians must be weak or we’re rigid. We must be inflexible or in desperate need of a crutch to make our way through life.
And then comes the other major mistake that people living in the world make about us: They decide that we must be having absolutely the worst possible time in all the world. We must be such miserable, joyless creatures! The whole idea of Thanksgiving gets boiled down to a bunch of stern men and women in three-cornered hats and white bonnets, solemnly “giving thanks” with no enthusiasm or genuine delight. What could Christians possibly have to be thankful for?
There is, of course, one common thread to these misunderstandings about the nature of our lives in Christ: There’s no Christ in any of it.
They don’t understand, and (literally) bless them, but how could they? They’ve never met God!
Likewise, their idea of who the Father is is limited to clichés about an old man sitting amid clouds, probably looking and speaking remarkably like Charlton Heston, furrowing His brow and hurling the occasional thunderbolt at people that take His name in vain.
There’s no God in the god they picture.
There’s no Spirit in the holy places they imagine.
And there’s no joy in any of it.
It doesn’t ring true of our experiences on any level, does it?
We’re a people of rejoicing.
It’s the cycle of spirituality that defines our being. God delights in us, and in Jesus within us, and as we bask in His acceptance and pleasure, our own delight in Him grows.
Worship isn’t simply a few hymns or some pretty tunes. It’s the rejoicing of a community that has citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, the return of His delight to Him in the form of our own.
It’s not a rote thing, some archaic ritual handed down through the generations for those generations to bore future generations to sleep with; it’s a living, breathing expression of who we are.
Being a Christian isn’t a burden or a chore. There are no disciplines in Heaven. No one’s marking time, grimly pounding a beat, gritting their teeth to get through another day. There’s no procrastination involved, no waiting for the boring stuff to be over. Living in Christ is like having the best conversation with your favorite people, like doing your dream job and doing it well. It’s like vacationing in your favorite spot, and deciding to move there. Or, as Hebrews 12:1-2 puts it:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
We make Christ’s passions our own, with a little help from the Holy Spirit. Everything that they see as a discipline is our delight, because when you’re in the Spirit, joy is integral to your life, as much a part of us as the sun on our faces and the clothes on our backs.
When you don’t factor in enjoyment or rejoicing to your life as a Christian, then there’s a central piece to the puzzle missing from your life.
It’s like having Thanksgiving dinner without the turkey, or a movie night without a TV. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t make sense.
We’re captivated by Jesus. We’re not held captive by ritual. We focus our attention on Him, flowing in the nature of God Himself, moving in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we’re filled with Christ, it becomes such a natural thing for us that it’s not an effort to make Him the full focus of our lives, it’s like opening our mouths and drawing in air. And as His affection for us overwhelms us, He becomes the object of our desire and enjoyment.
That’s why Thanksgiving is such a beautiful day for Christians. The cycle of the Spirit continues, the wheel turning on delight and joy, and a radiant glimpse of a future that promises more to come. Rejoicing is the essence of worship, the essence of our lives as Christians.
It’s the essence of Thanksgiving.
P.S. Instead of rattling off a list of things you’re thankful for, what are some ways you can truly live a life full of rejoicing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!