Commentary

Joy – The Sound the Evil One Hates. The Evil One hates noisy, happy, genuine Christians! He does not want to see our gratitude expressed to God – either as an individual or a family, as a nation or community, that offers thanks to God for all He has done. Satan does not want to permit as much as one individual to say grace over a crust of bread. His goal is to silence us, to destroy our inner peace and have us be anything but steady and moderate, gentle and gracious under fire. Such a Christian – joyful and exuberant, steady under fire, always thankful, peaceful and calm, unruffled by the spiritual warfare around them – is an absolute terror to the kingdom of darkness. Luther, it is said, was awakened one night by a disturbance in his room. Wide awake and sitting up in his bed, Lucifer stood at his feet. Luther reportedly looked at the devil and muttered, “O, it’s only you!” and went back to sleep.

When Leslie Town Hope came through Ellis Island in 1908, he was only four. A cruel skewing of his name, Les Hope, was rendered as “Hopeless.” But the resilient lad would overcome the moniker. He would change his name and arguably become the greatest comedian, one of the most beloved characters of the twentieth century – Bob Hope.[1] He made jokes and provoked laughter at everyone and everything. The nation listened – and laughed. He was at his best when times seemed toughest. His jokes were a diversion from the deadly pressure of daily life. He told America that things could be worse – and everyone laughed, knowing he was right. But then Hope would suggest, things would soon be better – and everyone breathed a bit easier. He rallied performers and took them in war zones to offer ‘Hope’ to soldiers living with the threat of death itself. If there was a war, Bob Hope was going to get as close to the fire as possible – and laugh. We should too! Luther declared, “When I cannot pray, I always sing.” Wesley, too, believed that, “Praise opens the door to more grace.”[2] O, the power of joy.

Joy – The Sound the Hurting Need to Hear. No one maintained joy while dancing with death more than Mother Teresa, called the Saint of the Gutters. She organized the Missionaries of Charity. She oozed joy. Her birth place was Skopje, Macedonia. As a teen, she was led to Calcutta, India. There she spotted a dying woman lying in the street, alone, no longer able to fight off the rats. Barely alive, the noxious creatures had already started devouring her weak body. No one cared.

Stirred deeply, she remembers being compelled to act. Returning to the overcrowded city, the government gave her the use of a broken down building adjoining a Hindu temple. From that obscure place, she started a thankless ministry that would make her a household name around the world. That broken-down building became a place for the abandoned to die with care –  the Home for the Dying. “If there is a God in heaven, and a Christ we love, nobody should die alone,” she believed.[3] Living in a sea of diseased and dying people, she never lost her joy.

The West could not understand either her selflessness or her joy. All the things that spell happiness in our culture were absent – a typical home, a family, plenty, privacy and more. She lived on the edge of poverty, gave her time cleaning up the most vile and odorous humans imaginable, wiping body fluids from unconscious cancer and leprosy victims, all the while appearing blissful. Malcolm Muggeridge once interviewed her, asking her bluntly if her joy was a façade. “Is that a put-on?” Muggeridge asked. She replied, “Oh no, not at all. Nothing makes you happier than when you really reach out in mercy to someone who is badly hurt.” Self-preoccupation is the route to despair. Happiness does not come from our acquisitions, but from our giving. Not the giving of mere things, but the giving of ourselves. Those who visited her facility would find the sisters joyfully singing.

Joy – The Sound of a Committed Christian. We rejoice… “in the Lord!” The phrase occurs earlier in the letter. “In the Lord,” we “stand fast” (4:1) and we are “of the same mind in the Lord” (4:2). When we step out of self and into Christ, we find joy. Conversely, when we step out of our position in Christ and strive in our own strength, we lose our joy. When we attempt to think our way out of and around the problem, rather than cling to the mind of Christ, we lose divine joy. To be “in the Lord” is to be in “a sphere of spiritual experience wherein lie unusual resources of strength and unusual expectation of behavior.”[4] If we are not standing steadfast “in the Lord”, we will not be joyful. A bit of bumper sticker theology advises, “God loves everyone, but probably prefers ‘fruits of the spirit over religious nuts!’”

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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1] See: Hope, Bob; Ann T. Keene, author: www.anb.org/articles/18/18-03790-print.html. Also see Hope’s memoirs I Never Left Home (1944); William Robert Faith, Bob Hope: A Life in Comedy (2003).

[2] Wesley Duewel, Touch the World Through Prayer (Zondervan, 1986), 141.

[3] Quoted by Bill Bright, Discover the Real Jesus (Bright Media Foundation, 2004), 47.

[4] Stuart Briscoe. Bound for Joy (Glendale, CA: Gospel Light; 1975), 133.

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