This week, I have been thinking about joy. On Sunday, I was asked to give the morning Scripture reading and prayer of supplication during the church service. My text was the entire chapter of Romans 8. As I read, I felt myself pleading Paul’s words to my church family. I also felt myself getting more and more excited until I hit a crescendo with the last 9 verses of the chapter. I’m pretty sure I hit my “preacher voice” while doing so. I just got caught up in the proclamation.
The result was that my prayer was so long that I think the worship leader’s guitar went out of tune. (That’s a joke. He sounded fine.) As I rejoined my wife afterward, she leaned over and teased, “Longest prayer EVER.” I sheepishly whispered, “I know. I couldn’t help myself.”
For the record, it was the pastor’s fault for choosing that passage. (Sorry, Travis.) You can’t give me Romans 8 to read aloud to my church family, and then expect me to keep my prayer short.
Over the years, I’ve struggled with engaging my faith emotionally. I’m thankful for faithful brothers over the years who have challenged me to “get out of my head” more and let my heart connect to the truth and beauty of the Gospel. It’s always a challenge; I get so caught up in thinking about doctrine that I don’t give myself time or space to experience wonder at the doctrines themselves. I need more awe in my orthodoxy.
It’s an unfair stereotype of Reformed (and reformed-ish) people, this doctrinal dourness–especially considering that some of the figures in Reformed theology who are most passionate about doctrinal purity, like Calvin and Edwards, are also supremely aware of the joy that is found in a knowledge of the truth!
Thankfully (and providentially), my recreational reading this week compounded these thoughts. I had started working through The Joy Project by Tony Reinke, in which he argues that a proper understanding of the doctrines of grace (how we are saved by God’s sovereign choice, and kept in Christ by His faithful promise) actually can help to promote our joy. (If you haven’t read this book, I can’t recommend it enough; it’s short but powerful.)
While reading this book, I came to a difficult conclusion: I’m pretty much the world’s worst Calvinist. I have spoken and taught about the sovereignty of God for years. “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases,” says Psalm 115:3. I have over and over again affirmed that there is no detail of life, no atom of creation, that is not under the superintendence and control of God from one end of eternity to the other.
And yet, I still (almost compulsively) check and re-check the locks on the doors every morning when we leave and every night when we go to bed. And yet I still sometimes feel my pulse spike when I hear an unexpected creak or thump in the dark. And yet, up until just a few weeks ago, would struggle not to imagine scenarios in which wicked men could burst into our bedroom, catching us unawares.
My theology of God’s total authority and complete control of all of life had not yet penetrated the fearful corners of my heart. While things are getting better, and I am learning to confess and pray through the truths of God’s protection and power, I still wrestle with those fearful thoughts. Perhaps this will always be the case. This makes me all the more thankful for God’s grace over my weakness.
I bring this up to say: What I’ve been considering this week is that the way I battle against the faithless fears of the dark is not just with truth, but also with joy: delight in God and His Word, peace in faithfully believing His promises, rest in the comfort of His love. I might truly be able to conquer these anxieties through the joy that comes from knowing and believing the truth–and from knowing and believing the One who is Truth.
Maybe part of the battle is affirming in child-like faith, “Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so. All His sheep, to Him, belong; and we are weak–but He is strong.”