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Friday, April 22, 2016

Joy

    Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 
-1 Peter 1:8-9 (NIV)


One of my many important functions around the Odum house is the vital role of Canine Exercise and Waste Evacuation Consultant. To the layman, the job is often known as “Dog Walker,” but in my opinion that title trivializes the time, dedication, training, and hardship that must be invested in what the unenlightened refer to so dismissively as “walking the dog.”
     But I digress. Our dog, Isaiah, knows enough to be able to identify me as chief C.E.W.E.C. So every night after dinner he shadows me everywhere. Every time I turn around, there he is staring at me expectantly and hopefully. Every time I take a step, I have to be careful not to trip over the little mutt. If I don’t respond promptly enough, he whines to get my attention and when he has it looks at me with pleading brown eyes, as if to say, “You didn’t forget, did you?”
     And so eventually, almost every night, I get his leash and a plastic grocery bag. He’s never far away, and when he sees me get the leash and bag he goes berserk. His tail wags so hard he can’t run right, and so when he runs toward me momentum pulls his back end around so that he’s almost running sideways. He tries, oh how he tries, to sit still so I can clip his leash to his collar, but more often than not he’ll be so excited that before I can get the leash on he jumps up and runs a circle or two around me before flopping down on his back so I can get the leash on. 
     Once leashed, he pulls me toward the door, then leaps up past doorknob height while I open it. Then we’re off; he pulls me down the steps and we set off down the sidewalk in a sprint. 
     One night as we went through this ritual, a thought occurred to me. I said it out loud to Laura, hoping that maybe she’d correct me. She didn’t, which suggests to me that I’m not wrong.
     The thought that occurred to me was that I doubted that I could ever make another living thing as happy as I make Isaiah simply by taking him for a walk.
     It was just a random thought, but the more I think about it the more I think it may be true. That’s less a reflection on me, though, as it is on human beings in general. Frankly, we’re a little hard to impress. As kids we can get pretty excited, but as we get older unbridled joy gets harder and harder to come by. For a whole variety of reasons, by the time we’re adults we turn into grouches who get very good at complaining and finding fault and rehearsing what’s wrong, but seem to lose our ability to rejoice in simple, small, good things.
     I suppose that’s a part of the fall, just another symptom that something of God’s image has been lost , or clouded, or broken. Maybe it has to do, too, with the expectations that we have of our lives, and the disappointment that inevitably comes when what we’ve dreamed of doesn’t happen. Maybe it’s that joylessness is contagious, and we live around so many sullen, angry, discouraged people. Or maybe, and I think this is very likely too, we just forget to be joyful. We’ve cultivated the habits of grumbling and fault-finding and finding the cloud in every blue sky, and have neglected to develop the habit of celebrating the many forms – often small and unexpected – that God’s grace takes in our lives.
     At Walk Time, Isaiah has the habit of joy nailed. If he’s had a rough day, he doesn’t remember at that moment. All he knows right at that moment is that it’s time to celebrate. It’s time to wag the tail and jump and run and bark in excitement. I should take notes. Find reasons to be joyful, and when I find one I should be joyful without reservation, inhibition, or equivocation.
     I have a theory, and since you’ve chosen to read this far I’ll presume to share it with you. I think that part of what is “saved” in the process of salvation is our ability to be joyful. Think about all the times in the Bible God’s people are told to rejoice in the things that God has done. Think of all the times we’re reminded that joy is an appropriate response – really the only appropriate response – to God’s grace. In Scripture, God’s people celebrate when he does something amazing on their behalf; think of Miriam leading the women in singing and dancing on the western shore of the Red Sea. They celebrate the harvest, when he blesses all their hard work. Isaiah promised Israel that when they came home from exile the trees themselves would “clap their hands” and join in their joy. David danced before the LORD with all his might. Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit.” “Rejoice in the Lord always,” Paul instructed the church in Philippi. And Peter, maybe thinking back on the joy he felt in Jesus’ presence, wrote with amazement that even those who hadn’t seen him with their physical eyes felt that same inexpressible joy because of their faith that he was coming again.
     Oh, I think so – part of what Jesus saved when he saved us was our ability to feel and live and act out of joy. When we rejoice, it’s “in the Lord” – out of our new life in him. When we’re full of joy, it’s “through the Holy Spirit.” You’ve seen it, haven’t you? You’ve seen people who because of their relationship with Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives are just overflowing with joy. Sometimes they overflow with joy even when there’s no earthly reason – even when they’re suffering pain and disappointment. And that’s how you know that their joy comes from somewhere else, outside their own bodies and minds. It’s God’s gift to us, to his daughters and sons in whom he takes such joy.
     So don’t forget to wag your tail, so to speak. Don’t forget to jump for joy. Don’t feel ashamed to dance before the Lord with all your might, despite the Michals who might not approve. Inexpressible joy is God’s gift to you – the restoration of something sin had taken away. The people around you need to see it, because they need it restored in themselves, too.

      Come take our dog for a walk one night if you want to see how it’s done.

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