At our church weekend away we pondered, amongst other things, the joy of Christ. Matt Searles pointed us to something I had never noticed before- the disciples were unsurprised when Jesus talked about “My joy” in John 15. He evidently had a reputation for being full of joy. We noticed a foretaste of that in the Old Testament. In Proverbs 8 you find wisdom personified. It is not a precise portrait of Jesus (wisdom is female and is created by God) but it points to a deeper picture of Christ, who is God’s wisdom. And when you see the fulfilment of the chapter in Jesus- then you see a wonderful image of the Father and the Son enjoying the work of creation:
“When he marked out the foundations of the earth…I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in the human race.” (Proverbs 8:29-30).
What a picture! The Father and the Son enjoying the work of creation together. And the intention of God is that we share that enjoyment. I love the fact that one of Paul’s evangelistic sermons uses the joy of creation to point to God- “He has not left himself without testimony: he has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:17). Or as Paul writes to Timothy- he is the “God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17). Putting it altogether you have a fantastic picture of a God who rejoices as He creates the world and then enables us to rejoice in all the good things that He has made.
Reflecting on this has has an impact on my sabbatical (the first half of which has just drawn to a close.) I have done some study and some advance preparation. But the thought did strike me that part of the purpose had to be consciously to enjoy the good gifts that God has given. And I have done! Here are a few created things that have given me joy over the last few weeks.
Astonishing Scenery- Standing on a hill (I got there by car!) in the middle of the Isle of Wight looking out over the coastline or sitting by a river gazing on the greenery of the Brecon Beacons filled my heart with gladness. Can you imagine the Father and the Son coming up with that artistry for God’s glory and our good?
Ice Cream- I have eaten quite a bit and managed not yet to replicate a flavour. Food is one of the things the Bible says is given by God for our enjoyment.
Cricket- I tell you- I have never seen anything quite like that World Cup Final. I’m still not quite sure I can believe how it happened. It is God who has given humans the capacity to take pleasure in games and athletic ability.
A wedding- It was a treat to get to preach as a good friend married his bride. Marriage is a gift to be received with thanksgiving.
Friendship- I caught up with various good friends across the sabbatical. Like most of my friendships they are formed on the common bond of loathing small talk and wanting to discuss emotional angst instead. But isn’t it great when you can have a conversation and you click such that you know what the other is thinking before you have said anything? Where there is a level of honesty and trust and you have a sense of being known. Again- picture the Father and the Son planning those sort of relationships.
The temptation is always to enjoy those things- but somehow attempting to do that behind God’s back, seeing them as divorced from the spiritual realm. But a true picture would have us sharing the joy of the Son in the created world. Summer may well give us those sort of opportunities. Enjoy them- and see them as a pointer to the joy of God in creation that He intends to overflow to us.
And every part of me wanted to end there. What I am about to write does not invalidate the joy that we are to have in such things. But, as I writing the above, I was aware that I was writing a half or maybe a three-quarters truth. Because all those joys over the last weeks were somehow bittersweet. Moving from the frivolous to the more serious- the cricket was great but you were left with the sneaking awareness that England did win slightly unjustly. The ice cream eating now needs to be followed up by lettuce-and-tomato eating. Then there is the mild pain of turning your back on the beautiful scenery for the last time knowing that you are returning to a view of the traffic on Woodstock Road. Or- more seriously- just that sense that no matter how good the friendship (and my friends are good) the other person can’t fulfil me completely or remove all my emotional angst. Then there was the experience of the inevitable melancholy that always sweeps over me (and perhaps many single people) in the latter stages of a wedding reception. And, putting those things together, you realise that there is a grain of imperfection- a bittersweet sense- in even the best of enjoyment.
Why? Because this world was never meant to be enough. At one point I was reflecting on some of the pain of unfulfilment when the folly of my thinking struck me. These things were good but not intended to satisfy completely. Rather- they were to point me to the goodness of a Saviour for whom they- and I- were made. Knowing that is healthy because it means I can be thankful for the scenery/ice cream/cricket/wedding/friendship and enjoy them without thinking they are the key to life.
So- enjoy the good things of the summer. And then imagine God’s joy in planning them. And let that lead you to the enjoyment of Him, by whom and for whom they were created.