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Joy in the Journey

As we look together at intentional faith development, there is joy in the journey - a deep seated peace and happiness that transcends even tragedy. This was at least part of what John Wesley was pointing toward in his understanding of the doctrine of perfection. Joy is at the core of holiness of heart and life. There is a story which sticks with me from Philip Yancey’s marvelous book Where is God When It Hurts? Yancey writes of being surprised by happiness [deep seated joy]. He interviews and examines the lives of those we might call famous or stars and comments, “these ‘idols’ are as miserable a group of people as I have ever met” (Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts?, p. 57). Then he reflects on those who might rightly be called “servants.”  Then he comments:  “I was prepared to honor and admire these servants, to uphold them as inspiring examples. I was not, however, prepared to envy them. But now, as I reflect on those two groups, stars and servants, the servants clearly emerge as the favored ones, the graced ones. They work for low pay, long hours and no applause, ‘wasting’ their talents among the poor and uneducated. But somehow, in the process of losing their lives they have found them. They have received the peace that is not of this world” (Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts?, p. 57). Once again we rediscover the truth of Jesus’ teaching. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). I heard someone say once in a sermon that “great living comes in serving.”  There is a truth here that gets at the essence of Methodism’s understanding of holiness of heart and life. Many love to quote St. Irenaeus, “the glory of God is man fully alive.”  What is missing is the full citation from this great saint. He continued, “The life of man is the vision of God.”  Intentional faith development is our moving on to perfect in this life through the very vision and works of the Lord. Literally and factually speaking, there is joy in the journey. Both in Scripture and in the words of Jesus we are given an invitation to celebrate the joy, to enter into the discipline of joy. Sounds odd, doesn’t it, to combine those two words – discipline and joy?  Yet as a matter of faithful living they go together. Consider the powerful example that comes to us from the eighth chapter of the book of Nehemiah. Let me set the context for you. The book of Nehemiah comes at the point in which the Hebrew people have returned to Jerusalem from exile. They have seen their nation destroyed. The Holy Temple where God is said to dwell is in ruins. They had been driven from their homes and lived in foreign lands as, at best, second class citizens. Now at last they return home. If Hollywood were to film the scene that opens before us in the eighth chapter, the picture would pan across a sad heart-wrenching tableau. As the chapter opens, the Law of Moses is read to them. After living through devastation, they encounter again the Holy Scriptures in a scene of covenant renewal. They weep in verse nine because they understand how far short of God’s law they have fallen. These are a people who ought to be joyless but instead, as the word of God comes to them afresh, Nehemiah speaks for the Lord. “Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength’” (Nehemiah 8:10). Did you catch the focus in the last part of that verse?  “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” God is telling them – don’t focus on the human failure; focus on God’s graciousness; focus on what God has done, is doing, and will do. In the tumult of our time those are words we need to hear. Intentional faith develop leads to joy in the journey. The fruit of such joy is the “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ”  (Philippians 4:7, KJV). Such is the ultimate aim of intentional faith development: a growing maturity in Christ that results in crazy love for God and others, immense joy in service to all, deep peace that passes understanding and true discipleship in daily walk with God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. What more could anyone want from life?! Recently I had the privilege of attending a Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF) Board meeting. At the meeting we focused on the issue of what it means to “make disciples.”  Among a number of outstanding and provocative presentations Dr. Clayton Oliphant & Rev. Debra Hobbs Mason from First UMC, Richardson, Texas shared the following contrast (which I use with permission). Traditional Approach to Discipleship:
  • more passive than active
  • more complex than simple
  • more accidental than intentional
  • more subjective than quantifiable
New Approach
  • more active than passive
  • more simple than complex
  • more intentional than accidental
  • more quantifiable than subjective
So I invite the reader, lay or clergy, to reflect on the path to discipleship in your community of faith. Have your really focused on “making disciples” – disciplined committed followers of Jesus Christ?  Do you have a clear path that members and visitors alike can readily grasp and comprehend?  Does your path to discipleship engage in critical behavioral change?  Are demons faced and confessed with forward movement in holiness of heart and life (moving on to perfection)?  Is there joy in the journey and the fruit of peace which passes all understanding?