Monday, December 31, 2007

Which comes first--the joy or the deed

You know, the ways of God are beyond tracing out (Romans 11:33). Yet I believe I have a clue as to the role of joy as it relates to our spiritual lives and work.

Borrowing from theologian David Jones:

"I think that the biblical ethic, not just the New Testament but also the Old, is a dispositional ethic. It begins with the heart: 'you shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.' So I think that it is right to say that love for our neighbor, like love for God, is rightly understood as a dispositional complex. It is rational in that it recognizes other human beings as the image of God, it is affectional in that it relates to other human beings at the level of emotion, and it is volitional in that it seeks to do them good". © Spring 2006, David C. Jones & Covenant Theological Seminary.

The heart, then, is the key. When our hearts have love and therefore servanthood at their core, they have a comprehensively full-orbed disposition that engages heart, mind, and will. There is no way to have the Holy Spirit operating in this way without the fruit of joy (Galatians 5:22).
I conclude that true joy occurs simultaneously with any work produced by faith. I do not believe the ideal is to "just do the act." regardless of how you feel. Your lack of passion and feeling are as sinful as omitting the act. Imagine if God loved us from a disposition of coldness. Never mind, don't imagine it. He doesn't.

The problem seems to be that we do not understand the resident power of the Spirit in the lives of believers, or perhaps have grown indifferent to it. We may have even downplayed any study of the Spirit's role in our lives out of fear of Charismatic theology.

My personal testimony: I was meditating on the Word in Isaiah around the neighborhood the other morning, and later I came in the house after my walk. A spontaneous thought came over me to empty the clean dishes in the dishwasher as a favor to my wife, with no thought of her praising me. I had a tremendous amount of joy at the same time as the thought. I immediately praised God for his work in my life in this small but vital spiritual act of service. And I completed the task. This is by no means a rare occurrence in my life, and not all my service is of the same sort. But you get the point.

Do you want to get in on it? I recommend Piper's "When I Don't Desire God." It reads like a manual on the Spirit-filled life, with a view to the maintenance of joy in God.

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