Joy Not Fear
I take God’s commandments in Scripture very seriously. Two of them have been on my heart in very deep ways over the last several months: “do not be afraid” and “rejoice.”
In Adam Hamilton’s Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times, he notes that the words “do not be afraid” are spoken over 100 times in the Bible. God seems to want us to combat the fears that sometimes take over our lives. I want to obey that commandment. But it is not easy.
My Bible study software tells me that the word “rejoice” shows up in 168 verses in the Bible. Recently a devotional which started our cabinet meeting called attention to two of those verses, Philippians 4:4 says, “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16 says “rejoice always.” In addition, I was recently reminded of the nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. The second one in the list is “joy.” When I am closest to Christ and feeling the power of the Holy Spirit in my life, I am filled with joy. Why does that not happen more frequently?
Sometimes my heart is oriented more toward fear. These are difficult times for our church, for our country, and for our world. Shootings in schools make us wonder if our children are safe. Threats of war—even nuclear war—are stronger today than in recent times. Floods in the Texas Annual Conference devastated more than 100,000 homes and caused uncertainty about how we will handle future hurricanes. Homelessness, pornography, poverty, illness and many other problems face us regularly. Fear does not seem to be irrational in such situations!
Despite the fear, my faith leads me to choose joy. Like most things related to faith, it is often the prompting of the Holy Spirit that reminds me to focus my thoughts and emotions on God. When I get worried about the future of the church, I remember that it is God’s church and (in the words of our old liturgy) it “will endure to the end of time, for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers and the conversion of the world.” When I am afraid about something in my own life, I remember that God’s providence is sufficient and even in bad times God is at work to bring the best out of it. When I look at our country and the world, I remember that God is at work to save his whole creation. I need to trust God more.
Part of the complication in the 21st century is the multitude of voices that come to us. Internet conversations, news reports, text messages, advertisements and other forms of communication all crowd out spiritual messages. My best way of staying in touch with God’s vision and cultivating joy (along with the other eight fruit of the Spirit) is to practice the means of grace. I am in worship every week, praying several times a day, reading my Upper Room online, reading Scripture daily and engaging in conversation with Christian friends.
When the Holy Spirit prompts me toward joy and away from fear, I choose joy.
Bishop Scott Jones