Wednesday Morning Devotion (Afraid of Joy)

10And he said to them, “Go, eat desserts and drink sweet drinks and send servings of them to those who don’t have any prepared, because this day is holy to our Lord. So don’t be sad, because the joy the comes from YHWH is what makes you strong. — Nehemiah 8:10

One of the great tragedies of the church today is that our places of worship are seen mostly as places for theology, for solemnity, and for dealing with difficult problems. Some churches are places that are only for those who have already dealt with their difficult problems and are living victoriously. Others find in every service a time for repentance, for weeping, and for reform of our disastrous lives.

Now there is a time for solemnity, repentance, weeping, and dealing with problems. There’s even a time for theology. But there’s a fundamental element of Israel’s worship that is missing from many of our churches, and it’s not a change for the better.

That element is joy. We don’t really go to church to celebrate, because we think that would be irreverent. We can have a covered dish lunch after church, but we still have to keep a bit of a “churchy” attitude. The children don’t want to get too noisy in close proximity to God’s house. That must be because God is a crotchety old curmudgeon who doesn’t like fun. We don’t need the Grinch that stole Christmas—we have God!

Now some of you are going “Oh no! He can’t say that about God.” And while I can say it, I’m wrong when I do. But be honest! Don’t we often act like God is more like the Grinch?

Jody wrote a blog entry last night for her new blog, titled Pills – People – and MORE Pills. She talks about people more and more taking drugs to make them happy, which is an increasing problem. She wonders whether people can seek help in our churches.

I want to add to that wondering. Do people avoid church because solemn people with looks of righteous determination on their faces are going to go after them until all their problems are fixed up? Now I’m not suggesting that we don’t pray for one another. But I am suggesting that if we displayed more joy, more celebration, and more appreciation for the Lord and one another, many of our problems would shrink to proper proportions. We could deal with them more effectively.

How often in your congregation does the pastor give the order that Nehemiah gave? Do you ever have a Sunday on which you say, “Don’t be solemn, don’t be grieved, don’t come cry at the altar. Today is a day of rejoicing!” On that day you have only the best food for the covered dish dinner, the kids play noisily and enjoy themselves, nobody gets put in their place by anybody else, and everybody just enjoys themselves.

We often wonder why church attendance drops. Perhaps it’s because we have tended to make church like the doctor’s or dentist’s office. It’s a place where you go when you have problems in order to get some work done, but you don’t enjoy it. Now doctors and dentists try to make their offices as nice as possible. They know that sometimes healing hurts, and so they try to help you relax and get some joy.

Perhaps we could learn a lesson from that for church. Sure people need to be corrected and challenged from time to time. They need to do the hard work of study. But sometimes, and I suspect many times, they need to be joyful and have fun.

Fun Sunday, anyone?

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