At a Bible study the other night, one of the marvellous hosts introduced me to a new song I’d never heard before. Now when I say new, it’s around five years old but I’m a great believer that all good songs were written before the year 2000 and only the odd couple written after are any good—so it takes me a while for a good new song to filter through to me. Now I highly doubt this song will be a classic remembered for generations, but it is a fun, highly catchy little number. The song is called “Happy Dance“ by MercyMe. The song is all about being happy because of what Jesus has done for us; we are so filled with joy we just need to dance, ie happy dance. Now I know dance is a bad word in many Adventist circles, but here it is an expression of joy, joy in knowing we are saved. But that got me thinking (which is always dangerous), what is this joy they are singing about and can it be found in the Adventist Church?
Now we sing about joy in our church hymnal—I was looking for hymns to go with this sermon when I preached it—and my wonderful wife came across a hymn called “Joy By and By“. This song tends to illustrate a strong brand of thinking about joy in the conservative churches across the board. We work hard in life and endure all the hardships on earth and then our joy and reward is found in heaven after we die. That stinks. That is so not the life that God has intended us to have. John 10:10 proves this completely: “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]“. The joy in heaven will be unbelievably awesome, but Jesus has promised us amazing joy here on earth too. So what are the reasons we can be abundantly joyful?
Jesus loves us completely, intimately (John 3:16). Don’t we all crave to be loved by someone. Here He is, a Divine Person who loves us so much He died for us.
Jesus loves us just the way we are; we don’t need to change to be loved. But it is the love of Jesus that will change us from the inside and sculpt us into the masterpiece He knows is within us.
Jesus has not just forgiven us, but taken on the penalty of our sin onto Himself. We can carry around so much guilt in our lives. I know Satan constantly throws up my many flaws in my face to convince me I am not worthy of Jesus’ gift of forgiveness. But that is a lie from the prince of lies. Jesus showed us through His death how much He values us, how important we are to Him no matter what we have done in the past. We can learn from our sins of the past, and Jesus can use us sinful people to show the glory of His forgiveness to all around us. He has freed us from that odious burden of guilt.
Jesus tells us what happens when we die. So much pain and suffering revolves around death, but thanks to Jesus reassuring us that death is just a sleep, it gives us peace and acceptance even in the midst of grief. We have a hope that this is not the end, that we will see our loved ones again in a place where there is no more sin or pain, where we can embrace eternity together, hand in hand with Jesus.
When Jesus comes back, He is going to take us to heaven and then the new earth to spend eternity with Him! No sitting on clouds playing harps for us; the new earth is going to be like Eden, growing and learning new things with friends, angels and Jesus. Now once I asked a group of Juniors what they would love to do on the new earth. One thoughtful lad said he wanted to slide down the neck of a giraffe into the ocean. I want to live in that heaven! There will be so much to explore and learn. The food will taste so much better, we will have a healthy body, a healthy mind, all our relationships will be built without sin. Age will just mean you are wiser than the previous day. If that doesn’t make you want to do a happy dance I don’t know what will.
This is nowhere near an exhaustive list of reasons for us to be happy; we could go on for pages on the immense blessings we receive from God every day. John 3:16 itself contains so many reasons for our joy. But the point is that we SHOULD be the happiest people on the earth. So why aren’t we?
Looking back I can only remember one church service where I was filled with joy which left me wondering why all services couldn’t be like this? It was in a tin shed on the roof of a church in Athens with the only musical instrument a small Casio keyboard. The people there had nothing, but what they had was Jesus and the joy of knowing Him was better than anything else the world could offer. Part of me wished that service would never end. It was so full of joy and happiness, the love they had was incredible and all of us attending wished the day would never end. So what is stopping our churches from being the centres of joy they should be? Well, my theory is that Satan does not want us to be happy (go figure).
We may have the knowledge that we should be happy but life has a way of wearing us down. Satan throws things at us to keep us from remembering the joy. The simple truth to me is that we have forgotten how to be happy. We are sucked by the joy “By and By“ lie that happiness only lies in heaven after we die. In the song “Happy Dance“ (which should replace the previous song in the hymnal) they describe it like this:
We’re so consumed with what we think we’re supposed to be
That we stop living like we know that we’re free.
So many of us act accordingly to the expectations of others. In church we are supposed to act certain ways, do certain things. That doesn’t work for me. I am me, for better or worse. For me Jesus is my best Friend and I treat Him as such. While we can be respectful, there is so much room in the church for laughter and joy. While all of the church culture reminds us of our duty, we need a strain of culture that reminds us of our joy as well. While we have our duty down pat, we need to be constantly reminded to be joyful and happy as well.
God knows that we are forgetful creatures, and He has a solution. It is found in Numbers 15:37-40: “The Lord told Moses to say to the people of Israel, ’Sew tassels onto the bottom edge of your clothes and tie a blue string to each tassel. These will remind you that you must obey my laws and teachings. And when you do, you will be dedicated to me and won’t follow your own sinful desires’.“
We need to put things in place to help remind us multiple times of the day. If you tie blue tassels to underneath your arms, you’ll notice them every time you move your arms, and therefore be reminded of the love of God. We need reminders specifically placed to remind us to be happy and why. How do we do this? I have some ideas, like placing Bible verses as reminders in prominent places we will see often during the day. Place an item on your desk at work near the mouse so you will see it all day to remind you. Print out verses for the kids to colour in and put on the fridge. This is not my area of expertise. I am creative with words, not craft. So I challenge those crafty people out, both at home and in the church, to come up with amazing God-inspired ideas on how to remind people of His joy. So let loose your creative talents and I would love to hear about your ideas.
Happy people are people magnets. People enjoy hanging around happy people than negative people. I believe that Jesus is a joyful Person always with a smile on His face. Let us all embrace the joy and happiness God has to offer, and share this joy and love with the world around us who so desperately need it.
Simon Morton lives in Tasmania with his wife, kids and two cat overlords. His ongoing journey with God has been dramatic, traumatic and frequently hilarious.