Some are lonely, most asleep,
but we have come to make them leap!
painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Antoine and Prevot crashed their small plane in a desert known to kill men without water in less than nineteen hours. They had no water for over twenty-four hours and then Prevot found a lost orange in their supplies. Just an orange. Here’s how Antoine described that experience:
“We shared it, and though it was little enough to men who could have used a few gallons of sweet water, still I was overcome with relief. Stretched out beside the fire I looked at the glowing fruit and said to myself that men did not know what an orange was. ‘Here we are, condemned to death,’ I said to myself, ‘and still the certainty of dying cannot compare with the pleasure I am feeling. The joy I take from this half of an orange which I am holding in my hand is one of the greatest joys I have ever known.’ I lay flat on my back, sucking my orange and counting the shooting stars. Here I was, for one minute infinitely happy” (from Wind, Sand, and Stars, by Antoine de Saint Exupery).
That, my friends, is pure pleasure. It was true in Antoine’s life as it is in ours: simple tastes find greater pleasure. That goes for cars, job satisfaction, and relationships. This short account of the power of pleasure set me thinking about joy. What if someone dedicated a year to not just simple tastes, but simple longings? Would simple longings result in greater joy? It’s worth an experiment, don’t you think?
It’s true that there is some relativity to “simple longings.” It’s also true, however, that longings for self-fulfillment are always complicated and grow in complexity while longings for God are actually quite simple. Those who keep their physical longings simple will usually keep their spiritual longings simple. Jesus reminds us of the power of simple spiritual longing in John 4:13-14 when he says to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
God is in the business of satisfying our thirst for him. Thirst for him. Search for him. As it says in James 4, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Aim high, but keep it simple. Joy demands a simple heart posture.
[picture: “Lentz Man with an orange” by Stanisław Lentz – cyfrowe.mnw.art.pl. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lentz_Man_with_an_orange.jpg#/media/File:Lentz_Man_with_an_orange.jpg]
Like love, joy is less an emotion than it is a posture of the heart. That posture must be a humble one or joy will run for the hills.
Humility and pride look in different directions. A humble heart posture looks up (toward God), not down (toward the traps around our feet). It looks out (toward others), not in (toward self). The great irony is that the one who lifts her face to God is often delivered from all those traps around her feet.
Humility and pride also splash praise on different objects. A humble heart posture gives glory to God, but pride gives glory to self. A humble heart says to praise, “Thank you. I worked hard to accomplish that. I’m so thankful that God has given me this gift and sustained me along the way.” Pride says to praise, “Yes! That’s me! I’m the greatest!”
The real test of that humility is when we face disappointment, or loss, or grief surges up in our throats. It’s easy to give God glory after a win. During and after loss is the real test.
If you haven’t watched the interview yet, click on the video above for a wonderful ten minute interview with Colt McCoy: a man who has long embodied this humble posture. If you’d like, skip the opening conversation. It starts getting exciting at 1.30.
There are much worse things than losing a football game. Much worse things rise up out of the dark waters and swallow us whole. Perhaps this old poem will encourage those of you who feel swallowed right now. Even in the belly of the whale, the humble heart posture looks up, not down. And when delivered, the humble heart posture gives glory to God.
The Ribs And Terrors In The Whale
by Herman Melville
The ribs and terrors in the whale,
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by,
And left me deepening down to doom.
I saw the opening maw of hell,
With endless pains and sorrows there;
Which none but they that feel can tell—
Oh, I was plunging to despair.
In black distress, I called my God,
When I could scarce believe him mine,
He bowed his ear to my complaints—
No more the whale did me confine.
With speed he flew to my relief,
As on a radiant dolphin borne;
Awful, yet bright, as lightening shone
The face of my Deliverer God.
My song for ever shall record
That terrible, that joyful hour;
I give the glory to my God,
His all the mercy and the power.
Johnny Lee’s song, “Looking For Love” is a fitting description of our search for joy. All we have to do is replace the word “love” with “joy.” Like this: I was lookin’ for joy in all the wrong places. Lookin’ for joy in too many faces. Searchin’ their eyes, lookin’ for traces of what I’m dreamin’ of.
Sounds a bit like you and me, doesn’t it? I’m increasingly convinced that our search for joy is fruitless because we’re not sure what joy actually is. Joy is not so much an emotion, an attitude, or a state of mind. Joy is a posture of the heart.
Dependence is the state of relying on someone or something else; unfortunately, dependence is treated largely like a disease these days. We prefer a strong, red meat diet of self-reliance, but self-reliance is the humanist creed and many Christians, including me, have adapted it into their own. Don’t get me wrong. By dependence, I do not mean snivelling weakness. The hammer depends upon the one who swings it. An oak tree depends upon the one who watered it when it was an acorn. The bloom on a tree depends on a million graces from God for its beauty.
Great men and women alike are dependent and recognize that dependence. Paul was dependent, learning through affliction to “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (II Cor. 1:8-9). David was dependent, reminding himself and us that “blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!” (Psalm 40:3-4).
Those who are dependent on God could also be called meek. The meek are given a promise in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Matthew Henry writes, “The meek are those who quietly submit to God; who can bear insult; are silent, or return a soft answer; who, in their patience, keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of anything else. These meek ones are happy [could we say, “joy-filled”?], even in this world.”
Meekness requires dependence.
This, my friends, is a high calling of Christian living: daily dependence upon the One who swings us and the One unfolds us into life and light. A posture of dependence remembers, moment by moment, that “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
We’ll explore more of Joy’s heart postures next week. I’d love to hear from you. Won’t you share the one word description of a heart posture you find most difficult to sustain? The opposite of that word is probably linked somehow to joy.
[photo by Noah Palpant]