Going through secondary school, we were taught to believe that if you were deficient in only one area or thing, then you were not so bad after all. For instance, in an exam, if you scored 9 out of 10 points, you were considered to be excellent. This is also the general belief of many people in the world today. Sadly, several in the Church also share this erroneous belief, which is inconsistent with a sound understanding of spiritual matters and Christianity in general.
As a boy, I severally pondered over the statement by Jesus to the rich young ruler in Luke 18:22”Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” From the human point of view, a man who lacked only one thing as attested to by the Truth Himself, surely hadn’t done badly. But in studying the story closely, it becomes apparent that a lack of one thing in spiritual matters can render every other thing useless, as was the case with this man who parted ways with the Savior of the world over one thing – money. He esteemed money more valuable than the Son of the living God, which amounts to Idolatry.
I have been in the Church for several years but can hardly count on my fingertips the number of people I have come across who are truly happy, talk less of being joyful. Many in the Church today are unhappy, dissatisfied, discontented over one matter or the other. Please pause at this point and sincerely ask yourself the question - when last was I truly happy or joyful? Happiness has become a scarce commodity in the Church today, which is a great irony because the Word of God declares “…Yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 144:15). This leads us to the next sincere question to be answered individually - Is Jehovah truly my God? The thing about sincere questions is that they help us to arrive at sincere answers. It was the sincere question and reflection of the prodigal son that brought about a restoration in his life. Is it possible that all this while; known or unknown to you, the real God that you have been serving with your time, energy and Godly endowment is money? Or perhaps your job or business, or your children, husband or wife as the case may be? Could it be political power or position? Could that explain why many in the Church today are never truly happy? Yes, during the service, we may dance and jump up and down but when we get home, in our places of work, for the rest of the week, our true state of anger, pain, misery, sadness and depression continue. Can your colleagues at work, your husband or wife or children attest of you as being a truly happy and joyful person?
One of the distinguishing attributes of Christianity is joy. Wherever the early Christians went, they spread joy, in spite of being persecuted. When one Christian - Philip, went to Samaria, the Bible records that joy filled the city (Acts.8: 5-8). It is impossible to give what you do not have. When the Apostles, Peter and John, were beaten publicly, they rejoiced (Acts. 5: 40,41).
What then could be responsible for the lack of joy amongst many of God s children today?
1) Lack of Wisdom: Only the wise can appreciate the worth of salvation. Salvation was not free; it was paid for in full by the precious blood of the Son of God. Several today take their salvation experience for granted and are not really aware of its worth nor are they aware of the worth and awesome privilege of being given the precious and priceless Holy Spirit of God by reason of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary. A man who has Jesus has all things, but many do not know this. That is where the teaching of the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit comes in. Receiving the Holy Spirit is not just for speaking in tongues, but first and fore most for illumination (understanding); which is why Jesus said He (the Holy Spirit) will teach His followers all things ( John 14:26; 16:13). The pure light of God will teach the child of God that Jesus is not a means to an end as He is wrongly portrayed from several pulpits today, but that He is the end of all of man s pursuit and desire.
2) Ingratitude: Lack of wisdom usually manifests as ingratitude. If you don’t know the worth of a thing, you may not express gratitude as you ought to, had you known the worth. Ingratitude potentiates lack of contentment, which is so common in the Church today. A person who is not content cannot be happy talk less of being joyful.
So many today underrate the things which they have freely received of God such as good health, ability to think, walk, eat, drink, smell, taste, and even to have been born in the first instance or to have a family. When last did you take time to appreciate the handiwork of God such as beautiful sceneries, sunrise or sunset? Are you aware that some people who were born blind have never had that privilege which you take for granted on a daily basis?
A man that I know who underwent brain surgery told an interesting story of his experience in the UK hospital. After the surgery, he was warned not to lift up or move his head for 48 hours and had to lay flat on the bed. After 48 to 72 hours, he was permitted to lift the head by a small fraction, which was increased gradually over the next days and week before he could fully raise his head. But several in the Church today; who are always complaining of one thing or the other, can raise their heads and even talk and yet do not appreciate that it is a great privilege and promotion to be able to raise one s head, not to talk of move it from side to side, or to talk. I strongly suggest that every Christian should periodically take time off to visit hospitals and appreciate the plight of the sick. It would make us more grateful to God.
3) Infrequent fellowship with God: Any person who communes constantly with God would necessarily be a person of Joy; because in His presence is the fullness of Joy (Psalm 16:11). The joy in the presence of God must rub off on you if you truly access His presence and tarry there in prayer, worship and communion which words cannot express. Few in the Church today truly tarry in the presence of God, hence the lack of joy that pervades the Church.
4) Not walking in love: The hallmark, proof and power of a child of God is love. Jesus said His disciples would be identified by their lifestyle of love (John 13:35). The Holy Spirit brings the love of God into our hearts at salvation (Rom. 5:5). Love for fellowmen is critical in fulfilling our Christian mandate. Sadly, so many in the Church today are not willing to walk in this love and actually care less about the welfare of other believers. The early Church was full of joy because it was a caring Church. There was none who lacked, because those who were blessed financially were willing to share their riches with those who had none in order to meet their needs (Acts. 2:45; 4:34,35). Several are weeping in the Church today over financial needs which do not amount to what some other believers in the same congregation use to recharge their phones weekly. The Bible is clear that those who God has blessed financially should be ready to share and help others who are not so financially empowered (I Tim. 6:17-19). When last were you truly concerned about the welfare of others in your local assembly? Do you feel concerned when fellow believers are unable to feed or send their children to school, particularly when you know that God has equipped you with what it takes to wipe their tears? Do you really think that God permitted you to be rich because you are wiser and more hard working than others? How rich do you plan to become before you can start meeting the needs of others? I pray that God will grant you grace to learn from the bible story of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21) as well as the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
What then is the solution to having joy restored in the Church?
1) Ask God for wisdom (James 1:5): God is willing to give wisdom liberally to those who ask Him. Wisdom is the principal thing (Prov. 4:7). The wisdom from God will grant understanding regarding the value of your salvation, the worth of belonging to Jesus Christ and the privilege of being given the precious Holy Spirit. This will naturally result in a deep sense of eternal gratitude to God. There are some in the Church today who through lack of wisdom think that they are doing God a favor by giving to the Church. Wisdom will also ensure that we place priority on what God places priority on – the worth of our saved souls. When the full realization of what God did for you in Jesus Christ impacts on your soul, you will spend the rest of your life in thanksgiving, praise and humble adoration. Furthermore, wisdom will ensure that we focus on running our own race rather than constantly comparing ourselves with others, which is one key reason why many are not contented in the Church today. Wisdom will also ensure that we strive to renew our minds and to focus more on changing ourselves rather than always striving to change others to suit us, which constitutes a sore point and a usual source of contention and dissatisfaction in many Christian marriages.
2) Desire and work towards an unbroken intense fellowship with God: Realign your priorities and give God the first place that He rightfully deserves in your life. Consciously make out time to study the Bible and to stay in His presence daily in prayer and communion. If you have not been doing this, then set your alarm clock to wake you early tomorrow morning while others are still sleeping; as was the pattern of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Make this a routine and choose a particular place where you will be communing with God daily. This is different from the general family prayer. Take delight to meet with Him daily and gradually work towards increasing the time that you spend in His presence. As you do so, the joy of His presence will start to rise upon you and affect those around you. Your home will become more peaceful, your work colleagues will start to remark that you are less quarrelsome and tend to smile more, and your health which may have been affected by stress and unhappiness will be restored. You will be amazed at how the things that you have been bothering about will start to fall into place and the things that you have been running after will start to pursue after you. That shall be your testimony after now in Jesus name!
3) Determine to walk in love irrespective of the situation: Make up your mind to have Jesus; the author and finisher of your faith, as your role model. Start by forgiving all those who have offended you knowingly or unknowingly, and apologize to all those who you have offended. The moment you take this step, a huge weight wil be lifted off you. Next, determine to show concern and kindness to all those that you come across from today. It is not always easy to do this because several of them may be people that have offended you in the past. However, as you determine to do so, the Holy Spirit will help you to achieve it. You may also do specific things like going to your wardrobe and giving away clothes and shoes that you have not worn in the last 6months. Make it a way of life to always remember and assist widows, orphans and those who are going through challenges of life, such as the sick and those in prisons. Never maltreat strangers, especially house helps living with you, but rather take them as your own children. The truth is that love is a seed and one of the fruits that it bears is joy. As you make up your mind today to sow that seed of love, which the Holy Spirit deposited in you, into the life of others, unusual joy which comes with refreshing and peace will become your portion in Jesus name! Your light shall break forth and your health shall be restored speedily! The Lord shall increase you greatly and answer your petition as soon as you make them to Him! (Isaiah 58: 6-11).
As you make these quality decisions today, you can be rest assured that you will not be put to shame at the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ; to whom be honor and majesty, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Revd. Dr. Nduka Iwuchukwu.
Priest, Diocese of Lagos West, is presently attached to St. Nicholas Cathedral, Anglican Diocese of Victoria Nyanza, Tanzania. (firstname.lastname@example.org)