They say the Christian life is a life filled with joy. But what about when we don’t feel joy?
Imagine, if you will for a moment, a church service on a peaceful Sunday morning. The worship has come to a close and the time has come to take up the weekly offering. The verse that is shared comes from the pen of Paul in 2 Corinthians.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV)
You know the message is true, however, you know that finances have been slim and you’d much rather hold on to what you have. Even so, you choose to place the envelope into the box with a smile on your face because, as you’ve been told, that’s what God wants. Right?
As I’ve grown in my relationship with God and deepened my understanding of who He is I’ve come to realize that this picture isn’t any more pleasing to Him than choosing not to give at all. I don’t believe Paul was telling the Corinthians to plaster a smile on their face when they give to one another. I also don’t believe he was telling them to pretend to laugh as they threw their hard-earned money into the bucket. In fact, I don’t think Paul was telling the Corinthians to act joyfully at all.
Further along in this passage, Paul lets us know the real reason he wants the church to give,
For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:12 ESV)
Paul says that the true purpose of their giving is not that their needs are met (although that is important) but that they inspire gratitude and thanksgiving. Not to throw shots at the church but, and I must stress that this has only been my personal experience, it seems the church has a very one-sided take on this passage. Or, even worse, an interpretation that tells us to be cheerful because our giving promises reward. I’ve never been a fan of that blatantly selfish way of thinking and I’m certainly not a fan of it now.
If we aren’t feeling joyful then how are we supposed to follow Paul’s instruction without putting on a facade? The answer I’ve come to realize is simple: joy comes from thanksgiving.
I don’t believe for a second that God wants joy to be an act, He wants the real thing and the real thing can only come from Him. God doesn’t want us to put on a mask with a smile we when we give to Him or the church, He wants a broken and frustrated heart that chooses to give thanks and praise even at its lowest. In that way, our joy is not something we put on like a cloak, as if it’s an obligation to mask our true desires to earn God’s favour, but it is the joy that God Himself fills us with. It is His joy that overflows and not our own. Choosing to give thanks, even in the hardest times, is what gives us freedom. If I take my eyes off of God’s love bitterness and fear come in like a flood. But when I choose to thank the Lord for even the tiniest of things, I’ve found joy and peace. Every. Single. Time. In his upcoming book, Finding God’s Life For My Will, Mike Donehey notes that “thanksgiving is the gate that opens the path to joy.” It is how we find joy in the midst of suffering. It’s a divine joy and one that we cannot help but give and share.
This is the picture God loves. He never wishes that we do anything independently of Him. He wants us to be consumed by His presence and to have our every action lovingly orchestrated by Him. We were created to join in His holy communion with the trinity and to partake in His love and goodness. Outside of that, we find only emptiness, bitterness and strife, ceaseless and fruitless aspirations. In Christ, we find life and life abundantly. Let’s give and share, not with a forced joy, but with thanksgiving in our hearts.