It seems to me that deep and abiding joy is, in some respects, the chief mark of real grace in the human soul. I recall hearing the great Bible teacher and minister Ray Stedman once say that the chief reality about the early Christians was that they were constantly in trouble and always joyful. We seem to experience the exact opposite today. We are never in trouble, at least for the right reasons, and we are terribly sad and complain a great deal.
The famous W. R. Inge said, "Joy is the triumph of life, it is the sign that we are living our true life as spiritual beings. We are sent into the world to become something and to make something. The two are in practice so closely connected as to be almost inseparable. Our personality expands by creativeness and creates spontaneously as it expands. Joy is the signal that we are spiritually alive and active. Wherever joy is, creation has been; and the richer the creation the deeper the joy. . . . A great work of art or a great scientific discovery, gives greater joy to its maker than a work of merely technical or mechanical skill. Joy was a characteristic of the Christian community so long as it was growing, expanding and creating healthfully. The time came when the church ceased to grow, except externally in wealth, power and prestige; and these are mere outward adornments, or hampering burdens, very likely. They do not imply growth, or creativeness."
Inge says the antithesis of true joy is boredom. I know of nothing that more consistently describes modern Christians than boredom. We are bored with church, bored with worship and liturgy, bored with prayer, bored period! Happy people produce something, bored people consume things and produce nothing creative or fresh. Inge added that: "God punishes the useless by giving them pleasure without joy; and very wearisome they find it."
We will be joyful when we have great ideas outside of ourselves. True joy has an eternal and divine source. W. R. Inge concludes, "The joy of achievement is the recognition of a task understood and done. It is done, and fit to take its place—however lowly a place—in the eternal order." This is why we read: "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord." Note, he does not say "good and successful" servant. So long as we stress success we will never enter into joy. It took me the better part of life to really learn this truth.
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Wonder how Inge came to be known as “the gloomy dean.”
You got me there John. I suppose many Brits could have been “gloomy deans” if truth be known. Maybe his joy was in spite of it all or maybe he wrote better than he lived.
This was one of the most insightful things I have read in a while. Thank you! I will be meditating on these thoughts for a long time.
I am wondering if it is possible to experience spiritual depression and lasting joy at the same time. Many of the most influential spiritual leaders went through periods of spiritual depression (Spurgeon, Luther, etc). Are these concepts antithetical or are they related in some measure?