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In the first passage which caught my attention, Moses was instructing the Israelites about the annual harvest festival:
"The Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete" (Deut. 16:15).
The harvest had a special significance for the crowd that stood before Moses. These children of an enslaved nation were about to take possession of their own land. It would take a huge communal investment to win the land, settle it, and bring in their first harvest. When they did, they were to stop to celebrate and give thanks to the Giver of the bounty. In this celebration (the seven day long Feast of Tabernacles) they would know completed joy.
There is an earthy quality to their celebration which is not easily shared by urban people like me. I think back to the last time when I accomplished a significant project--one which was done in community and bore tangible fruit--and then actually stopped to celebrate it together. It's been a while. I love how God blesses the work of my individual hands and gives me joy in the work I do, but the picture of Israel's annual harvest feast reminds me that we thrive on working and celebrating together in community. I want to make it a habit to celebrate wins, especially when they are communal wins.
David was familiar with the joy of the annual harvest festival and, given his personality, would have participated in it with vigour. Yet he knew a greater source of joy than this. "You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound," he proclaims in Psalm 4:7. Elsewhere, when David rejoices in what the Lord has done for him, joy in God's presence stands central (Ps 21:6-7).
When I notice a depletion of my joy level, I've learned to take a look at my practice of being in God's presence. Most often I find that I've become slack in seeking God, or that I have been going through the motions without real engagement. David's words remind me that the Lord is always available. His presence and his promises refresh and release my joy.
It amazes me how many times Jesus spoke of joy during his last hours on earth. Even though he would suffer so greatly before the day had finished,
joy permeate his farewell address. Notice that he, the one preparing to suffer, is the joy giver:
We, like the disciples, experience trouble and grief in life, but Jesus promises completed joy alongside of them (John 15:11). I long for a joy which is complete, and so I press into the instructions Jesus gave his disciples that night. How? By trying my faltering best to keep love for Christ central in my life, my attitudes and actions. By living in ways which are consistent with the character and will of Christ, necessary ingredients for a prayer to be asked 'in Jesus' name', which results in completed joy (John 16:24).
When joy is hard to come by, an eternal perspective offers hope. The writer of Hebrews viewed the completed joy which awaited Jesus on the other side of the cross as the power source which enabled him to scorn the shame of the cross (Heb 12:2). That same eternal perspective empowers me to look up from whatever troubles I'm experiencing. Jesus will sustain us through whatever we are going through. Not only that, but one day he will receive us before his throne with great joy (Jude 24). In that day we won't need to speak of completed joy, for it will be ours. Forever.
I used a Bible with a concordance in the back. I glanced through the entries on my subject, joy, and picked out those which interested me. I read the passages, inviting God to speak to me, as I mined for treasure. Then I recorded my findings and the encouragements which I'd gleaned.
If you don't have a concordance handy, www.biblegateway.com is a terrific tool. Using the Keyword Search button, type in the word or word combination you are searching for and choose which translation you would like to use.
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Learn about the Feasts and Festivals prescribed by the Lord for his people.