“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2
People living in the world usually get entirely the wrong idea about how we, as Christians, live as Christians. The first mistake they make is to imagine that we have trapped ourselves in an austere system of rules, moral laws from on high that we absolutely will not and cannot break: that life in Christ is like being in prison, or a particularly strict military school. They believe that we live regulated lives, and that our lives are defined by that regulation, by that discipline. Visions of tightly-wound and fiercely buttoned up men and women float before their eyes, the stern countenances of the pilgrim fathers (and mothers) who first settled in America, long before there was a US in the A.
Those assumptions are generally acted upon based on the particular prejudices of the person involved: we’re weak, or we’re rigid, we’re inflexible or we’re in desperate need of a crutch to make our way through life. They see what they want to see, and make judgments accordingly—and then comes the other major mistake that people living in the world make about us. They decide that we must be having absolutely the worst possible time in the world. We must be such miserable, joyless creatures! What could we possibly have to be thankful for?
There is, of course, one common thread to these misunderstandings about the nature of our lives in Christ: there’s no Christ in any of it. They don’t understand, and (literally) bless them, but how could they when they’ve never met Him? Likewise, their idea of who the Father is is limited to clichés about an old man sitting amid clouds, probably looking and speaking remarkably like Charlton Heston, furrowing His brow and hurling the occasional thunderbolt at people that take His name in vain. There’s no God in the god they picture, there’s no Spirit in the holy places they imagine, and there’s no joy in any of it.
It doesn’t ring true of our experiences on any level, does it? We’re a people of rejoicing, after all. It’s the cycle of spirituality that defines our being—God delights in us, and in Jesus within us, and as we bask in His acceptance and pleasure, our own delight in Him grows. Worship isn’t simply a few hymns or some pretty tunes, it’s the rejoicing of a community that has citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, the return of His delight to Him in the form of our own. It’s not a rote thing, some archaic ritual handed down through the generations for those generations to bore future generations to sleep with; it’s a living, breathing expression of who we are. We’re Christians, and the clue is in the name, always has been. And yet it’s not just a name, it’s a mission statement, a manifesto, a promise and a sign of things to come. Always has been.
Being a Christian isn’t a burden or a chore—there are no disciplines in Heaven. No one’s marking time, grimly pounding a beat, gritting their teeth to get through another day. There’s no procrastination involved, no waiting for the boring stuff to be over. Living in Christ is like having the best conversation with your favorite people, like doing your dream job and doing it well. It’s like vacationing in your favorite spot, and deciding to move there. We make Christ’s passions our own, with a little help from the Holy Spirit of course. Everything that they see as a discipline is our delight, because when you’re in the Spirit, joy is integral to your life, as much a part of us as the sun on our faces and the clothes on our backs.
When you don’t factor in Christ to your life as a Christian, then there’s a central piece to the puzzle missing from your life. It’s like having a steak dinner without the steak, or a movie night without a TV : it just doesn’t work, doesn’t make sense. We’re captivated by Jesus—we’re not held captive by ritual. We focus our attention on Him, flowing in the nature of God Himself, moving in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we’re filled with Christ, it becomes such a natural thing for us that it’s not an effort to make Him the full focus of our lives, it’s like opening our mouths and drawing in air. And as His affection for us overwhelms us, He becomes the object of our desire.
The cycle of Spirit continues, the wheel turning on delight and joy, and a radiant glimpse of a future that promises more to come. It’s the essence of worship, the essence of our lives as Christians. It’s the essence of Thanksgiving.
For more resources about the Truth and joy of being a Christian, check out Graham’s CD series, Living Your Truest Identity.