Yesterday, we lit the "Joy" candle of the Advent wreath at my mother-in-law's church (which confused me a bit, because we lit that candle LAST week at church in San Antonio -- but whatever). There was a little reading about how Christ came to bring us joy, and then there was a prayer thanking God for His gift of joy, and then I think we sang a song about joy.
And I found myself wondering about all the thousands and thousands of people celebrating Advent in churches around the world, lighting the Joy candle this week (or last week) and thinking, "Joy? What's that?"
Because I've been there. No joy. No peace. No hope. None of this stuff we're promoting as the benefits of Christ's coming. I talked the talk. I went through the motions. But none of it was real to me, and I knew it.
Not that I doubted who Christ was and why He came and what He did for me. But if I was honest with myself, none of it really made a measurable difference in my life.
And I'm wondering if some of you, dear readers, are there, too.
Singing the songs, reciting the prayers, saying the expected lines, but not feeling any of it.
Not that our feelings define reality, because they don't. Just because I FEEL afraid doesn't mean there's anything in my life to fear. Just because I FEEL hopeless doesn't mean there is no hope. Just because I FEEL alone and unloved doesn't mean that I am either. We cannot be ruled by the tyranny of our emotions when our emotions are influenced by so many things.
Nevertheless, if you are a believer, if you have surrendered your life to the lordship of Christ, there should be a difference. You should be able to look at the you from fifteen years ago and the you today and see that you are more at peace. More joyful. More hopeful. More like Christ and less like the world. And if you are not, I think you should seriously consider the possibility that something is very wrong in your spiritual life -- something that is critical enough for you to stop everything else and deal with right now.
I remember a point in my spiritual walk many years ago when I did a "face-to-face" with God and said, Alright, what's up with this? You make some very clear promises in your word. Not promises for an easy life or a "happy" life . . . I'm not even asking for those. But you promised an abundant life. You said that was why you came. Where is my abundant life? Where is my love, joy, peace, all that? You and I both know I can't produce it myself -- it has to come from your Spirit, a gift from you. So where is it? Am I doing something wrong? Am I reading that scripture wrong? Did you lie to me? What's the deal?
Don't tell me that's irreverent, or disrespectful -- that was REAL. And I'm convinced that God isn't interested in our routine, ritualized platitudes we recite every week if they aren't real. He'd rather we came to Him in a wrestling stance, as long as we're coming to Him actually wanting Him and not just out of habit or duty.
We all have our ups and downs in our faithwalk. Not every day is a mountaintop experience. But I want to encourage you, dear reader, if you are in this place -- where you're just going through the motions and you know you have been for a very long time, maybe even for your entire walk with Christ -- that you decide that 2015 will be the year that you either poop or get off the pot. That you will dig deep and wide into scripture, every day. That you will pray with purpose and desperation, many times a day. That you will ask questions of everyone you know who might have answers. That you will go to the places where God is expected to be and expect to find Him there. That you will intentionally and purposefully do everything you know to do to meet God . . . to meet God . . . to actually MEET GOD . . . and finally find out if this Christianity stuff is for real or not.
So that next year, you can light the Joy candle with genuine joy, like I did this year. (Twice.)