I went to a Lutheran school from pre-school through fifth grade. I also am very musical. As I was reflecting on our subject of “joy”, a simple song I sang as a small child came into my head:
Ho, Ho, Ho Hosanna
Ha, Ha Hallelujah
He, He, He, He saved me
I’ve got the joy of the Lord.
The joy of the Lord. Do you ever think about this phrase? Do you ever ask yourself “Do I have the joy of the Lord?” Do we even know what that is?
In the practice of the Orthodox Christian faith, there are many trappings. We might have expensive icons on our walls, or wear a gold cross on our necks. Our churches are ornate and our services are elaborate. If complexity brought joy, we’d be the most joyful people, especially us priests, when you add in our vestments. Unfortunately, the complexity of our religion might make attaining spiritual joy even harder. It is certainly possible to have all the trappings and not have the joy. Believe me, I’m living proof. There have been periods of my life and my priesthood where it was hard to feel the joy of the Lord.
If there is no “joy of the Lord” in our Christian walk, then we should wonder “why continue”? I suppose one can continue out of habit, or nostalgia or guilt. Or one can continue in the hopes of finding the joy. I guess I would say for myself that I have felt “the joy of the Lord” enough to know that it is real, and powerful, and in the times I am not feeling it in particular, I stay with the program trying to recapture the joy.
Allow me to explain how I have felt it, and how I seek to regain it when it is lost in today’s reflection. I have felt the joy of the Lord in nature—seeing a beautiful waterfall has always brought me joy. Ascribing the waterfall as the handiwork of God brings me the joy of the Lord. I have felt the joy of the Lord in worship—the sound of a good choir brings me joy, because there can’t be, in my opinion, a more beautiful sound than the human voice working in harmony to sing God’s praises. Ascribing the human voice as the handiwork of God brings me the joy of the Lord. I have felt the joy of the Lord in relationships—the feeling of love, emotional intimacy, security, and acceptance, shared with my wife, my family and with close friends, bring me joy. Ascribing the human being as created in the image and likeness of God brings me the joy of the Lord. Nature, music and love bring me joy, as they can bring anyone joy. Recognizing the Lord behind those joys (and many others) brings one to understand the “Joy of the Lord.”
When I was a kid, my parents always told us that if we ever got lost in a big place like a mall or an amusement park, to go back to the last place we remembered being together. The same principle applies to finding the joy of the Lord when you’ve lost it. I have found the joy by going to the beach and being in nature. And I don’t mean to just play and get a tan. I mean to go to the beach and sit and listen to the waves, feel the wind, and look out at the vastness of it all. I have found joy in listening to music. No, not loud dance music, and not even necessarily church music. Listening to complex tones, and hearing melodic voices reminds me of the talent God gave to each of us. Reaching out to a close friend or family member and having a deep conversation, expressing feelings of love and encouragement, as well as hearing them from someone else, this brings back joy, which brings back the joy of the Lord.
If you’ve experienced the joy of the Lord, when you are lost, go back to the last place you remember having it. And if you’ve never experienced the joy of the Lord, say a prayer and ask the Lord to show it to you. Find others who you think have joy and ask them to talk to you about their joy. Finally, train yourself to see the good in things and in people. If you are a perpetual pessimist, you are working against your own joy as well as the joy of the Lord. Find optimism and hope, even in small things, and this will go a long way towards finding joy.
Finally, as members of the church, we sometimes forget about the joy of the Lord. The church becomes about programs and calendars, festivals and finances, and we forget that the Lord is supposed to be at the center of it all, and the joy that comes from Him is supposed to be our guide, our hope and our strength. I often think sadly that we are building churches and forgetting the Lord and forgetting joy. Certainly, our love for God will be propelled if we seek to find the “joy of the Lord.”
Lord, thank You for Your many blessings. Thank You for the blessings of nature, of music and of human relationships. Help me to find Your joy in ways large and small through the many blessings I experience each day. Help me to see good things as blessings from You, and to take away joy from each of them. Help me to see You in others, so that I may take joy from relationships. Help me to see Your power and majesty through nature and through the talents of others. When I am joyful, keep that joy in me. And when I do not feel joyful, help me to recover my joy. So that at all times, I may give glory to You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Let the “joy of the Lord” be your strength today!