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Going Deeper #6 – Celebrate God’s Goodness

Maurits Stevens, May 21, 2017

Celebration is at the heart of the practice of all the Spiritual disciplines. Without joy and celebration it will become a dead and dry thing to do. Joy creates energy. Joy makes us strong. Richard Foster explains why celebration is a spiritual discipline. He says ‘The choice to focus our attention to the higher things in life is a matter of our will. That is why celebration is a spiritual discipline.’ Celebration is the result of a conscious chosen way of life.


Intro: Celebrate God’s Goodness

Reading Ps. 30

When was the last time that you really had to laugh? And then I mean, real laughter – one that you couldn’t stop. Can you recall this moment?

When was the last time that you had fun and were really joyful and happy? What was the reason for that joy? And how did you expressed your joy?

One of the last times that I was really happy and joyful was two weeks ago, when Margot had her farewell reception at work because of her new job. I’d bought her a nice bouquet of flowers and I surprised her by coming to the farewell reception by bringing our children along. I was so happy for her and proud on Margot – it was a great celebration and I was really filled with joy!

Today I finish my series on Going Deeper with God. It’s a series on the Spiritual Disciplines; practices that helps you to go deeper with God. The first three messages serve as a foundation on what the disciplines are and why you should practice them. In the last three messages I share 3 basic activities that you can start with. They are prayer, meditation on God’s Word and today I close of with the practice of Celebration.

Celebration is at the heart of the practice of all the Spiritual disciplines. Without joy and celebration it will become a dead and dry thing to do. Joy creates energy. Joy makes us strong. Richard Foster explains why celebration is a spiritual discipline. He says ‘The choice to focus our attention to the higher things in life is a matter of our will. That is why celebration is a spiritual discipline.’[1] Celebration is the result of a conscious chosen way of life.

I began to read from Psalm 30, a Psalm of David. This Psalm is a song of thanksgiving and a powerful testimony of what God has done in David’s life. God has delivered from the threat of death and healed him from his illness [whatever it was]. David celebrates what God has done and expressed his joy and gratefulness in worship and dancing.

But there is more: David cannot keep this joy for himself – he calls the people to praise God with him in the temple. Dallas Willard says that celebration ‘is the completion of worship, for it dwells on the greatness of God as shown in his goodness to us’. [2] Joy is to be shared!

And what better place to express your joy and testify of God’s greatness then in the community of the saints? The church? If there is one place to celebrate God’s goodness and worship Him, then it should be the church, don’t you think so? What we do today – is the practice of a spiritual discipline! That’s why it is so important and encouraging to come together as community. If you don’t see the relevance of going to a Sunday worship service or a smaller group; begin to see it as a Spiritual Discipline. To be actively present and participate in celebrating God’s greatness and goodness shown to you, to me, and one another!

The blessing of Celebration

I would like to look at various passages from the Bible to give a little more context why celebration is so important and above all: why joyful celebration is actually at the heart of what God wants for our lives [Rom 14:17, 15:13, Gal. 5:22.]. It’s not in-depth bible study, but it gives a clear hint about the centrality of joy and celebration in the spiritual life of God’s people.

Feast upon God’s provision

Deut. 14:22-26 ‘Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe… then exchange your tithe for silver.., Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.’

A very interesting passage. It is the instruction of God for his people, the Israelites. They were to feast upon God’s provision!

Each year, after a season of hard work and labour, the people were told by the Lord to bring a tithe of their produce and bring it as an feast offering before the Lord, share most of it with the Levites and eat the rest from it in the presence of the Lord. And if they couldn’t bring their tithe for practical reasons – they should sell the tithe and from the income, buy food and drinks [not just tea; strong, alcoholic drinks!], anything you wish – and eat in the presence of the Lord and rejoice! Feasting in the presence of the Lord! The purpose of this feast meal was ‘to learn to revere the Lord your God always’: to go deeper with God in trusting in his provision and care for their everyday life’.

And isn’t this a great instruction – and what does it say about God? God wants you to celebrate life and to feast upon His provision! Through such a simple and practical thing of organising a feast meal in which the people could relax from all their hard work,  express their gratefulness to God and share their joy with others!

Joy as strength for life

Matthew 5:1-12 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth… “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

St. Augustine said: “A Christian should be an Alleluia from head to foot” . [3] In other words, joy should be one of the constant characteristics of every disciple of Jesus Christ. But isn’t this a bit too naïve? We probably are all familiar with those ‘hallelujah’ Christians – everything is all fine with them!

But that’s not what St. Augustine nor Jesus meant. Our joy and celebration isn’t naïve. And it is certainly not disconnected from the harsh realities of life. It’s the other way around: our joy is deeply familiar with suffering, pain and grieve.

Dallas Willard says: ‘…a healthy faith before God cannot be built and maintained, without heartfelt celebration of his greatness and goodness to us in the midst of our suffering and terror’. [4]

I came to Christ in the period of 2001-2002. And one of the main triggers for me to look for the God in whom Christians believed was the sense of joy, happiness and peace that I saw in the eyes of thousands of people on a Christian conference to which I was invited to by one of my best friends. Didn’t they had any sorrows? For sure they had, but in their daily challenges it seems that they had this sense of joy. And that’s what I was exactly looking for. Joy is the result of the abundant life that you receive in Jesus Christ  

The apostle Paul exhorts in Philippians 4:4 ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!’. Again not a naïve encouragement, because Paul writes this letter while he himself was in prison because of his followership to Jesus. Even this group of Christians at Philippi were facing suffering and persecution because of their faith in God.

But ‘joy is our strength’ [Neh. 8:10] – it was for Paul, for the Philippians as it is for you! But what to do with the difficulties, the challenges, the pain that you face in life? Paul continues and says: ‘The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ [vs. 5-6]. You are to bring your stuff before God in prayer! And what will be the result of that? ‘And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ [vs. 7]. This is the fruit of your prayer – joy and peace will enter into your life as you seek first God and His kingdom!

One little story about the strength that joy produces and how joy is a source of healing in the midst of suffering. As Margot and I have gone through some tough years in relationship to the health of our middle daughter, we were quite a wreck. Emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally. The Vineyard Benelux organised a conference on ‘healing on the street’ where we had to go to. We weren’t really in the mood for it but we went. And all this talk about God’s healing, miracles and power were great but also confusing for us – concerning all that had happened to our daughter. At a certain point, after one of the main services, people were invited to go through a ‘tunnel of blessing’. Basically it is a row of people who would lay hands on you and pray over you as you pass by.

Margot and I went through that tunnel of blessing – and what happened was so weird and so beautiful. We both had a different experience, but both received such an inner healing from the Lord. But what happened with me is that somehow I ended up in such a delirious joy – I couldn’t stop laughing. It felt as if I was drunk! I went on for about 20 minutes – I couldn’t stop it and actually all my muscles began to hurt! It was a crazy and weird experience!  

Joy & the holy Spirit

And that brings me to the next point: joy is a gift of the holy Spirit. Or the fruit of the holy Spirit – as the holy Spirit releases and grows His joy deep in your inner being. Read with me:

Gal. 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”

Rom. 14:17 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…”

Rom. 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”

1 Peter 1:8 “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…”

It’s pretty obvious isn’t it? The holy Spirit releases an inexpressible joy within you because that’s what a relationship what Jesus brings and what the kingdom of God is all about!! I do not hesitate to call that weird experience I just told you a ‘holy Spirit experience’! Neither should you be surprised that when the holy Spirit fills or touches you, that you will experience a deep inner joy and have the tendency to begin to laugh! And let it happen; it’s what the holy Spirit is doing within you at that moment! But apart from these specific visitations of the holy Spirit – His fruit is everlasting, a constant presence of joy within you is the result of the work of the holy Spirit in your life! Joy becomes your day to day experience and reality!

The release of God’s favour

There is one more passage that I would like to address – in which all that I’ve said will culminate. All joy is rooted in what we now will read. It’s the announcement of Jesus ministry and the year of the Lord’s jubilee:

Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

What God has done to David, back in Psalm 30, is what God has done for you and me in his Son Jesus Christ. Now we get to sing that song of deliverance and healing. Of forgiveness and restoration. This is what Jesus came to bring about – to call us into a permanent year of God’s favour. It goes back to the ‘year of jubilee’ that God instructed the Israelites in Lev. 25. It was a year that they were to keep every 50 years. The year of jubilee was a year in which all debts were to be cancelled. Were people were to return to their properties, slaves were released, the poor redeemed; it was the year of total freedom. Jesus came to bring this Year of Jubilee permanently and trwhich can become your Year through faith.

Just recently someone send me a text late in the evening and it reads: ‘I don’t believe in anything. But I’d like to be able to. Do people come to Vineyard to learn to believe? Is that even possible?’.

I’ve met this person and he shared how he has reached the top of his career [and really, it’s quite impressive] – but he’s left alone with a feeling of emptiness and loss of joy. Each time that he received promotion he thought that it would bring that joy, purpose and satisfaction he desperately is looking for. But it didn’t happen. Now he had begun to look into the right direction – he’s close to enter into the Year of Jubilee and be released into the Joy of New and Everlasting Life that Jesus Christ came to bring through his death on the Cross.

Celebrate God’s Goodness!

To finish off: How exactly are you to practice the Spiritual Discipline of joyful celebration?

There are a million different ways to express your inner joy – and let others share in that joy. But from the passages that we’ve read, let me give you a few suggestions.

Ps. 30 - Worship & Dance. David calls his people to sing with him the greatness of the Lord. Again, if there is one place where you can express your joy, it should be the church! As we worship together: dance! shout! sing! Church never supposed to be boring or static gathering. There is reason to celebrate! You’re absolutely free to express your emotions – and testify of God’s greatness and goodness shown to you! Maybe you’re not the most expressive person and dancing and shouting is a bridge to far. But everyone can smile! Point is – express it, as an act of worship and as to share your joy about what God is doing with the rest of the saints!

Deuteronomy 14 - Eat & Drink. Why don’t you organize a dinner every now and then, whether it’s for your family or friends – just to celebrate God’s goodness, provision and care for your life. And eat and drink and relax together in the presence of the Lord!

Wouldn’t this a cool thing to do and a great way to practice the Spiritual Discipline of Celebration? You can even take the Lord’s Supper as a celebration.

Luke 4 – Celebrate Life. I belief that Christians should be the most experienced people to ‘party a lot’. Why? If the poor receive the gospel, if the imprisoned and enslaved are set free, the blind healed and the oppressed is released; would it not lead to new lives celebrating God’s given freedom? And as Jesus with that same liberating power has come into your life, shouldn’t your whole life be ‘a hallelujah from head to foot’?  A testimony to what God has done in your life?

Throw out parties! Organise a Bbq to bless your neighbourhood! Why? Simply, because you want to, because you love [God’s given] life! Go and take a friend to a concert. Why? Simply, because you are set free to do so and bless others. Surprise someone in the restaurant – by paying his bill anonymously. Why? Because you enjoy the permanent Year of Jubilee; one of utter redemption, return, release and total freedom. And simply because you just want others to share in that Joy that you’ve come to know yourself.

Celebrate God’s goodness!

 

 

[1] Foster, R. 2003. Celebration of Discipline. Harper Collins Publishers. New York. Page 175

 

[2] Willard, D. 1988. The Spirit of Disciplines. Understanding How God Changes Lives. Harper Collins Publishers. New York. Page 179

[3] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/147344-a-christian-should-be-an-alleluia-from-head-to-foot

[4] Willard, D. 1988. The Spirit of Disciplines. Understanding How God Changes Lives. Harper Collins Publishers. New York. Page 180

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