Question… what makes a joyful church? What do churches of today celebrate about? Anniversaries mostly. They are happy when they have built bigger and grander places for worship and assembly. They pride themselves for being mega churches with thousands of membership and being globally known all over the world. They raise their hands in praise to the sound of grand accompaniments, with worship leaders in big air-conditioned and beautiful sanctuaries – in much comfort and ecstatic feeling of being together with so many people – so festive and elating. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being big in resources whether human or material.
Yet a blessed church is more than just about the external and the quantifiable – the tangible ‘blessings.’ In the early church recorded in the book of Acts, it was a different kind of joy that believers celebrate. I previously wrote about their joy of sharing their resources – there was no needy person among them because they had one ownership of everything they had. Everything they had they gave to benefit the whole church.
Another kind of sharing that brought them joy is the joy of sharing in the suffering for Jesus’ name.
41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
So what happened here? After Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and they were empowered to speak the good news of Jesus. Peter preached and thousands believed in Jesus. The early church led by the apostles of Jesus was growing in numbers. Miracles were happening – the sick healed, the needy provided for, thousands were added to the church (Acts 5:12-16) in spite of deep and severe persecutions from those who opposed Jesus. The apostles were imprisoned, threatened and flogged. (5:18, 40) Even after all these, Peter still preached and condemned them for putting Jesus on the cross. The temple leaders were so enraged they wanted to kill the apostles. They were released only because Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a respected leader stood up to give this advice:”stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (38-39)
So how was it to be ‘rejoicing’ after being imprisoned, threatened, flogged and shamed? For what? These believers had a different kind of motivation – they pride themselves for being ‘considered worthy’ – that they were good enough to suffer for the cause of making Jesus known.
Today, many of us believers are too comfortable living our faith – we only hear of persecutions in other places – of lives being taken, of imprisonments, of the horrors of suffering for being Christian. Yet it is often those suffering Christians who are more joyful than those who are living freely and comfortably. How sad…
So how do I apply this lesson? I need to be more grateful for the things I take for granted – freedom to worship, freedom to share God’s Word, freedom to make my life count – to further the cause of the gospel. I need to beware of taking life too easy – complacent in my comfort zone. I must learn to choose joy when things are not to my liking or expectations. Suffering or problems in life are relative – there is always the issue of comparison – with what or with whom are we comparing our issues and challenges?
To reflect… how do I rejoice when life is not easy? What do I consider to be worthy to be joyful for? What causes me to celebrate? What is the purpose of my existence? Motivation and purpose of living – this directs our perspective and influence us in the way of joyful living. Is it for the cause of Jesus?