My vision of what it looked like to be a Christian as I was growing up looked like this:
but with a pinch more somber with a side of bitterness and pain. More like this:
Having been raised on TV’s version of Christianity, my view of the faith was greatly distorted based upon other people’s depictions of men and women of faith. They were always darkly and conservatively dressed, in some sort of robe was even better, and were pinched, sour and generally disapproving. They were usually very concerned about their perception of piety, usually with some sort of ugly hidden sin, and had a royal and dignified air about them. Even when the Christian character was portrayed positively, it usually was painted as acting well in spite of what was expected of him by the church – the stereotypical cool pastor who broke the church rules to help people.
After reaching my teen years, this strange view of life as a follower of Jesus was reinforced and further twisted by the teaching of the church that I became part of. They subtly focused on the things of this world as measures of success as a follower of Jesus.
They also taught that followers of Jesus were supposed to be pious and dignified, but added the message that they should be just pained 24 hours a day from the guilt and shame that should come from failing Jesus so often.
You should constantly in a state of struggle with the world and self mortification so that tears of anguish should be constantly flowing down your deeply pained face as you prayed or you were bad and should feel guilt about that.
It was your duty — and duty, obligation and seeming piety was what Jesus following was all about. Who cares where your heart is. “Religion hurts and we should like it or at least feel guilty about not liking it” was the unofficial, unstated motto of that particular denomination. This was all I even knew until well into my adult life, as sad as that sounds.
If you choose Jesus, you choose religion was the equation which means you had to have no fun, don’t dance (thanks Kevin Bacon), be constantly miserable, feel bad all the time, feel guilty and generally look like a prune most of the time. It seemed really….great, misery and shame, let’s do that by choice, sarcasm intended.
Then I met an early co-worker of mine. She was an unashamed Christian – so she was miserable and guilt ridden, right? Unexpectedly, no, she was filled with a lightness that I had never seen before. She was joyful and laughed a lot. She joked around with everyone in the office and just added something to every conversation – no romance involved BTW. She praised Jesus every day for freeing her – yes, freeing her and was not guilty about it. She was as genuinely smiley as people come, not in a weird way. I said it was weird and claimed to be put off by the whole thing, but I just could not look away. Should she be like that? Where do I get a joy like that?
So when I began to read the Bible for the first time and saw God talking about joy within its pages I was greatly encouraged and greatly confused at the same time.
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice – but I am supposed to be in pain and wracked with guilt what do I have to be rejoicing over.
Count it all joy, rejoice always, the Apostles jumping for joy after being imprisoned, the lame man healed by Peter and then walking and leaping and praising God.
We can’t have that behavior in church or anywhere near church – the saints will be offended (even though some of them are the same guys jumping for joy), the scolding voice said in my head. It just would give the wrong message about Christianity. Christianity is about pain and sacrifice.
Reading the story of David dancing in joy over the Ark of the Covenant really threw me for a loop. Not only dancing, but dancing with all his might. I don’t know what it looks like for you, but dancing with all my might for me does not look good… at all. After the last wedding wherein I danced with all my might I am enjoined by Court Order from ever doing so within an occupied dwelling. Not really, but while it is fun and joy filled, it is also ridiculous and unfiltered – I wonder if David favored the white man overbite as well?
David was a man after God’s own heart and here he is dancing around like a crazy man in joy over what the Lord has done…and God seems to call it good.
The Quaker oats guy would never do that – his strange high healed shoes would not allow it even if he wanted to, which he never ever would. It just would not be proper.
Religious communities of different denominations are devoted to specifically avoiding all that joy and happiness stuff in order to get closer to God – who does David think he is? A man after God’s own heart is who he is.
It is almost as if the Bible says that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Imagine that.
I was seriously conflicted and confused – my experience and people’s depictions of the church and its servants did match what God laid out in the Bible. His people were not proper, pinched and sour, they were joyful and open and concerned only with what He thinks, not what the world thinks. They laid it all out for the Lord in joy and cared not what people thought.
When Paul says goodbye to the Ephesians, the Bible says that they were all crying, kneeling in prayer and hugging each other. It is a wonderful picture of good men loving each other in the Lord well, but it is not dignified. I was definitely confused as I wanted to act like I was supposed to.
Then the weirdest thing happened. I was saved by Jesus. For the first time really, I gave my whole life to Him and He saved me from all that I had been doing to myself. My whole sin filled life became clear to me and I got a glimpse of God’s greatness.
From that moment on I have been just …different, filled with a barely suppressed joy and emotions that I just cannot explain outside of Jesus. I understand why they rejoiced openly and with great vigor and cried openly and with no apology, because Jesus is just that good.
I find myself breaking out in worship songs to myself at odd times, cry at even the smallest things related to God’s goodness and generally want to dance like David danced at the thought of God’s awesomeness. Awkward guy dancing alert, please clear the church.
It would make me think I was a bit off, if not for the clear precedent laid out by God in His Word. His people have been exuberant about Him for a very long time and will be for all eternity. David said it well when responding to his wife’s criticism of his dancing in 2 Samuel 6:
So David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the Lord. 22 And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.”
I certainly understand those who struggle with the stain of past sins and the enormity of life and all its troubles. I also understand and have experienced a lot of life’s pain and sorrow since I have been saved. But the joy of the Lord has been my marching music since He saved me and it has made my life in Christ so much different from I expected.
It has been filled with unashamed laughter and tears, with silliness and song and with rejoicing. It has been a life as a pastor that is not characterized by societal status or concern with “being proper” but with trying to pass on that joy to others.
It has been a journey filled with dancing with all of my might, at times looking silly in the process and not caring what people think because it is not for them that I want to dance.
So dance if you want to, sing if you want to, rejoice always, be grateful everyday and don’t be afraid to be undignified in your love and worship of our Lord and King. he deserves everything, even if it looks not as fancy as some would strive for.