The Foes of Joy: Duty

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What robs joy of its joyfulness? This is the question we have been considering for some time together. We’ve already discussed how happiness, though it seems closer than a brother, can sometimes become an enemy to our joy. We also talked about the danger of comparison, how we often fall for the lie that needing more or having more is worth risking our joy. The final post on this subject concerns how one should think about our duty as Christians, and how Christian duty intersects with Christian joy.

We’ll start with an easy example. It is more than likely that if you are reading this post, you have attempted to go through some sort of Bible reading plan before. There are a thousand methods and plans available to us, and yet, we all seem to struggle to feel tethered to God’s Word. Why doesn’t it excite us more to daily pick up this Book? Is this simply how the Christian life will be?

I was recently reading a blogger’s advice on how to stay disciplined in a daily Bible study. He suggested keeping a journal, starring the days he read his required chapters, and putting a cross where he didn’t read. He mentioned that he often found himself motivated by the symbols. Seeing a week full of crosses was what fueled him to get his act together, and seeing the stars made him feel really good. Maybe it works for him, but I find this practice not advisable for everyone.

I support the use of Bible reading plans in the Church and in personal time with Scripture. But one point I’ve made before that I hope to reiterate is that there is a way of doing reading plans that is akin to shooting ourselves in the foot. If, in our quest to create a natural thirst for Bible reading, we become driven sheerly by the legality of following a reading plan, we are only rehabituating our desires toward checking a box. Duty is not bad; we should strive for discipline in the Christian life. But delight is the goal.

A quick test: What if you miss three days a row in your reading plan? How does that make you feel? Is there shame? Guilt? Do you get angry with yourself? Most importantly, what makes you pick up the Bible again?

Perhaps you’ve heard the differences between duty and delight explained by John Piper, whose example is simple and timeless. I’ll include it below at length:

Duty is good, but delight is better. Picture me bringing a dozen roses home to my wife on our wedding anniversary. I hold them out to her at the door; she smiles and says, “Oh Johnny, they’re beautiful, why did you?” Suppose I lift my hand in a self-effacing gesture and say, “It’s my duty.”

So what’s wrong? Is duty a bad thing? No, it’s not a bad thing. But it can only take you so far. If you want romance, duty won’t reach. The right answer to my wife’s question goes like this: “I couldn’t help myself. My happiness just got out of hand. In fact, to make my day, I’d really enjoy taking you out tonight.”

The amazing thing about this answer is that it does two things that many people think won’t fit together. It expresses my happiness and makes her feel honored. A lot of people think that if I do something because it makes me happy, it can’t honor another person. But it can! Why? Because delighting in someone is a very high compliment. If you enjoy someone, two amazing things happen: You get the joy; they get the glory. Pleasure is the measure of your treasure.

Psalm 119 is all about delight. It’s a great passage of Scripture to familiarize ourselves with as we seek to live in delight, and joy, of God. The Psalmist at multiple points mentions delighting in God’s statutes, commands, and law (Ps 119:14, 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 143, 174). This is the posture out of which our study of Scripture, prayers, our driving to small group, our catechesis, and participation in church should flow.

Many foes will attempt to rob you of lasting Christian joy. They fancy different masks — duty, happiness, comparison, and more — but we mustn’t let them steal our joy. That is to be found in Christ alone, by faith alone. Indeed, the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

 

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