I was searching the online concordance for a verse on joy, thinking perhaps one of those beautiful verses in the Psalms…
Suddenly this verse popped up, from Deuteronomy 28:47. I tried to skip over it – a verse in the middle of a story, and a difficult verse, at that– dripping with pain. Not the kind I was looking for. But something about it arrested me. I came back to it, struck by the implication behind it.
“Because you did not serve the Lord your God with a heart full of joy and gladness for the abundance of all things [with which He blessed you]…”
God is talking to His people through His servant Moses, warning them about what would happen “if” – what did, in fact, happen in the future. “Because” is a word that indicates consequences are coming… and we’ll get to those in a minute. But look at why there’s an issue, first.
“Because you did not serve the Lord your God with a heart full of joy and gladness…”
They didn’t serve Him with a heart full of joy and gladness.
God wants us to have happy, joyful hearts. He’s not out to make us miserable. He loves us and He wants us to be happy.
“…for the abundance of all things [with which He blessed you]”
They took for granted all that He had done in them and through them and on their behalf. They didn’t count their blessings.
God wants us to go about our days serving Him gladly – with thanksgiving. Recognizing all the good things we’ve been given that we couldn’t possibly earn or deserve, rejoicing (in His strength and by His grace) — even in the midst of hard times and suffering. (1 Peter 5:8-10) He promises to help us do it, too.
But we don’t have to.
It’s true. We don’t have to serve Him. Not if we don’t want to. We don’t have to trust Him. We don’t have to love Him.
He’s not forcing us to.
Sometimes we act like eight year-olds, being made to clean our rooms or practice piano or feed the dog or take out the trash. (At least I know I do.) We drag our feet through this life, we constantly grumble and complain – mutter under our breath or in our hearts, forgetting He can hear us anyway.
Forgetting that being miserable and resentful and unhappy is a choice we make.
Just like the decision to serve Him and trust Him and love Him is a choice we once made – freely, not compulsorily.
At least it ought to have been. It was our choice, wasn’t it?
No one – not even God – wants to be loved out of obligation or responsibility or a sense of duty.
(Ever gotten a Valentines’ Day card someone was forced to make? How blessed were you, really?)
The thing is, God designed us to be most fulfilled in loving, giving, and serving. To find our greater purpose in worship. It’s what He has created us and called us to.
So we will serve something or someone. We will worship something or someone. It’s in our nature. We can’t help it.
In the case of the Israelites, since they couldn’t serve God joyfully – since they couldn’t reciprocate His love, since they couldn’t manage to feel any gratitude toward Him for His many blessings and His kindnesses toward them, since they took His grace for granted, and did nothing but grouse and complain, He told them they could try serving their enemies. See what that was like.
If they thought they could do better… if they preferred another god… another master… another lover…
Yeah, that didn’t go so well for them.
It doesn’t go so well for us.
But even this is God’s love and mercy. Severe mercy.
It’s His kindness and mercy that leads us to repentance… to revelation… to renewed love and appreciation for all that He is and all that He’s done for us.
And what a joy it is to walk with Him. Even on the hard days. Especially on the hard days – by comparison.
What a joy it is to know Him, to love Him, to trust Him, to serve Him. To be His.
That’s the choice we’ve made.
We may not always feel it in the moment. But that’s when we remind ourselves of the vows we made, for better or for worse… And we renew our commitment to Him, we renew our promise to be faithful and obedient to Him. We choose to rejoice, to give thanks, to express our love and trust in Him, knowing the feelings will follow.
And we remember His eternal covenant with us. His absolute commitment to us.