Peace, joy and freedom. All three are needed things, soul things that make us content. They are not easily gained, however, as the daily routine we call life attacks them on a regular basis.
How troubling it is to lose one’s sense of peace. A number of life situations can result in a loss of soul-peace — worry about illness, financial concerns, difficulty with children, caring for aging parents, moving to another home. It would be impossible to complete the list of things that can steal our sense of peace.
Perhaps we should go one step further, though, and acknowledge that our loss is not merely the loss of peace, it is the loss of peacefulness. That loss can be disconcerting at best and devastating at worse. All of us long for a deep and abiding sense of peacefulness. We sometimes cry out “peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)
Joy! At times, it can be hard for us to feel joy. I think it is because we’re not at all sure what joy hidden inside the soul feels like. For joy is not simply happiness over something that has come to us — a new house or car, a life milestone like graduation or a wedding, a celebration of the birth of a child. Such things seem to bring joy, but our actual response to such events is a brief burst of happiness. Genuine joy — soul joy — happens when something inside of us deeply responds to joy and we tuck it away safely in our hearts. And that kind of joy is not a brief response to a happy event, it is an abiding, spiritual state of being that comes with a grace-filled assurance that Christ came to make sure we live our lives ‘more abundantly.” The message from Jesus comes to us using various words:
I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.
(John 10:10, paraphrased)
I came to give life with joy and abundance.
(The VOICE translation)
I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.
(The Good News Bible)
Living “Life in all its fullness” seems to be the end result of abiding joy, in the soul and in the heart. Even when we listened to the song our children learned to sing, “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” we somehow knew that true joy was internal not external. That joy resided in our hearts and in our souls.
Finally freedom — the kind of freedom we have when peace and joy is hidden in the deepest recesses of our being. Freedom does not leave those who practice gratefulness, prayer, meditation and confession. It is at the altar of confession that God offers us assurance of pardon. It’s the opposite of the soul’s bondage. I cannot help but recall the words of the Apostle Paul about the nature of Christian freedom that so boldly introduce the 5th chapter of Galatians:
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)
Frederick Buechner added a new dimension to our longing for peace, joy and freedom with this powerful thought:
Unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you,
there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me.
Therein lies the crux of living the Christian life: an interconnectedness among those who follow Christ, a community of faith in which each one supports the other. It is an interconnectedness that transcends differences of opinion, different ways of practicing faith, disagreements about which hymns are more appropriate in worship or, even more trivial, what kind of light bulbs should we use in the sanctuary.
Our interconnectedness ensures that each of us will have the will and the faithfulness to enjoy the kind of peace, joy and freedom that abides in us when we “do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together and when we exhort and encourage one another. The Message translation by Eugene Peterson calls it “spurring each other on.” (Hebrews 10:25)
Perhaps caring for one another — exhorting, encouraging and “spurring each other on” — is the message of this beloved hymn that so often informs our worship and our community when we sing it together:
Brother, sister, let me serve you;
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant, too.
We are pilgrims on a journey;
We are family on the road;
We are here to help each other
Walk the miles and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping;
When you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joys and sorrows
Till we’ve seen this journey through.
When we sing to God in Heaven
We shall find such harmony,
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony.
— THE SERVANT SONG, Words and music by Richard Gillard
In our deepest time of prayer and contemplation and in the sacred refuge of our community of faith, our souls find peace, joy and freedom — for all of us, for each of us.
May God make it so. Amen.