December 15, 2010

Joy in the System

One day I just gave up. I hated everything, everyone, and myself. I even briefly considered suicide, but found the idea irritatingly cliché.
It was cold, misty, and drizzling rain. I sat on a wet rock high upon the edge of a cliff, watching ships push through the Strait of Georgia, Vancouver, Canada. I lived in the trashy part of town, the most crime-ridden neighborhood in Canada, according to national news at the time. But something had been nudging me recently. The universe was bigger than this, big enough to drown all of this, right?
Religion made me cringe, but I was on the edge. Willing to try anything, I let go of myself entirely. Suddenly, in silent petition, I truly, passionately surrendered to the name “Jesus Christ.”
That Friday night I shut my eyes, flipped through a Bible, and fixed my finger on a random page. This was one of the first times I had held a Bible in my hands. Humbled and hopeful, I expected great things from the Good Book.
2010 1540 page28“And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height.” My finger had fallen somewhere in Exodus. I frowned, but kept reading.
After an hour I stopped and prayed. Some of my relatives were Seventh-day Adventist, so I searched the phonebook for the nearest church. I sat alone in the back row the next morning.
“‘And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height,’” said the pastor, reading from Exodus 25:10.* Stunned, my arms fell limp. My skeptical frown melted. The stranger at the pulpit continued. Every Bible verse he read that morning was an exact quote from what I had read the night before.
I felt very small, standing at the precipice of something gigantic. My heart flooded with hope.
Awake or Asleep?
It was a brand-new time for me. As I continued in personal prayer, Bible study, and church, I fell in love with Jesus because I realized He was there to forgive and forget my sins. Studying the Ten Commandments brought me joy because my new love for God caused me to love His law. My lifestyle had immediately, almost naturally, started to synchronize with the great law as I learned to love others and love myself.
But I’m getting “sleepy” these days. Distracted. It seems the worldly rules and systems I’ve been following to make money, or to gain the love of my peers, have been absorbing all my time. Taking care to soulfully study the Bible and measure decisions with God’s law, out of love for Jesus, doesn’t always seem realistic or worth my time.
I’ve found when I start ignoring God’s law in the decisions I make, I get thrown out of sync with nature. I start losing my sense of confidence and purpose. I lose my joy. I forget how God rescued me when I needed Him most.
Life as Distraction
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice . . . ” God said in Exodus 19:4 and 5. These were His first words, from Mount Sinai, for the Israelites.
God continued to gain the people’s commitment, even testing their faith (Ex. 19; 20:20), before ordering Moses to reveal the commandments and ordinances God expected them to obey. God required only obedience, motivated by thankfulness, so the people would accept the invitation to leave their sins behind. God wanted the Israelites to acknowledge a two-way relationship that would bring joy to both parties.
But the Israelites “fell asleep,” waiting for Moses’ return from the mountain, with the covenant written in stone. They forgot the joy they shared after God’s rescue from Egypt, attempting to create their own religious system to fill the void. They convinced themselves that their own creation, a golden calf, in which they had invested their time and resources, would bring them the comfort of familiarity and practicality in the lonely wilderness. “They rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (Ex. 32:6).
Today, while we await the return of Jesus, the world’s popular culture distracts us from God’s guidance, enticing us all to “rise up and play.” Human-made systems, such as politics, entertainment, or social networking, aren’t necessarily evil. They may even help spread the love of Jesus—to an extent. But we are fickle. We take things too far. We are easily distracted by things that stimulate us. And when life gets hard, we tend to choose the comfort and familiarity of the social systems we’ve created, systems with rules we more easily understand.
But God’s system, His covenant relationship with us, is not hard to understand. It’s a very simple and beautiful dynamic, and always progressing. And since this system is a relationship, it’s custom-made for each individual. We should naturally progress along with it. If we get sidetracked, God still waits to meet us right where we are.
Right There Waiting
I gave up on the world years ago, but immediately God was waiting there for me. Saturation with the systems of humanity disarranged my heart and mind. But when I found Jesus and His law, I found the only harmonious system in the universe. I found joy.
I remember God rescuing me so many times from so many things, even from my own death. I don’t want to go back.
Now I’m convinced the only way to again resist the pull of popular culture, or to stand above the tide of depression and mediocrity, is to be joyful. The only way to be joyful is to be constantly in love. And staying in love means progressively knowing Jesus and harmonizing with His Word. “For I [joyfully] delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rom. 7:22).
*Texts in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
A.J. Church is a senior nursing student at Walla Walla University’s Portland, Oregon, campus. This article was published December 16, 2010.