So yesterday afternoon I was browsing through a little booklet which was written by Dudley Foord, who came from Australia in the 1980’s to be our presiding Bishop. Dudley and I were completely on the same wavelength especially in the area of discipleship and he gave me a copy of his little booklet called “Life’s Big Questions”. I must admit that, although I really appreciated the signed gift I never really studied the contents seriously. Yesterday I found the copy hiding between some large tomes on my bookshelf and was drawn to read one of the chapters headed “How can I discover genuine joy”. As I dipped deeper into this chapter which is an exposition of Psalm 32, I was more and more blessed and intrigued by the way it linked to James ch 1 which we have looked at a few times recently.
So why don’t we look through this psalm with the promise of discovering genuine joy, together So read through the psalm and then vss 2-8 of James 1 and try and connect some dots. This is what I came up with, with a little help from Dudley:
The first two vss describe this person who is really filled with joy or happy (Blessed). Why does he feel this way? Well he has experienced forgiveness. Now I am convinced that most of us Christians don’t really focus and appreciate that factor in our relationship with God sufficiently. In Ephes 1 Paul speaks about the great benefits of being “in Jesus”. Of prime importance is vs 7,8 “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace which He has lavished upon us with all wisdom and understanding”
There are two extremes here: On the one hand there are some who so focus on sin that they actually fail to see and experience the glory of being forgiven. I know of groups who have gone on retreats were they focused almost exclusively on trying to find and dig out every imaginable sin in their lives. On the other hand the experience of forgiveness in some, maybe because they have not really perceived themselves as great sinners, is really to almost take this aspect of their relationship for granted. I would class myself among these.
However, especially recently I have been brought up short more and more by descriptions of the seriousness of sin in the bible. Maybe as Christians we don’t commit the grievous sins of the non-christian, but there are so many almost inapparent sins some of which which I am more and more conscious of committing myself. Lets look at a few: pride, even where we have just dealt with this we so easily slide back into it, self-centredness (an aspect of pride), lack of trust and faith, not being completely honest (the little exaggeration you know), slander (often even in the guise of a prayer request), Relying on ourselves and our own intelligence and not Jesus’ wisdom and so I can go on. Recognize any of these?
So this is the basis of this psalm, really bringing to light the huge benefit of forgiveness which opens the way for his relationship with God. Then he psalmist describes the debilitating health effects of sin. So what did he discover was the answer? vs 5 This is the whole basis of our gospel relationship with the Lord. Don’t try harder to be a good Christian when you realize you’ve messed up again, go in humble confession, receive immediate forgiveness and in the strength of the Spirit and motivated by Jesus’ love and forgiveness you start again.
Then the psalmist opens the door to how we should live to have the full benefit of this forgiveness which is ultimately reflected in an unbounding joy. see if you can pick out his advice to us in our daily pilgrimage. Here is what I found:
vs 6 pray continually. Be in close conversation with the Lord now that you have access to Him. vs 6b and 7, You will have he assurance of God’s ongoing protection. And instead of being surrounded with fear you will be surrounded with great songs of deliverance. vs 8 You will experience God’s guidance. Vs 10 You will experience God’s unfailing love (His covenant love Chesed) surrounding you. Finally vs 11 you will be filled with joy. Notice there are 3 different expressions of joy here to emphasize the reality and extent of that. Rejoice in he Lord, be glad and sing (other translations speak here of shouting out loud).
So what does James say? when you are faced with many trials you must rejoice, but you can only do that if you are aware of the huge work God has done for you and in you starting with forgiveness of your sins. Even then he immediately warns against being double-minded.
I like the way Dudley ends his chapter where he says Jesus invites us to a great banquet with the following beautiful dishes:
A big helping of friendship, the key to friendship is communication so the next dish is prayer then the dish of security in Him. After that comes the promise of comfort and wisdom and then guidance and finally the pudding – unbounded joy.