Devotional Thoughts for Today
Exodus 23:14-17 (NIV)
“Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. 15 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt. “No one is to appear before me empty-handed. 16 “Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. “Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. 17 “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.
In his book on spiritual disciplines, John Ortberg dedicates a chapter to celebration – the discipline by which one cultivates joy. God is a joyful God, but we, God’s people, are not naturally a joyful bunch. Joy is something that, on this side of heaven, must be intentionally cultivated. One way we do this is through rejoicing and relishing in the good (past and present) in our lives and in the world.
God makes celebration a requirement in the law because God is a joyful God. And when God’s people celebrate, they don’t just remember what God has done but throw an outright party as they do. Scripture tells many stories of God’s people and their festivals. These worshipful gatherings were filled with songs of praise, collective remembering of God’s faithfulness, and table fellowship (good food and drink). These gatherings were central to the life of God’s people. Jesus’ first recorded miracle was literally re-stocking the wine for a party. The culmination of God’s redemptive work in the world is described in Revelation as a wedding feast (think wedding reception, but only the fun parts… none of the awkward couple dances and toasts).
Ortberg retells the story of creation to contrast to the typical human heart with God’s joyful heart.
Imagine Genesis if God approached his work as we so often do:
In the beginning, it was nine o’clock, so God had to go to work. He filled out a requisition to separate light from darkness. He considered making stars to beautify the night, and planets to fill the skies, but thought it sounded like too much work; and besides, thought God, “That’s not my job.” So he decided to knock off early and call it a day. And he looked at what he had done and he said, “It’ll have to do.”… And at the end of the week, God was seriously burned out. So he breathed a big sigh of relief and said, “Thank Me, it’s Friday.”
Thankfully, this is not how the story goes.
On the first day, “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” The first day was a Dee Dah Day [a day of celebration]. And God did a little dance. And the next day God said to the light, “Do it again.” And the light did it again, and God danced once again. And so it has gone every day down to this one—down to the morning of the day you were born; down to the morning of this day in which you read these words (Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted).
God longs to create in us hearts that embark upon mundane activities with child-like joy. In place
of boredom we can experience wonder. In place of self-important hurry, we can stop and smell the roses.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You’ve sent me into the world to be a light and a blessing, and to celebrate Your blessed presence. May my faithfulness in even the most menial tasks be pleasing unto You and a cause for celebration in my life. May it also bless those around me. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: 2 Corinthians 1
Lunch Break Study
Read Psalm 150 (NIV): Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. 2 Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. 3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, 4 praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, 5 praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. 6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
Question to Consider
- Where does the psalmist encourage God’s people to praise God? What are some reasons the psalmist encourages the people of God to praise God?
- How does the psalmist encourage God’s people to praise God, and who is called upon to do this?
- What are your favorite ways to praise God? To what attributes of God and works of God are you most drawn?
- In the sanctuary – spaces of corporate worship; in God’s mighty heavens (possibly a call to praise in the create world, allowing praises to reach the skies or a call for praise of God by heavenly beings). Essentially, there is no place on earth or in heaven where God should not be praised. God’s acts of power (what God has done); God’s surpassing greatness (who God is)
- With musical instruments (accompanied by singing) and with dancing. Everyone! Not just everyone, but everything with breath (so the animals too). And elsewhere in the psalms we see that the earth herself, her rivers and mountains, give praise to God.
- Personal reflection.
Ortberg concludes his chapter by reflecting on the nature of true celebration and joy:
True celebration is the inverse of hedonism. Hedonism is the demand for more and more pleasure for personal gratification. It always follows the law of diminishing returns, so that what produced joy in us yesterday no longer does today. Our capacity for joy diminishes. Celebration is not like that. When we celebrate, we exercise our ability to see and feel goodness in the simplest gifts of God. We are able to take delight today in something we wouldn’t have even noticed yesterday. Our capacity for joy increases.
True joy, as it turns out, comes only to those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness. This is most visible in extraordinary lives, in saints and martyrs. But it is no less true for ordinary people like us. One test of authentic joy is its compatibility with pain. Joy in this world is always joy “in spite of” something. Joy is, as Karl Barth put it, a “defiant nevertheless” set at a full stop against bitterness and resentment. If we don’t rejoice today, we will not rejoice at all. If we wait until conditions are perfect, we will still be waiting when we die. If we are going to rejoice, it must be in this day. This is the day that the Lord has made.
End today by reflecting on the words above with God. Are there patterns in your life keep you from celebration and joy? What are some practical ways you can cultivate joy by practicing celebration?