The Painful Lesson of Learning Joy

Serving God is utterly different from serving anyone else. God is extremely jealous that we understand this—and enjoy it. For example, he commands us, “Serve the Lord with gladness!” (Psalm 100:2). There is a reason for this gladness. It is given in Acts 17:25, “God is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.” We serve him with gladness because we do not bear the burden of meeting his needs. Rather we rejoice in a service where he meets our needs.

The psalmist compares it to a servant’s dependence on a gracious master: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look to the Lord our God until he shall be gracious to us” (Psalm 123:2). Serving God always means receiving grace from God.

To show how jealous God is for us to get this and glory in it, there is a story in 2 Chronicles 12. Rehoboam, the Son of Solomon, who ruled the southern kingdom after the revolt of the ten tribes, “forsook the law of the Lord” (12:1). He chose against serving the Lord and gave his service to other gods and other kingdoms. As judgment God sent Shishak, the king of Egypt, against Rehoboam with 1,200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen (12:3).

In mercy God sent the prophet Shemaiah to Rehoboam with this message: “Thus says the Lord, you abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak” (12:5). The happy upshot of that message is that Rehoboam and his princes humbled themselves in repentance and said, “The Lord is righteous” (12:6).

When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, he said, “They have humbled themselves, so I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem by means of Shishak” (12:7). But as a discipline to them he says, “They will become his slaves so that they may learn the difference between my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries” (12:8).

There it is. God's jealousy that we know the difference between serving him and serving anyone else. The lesson they had to learn was that serving God is a glad service, or as Jesus said, “a light burden and an easy yoke” (Matthew 11:30). From this we may learn that God threatens terrible things if we do not find gladness in serving him. This is what Moses said in Deuteronomy 28:47: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart … therefore you shall serve your enemies.”

The point is plain: serving God is a receiving and a blessing and a joy and a benefit. This is why I am so jealous to say that at Bethlehem the worship of Sunday morning and the worship of daily obedience is not at bottom a burdensome giving to God but a joyful getting from God.

Happy to be serving with you,

Pastor John

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