"I felt awful in church last week. Everyone was singing happy songs to Jesus and I felt lousy. I'm the only one who didn't feel joyful. I'm a rubbish Christian."
No, that's not a quote from me. But I've heard it often enough. This feeling that as followers of Jesus we ought to be joyful and if we are not we are second-rate Christians.
Last year i asked our leadership team to tell me about their awkward Bible texts, the ones that sometimes made them feel worse rather than better. We are going to look at some of them over the next few weeks, starting with texts that tell us to be joyful.
The problem is that when we feel bad, texts like these can make us feel worse. They add a pinch of guilt to our lack of joy.
So here goes ... when the Apostle Paul tells us to do anything, he doesn't expect us to be perfect straight away. He sees our growth as a long term project. Joy is something we work towards, not a gift from God that we unwrap on the first day that we believe. Joy is linked to hope and hope is the outcome of a long process that starts with suffering and perseverance. A process in which the Holy Spirit is deeply involved.
More on Sunday ...
Injured sports stars have to take a break. So do injured soldiers, office workers who are sick, and anyone who has been knocked out of action for a while. There's nothing wrong with this; it just happens sometimes.
So if I start this year with a call to stand firm, please don't think I'm asking you to be a superhero who bounces to their feet no matter what hits them. It doesn't work that way.
But I am asking you to remember that there is a spiritual battle going on and you are part of it. There is a devil and he schemes against us. Sometimes he seems to be quite accomplished at this. Did I say 'sometimes'? Maybe I should have said 'often.'
The Bible (Ephesians 6) tells us to stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around our waist. By 'truth' it means first of all the truth of the gospel. Jesus is alive and we belong to him. His resurrection power is at work in us. We are God's workmanship, created in the Messiah Jesus to do good works. Standing firm isn't first of all about doing anything. It's about, well, standing. It's about making a decision to believe the truth of the gospel.
So let's speak the truth in love to each other. The truth of the gospel. So we can stand firm in it.