"It is astonishing," wrote Karl Barth, "how many references there are in the Old and New Testaments to delight, joy, bliss, exultation, merry-making, and rejoicing, and how emphatically these are demanded from the Book of Psalms to the Epistle to the Philippians."
Indeed, from "Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!" (Ps. 100:1) to "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil. 4:4)—and dozens of places before and after and in between—we are urged to lead joy-filled lives.
When believers do a little self-reflection, not many of us point to joylessness as the thing that needs attention. Mostly we flagellate ourselves for our undisciplined discipleship. We issue calls to repent of our consumerism, sign ecumenical concords to heal our divisions, and issue manifestos to care for the poor and the planet. No one has yet issued a joint ecumenical statement on the need for Christians to be more joyful.
Yet it's right there in the Bible, over and over: "I say it again: Rejoice!"
We come by our earnestness honestly. One of our classic texts is William Law's A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. While Law devoted one chapter to happiness, the rest of the book presents a long admonition "to take up our daily cross, to deny ourselves, to profess the blessedness of mourning, to seek the blessedness of poverty of spirit …." This bracing, prophetic book deeply influenced the theology of John and Charles Wesley.
It is no surprise that one of the best-selling nonfiction books of all time is The Purpose Driven Life. We long to have meaning. And we are willing to be driven—something we don't normally want—if it will make a difference.
One reason we are perennially attracted to a serious call ...1