Discernment / Ordinary Life / The Skill

Babylon Series: Part 6 Singing in Babylon: Can There be Joy in Exile?

Joy was in short supply among the Old Testament people of God when they were swept into exile in Babylon. It was a time of hardship and grief, a time when lamentation was more natural than laughter. We know this not merely by imagining what exile must have been like for them, but from the poetry they composed in that far away land.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars,
we hung our harps,
for our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

(Psalm 137:1-3)

The setting may have been pastoral, but their hearts were heavy almost beyond endurance. Their instruments set aside, they grieved, their grief doubtlessly made worse by the taunting of the Babylonians. “How can we sing the songs of the Lord, while in a foreign land?” they asked (vs. 4). Centuries earlier Miriam and Moses led the Israelites in a great celebration of song when the Egyptians who threatened them were defeated (Exodus 15:1-21), but now it was the Babylonians who were in control, marching to victory under the banner of their pagan gods. Someday, the exiles knew, “all the trees of the forest will sing for joy” (Psalm 96:12), but for now the poplars growing along the bank of the river could serve to hold the exile’s silent instruments. Far from Jerusalem, not able to feel fully at home in Babylon, the Old Testament people of God found themselves living among people who did not share their deepest convictions and values. There was much in Babylonian culture that was offensive to righteousness, and the Jewish exiles had good reason for sadness. They had lost much, were under assault, and found themselves living and raising their families in a culture which was both promiscuous and pagan.

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord,” they asked, “while in a foreign land?” How is it possible to be joyous in exile? A good question.

A good question for us, as well. After all, modern American culture is, by and large, much more like Babylon than Jerusalem: increasingly more pagan than Christian. And, like the ancient Jewish exiles, we find ourselves living among people who not only do not share our deepest convictions, they often find them implausible. Let’s face it: joy can be hard in such a setting.

Joy as a Christian Characteristic
Before we reflect on our struggle with joy, however, there is another, more basic question worth asking. It is this: To what extent are we as the people of God supposed to be characterized by joy? The only way to answer that is to turn to the Scriptures. Please read with care these passages from the Scriptures, which are chosen, almost at random, from the more than 400 texts which address the topic of joy explicitly.

Deuteronomy 16:13-15. God gives his people instructions for a week-long festival to be held each autumn. “Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your Feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the Feast to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.”

Psalm 16:11. The people of God have always understood that joy is associated with the gift of redemption. “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Psalm 19:8. Since God is the source of all that is good, hearing his word is a joyous affair. “The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.”

Psalm 33:1-3. In a fallen world, joy is also a matter of obedience. “Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”

Psalm 51:12. It is also a matter for intercession. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

Psalm 66:1-2. Not merely for believers, all of creation is to rejoice before the glory and greatness of God. “Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!”

Luke 2:10. From the narrative of Christ’s birth: “…the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’”

John 15:11. Jesus speaks to his disciples about loving him by obeying him. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Romans 15:13. The apostle Paul writes a thoughtful letter to the Christians in Rome, and near the end, he includes this blessing: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

James 1:2. Another apostle reflects on going through hard times: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”

1 Peter 1:8. A third apostle speaks to believers who are being persecuted: “Though you have not seen him [meaning Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

Simply stated, joy is central to Christian faithfulness. It is a grace, a gift of God, a fruit of the indwelling Spirit. “Obedience is doing what we are told,” John Piper notes. “And we are told to delight ourselves in the Lord… In fact, when the psalm says, ‘Serve the Lord with gladness,’ it implies that the pursuit of joy must be part of all our obedience” (Piper’s emphasis). The reverse side of the issue is worth remembering as well. “I desire the dejected Christian to consider,” the Puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “that by his heavy and uncomfortable [i.e., unattractive] life he seemeth to the world to accuse God and his service, as if he openly called Him a rigorous, hard, unacceptable Master, and His [service] a sad, unpleasant thing.”

None of this means, of course, that we can never grieve when grieving is appropriate in this sad world—Jesus did not laugh at Lazarus’ tomb. Nor does it mean that we all have to respond identically to every situation. Nor does it mean that the irritating, yellow “happy face” must be our personal symbol. In fact, there are few things more antithetical to Christian faith than the syrupy shallowness which suggests everything is simply fine, where grief is suppressed, or where struggles and doubts which tear at the soul are answered with cheap clichés. That is not joy; it is a lie. If Christ was anything, he was ruthlessly realistic, and he expects his followers to be like him. Being characterized by joy does not mean we don’t know sadness; it means that we will be quick to comfort, slow to speak, and always on the lookout—even in the most unlikely of places—for those hidden, glimmering, hopeful evidences of the grace of God which delight the soul like a drink of cold water on a very hot and humid day. Christian joy is not: “Don’t worry. Be hap-py.” Quite the opposite. True Christian joy involves seeing the world as it truly is, in all its darkness and despair and alienation and death—and still knowing something of joy for the simple reason that our hope is not in this sad world, but in the One who has overcome the world.

So, Are We?
That being the case, then, to what extent are we characterized by joy? Are we, the people of God, known as people who are filled to overflowing with a deep and infectious delight in people, events, life, creation, creativity, and God? Or are we known to our non-Christian colleagues and neighbors, by and large, as those who can be counted on to be more often negative, even judgmental, and rather quick to disagree?

I confess that I have absolutely no data on this issue, and I suppose we might disagree about it, but I don’t notice long lines of unbelievers standing around wanting to know why in the world we are so joyous.

I wonder why that is. After all, we of all people have reason for joy. Our Lord’s tomb remains empty, meaning that death—our final enemy—has been soundly defeated. The deep alienation which separated us from God has been met by grace, meaning that the Judge of all the earth is now our Father. The work of our hands is truly significant, for we are called by God into his service, and all that we do across all of life and culture can be done to his glory. And even when things seem to go from bad to worse—in our lives or in the wider culture—we need not despair, since our sovereign God has promised that someday, by his grace and in his good timing, righteousness will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Wouldn’t it seem that people who really believed that would exhibit a deep and infectious delight in life, people, culture, and the grace of God? Shouldn’t such a community echo with the wonderful healing power of laughter, when delight redeems sadness, and joyfully spills out into glad and spontaneous praise and gratitude?

I ask again: Why are we not known for this as the community of God’s people?

Six Barriers to Joy
Joy may be something that should characterize us as the Christian community, but that doesn’t mean we can simply turn it on like water from a spigot. And there is no formula, no steps of action, no techniques to make it happen. The very fact that joy is a fruit of the Spirit means that without the grace of God, true joy is impossible. Joy is a gift, not a commodity.

The Old Testament Jewish exiles wondered how they could sing songs of joy in Babylon, and we might wonder the same for ourselves. Yet, even in Babylon they remained the people of God, and even in that pagan place they could trust him, serve him, and even learn to rejoice in him. There were barriers to being faithful in Babylon, no doubt, and there are barriers to joy that we must face honestly as the people of God if we are to be faithful in our postmodern culture. Identifying some of these barriers allows us to care for and minister to one another so that joy can become a reality—not perfectly of course, but increasingly—in this sad world. I will identify six barriers that are worth some prayer and thought.

Barrier #1. Sentimentality
Sentimentality is a cheap counterfeit of the real thing; the easy shallow happiness which comes from refusing to squarely face the darkness and pain of this sad world. It’s the idea that we have to be happy regardless of what happens. That every question has a compelling answer, and that every doubt can be fully and easily resolved. That every story worth telling has a happy ending. That art should be pretty. Sentimentality says that to grieve at the funeral of a loved one is unbecoming for a believer, especially if the person who died was a professing Christian. And, if taken to its logical conclusion, it says that if a bus runs over your foot as you stand by the curb, you won’t yell in pain, you’ll smile sweetly and say, “hallelujah.”

Sentimentality is dangerous because, on the surface at least, it can look like joy. It does, after all, look rather happy. It is, however, merely a cheap imitation, and as such, a source of both unfaithfulness and, at times, great pain. Sent-imentality keeps us from mourning with those who grieve, and makes those who have suffered loss feel guilty for their pain. It keeps people from opening their lives to one another in community and accountability, because no one wants to be seen as needy if everyone else seems to have it all together. Sentimental happiness is a superficial thing, lacking both depth and grace. Joy refreshes; sentimentality burdens.

There is a lot of sentimentality in the Christian community today. It often shows up in our music, our art, and in the clever way we share without ever becoming truly vulnerable. Or in the way we pray by stringing together clichés and religious phrases that sound pious, but actually say very little, and which reveal nothing of the reality of our lives.

It is difficult to speak of this without causing offense or misunderstanding. If I suggest, for example, that the work of Thomas Kinkade—sold as prints, books, and calendars in Christian book stores—is suffused with a smarmy sentimentality unworthy of Christian affections, some will no doubt take exception. Being weaned from a diet of sentimentality can be a disheartening affair. Like Neo in the movie, The Matrix, choosing to live in reality with all its warts and disappointments and problems, can seem harsh and uncomfortable compared to living in a warm and apparently secure illusion. Still, reality is preferable to illusion, as is joy to sentimentality.

Speaking more personally, like many of you I have come through what could be called dark nights of the soul. And like you, I have had to suffer the sentimental clichés of well-meaning Christians who spoke when they should, quite frankly, have remained silent. But I have also been graced with friends who were simply content to be my friend, who knew what a precious gift silence can be, and who walked with me through that dark valley until at the end, by God’s grace, we could rejoice together in the light. And that joy, shared in love, is enough to take your breath away.

The problem is not that sentimentality seeks to be happy, but that it seeks happiness without first fully embracing the deep sadness of this fallen world. It wants the delight of heaven without first enduring the cross. That is why sentimentality is more popular than joy: it skips the cross. That is also why it is a barrier to joy.

Barrier #2. Cynicism
Another barrier to joy is cynicism. We live in a cynical age, and if we aren’t careful, we can absorb that perverse tendency into our very soul. Actually it is worse than that. It is not simply that we absorb it, we tend to embrace it, for the simple reason that a finely honed cynical tongue is a fun weapon to wield. Cynicism is amusement gone to seed, a sarcastic sense of humor with a note of bitterness that comes from the death of hope. The cynic laughs easily and often, but it is the laughter of bravado, not of joy. From a cynical perspective, things are so bad and so out of control that little can be done, so even little glimmers of hope are viewed with a jaundiced eye.

There is simply no place for cynicism in the Christian life, for the simple reason that we are to be people of hope. Things are not out of control, Babylon has not won, and God is at work in history bringing all things to their appointed end in Christ. J. I. Packer sums it up well:

Living between the two comings of Christ, Christians are to look backward and forward: back to the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb, whereby salvation was won for them; forward to their meeting with Christ beyond this world, their personal resurrection, and the joy of being with their Savior in glory forever. New Testament devotion is consistently oriented to this hope; Christ is “our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1) and we serve “the God of hope” (Romans 15:13)… Though the Christian life is regularly marked more by suffering than by triumph (1 Corinthians 4:8-13; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18; Acts 14:22), our hope is sure and our mood should be one of unquenchable confidence; we are on the victory side.

We can nurture hope by carving out time to be in his word and before his face in prayer, nurturing true spirituality in a living walk with God. We can learn to be the people of God, until we can risk being vulnerable with one another, and so discover the hope-filled grace of true community. Together we can maintain a biblical perspective, cultivating gratitude and a sense of humor. We can refuse to be cynical, because God exists, he is good, and the story of history is his story of redemption. We can learn to be people of hope, and if hope does anything, it fills the heart with joy.

If sentimentality takes the cross too lightly, cynicism takes God too lightly.

Barrier #3. Amusement
This is another barrier to joy which arises from the surrounding culture (as cynicism does), rather than primarily from within the Christian community (as sentimentality does). In Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, cultural critic Neal Gabler argues that we live in a culture in which entertainment is the standard by which all of life is increasingly defined and valued. “While an entertainment-driven, celebrity-oriented society is not necessarily one that destroys all moral value, as some would have it,” Gabler says, “it is one in which the standard of value is whether or not something can grab and then hold the public’s attention. It is a society in which those things that do not conform—for example, serious literature, serious political debate, serious ideas, serious anything—are more likely to be compromised or marginalized than ever before.”

Though it takes many forms and is rarely identified as such, this primacy of entertainment has infected the church, sadly, almost as much as the surrounding culture. Believers rate church services by “what I got out of it,” or by “how much it spoke to me,” rather than by whether God was truly worshiped, and his word truly preached. It has become so common for Christians to choose a church based on what captures their children’s interest that to question such a choice is to seem anti-family, if not downright churlish.

Both within the church and without, we are invited to choose among an ever growing array of options, each of which promises to be amusing. Movies, sports, seminars, leisure, TV, music, books, foods, travel, the Internet—the list is endless, and the possibilities can fill up any amount of available time. I am not saying that these things are evil, for they are not—received with gratitude and used with care, they are gifts of God’s common grace which can resound to his glory. I am pointing out, instead, that there is a difference between being joyful and being merely amused or entertained. And that is the danger: being amused is easy because entertainment is so accessible that our lack of joy is never noticed amidst all the laughter. Like amusement, joy is light-hearted; unlike mere entertainment, true joy is rooted in something substantial, something which transcends the moment.

Barrier #4. Boredom
On the one hand, boredom is hardly a new problem, and most of us can remember times when we’ve been so bored we’ve feared the monotony of life might just do us in. On the other hand, boredom takes on added meaning in a culture in which so much of life is defined by entertainment. In that setting, boredom sets in whenever entertainment fails, or when things simply aren’t entertaining enough. The trap in this, of course, is that contrary to popular belief, precious little in life is actually very entertaining when you get right down to it. Thus the choice can seem rather stark: either escape into more entertainment, or be bored out of your mind. Actually there is one more option available: keep so busy you don’t have time to notice either way.

Now, most adults I talk to claim they are rarely bored, but if the conversation continues they usually get around to mentioning how tedious their lives have become. Work and its stress, constant commuting, ferrying kids to untold numbers of events and activities, never enough time to read, to rest, to pray and wait on God, or to talk leisurely about the things that matter most, the constant sense of being be-hind, of things being beyond our control. Funny: perhaps we truly aren’t bored, but the way we live sure can look boring. Missing what is important because we’re overwhelmed by the urgent may not be boring, given the adrenalin our busyness and stress generates, but it sure is not faithfulness, either.

When older folks hear young people complaining about being bored they often greet the news with incredulity. “How in the world can you possibly be bored when you have more places to go, more things to do, more electronic toys to play with, more friends to meet via phone and chat room and mall, more activities, more music and movies, more disposable income, and more everything else than anyone in all of human history? Why, when I was a kid… yada, yada, yada.” But perhaps that’s part of the problem. Having too much too easily can in the end spawn boredom rather than contentment. Anticipating something that we desire—and having to wait for it—increases its deliciousness when we finally achieve it, so when everything we desire is instantaneously available, the fulfillment we receive from anything is decreased. So more is needed. All the time. Besides, the younger generation has been reared when virtual reality—popular culture: movies, music, the Internet—tends to be far more exciting, far more intense, than everyday reality, which seems boring in comparison. After all, being in a darkened theater, transported to a world I cannot visit on my own, surrounded by music that moves me, and captured by a story which inflames my imagination is a far more intense way to spend two hours than cleaning the garage. One of the reasons why The Matrix was such a hit is that it addresses this very issue. Living with the greyness of reality when virtual reality is so much more attractive is a dilemma that is worthy of careful reflection. Boredom can be deadly to joy—and to much else, for that matter.

One more thing is worth mentioning here. The younger generation has heard us talk about our meaningful lives, our meaningful jobs, and our meaningful educations, but perhaps they have reason to be less than impressed by it all. They also see us constantly stressed, far too busy, defensive about our faith, and, by and large, more negative than joyful about culture. Perhaps it is time to stop criticizing those who claim to be bored, and to listen, instead. The conversation might just be…well, intense. The point is not that we must somehow try to make our lives as exciting as virtual reality, but surely Christian faithfulness should be so attractive, so real, so imaginative, so substantial, so freeing that the virtual in virtual reality becomes apparent.

Barrier #5. An Unhealthy Solemnity
Another barrier to joy is what I would call an unhealthy solemnity: an unrelenting seriousness about life, culture, and truth that believes in joy, but simply doesn’t have time for it. The cynical Christian recognizes how bad things are and mistakenly thinks there is no reason for hope. The solemn Christian makes the opposite error: like the cynic they recognize how bad things are, but rather than give up hope, they hope in the wrong thing. They actually imagine they can solve the problem. So they declare culture war, and wade in with sword drawn. And since error is found everywhere, every tiny detail of life is examined and corrected with a grim and persistent seriousness. On the one hand, it is hard to be critical of such an approach, since anyone who takes holiness and truth this seriously should be applauded. On the other hand, it’s rather hard to wish them well, because no one in their right mind would want to live in the solemn, joyless culture—or the solemn, joyless church—they produce.

Now, most of us are not that extreme, of course, but I must confess that sometimes I’m tempted to an unhealthy solemnity. Especially when it comes to evangelism and dealing with a world in rebellion against God. The problem is, of course, that solemnity does not attract as joy does, is negative in tone, and looks so much like anger that the two can scarcely be distinguished. Novelist Anne Lamott wonders why some Christians seem hostile that they’re saved and you’re not. The prodigal son returned to a father who was characterized by love, acceptance, and a joy that flowed out into celebration (Luke 15:11-32). One wonders what the story would be like if the father had instead met him with solemnity, and a few comments on the wise use of financial resources.

Life in a fallen world is serious, to be sure, but not unrelentingly so. It is not joyless. Even the world knows something of the reality of this. Consider the amazing film, Life is Beautiful, a warm and very human comedy set in the midst of the horror and pain of a Nazi concentration camp. A father protects his son by humor, and uses laughter to defuse evil, even at the risk of his own life.

If we are to be people of joy, filled with a deep and infectious delight in people, events, life, creation, and God, it would be helpful to recover a Christian understanding of foolishness. From a Christian perspective, there are three types of fool.

The first type of fool is the person whom God considers a fool. “This is the fool,” Os Guinness notes, “who litters history with the vast carelessness of his moral stupidity.” This fool is often mentioned in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding,” Proverbs 18:2 says, “but delights in airing his own opinions.” “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17: 28). “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).

The second type of fool is, in Guinness’ words, “the fool bearer, the person who is ridiculed but resilient, the comic butt who gets slapped but is none the worse for the slapping. In Christian terms, the second fool is the one who is called a fool by the world, but who neither deserves it nor is destroyed by it… The second fool is the ‘fool for Christ.’” This might not be what we necessarily want in life, of course, and it would be wrong to somehow seek it, but being faithful might just require it. And note: being a fool for Christ, though a serious matter, is not a grim, joyless affair. John Piper explains, We do not choose suffering simply because we are told to, but because the one who tells us to describes it as the path to everlasting joy. He beckons us into the obedience of suffering not to demonstrate the strength of our devotion to duty, nor to reveal the vigor of our moral resolve, nor to prove the heights of our tolerance for pain; but rather to manifest, in childlike faith, the infinite preciousness of his all-satisfying promises.

Finally there is the third type of fool, the holy fool—the “fool maker”—who understands that sin is not only rebellion against God, but folly.

That insight allows the holy fool to take sin seriously without forgetting to laugh at the absurdity of it. As a result, the holy fool uses humor creatively to reveal the foolishness of folly. It is this third type of fool that we must recover if we are to maintain a proper balance be-tween the seriousness of our calling in a fallen world, and the mistake of taking things too seriously. “The third fool is the jester,” Guinness writes, “building up expectations in one direction, he shatters them with his punch line, reversing the original meaning and revealing an entirely different one.”

Christian authors like Walker Percy, Dorothy Sayers, Flannery O’Connor, and G. K. Chesterton were holy fools who made the truth plausible to unbelievers, not by preaching at them, but by using humor and story to raise unexpected questions, and to puncture the illusions erected on a foundation of falsehood. Steve Turner does the same with his poetry. Rather than preach about the significance of being human, for example, he wrote this poem entitled, “The Conclusion.”

My love
she said
that when all’s
we’re only
I chained
her to my
bedroom wall
for future use
and she cried.

It is true, of course, than none of us are Chesterton and Sayers, but surely we can all learn to tell stories. Not many of us are poets, but we all have a sense of humor which can be nurtured. Few of us have considered how humor can be used to gently poke holes in ideas that are untrue, and how effective it is when a winsome story, well told and to the point, is inserted into a discussion of serious issues. Few of us even read poetry. Instead, too many of us approach life—especially evangelism—with an unhealthy solemnity which is frankly unattractive in its intensity. Sin and unbelief are serious, yes, but they are also folly; and one of the best ways to reveal foolishness for what it is, is not with grim pronouncements, but with the scalpel of satire.

We can read Jesus’s parables again—with our imagination—and observe how Jesus interacted with unbelievers. We can fire our imaginations by reading the work of holy fools like Percy, Chesterton, Sayers, O’Connor, and Turner. We can learn to laugh at ourselves. And repenting of an unhealthy solemnity which does little to commend our faith, we can, by God’s grace, begin to recover something of the holy fool as the people of God. As Guinness says, “Only the side with the ultimate truth [can] be sure of having the last laugh.”

6. The Stress of Busyness
The final barrier to joy I will mention is the stress of busyness which plagues us in our oh-so-frantic culture.

Some of our busyness comes from the technology in our lives. Cars give us mobility, and the expectation we’ll go more places and be involved with more activities. Answering machines and email increase the pace, and, once again, come with the expectation that we will respond faster to more people who have chosen to interrupt us. A few months ago I logged on to email in the morning and downloaded a message about a meeting which was 9 months away. Two hours later the friend who had sent the email phoned me long-distance. “You haven’t responded,” he said, “Didn’t you get my email?” Keep multiplying that sort of thing, and it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed.

Some of our busyness occurs because we are surrounded with a myriad good things to do—tapes to listen to, books to read, needs to meet, programs to join, meetings to attend, people to minister to. The problem is that we simply don’t know how to say No to good things.

None of this is to suggest that we should throw out these technologies, nor that we should isolate ourselves in order to remain pure. Rather, my goal is simply to point out that the stress of busyness that clogs our calendar can also sap our joy. God’s call to us is faithfulness, which means that by his grace we can live out our calling in this period of history, discovering together what faithfulness means in our fragmented and frantic world.

One of the great hymns of the Church is “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” What is easy to forget, though, is that we are Christ’s body in this sad world, and so it is in and through us that this joy is to be demonstrated and spread. By God’s grace may we learn to be less negative, and quicker to agree than to disagree. May we be increasingly filled to overflowing with a deep and infectious delight in people, events, creativity, life, creation, and God. Not because we take things less seriously, but because we really do believe the Lord has, in fact, come. And if that doesn’t fill us with joy, what would?


1. To what extent is the Christian community characterized by joy? Are we known, as the people of God, as people who are filled to overflowing with a deep and infectious delight in people, events, life, creation, and God? Or are we known to our nonChristian colleagues and neighbors, by and large, as those who can be counted on to be more often somewhat negative, even judgmental, and rather quick to disagree? To what extent are we—as individuals and as families—characterized by joy?

2. Do you agree with what was written about “sentimentality” in this article? Why or why not? Where have you spotted sentimentality in the Christian community? To what extent and in what ways have you tended towards sentimentality?

3. Do you agree with what was written about “cynicism” in this article? Why or why not? Where have you spotted cynicism in the Christian community? To what extent and in what ways have you tended towards cynicism?

4. Discuss each of the other barriers to joy developed in this article: amusement boredom an unhealthy solemnity the stress of busyness

5. Do you agree with what was written about each? Why or why not? Where have you spotted them in the Christian community? To what extent and in what ways do you tend towards them?

6. What other barriers to joy would you list?

7. When you think of joy—of being filled to overflowing with a deep and infectious delight in people, events, life, creation, and God—whom do you think of? Why? How was their joy exhibited?

8. Based on your reflections on these issues, what plans should you make?


1) Piper from God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards by John Piper (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books; 1998) p. 46.