“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.” Psalm 100:1
“My heart is blighted and withered like grass.” Psalm 102:4
I love the sheer energy of the phrase: Shout for joy to the Lord. Is it a command? Yes, and one often repeated in the Bible, not least by the apostle Paul when he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice.”
Nowhere does the Bible suggest that this command is easily obeyed, however. Right next to Psalm 100 is Psalm 102, so full of groaning and complaint that no joyful shouting seems even distantly possible. Command this man to shout for joy? It would seem cruel and perverse.
Temperamentally I don’t find it easy to shout for joy. I never wanted to join those stadium rallies for Jesus. Joy is not the easiest emotion for me to access. I’m a rather somber character. That is where my mind and heart naturally go.
All the more, then, this command to me: shout for joy to the Lord.
I thought about this when I read a long essay on core values by Rolland Baker, a missionary in Mozambique. He wrote:
The joy of the Lord is not optional, and it far outweighs our suffering! … It is our strength and energy, without which we die.
The supernatural joy of the Lord may be the most controversial of our core values! But our aim is to impart so much of the Holy Spirit that people cannot stop bubbling over with love and joy! We pass through conviction and brokenness, even daily, but we are not left there. The Kingdom is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17), in that order. And in His joy we are all the more capable of compassion for others, unfettered by our own sorrows.
Amen to that. Sometimes, though, joyful people make others wish they would go away. They seem more interested in their joy than in the source of it. And they are determined that you rejoice just like they do. The heart rebels when the leader says, “Let’s all stand up and clap for Jesus!”
Is joy a law? Maybe, better, we should think of it as an invitation. Join me, the psalmist says. Let us join together in a shout of joy. Let the whole earth shout joyfully to God!
If so, it must be an eschatological invitation. Otherwise, it cannot be that the whole world could answer. How can the suffering man (or woman?) of Psalm 102 shout for joy? How can mothers whose children are dying in the Horn of Africa shout for joy? How can people hoping for justice and a decent government in Syria shout for joy? How can anybody who follows the daily news anywhere in the world shout for joy? They can, only if they see it as an invitation into hope for a better world, one that God will make, one that God has begun.
This makes an immense difference to me. I can’t be commanded to rejoice in what goes on. It’s too mixed, too ugly, too sad. I can be led into thinking beyond, into God’s great kingdom coming to life. The future, invading the present, can make me want to shout for joy. And that future has a right to command me: Shout!