Chapter 16 – The Pleasure of Virtue – Joy, Thankfulness, and Praise

Joy:  the elation that overcomes the soul when the spirit acknowledges being in the presence of God; being full of praise for God; being filled with the Holy Spirit; the pleasurable state of being resulting from right relations with God and being forgiven by God

Thankfulness:  expressing appreciation to God for all aspects of one’s life; neither taking one’s blessings nor disciplinary learning circumstances for granted or with indifference; absence of disdain for any aspect of life; continual remembrance and mindfulness of indebtedness to God for His mercy, His provision and His gifts

Praise:  worship; acknowledging God as God, as Lord of all, with adoration, reverence, awe, thanksgiving, joy, remembrance, longing, zeal, glory, exaltation, psalmody, giving, sharing, and submission; all things done while abiding in a state of grace; that which is done specifically in service to our Lord such as evangelization, counsel, participation, teaching, nurturing, caring, helps, and the like

The Christian life is not meant to be devoid of pleasure, it is meant to be lived knowing the pleasures of joy.  Our Lord has given us ample cause for having a heart full of joy through all our days.  There is even joy in sorrow when we learn to be more thankful for His blessings rather than being consumed by the grief of impoverishment when suffering a loss.  There is a season for everything during our life under the sun (Eccl.3:1-8).  In remembrance of His merciful grace, we can have joy simply in life itself, even when pain is pervasive, because we can be thankful for the full spectrum of emotions and sensations God has wondrously created for us to experience.  We can learn to be wholly thankful for our blessings rather than succumbing to bitterness and rage when they pass.  It is because of the awesome beauty and immense pleasure of His blessings that make their loss so painful in the first place.  Nothing that is physical lasts forever, therefore we should learn to appreciate the eternal, the spiritual, and remember God as the source and creator of all our blessings.  Our pleasure in His blessings correlates to the pleasure we will have when we enter fully into His presence.  Likewise, in the passing of His blessings, the end of one season and the beginning of the next, we experience death, the absence of His presence.  From death, we learn an even greater appreciation for His blessings and come to comprehend the implications of an eternally lost soul more fully.  Our life on Earth is often allegory to the eternal, and yet we now see only in a mirror dimly (1Cor.13:12).  To comprehend the immensity of joy in Heaven, and conversely, the agony of Hell, we can only speculate using our imagination.  However, when we are immersed in the virtues of joy, thankfulness and praise, we bring Heaven to Earth and get a taste for the blessedness of the divine pleasures to come.

Joy

 

            If not for sin, life on Earth would be one of pure pleasure in the presence of God.  If we were capable of only partaking of what is good, we would know only the joy of His presence.  However, the flesh is ever stained with sin and therefore we must pursue God primarily and let pleasure be the result not the objective.  As we progress in virtue, we learn of goodness, we learn to forsake evil for good, and we learn the pleasures of goodness that is the abundant and joyful life in Christ (Jn.10:10, 15:10-11).  The emphasis in life on obtaining pleasure while avoiding pain often equates to one of good versus evil.  Only God is good, and there is pleasure in the goodness that pleases Him.  Conversely, we invite pain when we choose the evil that is contrary to God.  However, as long as we have the capacity to derive superficial and perverse pleasures from evil, we cannot simply equate pleasure with goodness.  Likewise, the dearth of sin that surrounds us prevents associating a specific pain with a particular transgression one to one for all occasions with absolute certainty.  We should first recognize goodness before allowing ourselves to take pleasure, and we are supposed to take pleasure in the wealth of goodness God has provided us in all His creation.  It is how life was meant to be in the Garden of Eden (Gen.1:26-31).  We express gratitude for His blessings when we partake of the gifts God provides for our pleasure.  Enjoying the goodness of life and the fruits from His garden is likewise a manner of praising Him as we acknowledge the Giver and are thankful.

It is certainly by design that joy, thankfulness and praise are so intricately intertwined, for the cord they form is the pleasure used to bind us to God and to His way for us.  If beholding God were painful instead of a pleasure, we’d all be running for Hell in a self-deprecating, self-destructing mode.  Sadly, this is exactly what happens to many abused or gospel-ignorant souls whose vision of God has been warped by misattributing to God the evil cruelty mankind collectively commits or otherwise permits without redress.  In the scripture passages below, it is important to note how frequently these virtues are paired together.  Here we see that there can be little joy in our lives if we fail to praise God with thanksgiving.  The greatest joy we can ever know is being fully in the presence of God.  God created us to know Him; Adam and Eve were fully in His presence before the fall from grace.  God has since provided the means to restore human souls to a similar pre-fallen state of grace, restoring mankind’s ability to be in His presence.  His provision, our salvation, is Christ Jesus; we come to Him initially offering confession and repentance, seeking forgiveness for our sin.  By His redemptive and atoning work on the cross, we have forgiveness of our sins, our rightness before God restored.  Being free of our sin is certainly a cause for joy in itself, but the result of our cleansing process also allows us to approach God and taste the pleasure of being in His presence.  The joy of our restoration is reason to praise God and be thankful, and doing so in turn brings joy.  However, we are also to have empathy for the sorrows of our Lord and be acquainted with His grief caused by the sins of mankind.  We are not to turn a blind eye towards the ugliness of sin, nor wag a finger or tongue in an expression of disgust towards those whose lives are consumed by sin.  To have the mind of Christ, we must also experience the pain of knowing a precious human soul is lost and condemned (Jn.3:17-19).  Then regardless of circumstances, be willing to testify to the truth of the gospel in word and deed, and pray that our humble efforts might help return the lost sheep to the Shepherd, turning our sorrows again into joy.

Our joy in our Lord is one of thankfulness for the many blessings He bestows.  Our joy is the warmth and comfort that fills our souls when we praise the Almighty in all His magnificent glory.  Our joy is the sense of elation and spiritual uplifting that comes from right relations with God and having unhindered access to our heavenly Father.  Our joy is the sense of peace we have from knowing we are in His hands; that He loves us, provides for us, and tends to our well-being in all our circumstances.  Our joy is the stability we know by basing the foundation of our lives on His everlasting Word, of having our identity resolutely ensconced as children of God and knowing our names are eternally written in His book of life (Rev.20:15).  Our joy is the sense of purpose that comes with abiding in Truth and knowing that our lives are precious to God.  Our joy is the wonder of His revelation and the ability to behold the beauty of all His creation.  Our joy is the life of Christ in us, and our life in Him, for He saves us from death and the depravity of sin.

Our joy is also the absence of the many agonizing situations sin produces that righteous living totally negates.  The unpleasant consequences of living after the flesh are replaced by the pleasures that come with bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:16-26).  The reverse of the joys listed in the previous paragraph is what robs a life of joy.  Neither the ingrate nor the fearful, neither the unrighteous nor the hostile, neither the unstable nor the fatalist, neither the blasphemer nor the spiritually blind, will ever know the pleasure of life that is the joy of living in the presence of our Lord.  Likewise, we as children of God need not know the feelings the ungodly are intimately acquainted with due to their state of sin and resulting sinful lifestyles.  Futility and frustrations, purposelessness and insignificance, wantonness and insecurity, are all states of being contrary to life as children of God. Though it isn’t necessarily unusual for us to experience these feelings temporarily, we have recourse in Christ and the provision of God to be free of them and have joy instead.  We should likewise be thankful for the many unpleasant circumstances and corresponding ugliness we are spared from experiencing because we walk with Him instead of with evil.  The painful consequences of sin, the guilt and recriminations, the wrecked relationships and ruined gifts, the wasted talents, the pain inflicted and returned, are all things that squelch the joy out of life and need not permeate the lives of His children.

Thankfulness

To live a life of joy, all we need do is learn to be thankful and to praise God regularly.  Sounds simple enough, but the pervasiveness of the flesh presents us with a myriad of potential pitfalls capable of diminishing our willingness to do so.  Taking an exhaustive inventory of our blessings can help keep us from becoming ungrateful or taking them for granted.  This list can also be used as a prayerful reminder when difficult circumstances narrow our vision.  The intent here is not to trivialize anyone’s suffering or pain, nor short-thrift anyone’s legitimate grieving processes following losses, but rather, through it all, be willing to remember the bottom line; we are spiritual beings, all things of this world will pass, and we will one day be with God in Heaven wholly and eternally.  In time, the magnitude of His saving grace will help us rise above the circumstances that impugn our ability to be grateful, and we can then return to praising God with thanksgiving, restoring our joy in our Lord.

Praise

Praise has many forms.  In the broadest sense, all activity done while our will is fully surrendered to His divine will can be considered praise.  In a narrower sense, praise can be equated with worship, the more formal, traditional, and intentional acts instituted by God for us to express reverence and adoration for Him.  Praise is born of acknowledgment of Truth, that our Creator is Lord of all.  Praise is likewise acknowledging the ultimate and infinite attributes of God; His eternal and inexhaustible power and love.  Praise is to be pure, so we should free ourselves of sinful impurities before seeking to praise God (Mt.5:23-24).  Praise is expressed with thanksgiving, so we need to learn to be thankful for all things in order to praise God rightly.  We praise God by building churches, preaching His gospel, being godly parents, and serving others in the name of our Lord.  We praise God by loyally upholding His Word, keeping His commandments, and being obedient to His call.  Praise is raising our arms high in the air as we exalt His name and surrender our souls.  As His servants, we praise Him with the attitude of our body by bowing, kneeling or prostrating appropriately before the Lord God Almighty. Praise expresses the joy we have from knowing God, and brings us more fully into His presence that we might know a greater joy.  Praise is the speaking, singing, cheering, laughing, listening, giving, dancing and the praying that we do to honor and celebrate our Lord.  Praise is the ongoing melody of life in the Holy Spirit.

Scriptural References:

 

Joy:

Ps.16:11, acknowledging the joy of being in the presence of God

Ps.21:1-6, an expression of joy and thankfulness for the blessings of God

Ps.51, joyful praise following repentance and receiving the forgiveness of God

Ps.94:19, recognizing and receiving the providential care of God brings joy amidst angst

Ps.100, joyful thanksgiving and praise for all the goodness our Lord bestows

Pr.10:28, there is joyful hope for the righteous ones of God

Pr.12:20, those who know and teach the peace of our Lord have joy as their reward

Mt.13:44, the joy of heaven is worth giving up all our worldly wealth to attain

Lk.1:11-17, preaching the gospel of Christ in the Holy Spirit brings joy

Lk.2:8-12, the presence of our Lord is cause for joy

Jn.15:9-12, the joy of our Lord comes from obediently abiding in His love

Jn.17:13, Jesus reveals that His message brings joy to the world

Ac.13:46-52, preaching the gospel brings joy to those who speak and to those who hear

Rom.1:18-32, contrasting the results of ungodliness to the joy of being with our Lord

Rom.14:16-18, those who partake of the goodness of God have joy in the Holy Spirit

Rom.15:13, our faithful hope in God brings joy in the Holy Spirit

Gal.5:19-23, contrasting life in the flesh against the joys of being filled with the Holy Spirit

Heb.12:1-3, Christ endured the cross for the joy to come

Jas.1:2-4, the testing of our faith is cause for joy in that it helps us to grow

3Jn.1:4, the joy of St. John is to see the children of God walking according to Truth

Rev.19:4-9, a vision of our eternal joy rejoicing in the activity of Heaven

Thanksgiving:

Ps.9:1-2, giving thanks to God

Ps.69:30, praising God with thanksgiving

Ps.98, thankful praise for everything our Lord does for His children

Ps.105:1-7, thanksgiving in remembrance of what our Lord has done for His people

Ps.107:15-22, giving thanks for the mighty and wondrous deeds He does for His children

Ps.136:1-9, giving thanks to God for the everlasting love and mercy He bestows upon us

Mt.15:32-38, Jesus teaches us to thank God for all our blessing that we may remain blest

Mt.18:9-14, a parable to teach proper thanksgiving for His mercy and our forgiveness

Mt.26:26-28, Jesus teaches thankfulness for His body and His blood

Rom.1:8, St. Paul’s example to be thankful for the furtherance of the gospel

Eph.5:1-12, be thankful for His grace instead of indulging in frivolity or filth

Eph.5:15-21, be wise not foolish, be filled with the Holy Spirit, give praise and thanks

Col.1:9-14, in remembrance of our redemption, walk worthily with joy, praise and thanks

Col.2:5-12, in Christ we are made whole, our faith in Him is expressed with gratitude

Col.4:2, St. Paul instructs us to be devoted in prayer with watchfulness and thanksgiving

1Thes.3:6-12, in joyful prayer we are to be thankful for our brothers and sisters in Christ

1Thes.5:16-18, forever rejoicing and thanking God is His will for us

Rev.7:11-12, a vision of the eternal thanksgiving before God

Praise:

Ps.28:7, praise expressed in thankfulness

Ps.68:3-4, praising and rejoicing in appreciation of righteousness

Ps.95:1-7, joyful praise and thanksgiving for the awesome power and glory of our Lord

Ps.106:1-5, discerning souls praise God for His goodness and His gifts

Lk.10:17-21, praising God for our place in Heaven and our powers in Christ

Lk.19:35-40, the coming of our Lord is cause for irrepressible praise

Lk.24:44-53, praising God for the completed work of Christ on the cross

Rom.12:9-13, St. Paul teaches that we are to rejoice (give praise) for our hope in our Lord

2Cor.1:8-11, St. Paul’s praise (thanksgiving) in blessed service to our Lord despite hardships

2Cor.8:1-2, the praise of giving results in a joy that leads to even greater giving

Phil.4:4-7, praise God always; allow all to see our joy, peace and thankfulness

Col.3:12-17, praising God by living as Jesus taught with songs and thankfulness

Rev.4:5-11, a vision of the eternal praise (worship) for our Creator

 

 

Commentaries:

Joy:

“…when the intellect is gladdened by the remembrance of God, then it forgets the afflictions of this world, places its hope in Him, and is no longer troubled or anxious.  Freedom from anxiety makes it rejoice and give thanks; and the grateful offering of thanks augments the gifts of grace it has received.  And as the blessings increase, so does the thankfulness, and so does the pure prayer offered with tears of joy.

Slowly the man emerges from the tears of distress and from the passions, and enters fully into the state of spiritual joy.  Through the things that bring him pleasure, he is made humble and grateful; through trials and temptations his hope in the world to come is consolidated; in both he rejoices, and naturally and spontaneously he loves God and all men as his benefactors.  He finds nothing in the whole of creation that can harm him.  Illumined by the knowledge of the God he rejoices in the Lord on account of all the things that He has created, marveling at the care He shows for His creatures.  The person who has attained spiritual knowledge not only marvels at visible things, but also is astounded by his perception of many essential things invisible to those who lack experience of this knowledge.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 261

Thankfulness:

“Providence has planted a divine standard or law in created beings, and in accordance with this law when we are ungrateful for spiritual blessings we are schooled in gratitude by adversity, and brought to recognize through this experience that all such blessings are produced through the workings of divine power.  This is to prevent us from becoming irrepressibly conceited, and from thinking in our arrogance that we possess virtue and spiritual knowledge by nature and not by grace.  If we did this we would be using what is good to produce what is evil:  the very things which should establish knowledge of God unshaken within us will instead be making us ignorant of Him.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 212 #12

 

“God has done all things for our benefit.  We are guarded and taught by the angels; we are tempted by the demons so that we may be humbled and have recourse to God, thus being saved from self-elation and delivered from negligence.  On the one hand, we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world, by which I mean health, prosperity, strength, rest, joy, light, spiritual knowledge, riches, progress in all things [productivity], a peaceful life, the enjoyment of honors, authority, abundance and all the other supposed blessings of this life.  We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works. It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger.  On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessing in the age to be; and by these so called hardships I mean such things as illness, discomfort, tribulation, weakness, unsought distress, darkness, ignorance, poverty, general misfortune, the fear of loss, dishonor, affliction, indigence, and so on.  Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.

Thus God in His unutterable goodness has arranged all things in a marvelous way for us: and if you want to understand this and to be as you should, you must struggle to acquire the virtues so as to be able to accept with gratitude everything that comes, whether it is good or whether it appears to be bad, and to remain undisturbed in all things.  And even when the demons suggest some pride-provoking thought in order to fill you with self-elation, you should remember the shameful things they have said to you in the past and should reject this thought and become humble.  And when they again suggest to you something shameful, you should remember that pride-provoking thought and so reject this new suggestion. Thus through the cooperation of grace and by means of recollection, you make the demons cast out the demons, and are not brought to despair because of their shameful suggestions, or driven out of your mind because of your own conceit.  On the contrary, when your intellect is exalted, you take refuge in humility; and when your enemies humble you before God, you are raised up through hope.  In this way until your last breath you will never become confused and fall, or through fear succumb to despair.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 173-174

Praise:

“What is meant by the worship of God?  It means that we have nothing extraneous in our intellect when we are praying to Him: neither sensual pleasure as we bless Him, nor malice as we sing His praise, nor hatred as we exalt Him, nor jealousy to hinder us as we speak to Him and call Him to mind.  For all these things are full of darkness; they are a wall imprisoning our wretched soul, and if the soul has them in itself it cannot worship God with purity.  They obstruct its ascent and prevent it from meeting God; they hinder it from blessing Him inwardly and praying to Him with sweetness of heart, and so receiving His illumination.  As a result the intellect is always shrouded in darkness and cannot advance in holiness, because it does not make the effort to uproot these thoughts by means of spiritual knowledge.”

St. Isaiah The Solitary (4th or 5th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 24-25 #13

“In reverence, man refrains from doing what he usually likes to do, which is to take possession of and use something for his own purposes.  Instead he steps back and keeps his distance.  This creates a spiritual space in which that which deserves reverence can stand erect, detached, and free, in all its splendor.  The more lofty an object, the more the feeling of value which it awakens is bound up with this keeping one’s distance.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 58; Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

“The basic act of this reverence is the adoration of God.  It expresses the true nature of man most perfectly, especially if the body also performs the act in bowing.  It must give us pause to note that this attitude is so very inconspicuous in religions life.  Usually we find only petition or thanks, and less frequently, praise; adoration scarcely ever appears.  And yet it is so essential.  ‘I adore God’ means I am aware that He is and that I stand before Him; that He is the one who essentially is, the Creator, and that I am His creature; that He is holy and I am not, and that I adapt myself with heart and mind to the Holy One who confronts me.  Adoration is truth in act.”

ibid. pg. 64

“Praise God, from whom all blessing flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen”

Thomas Ken (1637-1711) as quoted in “The Baptist Hymnal” #253,

Convention Press © 1991

3 thoughts on “Chapter 16 – The Pleasure of Virtue – Joy, Thankfulness, and Praise

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  3. Pingback: A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians | A Primer on Virtue

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