The Case for Joy

By: Joe Buckingham
By: Joe Buckingham

I believe learning is, and should be, one of the most joyful experiences on earth.

Last week I had the opportunity to gather with a group of 50 people at the Deeper Learning CACE pre-conference day to discuss ways of teaching and learning that engage students deeply and bring more joy back into the educational process. We are entering an especially joyful time of year – a time of thanksgiving and reflection on Christ coming to earth. We have many reasons for joy – I will list four:

  1. Because of the deep joy that comes from our life in Christ – the Psalms are full of references – “Delight yourself in the Lord (37:4) “in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (16:11).
  2. Because our future is secure – we are living in the details – we know how the story turns out. Romans 8:38 – For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
  3. Because we know God will work all things to our ultimate good – Romans 8:28
  4. Because we have been given meaningful work to do – Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
    • If we are in tune with God’s call and leading in our lives, we are operating in a “sweet spot” – alignment between work for the kingdom and our gifts that we have been given.

One of the most compelling and inspirational books I have read in recent years is Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book, Made for Goodness: and Why This Makes All the Difference, written with his daughter, Rev. Mpho Tutu.

I was curious as to how Tutu might hold this view of goodness in the face of all the evil that he has experienced. Yet Tutu argues that, being made by God in his image, we are both attracted to good and outraged by evil. God holds us in life, and we can face evil squarely because we know that evil will not have the last word. We are lovable and capable of good because God has loved us since before eternity. Then Tutus encourage us to live into the goodness that God has hardwired into us, as opposed to “doing good” out of fear that we are not doing enough to please God.

One of my favorite quotes in the book is the following: “The invitation to Godly perfection, God’s invitation to wholeness, is an invitation to beauty. It is God’s invitation to us to be life artists, to be those who create lives of beauty.” (p. 48) In education, whatever our role, we have so many opportunities to be life artists, instruments of God’s goodness, impacting the lives of our students around us.

Three thoughts in conclusion:

  1. The older I get, the more I am persuaded that Nehemiah 8:10 is crucial for living and dying well: “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” John Piper in his book Desiring God points out that in the opening statement of the Westminster Confession – the response to the question, What is the chief end of man?,  the authors did not say chief ends (plural) but chief end – glorifying God and enjoying Him were one thing in their minds, not two. Glorifying and enjoying are two parts of the one appropriate response of man back to his Creator. I have personally experienced this deeply when out in creation and communing with God.
  2. We live in the hope of the new Eden and have daily opportunity to exude the goodness and beauty of our Creator, to image him and to celebrate it in other image-bearers before us.
  3. So let’s approach our work then with joy and passion and purpose – A recent sermon illustration by our pastor on the mystery of the kingdom captured my mind – imagine kids playing youth soccer – some are very timid and fear the ball even coming to them. The kingdom is like the game – although the kingdom will come whether we play or not, the reason we have been created is to glorify and enjoy God – to get in and play the game with passion until we wear ourselves out with the joy of the participation! This is the opportunity we have been given in our work – to get to play with passion and purpose. Praise God!

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