The kingdom of God is filled with celebration. We see this all the way through the scriptures. The Old Testament prophets, and later John, peer into the heavens and describe scenes of endless worship. Enthusiastic shouts of ‘Hallelujah, ‘Glory be to God,’ and ‘Worthy to be praised’ fill the lungs of all heaven’s inhabitants. Jesus also conveyed the kingdom of God in celebratory atmosphere. Not only did he continually speak of himself as the ‘bridegroom’—calling his followers away from mourning—but he frequently imaged the Kingdom as a party and invited all to join the festivities. For Jesus, and for all who take up his invitation, kingdom life is filled with exuberance and joy. It’s a wedding feast, an elaborate gala, a relentless rejoicing.
If scripture is filled with such descriptions of life in God’s kingdom, from where did we draw the conclusion that life with God is a bore? Why is it too easy to assume that focusing our life on immersion in God’s kingdom means cutting ourselves off from all expediences of enjoyment or fun. We see this particularly when talk turns to the dynamics of Christian discipline, or spiritual practices. After all, how could fasting lead us into joy? Doesn’t cultivating a life of prayer involve refusing the joys of every day life in order to lock one’s self indoors and commit to endless navel-gazing? And isn’t Bible Study much too serious a task for us to actually enjoy it?
Sadly, our experiences of joyless faith can easily run deep. When we add on the controversies, the back-biting, and the insults that can run alongside the Christian community, we can see why some would conclude that God has nothing to do with fun, joy, or happiness. As St. Teresa of Avila so aptly prayed, “Oh Lord, save us from gloomy saints!”
Gloomy saints are a contradiction for the kingdom of God is a party, an eternal celebration of the grandest scale. The actives of faith, even the more disciplined ones, only serve to usher us deeper into divine joy and abundant life. As Richard Foster often explains, if the disciplines do not lead you into joy, you have missed the point.
We simply cannot expect to live our lives with any kingdom-focus if we deny the joyous experiences that God leads us into. If we are too busy trying to perfect the Christian life that we forget to enjoy the Christian life, then we have failed to truly take up Christ’s invitation. The fruit of the Spirit involve love and joy, not just self control. God’s presence is intimately found in those times where we laugh and sing.
Furthermore, the invitation to join God in God’s party is to be lived out in every realm of our lives. We don’t celebrate by ourselves. We engage others. We invite others. We join others. The community of faith is a community of kingdom-focused, Jesus loving, party-goers!
So where can you celebrate? What can you celebrate? Perhaps, for a short time, you should put down your prayer journal, or your disciplined fasting, or your times of service, and find a party? What would happen if you saw the enjoyable things in life, as ordinary as they might be, as a place in which a kingdom celebration could erupt? What if you gathered people together for no other purpose that to enjoy each other’s company in the Spirit of God?
This is true kingdom focus. This is seeking first the Kingdom of God. It is the willingness to see our lives lived amid God’s celebration over us. This has as much to do with our smiles and parties as it does our serious spiritual works. So look a celebration and join God’s party.