2 minutes reading time (418 words)

Joy 2020...

...is the strapline for "Bishops in Mission", a 3-day event from March 6th to 8th, in which all 3 bishops - Robert, Jackie and Nick - will be roaming across North Devon, attending various events, and hopefully inspiring and encouraging many people in the process. (Leaflets with full details will be in our churches this coming Sunday). The "Joy" theme comes from the third official priority of our Diocese: "To serve the people of Devon with joy ". (And the other two are...?)

I've found myself thinking quite a lot about joy over the past few months. I suppose the bottom line is that nothing is really worth bothering with unless there's joy in it. Obviously, sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get on with the hard stuff in life - sometimes there are crosses that have to be carried - but when it comes to things like being obedient to our calling and following Christ, there is no substitute for joy. And no way of manufacturing it, either.

On a couple of the Sundays after Epiphany, the Gospel readings were about Jesus calling his first disciples. How readily and willingly they followed him, leaving behind everything they knew and launching out into the unknown! It may have been just like that for you, but as I heard these readings, I found myself acutely aware of my hesitant, often unwilling discipleship. And then I realised that real obedience has nothing to do with slavishly following orders; it's the discovery, deep within, that what God wants is also what I want. And then there is joy, and a real, unforced willingness to listen to God and to follow his way.

Please don't imagine I've cracked it and am now at all times the perfect, joy-filled disciple. (Do I hear: "we knew that anyway"?) And please don't be hard on yourself when you struggle to be wholehearted in your discipleship. We are all learning, and perhaps the most valuable thing we can learn is to look for joy, insist on joy, enjoy joy...

And a final thought: I've always wondered why coming into Lent gives me a sense of joy rather than foreboding, of something light rather than heavy. Maybe it's just this: if we're honest about our struggles with faith, God will take us to a deeper place where we are given joy.

It's just taken me 401 words to say what St. Augustine says in 9: "Who can embrace wholeheartedly what gives him no delight?"


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