I’m no massive Rend Collective fan, but this one song – Boldly I Approach (The Art of Celebration) –really gripped me the couple of times they played it at this year’s Momentum conference and got stuck in my head. Looking back now, this idea, the idea of the art of celebration (read into that worship and joy) was one of the most important things for me to take away from that conference and apply to my life beyond the campsite.
When your average punter thinks of religion they probably don’t automatically think of joy and celebration…if they do they’re possibly thinking of some sort of stereotypical ‘happy clappy’ Pentecostal-type evangelical-ish churches that may or may not actually exist in the real world. Now I’m going to step away, as I normally do, from ‘religion’ as an umbrella term and look at Christianity.
Most people have heard of the Ten Commandments, and many have heard of what we refer to as the Old Testament ‘law’. They’ve probably heard that Jesus said to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (even if they don’t know that he actually went further before his death and said ‘love one another as I have loved you’, but that’s a conversation for another day). But what all these things come across as is a set of rules. They don’t seem to bring freedom, regardless of what Christians might say about them. Some go further and criticise Christianity as a mere tool of the ruling class designed to keep people in check. It also seems to be an affront on the postmodern assumption/value of freedom – ‘who are you to tell me how to live my life’.
So how do we square that with the idea of joy and celebration? I’m not about to deny that those rules are there, or to say something flowery like the commands of Jesus are simply suggestions, like some sort of spiritual life-hack. They’re commands. Jesus says that if we love him we’ll obey his commands. Simple as that. So where’s the freedom in this? Where’s the joy? Why do we celebrate?
One of the main reasons that we celebrate, as the next line of Rend Collective’s song says, is that we’re free from condemnation. This means that we are justified – made perfect – even though we’ve failed to live to the standard that God has set out, largely in that Old Testament law I mentioned earlier. The apostle Paul even talks about the law being death to us because there is no way we can live by those standards. But Christians believe that God himself took on our punishment and our pain and made us perfect. We are no longer slaves to our own desires and our pasts and our regrets – we’re free to live life as we believe it was given to us to be lived. For us that’s freedom and that’s where the celebration comes from. The art of celebration comes from recognising that and being able to celebrate no matter what the external circumstances are. Whatever comes our way, we have reason to celebrate, because God has healed us.
But what about the rules? How does the art of celebration fit with obeying rules? Well, like all rules, we have the choice whether or not to obey God’s commands. There aren’t any cosmic strings forcing us to do one thing or the other; it’s up to us. We also have a choice of which rules to follow. I’m going to stick my neck out and say we’re all following a set of rules. They might come from a deity, but they might also come from the trappings of consumerism, materialism, desires, pride etc. We’re all worshipping something.
I follow God’s commands because I choose to. Because I have had to humble myself and admit that he knows more than me, and that includes knowing more about what’s best for me. Why do I think that? Partly because he proved his commitment to our wellbeing on the cross. He showed that he cares. But also because I’ve seen how much better things are in my life when I live the way God wants me to. In living a life where you try to forgive others and remove yourself from the centre of the universe there is an immense amount of joy and peace. And that makes a lot of sense.
Ultimately, I follow God’s commands (or try to) because I love him. Following those commands is part of my art of celebration. It’s giving myself over to him every day and choosing to live the way he wants me to. It’s not always easy and it doesn’t always appear to be the best thing to do in every situation, but I love him. Obeying him is part of my worship. It’s allowing him to guide my life and by letting him guide me I get to know him more. Personally, I think that getting to know God more is one of the best things we can do in these lives that he’s given us.