We’ve all been warned about having too much of a good thing, but getting more of a good thing is something worth trying to do. As followers of Jesus, we know that the best things are the ones that move us in His direction. Getting more of those is always good. In this third part of our new series, A Fresh Start, we talk about how to do exactly that. Thanks for reading!
How to Get More of a Good Thing
Have you ever had something really good—or even just really cool—happen that you wanted to have happen again? What did you do in order to try and bring that about? When I was in high school my youth group went to Branson, MO for a special church weekend event at Silver Dollar City—the Ozark’s equivalent to Dollywood. One morning when we were still in the hotel getting ready for the day, the power suddenly went out in the whole place. I think everyone in my room was pretty much ready, so it was nothing more than mildly inconvenient. Being kids and being silly, though, I stood up on a chair in the room and proclaimed, “And God said, ‘Let there be light!’” And would you believe the power came back on right then. It was instantaneous. I couldn’t have planned it better if I had someone hiding in the next room manning the power switch for the hotel. It was awesome.
Well, whatever was going on wasn’t actually fixed because a few minutes later the power clicked back off again. Pressing my luck, I stood up in the same chair, and said the same thing. And do you know what happened? Not a thing. The power stayed off. It came back on a few minutes later and I don’t think it went off again. The first time was cool. I thought I had something going there. My superpowers were finally starting to manifest themselves. So, given the chance and a repeat of the same circumstances, I tried it again. This was to no avail, which should come as a surprise to exactly no one. I don’t actually have any superpowers…that I can share from the stage.
What I’m getting at is this: When something good or cool happens in our lives that we want to see happen again, the normal way we go about trying to make it so is to simply repeat the circumstances of the original event. And sometimes that works. It didn’t for me, but sometimes it does. But then, sometimes it doesn’t too. The odds really aren’t something we should rely on. Well, what I’d like to talk about with you this morning is a better way.
This morning finds us in the third part of our series, A Fresh Start. All this month, as we get under way in this new year, we are talking about how we can make this fresh start something more than just our setting out to accomplish basically the same things as we would in any other year. More than that, we are talking about how we can make a fresh start in Christ something more significant than it might otherwise be. The secret lies in a set of ancient practices known as the spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines sound like an extras for experts sort of thing, but really they are basic fundamentals for followers of Jesus who want to grow in their relationship with Him. They are simply intentional practices that create space in our lives for the Holy Spirit to do His shaping work in us.
So far, we have talked about the disciplines of engaging with the Scriptures and prayer. There really is nothing more fundamental than those two for followers of Jesus. If you want to see any kind of growth in a relationship with Him and you don’t have those two in place, you’re not actually going to see any of that growth. Indeed, understanding who someone is and communicating with them are foundational to every meaningful relationship. The same goes with our relationship with God. This morning we are talking about a third discipline. This one isn’t quite so basic, but it is nonetheless vitally important if we want to see our small spiritual successes crystalize into a whole lifetime of growth. This morning we are talking about the spiritual discipline of celebration.
And as we talk about celebration this morning, there’s a pretty simple idea that’s going to be driving our conversation. That idea is this: We get more of what we celebrate. You know this from experience even if you haven’t thought about it. At work, when someone does something really good and gets recognized and applauded for it, they’re pretty likely to try and do it again. In the same way, but not as positive, if someone is really cutthroat at work and cheats and lies and steals their way to a big promotion, other people in the office are going to follow suit. At home, when your kids do something really good and you celebrate them for it, they’ll try and do it again. In the same way, if they whine and complain and gripe and then get what they want by that kind of behavior…well, you’ve probably seen the results of that before. Our culture at large works like this too. We intentionally celebrate and reward things we want more of. Well, when it comes to our efforts to follow Jesus, we want to create a cultural climate of seeing more spiritual successes, right? As a result, being intentional with our celebrations is a really wise thing to do. More than that, because we get more of whatever it is we celebrate—including not so good things—and because we have a tendency to celebrate things that aren’t so good thanks to priorities twisted by sin, there is an element of discipline to this if we want to make sure we’re getting more of the best things in our lives. The point is this: If you want more of something great, you have to be sure and celebrate.
Now, of all the spiritual disciplines, you would think this would be one of the easier ones to convince followers of Jesus to embrace. I mean, celebrating is fun, right? Well, it is when it’s done right. But more than simply something that is fun for us to do, as followers of Jesus, celebrating is something we are commanded to do. We see several times in the history of Israel recorded in the Old Testament where they were commanded to celebrate. They were given extensive instructions for holding festivals and feasts. These were to be exciting, fun times, but they were also instructive. They were commanded to create altars and milestone markers when God did something big for them so they could remember and keep living the way they were living when God did whatever He did for them. In the new covenant we have with Jesus, while we aren’t given the exact same kinds of commands Israel got, we are nonetheless called by the apostle Paul to rejoice in the Lord.
We see this most directly in his letter to the believers in ancient Philippi. Philippians is easily Paul’s most joyful letter. There’s an air of celebration to the whole thing. Right near the end, this crystalizes into a command. Look at this with me in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Now, that’s a command. Paul’s not saying we should do this if we feel like it or if we want to or if it’s convenient for us. He’s commanding us to rejoice in the Lord. Always. And perhaps your first reaction to this is skeptical. I mean, really, Paul? You haven’t been through the year we’ve just been through. My goodness, you haven’t been through just the last couple of weeks that we have. There’s not a whole lot going right now that gives us reason to rejoice in the Lord. It feels a bit more like the Lord has abandoned us. I’m not going to rejoice in someone who has abandoned me. If Paul wants to write a happy letter because everything was going well for him, that’s his business. But he’d better not think I’m going to jump in with him on that if I’m not feeling it.
Maybe you’re not thinking anything along those lines, but I suspect you know someone who would if they heard this verse. But see, the problem with that line of thinking is that it ignores Paul’s reality. Philippians may be Paul’s most joyful letter, but it’s also one of his prison letters. Paul wrote four letters right near the end of his life while he was in prison in Rome, likely chained to a guard or two, awaiting his requested trial before the emperor Nero which he was fairly certain was going to end in his entirely unjust death. Not exactly the happy circumstances you would think would give rise to such a joyful letter. Paul’s circumstances were grim. But the grimmer Paul’s circumstances got, the more he fixed his eyes on the Lord. And the more he fixed his eyes on the Lord, the more easily he could rejoice and celebrate regardless of exactly what those circumstances looked like. He had the discipline of celebration.
So, how do we do that in our own lives? Well, we start with making sure we are celebrating things that are really worth celebrating, and prioritizing things most worthy of celebration over things less worthy of it. Here’s what I mean: Because we get more of what we celebrate, we need to take honest, Scripturally- and prayerfully-sound stock of what things in our lives are most worth celebrating. What kinds of things do we want more of? What kinds of things should we want more of?
Let me dig in just a little bit with you here. Let’s say your kid works really hard and memorizes a passage of Scripture, and also plays on a sports team that wins a tournament or a school championship. Which event are you going to celebrate more? Because whichever one you choose is going to send the message to your kid as to which is the more important achievement. Let’s say your kid helps lead worship at church, and also nabs the leading role in a local play. Which one are you going to celebrate more? Now, hold on a minute. Am I saying we shouldn’t celebrate or give attention to non-churchy events? Of course I’m not. Those victories are important to celebrate. But even as we celebrate those kinds of things, why is it we are celebrating them? Is it just the victory (and the time that achieving it has probably taken away from more spiritual pursuits which will have a longer and deeper positive impact on our kids’ lives), or is it the part of the victory that points them in the direction of Jesus?
I may be stomping on some toes, but are you with me here? If you are a follower of Jesus, then part of that designation is the acknowledgement that there is nothing more significant in the world than to be in a growing relationship with Him. Everything else we do pales in comparison to that and only really has lasting value when it supports and encourages us on toward that end. But if the things we celebrate don’t back up this truth, then it won’t have the impact on our lives that it should. Why? Because we get more of what we celebrate. If you want more of something great, you have to be sure and celebrate.
And what kinds of things are great? Well, deciding to follow Jesus is obviously the best. Here are some others: developing habits around spiritual disciplines (especially engaging with the Scriptures and prayer); giving generously to advance the Gospel; sacrificing time to advance the Gospel; intentionally using talents to advance the Gospel; serving others in the name of Christ; discipling a younger believer in the faith; sharing your faith with a non-believer; serving selflessly and sacrificially in the church; and the list goes on from here. Those are the kinds of things that matter most in the long run. Those are the kinds of things we should most want more of in our lives. Celebrating them is how we’ll get there.
Okay, but again: How? Well, part of celebrating is bringing public attention to the object of the celebration. When you or someone in your family or even just your circle of influence achieves a spiritual victory, bring positive attention to that. Let other people know about it both publicly and privately. Let other people know about it in front of the person who did it. Praise the person for it. Extol the virtues that were put on display. Whatever you’ve got to do, bring positive attention to it.
Another way to celebrate is to have a ceremony highlighting it. Now, this sounds very formal and it certainly can be, but it doesn’t have to be. You can have a ceremony just within your family. Mark some occasion off as special because of the thing you are celebrating. Go out to dinner. Dress up for it. Fix a fancy dinner at home. Write a little speech to share with your family about how good of a thing that it was. Create some kind of family ritual that you’ll repeat on a regular basis to remember the victory.
One more way to celebrate: create a milestone around it. When the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River on dry ground with Joshua to begin their conquest of the Promised Land, before the waters closed up, God told the people to get twelve stones from the river and create an altar next to the river with them. The purpose of the stones was to draw people’s attention to them. Then, when someone asked about the stones, another person who knew could explain it to them: God helped us achieve a dramatic victory and we don’t want to forget about it. You can do the same kind of things in your own celebrations. When you or someone in your family has achieved a spiritual victory, find some way to mark it. Create a plaque or a piece of art and put it on display in your home. You pin good report cards to your fridge, do the same kind of thing with your spiritual victories. Mark them out so everyone can see and be reminded of them long after they are past as a reminder that those are the kinds of things you want to see happen more often. If you want more of something great, you have to be sure and celebrate.