“Learning to Live Joyfully”, from J.I. Packer (theoloy of Joy, Eternity in our hearts)

J.I Packer: How I learned to Live Joyfully

Christianity Today, (2015, Vol. 59, No 7, Page 56, The Joy of Ecclesiastes)

Christians like to quiz each other about their favorite book in the Bible. Finding out how people experience Scripture—especially those who write books about the Bible—is a natural interest to us. When asked which Bible book is my favorite, I say Ecclesiastes. Should people raise their eyebrows and ask why, I give them two reasons.

First, it is a special pleasure to read an author with whom one resonates. That is how the writer, who called himself Qohelet—Hebrew for “Gatherer,” a title that in Greek became Ecclesiastes, the “Assembly-man”—strikes me. I see him as a reflective senior citizen, a public teacher of wisdom, something of a stylist and wordsmith. As his official testimonial or third-person testimony (it might be either) in 12:10 shows, this man took his instructional task very seriously and labored to communicate memorably. Whether he was the Solomon of history or someone impersonating him—not to deceive but to make points in the most effective way—we do not know. All I am sure of is that each point has maximum strength if it comes from the real Solomon at the end of his life.

Whoever he was, Qohelet was a realist about the many ways in which this world gives us a rough ride. But while temperamentally inclined to pessimism and cynicism, I think, he was kept from falling into either of those craters of despair by a strong theology of joy.

How far this matches the way people see me, I do not know, but this is how I want to see myself—and why I warm to Ecclesiastes as a kindred spirit. (One main difference, of course, is that his thinking is all done within the framework of Old Testament revelation.)

Second, looking back to my late-teens conversion, I see myself as having received from Ecclesiastes wisdom that I needed badly. When Jesus Christ laid hold of me, I was already well on my way to becoming a cynic. But by God’s grace, I was tamed thoroughly, and I see Ecclesiastes—the man and his book—as having done much of that taming.

Cynics are people who have grown skeptical about the goodness of life, and who look down on claims to sincerity, morality, and value. They dismiss such claims as hollow and criticize programs for making improvements. Feeling disillusioned, discouraged, and hurt by their experience of life, their pained pride forbids them to think that others might be wiser and doing better than they themselves have done. On the contrary, they see themselves as brave realists and everyone else as self-deceived. Mixed-up teens slip easily into cynicism, and that is what I was doing.

Pride led me to stand up for Christian truth in school debates, but with no interest in God or a willingness to submit to him.

I was reared in a stable home and did well at school, but, being an introvert, I was always shy and awkward in company. Also, I was barred from sports and team games by reason of a hole in my head—literally, just over the brain—that I had acquired in a road accident at age 7. For years I had to cover the hole, where there was no bone, by wearing an aluminum plate, secured to my head by elastic. I could never get my body to learn to swim or dance.

Being an isolated oddity in these ways was painful to me, as it would be to any teen. So I developed a self-protective sarcasm, settled for low expectations from life, and grew bitter. Pride led me to stand up for Christian truth in school debates, but with no interest in God or a willingness to submit to him. However, becoming a real as distinct from a nominal Christian brought change, and Ecclesiastes in particular showed me things about life that I had not seen before.

Learning to Live

Waiting for me in the pages of Ecclesiastes was a view of reality very different from my junior-level cynicism.

Ecclesiastes is one of the Old Testament’s five wisdom books. It has been said that the Psalms teach us how to worship; Proverbs, how to behave; Job, how to suffer; Song of Solomon, how to love; and Ecclesiastes, how to live. How? With realism and reverence, with humility and restraint, coolly and contentedly, in wisdom and in joy.

The Psalms teach us how to worship; Proverbs, how to behave; Job, how to suffer; Song of Solomon, how to love; and Ecclesiastes, how to live.

People who may not have read beyond chapter 3 might think of Ecclesiastes as voicing nothing more than bafflement and gloom at the way everything is. But 2:26 already goes beyond this: “to the one who pleases him God has given … joy” (ESV, used throughout). In Ecclesiastes, joy is as central a theme, and as big and graciously bestowed a blessing, as it is in, say, Philippians.

Ecclesiastes is a flowing meditation on the business of living. It has two halves. Each is a string of separate units juxtaposed without connectives in a loose-looking way, which yet links them logically and theologically by subject matter. And binding everything together are three recurring imperatives:

  • Revere God: fear in Ecclesiastes, as in Proverbs, means “trust, obey, and honor,” not “be terrified” (3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12–13; 12:13).
  • Recognize good things in life as gifts from God and receive them accordingly, with enjoyment (2:24–26; 5:18–19; 8:15; 9:7–9).
  • Remember that God judges our deeds (3:17; 5:6; 7:29; 8:13; 11:9; 12:14).

There are two further unifying features. The first is the bookend sentence, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher. . . . All is vanity”—the opening words in 1:2 and the closing words in 12:8. Vanity literally means “vapor” and “fog,” and appears more than two dozen times to convey emptiness, pointlessness, worthlessness, and loss of one’s way. “Striving after wind”—that is, trying to catch hold of it—is an image of parallel meaning (1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4; 6:9). Both metaphors point to fruitless effort, of which the world is full, says the writer.

The second unifying feature is the phrase “under the sun.” It specifies the standpoint and pinpoints the perspective of no less than 29 verdicts on how things appear when assessed in this-worldly terms, without reference to God.

The first half of Ecclesiastes, chapters 1–6, is in effect a downhill slide “under the sun” into what we may call the darkness of vanity. The natural order, wisdom in itself, uninhibited self-indulgence, sheer hard work, money-making, public service, the judicial system, and pretentious religiosity—are all canvassed to find what meaning, purpose, and personal fulfillment they yield.

The reason for enquiring is given: Deep down in every human heart, God has put “eternity” (3:11)—a desire to know, as God knows, how everything fits in with everything else to produce lasting value, glory, and satisfaction. But the inquiry fails: It leaves behind only the frustration of having gotten nowhere. The implication? This is not the way to proceed.

The second half, chapters 7–12, is somewhat discursive—we might even say meandering. It labors to show that despite everything, the pursuit and practice of modest, quiet, industrious wisdom is abundantly worthwhile and cannot be embarked on too early in life. After comparing old age to a house falling to pieces (12:1–7), the writer works up to a solemn conclusion:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

That last phrase is elusive; duty may be its focus, or the phrase could be carrying the thought “the completeness of the human person,” which the Good News Bible has neatly rendered:

Fear God and keep his commands, because this is all that man was created for. God is going to judge everything we do. (12:13–14)

How then should we finally formulate the theology of joy that runs through and undergirds the entire book? Christian rejoicing in Christ and in salvation, as the New Testament depicts, goes further. But in celebrating joy as God’s kindly gift, and in recognizing the potential for joy of everyday activities and relationships, Ecclesiastes lays the right foundation:

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God. (2:24)

I commend joy. (8:15)

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun. (9:9)

Being too proud to enjoy the enjoyable is a very ugly shortcoming, and one that calls for immediate correction. Let it be acknowledged that, as I had to learn long ago, discovering how under God ordinary things can bring joy is the cure for cynicism.

J. I. Packer is Board of Governor’s Professor of Theology at Regent College and author of more than 40 books, including his bestseller Knowing God.

Editor’s note: You can now read or share this essay in Spanish and Korean.

Source: Christianity Today (2015)

Learn about J.I Packer

“Praying The Lord’s Prayer,” from Tim Keller’s book on Prayer (Prayer & Worship Resources-Live Prayer; Love God’s Mission)

Tim Keller’s notable book on Prayer, experiencing awe and intimacy with God offers the following treasured notes on praying the Lord’s Prayer explaining that…

  1. None of our three master teachers of prayer, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, developed their instruction primarily based on their own experiences. In each case, what they believed and practiced regarding prayer grew mainly out of their understanding of the ultimate master class in prayer—the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9–13, in the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
  2. The Lord’s Prayer may be the single set of words spoken more often than any other in the history of the world. Jesus Christ gave it to us as the key to unlock all the riches of prayer. Yet it is an untapped resource, partially because it is so very familiar.
  3.  Jesus is saying, as it were, “Wouldn’t you like to be able to come face-to-face with the Father and King of the universe every day, to pour out your heart to him, and to sense him listening to and loving you?” We say, of course, yes. Jesus responds, “It’s all in the Lord’s Prayer.”
  4. How do we overcome the deadly peril of familiarity? One of the best ways is to listen to these three great mentors, who plumbed the depths of the prayer through years of reflection and practice.

“Our Father Who Art in Heaven”

  • Calvin explains that to call God “Father” is to pray in Jesus’ name. “Who would break forth into such rashness as to claim for himself the honor of a son of God unless we had been adopted as children of grace in Christ?”
  • Luther also believed the address was a call to not plunge right into talking to God but to first recollect our situation and realize our standing in Christ before we proceed into prayer.
  • Calvin agrees that “by the great sweetness of this name [Father] he frees us from all distrust.”

“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

  • A seeming problem of logic, expressed by Luther. “What are we praying for when we ask that His name become holy?
  • Luther, who joins Augustine when he says it is a prayer that God “be glorified among all nations as you are glorified among us.”
  • To “hallow” God’s name is not merely to live righteous lives but to have a heart of grateful joy toward God—and even more, a wondrous sense of his beauty. We do not revere his name unless he “captivate[s] us with wonderment for him.”

“Thy Kingdom Come”

  • This is the cause of all our human problems, since we were created to serve him, and when we serve other things in God’s place, all spiritual, psychological, cultural, and even material problems ensue. Therefore, we need his kingdom to “come.” Calvin believed there were two ways God’s kingdom comes—through the Spirit, who “corrects our desires,” and through the Word of God, which “shapes our thoughts.”
  • This, then, is a “Lordship” petition: It is asking God to extend his royal power over every part of our lives—emotions, desires, thoughts, and commitments.
  • We are asking God to so fully rule us that we want to obey him with all our hearts and with joy.
  • To pray “thy kingdom come” is to “yearn for that future life” of justice and peace.

“Thy Will Be Done”

  • Unless we are profoundly certain God is our Father, we will never be able to say “Thy will be done.”
  • Only if we trust God as Father can we ask for grace to bear our troubles with patience and grace.
  • This is the one part of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, under circumstances far more crushing than any of us will ever face. He submitted to his Father’s will rather than following his own desires, and it saved us. That’s why we can trust him.
  • Calvin adds that to pray “thy will be done” is to submit not only our wills to God but even our feelings, so that we do not become despondent, bitter, and hardened by the things that befall us.
  • The beginning of prayer is all about God. We are not to let our own needs and issues dominate prayer; rather, we are to give pride of place to praising and honoring him, to yearning to see his greatness and to see it acknowledged everywhere, and to aspiring to full love and obedience.
  • First, because it heals the heart of its self-centeredness.

“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”

  • Augustine reminds us that “daily bread” is a metaphor for necessities rather than luxuries.
  • For Luther, then, to pray for our daily bread is to pray for a prosperous and just social order.

“Forgive Us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors”

  • The fifth petition concerns our relationships, both with God and others.
  • In the presence of God everyone must duck his head and come into the joy of forgiveness only through the low door of humility.
  • If regular confession does not produce an increased confidence and joy in your life, then you do not understand the salvation by grace, the essence of the faith.
  • Jesus tightly links our relationship with God to our relationship with others.
  • Unresolved bitterness is a sign that we are not right with God.
  • It also means that if we are holding a grudge, we should see the hypocrisy of seeking forgiveness from God for sins of our own.

“Lead Us Not into Temptation”

  • Temptation in the sense of being tried and tested is not only inevitable but desirable. The Bible talks of suffering and difficulty as a furnace in which many impurities of soul are “burned off” and we come to greater self-knowledge, humility, durability, faith, and love. However, to “enter into temptation,” as Jesus termed it (Matt 26:41), is to entertain and consider the prospect of giving in to sin.

“Deliver Us from Evil”

  • Calvin combined this phrase with “lead us not into temptation” and called it the sixth and last petition. Augustine and Luther, however, viewed “deliver us from evil” as a separate, seventh petition.
  • This seventh petition is for protection from evil outside us, from malignant forces in the world, especially our enemies who wish to do us harm.

“For Thine Is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory Forever”

  • Augustine does not mention it because it was not in most earlier manuscripts of the Bible or in the Latin Vulgate. Luther does not treat it.
  • Calvin, while noting that “this is not extant in the Latin versions,” believes that “it is so appropriate to this place that it ought not to be omitted.”
  • After descending into our needs, troubles, and limitations, we return to the truth of God’s complete sufficiency.

Like Luther in A Simple Way to Pray, Calvin insists that the Lord’s Prayer does not bind us to its particular form of words but rather to its content and basic pattern.

The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of all other prayers, providing essential guidance on emphasis and topics, on purpose and even spirit.

Prayer is therefore not a strictly private thing. As much as we can, we should pray with others both formally in gathered worship and informally. Why? If the substance of prayer is to continue a conversation with God, and if the purpose of it is to know God better, then this can happen best in community. By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived.

–Tim Keller

Martin Luther said, “”To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”  

Live Prayer, Love God’s Mission

Friends, please enjoy the links below that I have added for your enjoyment: L.Willows

Prayer resources and links on Beloved

Prayer, Music and Worship Podcasts

Confessions of St Augustine audio podcast

Prayer Pod, Prayer and poetry with music

The Moms in Prayer Podcast

Pray as You Go Podcast

Pray the Word with David Platt

The Daily Still Podcast, Guided Christian Meditations and Devotions

Worship Interludes; Piano Instrumentals for Meditation, Prayer and Devotion

Ancient and Contemporary with Liturgy; a beautiful Candlelit Service

Prayers from Taize, a Community in France

What a beautiful Name it is; top worship Songs from hillside (2021)

Share the Gospel; Live Prayer, Love God’s Mission.

The Jesus Film Project

Every Home for Christ

Mission to the World

Perspectives.org