A book of verses underneath the bough, A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou . . . 1
* * * * *
There it is, ladies and gentlemen, a classic expression of worldly daydreaming, a portrait of alcoholic bliss by a Persian poet, astronomer, and mathematician who died nearly a thousand years ago. His name was Omar Khayyam, and his clever, satirical verses (rendered in quatrains by the Englishman Edward FitzGerald) summed up what he thought was the best of a sorry life on a sorry earth. The "best" was the satisfying grain of the field, the stimulus of the grape, and the sensual satisfaction of an attractive female companion. As for the "book of verses," it was only to waste time. The poems could be anybody's even Omar's own.
Since Omar died in A.D. 1128, another millennium has almost passed away, and in a sense nothing has changed. Today's American culture, having virtually "emancipated" itself from its Christian roots, finds that in his Rubaiyat, Omar has said it all, contemporaneously and charmingly. He called it "a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou," which being interpreted is food, drink, and sex. Today it would be a bottle of vodka, a pizza, and an R-rated movie. No doubt Omar would have
adapted quickly to such a prospective treat in our new third millennium culture.
All this tawdry worldliness is a million miles from what Jesus meant by "My joy," which is "deeper than the honeywell, deep in the deepest flower in June." Jesus' joy is derived in all its warmth and ebullience from His Father, El Shaddai, the Lord God Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the universe and our God.
Unless we understand the true, original character of God, we will never fully feel, let alone understand, the joy of His salvation. We may accept the Bible as truth, we may commit ourselves formally to belief in God, as many have, without realizing that He wants us not just to believe in and worship Him, but to enjoy Him intimately as a child enjoys his father. God did not create the human race in order to become its Judge; rather He created it in order to become its Father. He wants us to be His own family, for His personal interest and delight.
That's the way it all started. God did not invent murder, He invented kindness. He did not invent cruelty, He invented gentleness. He gave us faces, not to scowl and bite, but to greet each other with smiles of friendship and embraces of love. He gave us voices, not to curse and scream at one another, but to speak truthfully and compassionately as our Savior did. He gave us hands, not to punch and strangle each other, but to greet and caress and help each other. He gave us feet, not to kick each other, but to walk in love and companionship with each other.
In other words, God designed us specifically to love Him and one another, and to function on that love. What the Bible says about wrath and judgment is not based on God's doings at all, but on God's reaction to our doings. When we violate His commandments, we can expect consequences.
Why do Christian artists always represent God with a stern expression? Why did Michelangelo paint God wearing a frown? Let me rephrase the question: Do you think God wears a smile on His face? Nowhere in any English versions of the Bible are there references to God smiling. Nowhere? Wait, there is one: the Moffatt Bible, translated from the original languages early in the
twentieth century by the Scottish scholar James Moffatt (1870-1944). It contains no less than eight separate verses of the Old Testament in which God smiles. Here are some of them:
Smile on thy servant, in thy love succor me.
How precious is thy love, O God . . . in thy smile we have the light of life.
O God, bless us with thy favor, may thy face smile on us.
O God of hosts, restore us to power; a smile of thy favor, and we are saved!
Smile on thy servant, teach thy laws to me.2
What Dr. Moffatt did was to take the several references to God's "shining face" in the King James Bible and turn them into smiles. And why not?
When Jesus stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, the account in Matthew states that His face "shone like the sun."3 Is it possible that He too was smiling?
Thinking about God smiling makes us realize that the joy of the Lord, the subject of this book, can never be fully expressed by words. The best words can do is create a metaphor and portray an idea for the reader.
So let us go to everyone's favorite psalm, the 23rd, and examine the phrase, "He leads me beside the still waters; He restores my soul."4 Picture in your mind a deep inviting pool, fed by a stream not far from the road of life we all travel.
Jesus brought you here. It is His own pool, and He welcomes you because He wants His joy to be in you, that your own joy might be full. It is not a therapeutic pool as such, even though it will restore your soul. It is not a baptismal pool as such, though baptism is of course available. It is not intended as a sacred rite of purification or lustration such as some religions devise. It is not even a refuge or place of consolation with soporific effects.
It is just a pure foundation of sheer joy, and as you drink from it and swim and splash in it, you will find the "still waters" to be an unparalleled place of delights.
This body of water comes close to the secret that Gilbert Chesterton sensed was a part of the Person of Jesus while He was on earth an enigmatic quality he thought was mirth, but which I am suggesting is something deeper. Its quiet sparkle is so delicious that it will make the soul quiver with joy. For the believer to bathe in it is to find life charming in its simplicity, quite apart from such embellishments and drugs as the world would like to introduce.
The lush trees and flowers bordering the pool, the leaves and petals rippling in a cool breeze, seem to augur something like a paradise beyond this planet. It is what many seek and few find, the ecstasy of tasting and knowing Jesus. In the still waters of Psalm 23 we, as part of His flock, sense the presence of God, the God of love and faith and hope, smiling on us. Goodness and mercy are everywhere. We feel them, we hear them, we taste them in the air and in the water. It is truly a time of restoring souls. Our sensibilities tell us that everything is right with God and ourselves, and our first reaction is, "Glory!"
However, the pool is surrounded by impassible briars, manzanita, and chaparral. The way to it from the main road is a secret route, a narrow path. That is to say, the path itself is a key word that takes one safely through the surrounding underbrush. The word is "Jesus," a Name that offends many. Nevertheless it is one which, accepted by the mind and heart of the believer, quickly leads past all obstacles to the quiet edge of still waters.
In seeking the pool, many travelers lose their way, for there are bypaths. Often it is because they cannot accept something difficult in the New Testament, or they are overwhelmed by the warnings in the Old Testament. They follow signs that promise shortcuts, an easier way through the thick briars, a path that does not require faith or repentance or blood atonement for sin.
So people leave the road to wander through the dense terrain, some of them bewildered, others determined and confident. Many train themselves to be almost satisfied with little, so they retrace their steps to the road and give up trying to reach the shore of God's pool of joy. You meet these people at various stopping points. They feel they have made their adjustment.
They write books about their achievements, for they consider that they have been victorious in the struggles of life; but the quintessential elixir is missing. They were caught in the thickets and gave up trying to find their way to the pool. Quite naturally, they conclude that there is no pool; but there is. It is a wonderful part of the journey.
This book will not take you to the pool. Only God's Word (the Living Water) can do that, in the power of His Spirit. But maybe just maybe as you read these pages you will find yourself being led to call upon the Name of Jesus and take the plunge into that delectable, refreshing pool. With Jesus it is easy to find the Still Waters where the Shepherd restores the soul. Then you will know what joy is overwhelming, thrilling, exulting joy for you will have it. You yourself will possess what King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table were singing about at the royal wedding in Tennyson's Idylls of the King:
The King will follow Christ, and we the King
In whom high God hath breathed a secret thing.5
When Christ is formed in you, the "secret thing" will be yours forever, and you will come alive, and follow Him, and know a deep peace, and hear the infectious laughter of angels.
Listen again to this Scripture:
The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.6
Imagine! Zephaniah the prophet tells of God singing over a sinner who has come out of the darkness into the Light of Life, into the joy of eternal salvation with its forgiveness and healing balm.
This book will try to tell you something about the unspeakable joy of God's love. It will also say more about Jesus, who He is and what He can do for you. It will tell you some stories about
what He has done for others. And now, because of the worldwide interest in the Olympic Games that peaks every two years, the next chapter will illustrate how the joy of the Lord captured not just a town, but a whole county in the western part of the State of Wisconsin.
1. From a free translation by Edward Fitz Gerald, published in 1859
2. Psalm 31:16; 36:9; 67:1; 80:3; 80:7; 119:135
3. Matthew 17:2
4. Psalm 23:3
5. Tennyson, Idylls of the King, The Coming of Arthur, line 500
6. Zephaniah 3:17 NIV
Chapter 10 || Table of Contents