Certainties of Celebration
Two weeks ago, I joined the many thousands across the globe who, in these six weeks through May and June, will likewise reach the terminus of their pursuit of an educational degree. For me, it was four years of work, involving full-time work in the financial services industry, while moonlighting as a student (most of it full-time). I think I can speak for all my fellow graduates by saying that the process of reaching this day has required the practice of grueling discipline, and dutiful commitment to the requirements of the degree we have chose to pursue. Yet, in this time that celebrates the discipline of work and years gone by, I want to share with all that this is also a time to practice the discipline of celebration.
Like most who chose to pursue graduate studies, I guess I could be called a glutton for punishment when it comes to taking on a work load. Yet sadly, even before this chapter of life, I must confess that I have been far to affected by the overly mechanized pragmatism of the American society in which I live. Now, even when assignments are finished, I find myself having a difficult time slowing, and a struggle to practice celebration. Yet, celebration is a very real component of the Christian life.
Thus, in my own journey of learning how to practice celebration, I want to share a few challenges and insights from Richard Foster, author of the Celebration of Discipline, that I have sought to practice and to apply to my life.
1) Celebration should be a normal part of the Christian Life
When we look to the OT, we see plenty of precedent of seeing celebration and ceremony. Three times a year, the entire nation of Israel would break from the all important tasks of work that provided for their survival, and in trust of God for his provision, would celebrate the three major feasts. The Psalter is filled with examples of praise that call for celebration of God’s might deeds with song, dance, and outward expression. David himself leapt and danced before the Lord with all his might (2 Sam 6:14, 16), and Mariam lead Israel in celebratory dance for God’s salvific deliverance (Ex 15:20). Joy is an expected fruit of the Christian life (Gal 5:22), and God’s people are to be blessed when they “hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27,28). Although celebration should certainly be tied to God’s provision during specific times and situation, joy (and celebration of God’s past and future provision) should be daily evident in the believer’s life.
If anyone is like me, and find their most natural way to respond to accomplishment to be to look for the next task, let the biblical evidence move you to see not only what is being missed in these opportunities, but to realize this may be evidence that celebration is to absent a discipline from the daily rhythms of our lives.
2) Celebration and Joy bring Strength to Life
Richard Foster says “Celebration brings joy to our life, and Joy makes us strong” (191). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh 8:10), and whoever tries to move forward without this power will soon find himself under fueled and quickly “running on empty.” Without a joyful spirit, all other disciplines become dreary and dry, but celebration brings joy to our souls, and strength to our being.
3) Celebration and Joy bring Freedom to Life
Paul’s famous words in Philippians say “rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say “Rejoice” (Phil 4:4). Yet, how does one find joy? The later verses, although grammatically independent imperatives, perhaps they provide evidence for who this joy is to be achieved. The first is by “not be[ing] anxious about anything” (4:6). Here we see that one side of joy is the carefree emptying of one’s soul. Jesus affirms this message in Matt 6:25, reminding that nothing should be allowed to fill us that would bring us case for anxiety or care for what doesn’t need or dwelling attention. The second component is to “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:4). Celebration isn’t Christian celebration without God being invited to the picture. In fact, God is the focal point of all true celebration. So, whether it’s that moment of walking across the stage, the BBQ party that follows, or the vacation a week later, let your graduation celebration make sure that God is at the center, and the this celebration is characterized by a soul filled with freedom and abandon for burden.