March 5, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
This week U2 released its latest album, No Line on the Horizon. Even in the unlikely event listeners find the new tracks substandard, the fan base of the band has reached such a critical mass that it nearly guarantees astounding sales of the album.
A poll last week by a British social networking site asked which was the most enduring song of the band’s almost 30-year legacy. At number 3 was “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” a 20-year-old anthem to a quest for something captivating but elusive. At number 1 was, appropriately, the song “One”—allegedly inspired by an intramural squabble in the band several years ago. The song’s theme is that despite the things that seek to divide us we are all “one love / one blood / one life... we’re not the same / we get to carry each other / carry each other.”
It’s a stretch to infer something sociological from an unscientific poll. (Wouldn’t we expect songs about unity and longing to connect with the experience of those who’ve lived through Northern Ireland’s tumultuous history?) But is it a stretch to suggest that what’s common to the human condition—and thus why these two songs resonate so deeply with so many—is the unremitting longing for something veiled in mystery whose reality to us is not diminished by its hiddenness? Something that would center us, ground us, and sustain love in us so that we might carry each other perseveringly? Both songs involve what C. S. Lewis referred to as Sehnsucht—the German word for “longing”—that “inconsolable longing for we know not what.” It’s a longing that seems to indicate the existence of a true, but hidden, home for all those who yearn for it.
For a few weeks now, we’ve sat with David in his lament over his sin, couched in the language of longing in Psalm 51. He’s longed for reconciliation with the God who, he’s recognized, was most offended by all his sin (v. 4). He’s longed for a clean, steadfast heart, undistracted by lesser allurements (v. 10). This Sunday we heard his longing for joy, that “deep, abiding confidence that all is well regardless of circumstance or difficulty.” This is what all people are looking for—just scan the bookstores, the conferences, the magazine racks.
The joy David longs for, however, isn’t a generic contentment with self or circumstances. It’s centered specifically on the Lord’s salvation; it sees David’s true condition before God and the pains God has taken to salvage the relationship. The salvation which David knew only in part was more fully and powerfully wrought in Christ: the Lord’s coming to us (John 1:14), His looking past our offenses (2 Corinthians 5:19), and His taking us to Himself to fit us for life and eternity (John 14:2). The contentment that such a joy brings would’ve kept David from being lured away and enticed by his own desire, as James puts it (James 1:14).
But quite unlike many joy-seekers, David knows this joy is entirely dependent on the Lord’s work. That he requests the Lord to uphold him with a willing spirit testifies to that sense of dependence.
There is no greater or more enduring need than having the joy of our salvation. Without it we risk discouragement when we lose what we have or don’t find what we need. But such joy is necessary in times of plenty and in want. When resources are multiplying, without such joy we risk losing sight of Him who enriched us (Deuteronomy 8:11-14).
David’s (and by extension Jesus’) lesson for us is that whatever our pursuits, they must be circumscribed by the more fundamental pursuit of the joy of our salvation. Pursuit of the latter is not instead of the former; Jesus said, “seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing] will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). But as we seek to pay our bills, feed our kids, and attend to our afflictions, unless we seek the joy of our salvation, all those other pursuits will either consume or callous us.
If you realized how desperately you needed that joy, what might you deprioritize to find it? If you realized how dependent you were on finding it, how desperately would you seek to abide in Him so you could know the joy that bears much fruit? (John 15:1-11). How might the season of Lent be transformed in your mind from a time of giving up something to a time of going after something—namely, the joy of your salvation?
His blood. His love. Our life. With Him. That’s what we’re lookin’ for. And those who find it carry each other, because they know that they’ve been carried.