The Corporate Disciplines are those practices which bring us out of our individualism and into the community of the body of Christ. As the community of believers each practice the Inward and Outward Disciplines individually, we come together corporately to benefit together in their practice. Once our internal environment is prepared to receive the transformative power of God, our outward behavior is changed to pass that blessing on to others, bringing us to engage corporately with others to live out the disciplines to the benefit of all humanity. Nowhere is this more greatly expressed than during the practice of the discipline of Celebration.
What is Celebration as a Corporate Discipline?
It may be difficult to understand celebration as a discipline. This is primarily because we view “disciplines” as forced behavior in order to maintain a certain norm. Force in any sense has been given a bad name in our post-modern world. It is considered wrong for anyone to be forced to do anything against their will (or natural desire) by others. This is something I believe that most all worldviews agree from a moral standpoint. However, the post-modern worldview holds that a person placing restrictions upon themselves is also a bad thing, and that all should live freely without even self-imposed restrictions on behavior. This is where post-modernism drastically strays away from the majority of worldviews and starts to fall into a stereotypical form of hedonism. There is nothing wrong with a person forcing themselves to do that which is what they should do. The Christian Worldview holds that a person who forces his or her self to abide by a certain standard is to be praised when that standard is in accordance with God’s Will.
So how does this apply to celebration? We may think that forcing ourselves to celebrate is a bit counter to the idea of celebration itself. That is primarily due to the corruption of the common human behavior we call celebration. Celebration is not a state of complete abandon and it is not synonymous with raucous partying. Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline rightly matches celebration as the outward and communal expression of inner joy. “Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong.” (p. 191). So Celebration as a discipline is the forcing of one’s self to express in a healthy manner that inward sensation of joy that comes to the hearts of those who are obedient to God. This highlights an important point.
We can all acknowledge, I believe, that there are certainly times where we must force ourselves to celebrate. I’ve had to deal with the effects of sudden onsets of depression that were always unexplainable, and I believe that there are many out there who have to deal with similar types of things. Perhaps it is not so much a state of depression, but simply the permitting of the world to “keep us down.” We can certainly acknowledge the need at times for us to force ourselves to break out of this death-bringing spell of sadness to acknowledge the blessings we have in our life. We all have times where things are going well in life, work is good, home life is good, bills are paid with money to spare, time is available, and all is well in our life. In spite of all of this, we just simply don’t want to go out and celebrate these things. We just feel a state of idleness, of sadness at times, while experiencing all of this good. It is in this that we can understand Celebration as a discipline. It is times like this that we must create in our life-style a natural habit of Celebration. So that when times like this emerge, we force ourselves to get up on our feet and out with fellow believers to celebrate the blessings God has bestowed upon us. It is times like this that we come to appreciate that forcing ourselves to get up off the couch and go out with friends with a desire to celebrate through dancing and singing and enjoying laughter and healthy entertainment can put into our life the joy that we feel missing otherwise.
Where is Celebration in the Bible?
“I bring you good news of great joy which shall come to all the people.” (Luke 2:10). The coming of Jesus was to bring joy to all the people, and that joy is cause for celebration at the victory that would come from His death and resurrection. Jesus tells His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11). We are to be filled with joy in the Lord! The Lord set apart a Jubilee year that would be a great cause for joy and celebration as slaves are set free, property is returned to its original owners, debts are forgiven, and all is reset to its rightful place. “I will command my blessing upon you.” (Lev. 25:21). “Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” (Neh. 8:10).
What brings joy to our hearts is obedience to God. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27,28) are the words of Jesus in response to a woman saying that the woman who gave birth to our savior was a blessing. We are called by Paul to “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again, I say, Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). This coming from a man in prison! We are told “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31). The preacher tells us that “…everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil, this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecc. 3:13). We are to understand that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” (Ecc. 3:4). The psalmists gave us many calls to joy and celebration, “Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.” (Psalm 149:5).
So How do I “do” Celebration as a Discipline?
One would figure that the practice of celebration ought to be an easy one! Who doesn’t want to go out in joy and celebration of all the blessings that the good Lord has bestowed upon each of us? Yet we see individuals among the body of Christ who seem so deterred in celebrating what God has done. This is not a demerit against these people. We must always appreciate that some people are just not filled with the desire to celebrate in the more common forms of it. For many, a difficult life has discouraged their heart from celebration and brought out an inability to see the good in their life. This is all the more reason why, as Christians, we must come together Corporately to reach out to these lost souls who are just being brought into the light, to show them what the joy is. In coming together to celebrate, the joy and the laughter becomes contagious. Even though a brother might not jump up and start dancing, he will feel a lightness in His heart in watching his fellows celebrate and express joy. So the first step is to get out and join in with fellow believers just to simply be around those who are filled with joy, praise, and singing in their hearts, and allowing their joy to fill you, as it is brought about by the working of the Holy Spirit, which we must all allow to fill us with the Joy of the Lord.
I was one such person. I never quite took to the idea of dancing and singing. As a Marine Infantryman, I was a bit of a stubborn type, not interested in the idea of singing and dancing in joy. However, as I came to be around friends at bars and clubs where there was dancing, I was filled with happiness at watching them have a fun time. As I came to return to Christ, I felt a desire within me to celebrate as the Lord worked in my soul. Once my wife decided she was ready to attend a church, I jumped up excitedly and immediately went online to search for the closest church to attend. When we went, I felt the strong desire to sing with the audience during the praise portion of the service. It felt so good to do it after so many years of being away from the Lord and the corporate body of Christ. As time went on, I became that stereotypical Christian from the Hollywood perspective (always shown with an example of insult and belittling) listening to sermons while driving to work and listening to praise and worship music on the radio while out and about. I find myself singing to God in my heart and vocally during my hour commute to and from work. Just let yourself sing praises to the Lord. If you do not have skills at singing, do not fret. Allow yourself to speak out the poetry of the music in praise to God. It is the expression of the joy that the Lord has placed within you that is key. If it comes out as beautiful singing, or a beautiful recital of poetry, the Lord appreciates it, and will bring that joy to fill you.
Dancing is something that I wish would be brought into the local church. Honestly, as I await the Lord’s blessing upon my life of leading a congregation, I will definitely be establishing a means for dancing during the Sunday service. My family attended a Messianic Jewish service a while ago. In it, there was room made for dancing around the sanctuary. The young ladies formed a large circle around the congregation where they performed a beautiful folk dance as they bounced and sang around the congregation. Everyone up on their feet clapping to the beat and doing that little bounce that we all do when we feel true joy and happiness in our hearts. It was truly something beautiful to be a part of. I would love to see this be brought into every church, getting people out of the pews and dancing together in the old styles of group dancing or “folk dancing.” Down here in Texas, the good ol’ two-step and electric slide come to mind (I hope that made you laugh reading that as it did me to write it!). Why would we allow the horrible and pathetic excuse for “dancing” that is so prevalent at bars and clubs in our modern world become the only means to celebration for people? In dancing at church, we should bring back the honest beauty and fun of dancing that was prevalent during the old days of naturally coordinated group dances that anyone could jump in on and enjoy.
The next important means of celebration is honest and healthy laughter. Never hesitate to allow yourself to laugh. Find good and clean comedy to enjoy. Go out with friends to good comedic events, and encourage your church to raise up those goofballs that we all have in church to lead the church in a time of laughter. Never hesitate to allow others to poke honest fun at you from time to time. There is nothing better than learning to laugh at your own faults and mistakes. This can make confession a bit more interesting on the lighter subjects that we can look at in retrospect and just laugh at our silliness together. We must be able to bring to light the honest comedy that exists in our lives. We all do silly things that we can look at with a smile on our face, and not let our pride get the best of us. Instead, we can conquer our prideful self and allow the jokes about our failures make us laugh as we acknowledge them. The ability to laugh at one’s mistakes is a true sign of a person placing their spirit in the lead.
Another form of celebration is through the arts. Enjoying great performances of dancing and musicals in celebration of our Lord is a wonderful way to reclaim the arts to the greater glory of God. Finding those beautifully talented individuals to light at church gatherings, displaying their works of art for others to enjoy is another way to bring joy into our lives. Appreciation of true beauty in the skills and crafts of the members of the church can make for wonderful celebration events. Displaying the work of man’s hands, creations formed to bring the beauty and joy of God to the hearts of others, singing and performances intended to shed light on the greatness of God and guide people to Him, and the use of productions and graphical masterpieces on the big screens of our modern sanctuaries are all beautiful forms of celebration. These things aid in bringing a fullness of life to the church, allowing fresh pieces of God’s gifts to people in their skills and abilities to make church more than the stereotypical ritual nature of it.
Another aspect of great importance is to bring these acts of celebration into the home. Make family get-togethers a regular thing, where singing and dancing together as a family blessed by God becomes a regular occurrence in your home. Enjoy watching the children play and be silly, play games together and find new ways to identify the various gifts and abilities of the members of the family. Make events such as soccer games and football games times where the family comes together to cheer on those on the field. Celebrate each game as a way that you do what you do all for the glory of God. Find unique ways to bring about laughter in your home. Create new ways to take yourself out of the mundane patterns of life and break out of them with times of celebration in the home.
Then of course there is the celebration of the various festivals and holidays within our modern culture. Make every holiday a day for God. Memorial day becomes a day to celebrate the freedom God has given us and to remember those who fought and died to protect it. Christmas of course should be celebrated to God’s greater glory, and done to the fullest of our abilities. Easter, the day of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, the coming to the world of God’s salvation for humanity, should be wrought with dancing, singing, coming together in thanksgiving and profound joy for all involved. Even Labor Day can be a means to celebrate the skills God has given us to do good works in service of our fellow man! The point being to bring about festivals, even ones we come up with on our own, to celebrate God’s glory and this beautiful gift of life He has given to each of us.
Celebration is a vitally important discipline. We must force ourselves to place in our schedules times to celebrate and express the joy that God gives us. The modern life we live can suck the life right out of us if we allow it! We all have had times where this has occurred, and many who are reading this now may be in such a time currently. We must be able to break out of that worldly dreariness by inserting as mandatory in our lives times of celebration and joy. Bring laughter back into your regular life, sing and dance in the joy God brings to your heart at church. Find ways to include artful beauty and expression into the congregation. Make worship services throughout the week that are events where the whole focus is on celebrating what God has given to each of us. We have been brought to the fullness of eternal life with our Lord and Savior, there is so much to celebrate and be thankful for! So let us actively seek to bring about this discipline in the course of our lives.