By Peter Amsterdam
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The spiritual discipline of celebration is intrinsically connected to the joy which comes through abiding in and following God’s Word. It begins with accepting what the Bible teaches about salvation and redemption: that it is a gift of God, made available through belief in Jesus as our Savior, which causes us to be righteous in God’s eyes. Salvation brings us into relationship with Him and causes His presence to dwell within us.
In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard wrote: “We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our life, our world, in conjunction with our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, beauty and goodness. We concentrate on our life and world as God’s work and as God’s gift to us.”1
Celebration as a discipline focuses on celebrating both inwardly and outwardly in direct connection with God’s blessings and interaction with us. It’s regularly celebrating significant events in the context of God’s love and care and blessings, both physical and spiritual.
We practice the discipline of celebration inwardly when we take time to reflect on God’s presence in our lives; we acknowledge that every day is a gift from His hand. We recognize that the world we live in, the beauty we see, the food we eat, the companionship we enjoy, all the blessings we have, come from the hand of God. We rejoice in the knowledge of our salvation and find joy in living our lives attuned to God’s Spirit.
We live with peace in our hearts, knowing that God will care for us, will “give us this day our daily bread,” that our needs will be met; that Jesus has given us peace so that we are not troubled or afraid,2 and that peace will guard our hearts and minds.3 We recognize that even during difficult times, in our darkest moments, we can still have the peace of the presence of God and the knowledge that, as difficult as things may be, we are safe under the shadow of His wings.
Our inward celebration, rooted in our faith, joy, peace, and strength in God, also brings about outward celebration. One of the key ways to celebrate the peace and joy we have is through worshipping God by praising Him in words, song, music, dance, lifting our arms, doing whatever helps us to rejoice in His blessings. We also celebrate outwardly when we join together with others, whether they’re family or friends or fellow believers, to commemorate the joys, victories, and milestones that we experience. We take time to celebrate the blessings He’s brought into our lives and the lives of others, the accomplishments, the completion of a major project, getting a new job, passing tests, saving souls. When we hold family celebrations such as for birthdays and anniversaries, graduations, marriages, or the birth of a child, we take these opportunities to both celebrate the event and show gratitude to God. Religious holidays have even deeper meaning when we focus on the spiritual and personal significance of the events being celebrated.
We all face tests, trials, and difficulties, which sometimes cause us to focus on our suffering, worries, fears, and the sadness of the struggle. Celebration is recognizing that every life has seasons of difficulty, but also of joy and happiness. It’s important for our faith that we rejoice and celebrate God’s goodness to us and to others, no matter what season we are in.
The apostle Paul wrote that we should “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”4
This doesn’t mean we take no action, but that we bring our needs and concerns before God in prayer, and in doing so we put our confidence in His love and care rather than worrying. When we enter into that trust, we experience anxiety-free peace in our hearts, as we aren’t carrying the burdens of fear and worry.
Paul continues by counseling us to fix our thoughts on things that are worthy of praise, and as we do, God’s peace will be with us. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”5
Choosing to dwell on things that are excellent and good, worthy of praise, is an act of the will which requires conscious effort—in short, it is a discipline. Choosing to trust God and not worry, to believe He will care for you and to act accordingly, also requires an act of the will. This discipline means making the effort to choose a way of thinking and living that is in alignment with God’s Word and which ultimately results in joy. With this joy and celebration in our hearts, we manifest the joy of the Lord in our actions and attitudes. We appreciate life, as we see God’s hand in all of it and we know it’s a blessing from Him. We can appreciate good food, wine, beauty, the arts, music, humor, wholesome entertainment, and fun. We can delight in the beautiful world and all that God has put in it. We celebrate these things as we know they come from God.
As Christians, we can be the most joyous people in the world—for we are saved, the Spirit of God dwells within us, and some of the manifestations of the Spirit’s presence in our lives are love, joy, and peace.6 God’s love and joy, the peace available to us through salvation, makes us joyful, free, alive. This joy should exude from us and cause us to share it with others. It’s fed and strengthened when we read, study, and apply God’s Word, when we take time alone with Him in solitude and silence, when we confess our sins, and when we write down and review the wonderful things we see God doing. It’s expressed in our prayer, praise, worship, and fellowship; it’s shared in our service and when we tell others of salvation.
When we strengthen our trust in God, as we grow in faith, we experience more inner peace, resulting in abiding joy. When we discipline ourselves in abiding in God’s joy by trusting Him, casting our burdens upon Him, loving Him, and rejoicing in His love for us, we become joyous Christians who celebrate Him in every aspect of our lives. May we all be that kind of Christian, for it is that kind of Christian who shines as a city set upon a hill, for God’s glory.
Originally published September 2014. Adapted and republished September 2018.
Read by Jon Marc.
1 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York: HarperOne, 1988), 179.
2 John 14:27.
3 Philippians 4:7.
4 Philippians 4:4; 6–7.
5 Philippians 4:8–9.
6 Galatians 5:22–23.