When I was a boy, I was big into baseball. I couldn’t get enough of it, really. But around age 11, I injured my right arm pretty severely. And the surgeon told me that, if I wanted to keep playing ball, I was going to have to learn how to throw left-handed! What? Have you ever tried to throw a ball with your off hand? Try it out in your back yard some time. It’s really awkward, and somewhat embarrassing … and it seems pretty near impossible! But my parents knew that I loved baseball, and probably that there were some positive benefits to me playing it … and so, onto my list of household chores, my mother added a check-box that required me to regularly practice throwing a ball left-handed. Required me, I repeat! A few months before, I would have been thrilled to have seen the word ‘baseball’ on my list of chores. But now, it didn’t quite have the same ring to it. Throwing the ball was not so easy any more … and it was often frustrating! But mom enforced the rule anyway – knowing that, if I’d obey her, my long term joy would be increased exponentially. And it was! Those early days of requiring me to throw left-handed set me on a road back to ball-throwing proficiency that eventually allowed me to play on our high school team (under a Christian coach who greatly influenced my spiritual well-being), and which is still enabling me to enjoy Monday night softball to this day! And I may have never have had those joys if my mother had not laid down for me a commandment: ‘You shall throw a ball for 15 minutes today!’
And I want to say to you that – on an even more important, and profound, and lasting (and joyful!) level – this is how God’s commandments work, too! “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5.3)! Yes, they are sometimes difficult, especially if you suddenly find yourself trying to obey a command you’ve rarely, if ever, obeyed before. It’s like throwing a ball with your off hand. And we all were born with two off hands, spiritually! But if we’ll simply begin to obey, God will strengthen our hands to the task. And if we’ll keep at it, we will discover that His commandments really do lead us to places of contentment, and purity, and blessing, and joy that never would have been in our lives if God had not come to us and said “You shall” do this! His laws are not meant to suppress joy, but to give it birth! “His commandments are not burdensome.”
And, O, how some of us have tasted and seen that this is true! We might once have thought that to return to the Lord 10% of our income would be a real problem, but when we tried it out, we found it a blessing! We may at one time have thought it unfathomable, impractical, and wholly unnecessary to set aside one whole day for worship and rest and spiritual edification – to the exclusion of unnecessary work and entertainment. But then we gave it a try, and Sunday became our favorite day of the week! And so our stories could go on – we didn’t think biblical sexuality could actually be satisfying, but it was; we didn’t believe we could do without our religious talismans, but we found the biblical Jesus better than all the artist’s renderings; we didn’t know that telling the plain, bald truth about ourselves could be so refreshing, but when we did so, we finally felt free; we didn’t think we could live without that unbiblical relationship, but we finally let it go and God was good.
Should we be surprised? God is good! And His ways are good! His laws are not meant to suppress joy, but to give it birth! His yoke is easy! “His commandments are not burdensome.”