Good Partying Takes Practice
It was my neighbor’s birthday; so of course I accepted the invitation to attend the party. Along with about sixty others, we squashed into the corner of the little hall far away from the zealously loud and mostly ignored DJ who was being spectacularly unsuccessful in encouraging anyone over the age of ten onto the dance floor. I sat next to another neighbor as we shouted inane pleasantries to each other thinking how much easier it would have been just to have chatted over the garden fence. It was then I realized, “The world doesn’t really know how to party!”
THE GOD OF PARTIES
But while the world is still figuring it out, I am convinced that God loves parties. In Isaiah 55 He invites us to come eat and drink, and buy refreshments without money. That’s party talk!
God has also imparted the desire to celebrate to His people.
The earliest song recorded in the Bible is a song of deliverance that Miriam and the women of Israel sang after they escaped from Egypt. Revelation says that in heaven we will sing the song of Moses. So if you think you’re too old for partying, think again. Moses was over 80 and Miriam was about 90 when they sang these songs. And did you know that God even listens to music when He is working? He told Job that the morning stars were singing when He laid the foundations of creation. (Job 38:7)
The Israelites appear to have been a very musical people, so much so that it came to the notice of the neighboring countries. Sennacharib, the Assyrian king, demanded as tribute from King Hezekiah of Judah male and female musicians, and the Babylonians demanded “Songs of Zion” from the Jews while they were in captivity. (Psalm 137:3)
As for party favors, on grand occasions a host would give special robes to his guests. Personally, I’d love to see that tradition resurrected. Then every time we were invited to a wedding, my wife would be given a new outfit instead of being driven to malls to buy one while I whimper in protest behind her.
At Jewish weddings not only would the host furnish the guests with wedding garments, but on special occasions the wedding party would wear crowns (Ezekiel 16:12) which they would cast at the feet of the bridegroom during the reception. Sound familiar? We have been given a new robe, a garment of salvation, a robe of righteousness, and one day we get to cast our crowns at the feet of Jesus at the “ultimate party.” (Rev 4:10). So if you are a Christian and don’t know how, partying is something you need to learn.
Some people don’t seem to know how to have a good time. I know, because I’ve sat next to them in the corner furthest from the band. They sit looking miserable and seem only to find comfort in criticizing the behavior of others, including their host, who have entered into the party with joy- filled abandon.
The Pharisees criticized Jesus for partying too much.
They accused Him of eating too much, of drinking wine and of befriending sinners (Luke 7:31- 35), all of which Jesus was more than happy both to defend and to continue. The truth is that legalists don’t enjoy parties or perhaps anything at all. It’s as if they believe that if it’s enjoyable, then it must be sin. Their picture of the Father is that of a strict authoritarian figure who is just waiting for an excuse to send some horrible judgment on His children. God is always “sifting” them. They huddle in small corners with people of like mind and sing songs such as “Hold the Fort For I Am Coming” and “Rescue the Perishing” waiting for the imminent arrival of the antichrist and the outbreak of persecution. As Bart Simpson would say, “Get a Life!”
PARTYING PRODIGALS AND ELDER BROTHERS
While the Pharisees hated parties, the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable had the opposite problem. His problem was that he loved to party in all the wrong ways and places. It wasn’t until he came to the end of himself and returned home hungry, thirsty and humble that he finally discovered that the very best parties are always held in the Father’s house. How many hundreds of prodigals have come to Toronto and had a revelation not only of the Father’s love but of His joy in His children?
Prodigals are especially welcome at Father’s parties, but the elder brother is always welcome, too. It’s hard for him to party, though, because he prefers to pout outside revelling in his self-righteousness, recalling years of joyless slaving for his father. Only the fatted calf was less thrilled by the news of the party to celebrate his brother’s return.
The tragedy was that the Father had to point out to him that he and his friends could have been having a party every week if he hadn’t been such a misery, constantly focusing on slaving away for the Father rather than enjoying the benefits of being a son.
This move of God has had more than its fair share of elder brothers turning up to criticize the extravagant joy of the Father’s party. Some didn’t even bother to turn up; they were so committed to perpetuating a dry, boring form of Christianity with all the enjoyment sucked out of it. They only had to hear that people were laughing, or even smiling excessively, and they had all the proof they needed to discard this as a flagrant manifestation of the flesh at best and devilish deception at worst.
However, I have met a few who ventured into the party rather than staying outside nurturing a bad attitude and were totally blasted by the Holy Spirit. They’re glad the invitation still goes out to elder brothers. So whatever it is that makes you hesitate at the entrance to the party, whether it is jealousy, inferiority or straight raw fear, don’t let it stop you, come on in!
THE PARTY BOOK
Of all the books in the Bible, Leviticus would not immediately spring to mind when talking about partying. Yet this oft-maligned book is full of instructions for days and weeks of divinely instituted national parties including the annual Feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and Tabernacles. These were full blown celebrations, public holidays when they visited families and welcomed strangers into family gatherings as friends.
Proverbs tells us that, “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (17:22) There is nothing more guaranteed to bring about joy in our lives than the manifest presence of God because David said, “In Thy presence is fullness of joy and at Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” (Psalm 16:11) You don’t see many happy anxious people. Not that His presence takes away all problems, rather as Nehemiah discovered, His joy becomes our strength to face the problems and overcome them (Nehemiah 8:10).
In the New Testament, Jesus told of how the King will send His men out into the highways and byways with compelling invitations to all to ensure that the wedding reception is full. Every time I am fortunate enough to visit Toronto, I am impressed by the international flavor of the event. Every continent is usually represented, and I have even met fellow party-goers from countries that I’d never heard of before. It seems that the call still goes to the highways and byways. The Father is determined that the reception will be filled to capacity, and guess what? He has a good time planned for all!
If the Gospel is the best news in the world, what should our response be? And why is it that some Christians manage to turn dancing back into mourning? (see Psalm 30:11) I have been both very sad and full of joy. Consider me strange if you wish, but I prefer joy.
FUN AT THE WEDDING
Amazing, isn’t it that Jesus’ first recorded miracle was at a party? Jesus along with His disciples and His mother were guests at a wedding in the little village of Cana in Galilee about eight miles northeast of Nazareth. The wedding feast lasted several days and the host, who would have catered for as many as he imagined would attend, discovered to his horror that the wine was running out. This was a New Testament nightmare for running out of wine at a wedding was seen as a great indiscretion and would have served to tarnish the happy couple’s reputation for years to come. There could possibly have been almost 200 guests at the wedding, probably the entire village.
But somewhere close by stood six large water pots, each of which held around thirty gallons of water. When Jesus’ mother implored him for help, he turned the whole lot into wine. Not just any wine, not the cheap “bargain of the week, buy one get one free” brand, but wine of such high quality that the headwaiter of the feast made a point of letting everyone know that not only is this good wine, but that it was the best wine of the feast.
Why would Jesus do this? After all, the host must have provided a goodly amount of wine that had all been drunk and there was certainly no need to provide another 180 gallons of wine at the end of a wedding. (That’s almost a gallon per person or six bottles each!) Didn’t Jesus realize that this gift could be abused? Isn’t God against drunkenness? This seems like such an unnecessary miracle. Nobody gets healed, no lives are at risk. I believe that the only reason Jesus chose this way of showing His approval of the marriage was that He just wanted them to have a good party. And Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Can’t you just imagine the scene? The air was almost certainly filled with delightful chatter and music as the assembled throng danced and sang their way into the night. Fun was the order of the day.
One of the most refreshing things about the move of God has been the restoration of fun with the Father. Gone forever is the “Wait ‘til your father gets home” / “you’d better hope God’s in a good mood today” distorted view of the Father. He has always loved playing with His children. Psychologists have discovered that some forms of relational bonding can only develop through playful interaction. Watch a father “wrestle” with his young son and you see how levels of trust grow: this big strong daddy can also be gentle, safe and fun to be with.
Our Heavenly Father is even more fun to be around, if we can just remember to become “like little children”.
No doubt one of the best ideas that God ever whispered into John Arnott’s ear was the “fire tunnel.” I’m convinced that God just wanted to “wrestle with His kids.” During a meeting a few years ago, John kept hearing the words “fire tunnel” as he “saw” people passing between two rows of prayer team members who had one hand held high joined with their opposite partner while with the other they laid hands on those passing through the tunnel. If you want to experience God, try it. It’s hard to make it all the way through still standing. A few need to be dragged out and laid aside to recover from their “new wine” stupors, but soon everyone has forgotten to be self-conscious as they begin to enjoy the fun. As frivolous as it sounds, many encounter the Holy Spirit while passing through God’s tunnel of love.
I remember singing for years the old hymn “Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary...” Now that Jesus has come to lift the burdens, it’s time to lighten up and join His party.