Then I am snapped back to the realities of pavement and steel by the glare of brake lights coming on in front of me as the car ahead decelerates rapidly. I, in turn, am forced to do likewise to avoid collision, as is the case for the van behind me. An accordion effect begins to ripple through this river as all within it are subject to the whim of a single vehicle - a slow driver pulling into our current. Then, for the first time during my commute, the dashboard clock is noticeable. "15 minutes" I think to myself. "I don't have time for this."
Suddenly I am more acutely aware of the vehicles around me. Red Honda. Blue Ford. Black Dodge. Some drivers seem clueless - drifting, some seem irritated. Did that guy just sneer at me? That woman needs to pay more attention to the road and less to the kids in the back seat. That person needs to get off the phone and speed up. Then I notice people in the left lane are going significantly faster. "Of course", I think to myself, "the slow driver would be in MY lane." I tell myself to be patient. The sky is beautiful, the earth is fresh, but as the vibrancy of the colors fade around me all I can focus on is the upcoming traffic light. Will I make it or will the velocity challenged motorist ahead impede us all?
Vehicles began jumping lanes, looking for gaps, weaving, anything to get around this guy. I could now make out the vehicle; a big white LeBaron. "Had to be an old person", I thought to myself with only a minor twinge of guilt for my worsening attitude and disrespect toward the elderly. I was now three cars behind and stuck. There would be no lane changing for me. I studied my speedometer. "This person is going a full 6 miles below the speed limit during rush hour - why would they do this to me, to all of us?" Nine minutes. One of the cars ahead of me leaped over to the other lane in a daring NASCAR maneuver. Horns sounded. This was bad. This one person was wrecking everyone's morning, setting everyone off to a bad start.
At the next intersection one more car entered the turn lane. Smoothly I pushed forward lest some wickedly advantageous driver try to muscle in ahead of me. Then brake lights. NO!!! The Fiesta in front of me just HAD to turn into Arby's. "Can't you find time to eat breakfast at home instead of clogging your arteries on that?" A gaping traffic hole between me and the slow LeBaron opened up. I pressed the accelerator to the floor and was rewarded in my efforts as, miraculously, no one managed or bothered to take advantage of the gulf between us. As I came within than a car length of the LeBaron's bumper I was further rewarded with the knowledge that I was right. I could now see clearly, it was an elderly man driving this vehicle, fouling up what should have been a smooth and effortless flow of steel into the city this morning. Six Minutes. Pangs of conviction for my rapid transition in attitude assail. I know I should not have let this chain reaction of events get to me, but they have and now I have to find a way to reclaim my day, reclaim my....my...JOY?
That's exactly what the license plate said on the elderly man's car. JOY 180. Puzzled, I pondered this while driving the blocks ahead to my turn off. Was his wife's name Joy? Were the letters J-O-Y his initials? Then it hit me and I literally laughed out loud. JOY 360 would be a full circle. But JOY 180 - back at you. JOY BACK AT YOU! I laughed again. Suddenly this man, enjoying a beautiful spring morning, driving a few mph below the speed limit as people impatiently swerved around him with cross glares and impatient scowls leaping lane to lane, - this man was the epitome of wisdom and peace in a maelstrom of chaos and misaligned priorities. All the while his plates were silently screaming to the rest of us JOY BACK AT'CHA!
Joy - do we even know what that means in today's society? Do we comprehend the power of this small word? We know how to enjoy. Much of our society is drunk with the continual pursuit of enjoyments, satisfactions and seeking of pleasure - no matter how brief and often no matter what the cost. But these do not comprise joy or encapsulate it. Ever seen a child enraptured by joy, fully caught up in the moment of it all, giggling, with an ear-to-ear grin they couldn't wipe away. In that moment, the surroundings and circumstances fade away as joy induces life, tangibly transforms reality, and brings energy to bare. In 1 Kings 1:40 we read where the people of God followed Solomon into Jerusalem with such joyous praise that it shook and broke the earth. I'd say there's tremendous power in joy.
And having joy doesn't mean the world is perfect or everything is going your way. For that matter, having joy is often most necessary when everything is stacked against you because joy transforms. Joy is a necessary component of praise and God inhabits the praises of His people. Ever sang praise and worship songs without joy - been to a church that did? It's like a funeral. Did God move powerfully in those services? We serve a God of joy, a vibrant and living God. It's one of His most important and often overlooked character traits. He has freedom to move most powerfully in our lives when we emulate His joy. If you have doubts on this, consult the countless scriptures in the Psalms that repeatedly admonish us to take joy, rejoice, joy in Him, put on joy - and this is just one book of His Word. There are numerous references throughout the entirety of the Word in both the Old and New Testaments.
How often have you wanted to jump up with joy and say like David did
"Let me run loose and free,
celebrating God's great work,
Every bone in my body laughing, singing, "God,
there's no one like you.
You put the down-and-out on their feet
and protect the unprotected from bullies!"
-Psalm 35:9 MSG
Psalm 66:1 tells us to "Shout joyful praises to God". Try that in your car on your way to work - not prayers muttered under your breath or that look like you're singing along with your radio but serious shouting praises. You might get a few stares. Do you care? I guarantee you'll be a different person exiting your vehicle than when you first got in it. What if the weight of continual onslaught by the enemy has you so overwhelmed and crushed that you are beyond praise? Then do what Hebrews 13:15 instructs us to do - "pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus' name." (MSG) Did you catch that? Sometimes it's a sacrifice. It's an effort, it costs something. But the sacrifice always yields a return far greater than the cost. You are changed, and your surroundings are altered because of it.