Interview with Mike about Champagne for the Soul
(The interviewer is Rosanne Farnden Lyster of InCourage magazine.)
“Happiness has not been my strong suit, which is why I needed to experiment with joy.” So writes Mike Mason in the introduction to his book Champagne for the Soul. In October of 1999 Mason began an unusual experiment. The best selling Canadian author of The Mystery of Marriage, and a man who confesses to having experienced a good deal of moodiness and depression in his life, decided to be deliberately joyful in the Lord for a full 90 days. The idea itself bloomed out of tragedy, but led to a renewed Mike Mason and a book that chronicles the wandering of one man into joy. Mason spoke with InCourage about what joy is, and isn’t, and how you and I can also dwell in joy.
RF: What stands in the way of us experiencing joy?
MM: One thing: forgetting the gospel. The gospel is the most wonderful thing in the world. If you know it, and believe it, you will be joyful. You can’t help it. So if you’re not joyful, you’re not believing the gospel. You’ve lost touch with its amazing power. You’ve forgotten why you came to Jesus in the first place—because He, and He alone, has the words of life that set you free. He alone loves you not for anything you do but just for being yourself, which you can’t help anyway! Everyone who gives their life to Jesus does so with great joy, because this news is so electrifying. The gospel is simple, but you’ll never encounter anything else like it. Over and over in my experiment I discovered great joy in a simple return to the gospel. It gave me the permission to keep stripping away from my life everything that doesn’t really work, everything that doesn’t truly bring deep, satisfying joy. My thought life, the way I prayed, my relationships, my work—everything was overhauled for the pure sake of joy and love. Only the gospel gives a person such radical freedom.
Joy is a good litmus test of the truth. How do I know that I’ve connected with the gospel? I know it by the joy it gives me. If I don’t have joy, I’m believing some lie.
RF: What is the difference between authentic Christian joy and a facade of “I’m happy all the time because I’m a Christian”?
MM: We can only know this in our own hearts. The heart doesn’t lie, though we may lie to it. But if anyone will sincerely commune with his or her own heart, it will be perfectly obvious whether true joy resides there, or only a facade. Love, joy, peace, freedom—anything that’s real has a taste and feel all its own. You know it when you have it, and you know it when you don’t. These things are no secret and they’re easy as pie. Of course, making joy hard and complicated is what keeps us from it.
RF: Is there a particular person or experience chronicled in the Bible that you believe reveals an important truth about joy?
MM: What comes to mind is the picture of King David leaping and dancing with joy before the Ark of the Lord as it was brought up to Jerusalem. This was no isolated experience—it’s the way David was. We know this from the Psalms in which, like Mary pouring precious perfume over the feet of Jesus, day after day David lavished the most extravagant praise upon his Lord. God has many servants but few lovers. David was a lover, a wild, passionate, warrior-poet whose example of ecstatic living has never been surpassed except by Jesus. And so Jesus is not ashamed to sit upon the throne of David for ever and ever.
RF: Does Jesus model a kind of joy in the Father that is accessible to us?
MM: Joy is fundamentally relational. We can’t have it in ourselves but only in relationship. Jesus’ life was all about His relationship with His Father. He did nothing on His own, but only what He saw His Father doing. This thrilled the Father so much that He said out loud, “This is My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” When Jesus received this blessing from His Father, He hadn’t yet “done” anything—at least, nothing recorded as public ministry. All His ministry flowed out of the knowledge of His Father’s pure, abundant love.
Jesus wants to lead all of us into this same experience—a profound, certain, felt knowledge of the tender, constant love of our Heavenly Father. This is what Christianity is. In such a relationship, what deep security lies, what infinite resources—what neverending JOY!
RF: What practical tips can you offer those who might want to experience a deeper and more consistent joy in our lives?
MM: To most people the first thing I’d say is get some rest. We’re so busy, so desperately overworked, overcommitted, overstimulated. Make some room in your life to lie down in green pastures. If you don’t, the Lord may make that room for you and you won’t like it.
Next I’d say (and this is closely related): Learn to pray. Prayer isn’t what you think it is. If you find it a boring duty you’re not doing it right. To pray is to come into the presence of the living God. Such prayer is as personal as your own face. You can’t have anyone else’s prayer life, you can only have your own. Don’t settle for some ritual form of prayer that doesn’t work. Get real. Find out what works for you to bring you into the real presence of the Joy-Giver.
Next: Do what you love to do. Pay attention to what your heart desires, and follow those desires both in big things (like career) and in the small, ordinary choices that fill every day. All of us have to do many things we don’t want to do. But if it would make you happy to take an hour to sit in front of the fireplace with a cup of tea and listen to some music—why not do it? Don’t keep living with an empty tank. Fill up.
Finally: Accept what you can’t change. Joy doesn’t run from adversity but faces it squarely. The worst part of any trial is that you don’t want to be having it. Embrace that hard thing, honestly and robustly, and you’ll not only draw its fangs but it will lead you to greater joy. Prisoners have been known to kiss their fetters.
RF: Are a good sense of humour and an ability to experience joy related?
MM: The first syllable of Hallelujah is Ha! When the exiled Israelites returned to Zion they testified, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.” How much more is this true of Christians as we enter the kingdom of heaven! When the Bible speaks of joy, I believe it means an emotion—something we can feel. People who are not repressed, people who are in touch with their feelings, will experience an abundance of both laughter and tears. For the two are so close together. I’m talking about being real, being fully alive. In this world how can we help but cry? But in Jesus all our tears are continually converted into laughter. After Job’s horrendous trials, one of the healing things the Lord did was to point out the ostrich—a big, silly, ungainly, flightless bird whose wings “flap joyfully.” What a joke! How Job must have laughed! For the believer in God, life is not a tragedy but a comedy.
RF: What does joy look and feel like when we are in the midst of great struggle, or pain, or depression?
MM: Real joy, even in trials, is not static but is always in motion, always seeking its outward expression, which is a full and happy life. I was reminded of this when, soon after my book was published, I fell sick. For four months I was not myself and I did not know whether I would get better. (As it turned out, I didn’t—at least, not fully. To this day I bear the scars and debility of that illness.) Throughout this time I continued to have joy, but not in the way I’d grown used to. This wasn’t a joy that translated easily into happiness. It was deep and sustaining, but it didn’t bubble over. While the rest of me struggled, joy lived deep inside. It felt like a little child tentatively exploring an immense, dark cavern with a small candle. A new place was being opened up in me, and though I had no heart for it, joy courageously explored the new territory.
In my book I maintain, contrary to popular opinion, that in the Christian life joy and happiness are inseparable. Happiness without joy is a masquerade, and joy without happiness is a spiritualized lie. In other words, true joy is incarnational. Everything true and good in Christianity is not merely spiritual but is meant to overflow into daily life. If it doesn’t, we have to ask ourselves if we’ve got the real thing.
During my illness, this belief was tested. But I continued to believe it and so—as I clung fiercely to a rich and incarnational view of joy—the Lord brought me through the deep waters to a place where I am now happier than I’ve ever been in my life.
He is faithful.