Joy

JoyMy whole life has been a quest for joy. Perhaps yours has been as well? The thing is, when I accepted Christ, He gave me that joy right then, as a gift. Not realizing that at the time, I buried it beneath many disappointments and fears. Now God is helping me uncover this joy as I understand my identity in Him. 

I had many misconceptions about joy, even as a new Christian. Could it even exist in a world SO full of disappointment, I wondered?

Does Joy mean no trouble? Obviously not. Just look at Jesus’ life and all Christians after.

Does Joy mean always feeling good and loved? No, feelings can accompany and encourage joy but they are very fickle.

Does Joy come from being treated well by others? That helps, but no, joy is internal. It has to do with our relationship with Christ. It is amazing to learn contentment and how to be hopeful in our relationships. But, it is how I am treated by God that is so important!

Does it mean everything I do goes well? No, apparently my hopes and dreams don’t always line up with God’s hopes and dreams. Joy doesn’t come from guaranteed success or immediately answered prayers. Again, they may contribute to it, or make joy seem more accessible.

Joy comes from the God that adores me, loves me first and most. He’s my Lord. He is so good and He’s my constant companion. That means I can live joyfully despite it all.

It’s another example of the seemingly backward dynamics of the Kingdom of God. I don’t have joy because of my circumstances. I have joy because of my identity.  When my identity rests in Christ as it should, I will know joy. In Christ, I am a loved, accepted, forgiven daughter of God. I am a saint! (Yes, that can be difficult to say, can’t it!) Joy will be present even in sorrow and suffering. It will be my new reality!

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Faith

Joshua 3 – I love this account of how the priests had to step into the Jordan River at flood stage to see it miraculously be parted.

God asks us to obey despite how impossible things appear. Right then, when His name is on the line and we are 100% committed regardless of how foolish we seem, then and there He works in miraculous ways. He stops the river at flood stage. He parts the sea. He grabs our attention in a burning bush that isn’t consumed. When all seems lost and hopeless, and our back up plans have all failed, we see God work. His actions reaffirm He is the I Am, the God of the impossible.

Romans 4:17b says He is “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

How true! I’m reminded of that every day as I consider who I was and who I now am as a follower of Christ. God calls me daughter, child of God, righteous, accepted, even holy. These are all things that should not be because we all were children of wrath. Sin made me an enemy of God. But God made a way by sending Jesus to die for our sin and then be resurrected in victory. He continues to make a way where there seems to be no way.

It makes no human sense so don’t even try to figure God out with your own human capacities. It takes the Holy Spirit to give us the faith and courage to know God’s ways. It’s scary and pushes us past our human limits. In that place, God gets the glory as He fills in the gaps as only He can.

Cast your net on the other side of the boat though you fished all night and caught nothing. Step into the flooded river or the sea with thousands of people following you to what appears to be certain death. Pour your last small flask of oil into endless containers though it seems ridiculous. Walk on the water toward Jesus.

It truly takes all of our faith to obey but God meets us there in the impossible. What is God calling you and I to do today? Perhaps He’s been calling you to something for many years and it’s time to just say yes? We may be asked to risk our comfort, our reputation, the respect we’ve earned from our safe and practical decisions. One thing that’s certain is that God will show up and we won’t regret it! How? Most likely in a way we could not guess. When? Not sure. Where? Good question. But why…why we know- that God may be glorified.

The Life of a Marble

674047I feel like a marble rolling around quite often. Just unsure. Wishing for more, different paths, different places. I’m thankful that, at those times, God quickly brings close guardrails on either side of me to keep me from doing dumb things. Or maybe, good things done at the wrong time. If I consider turning back, behind me a barrier appears as well. I can stop and pout as long as I please, but eventually, on his course I go and as I get a better attitude and more  in step with his Spirit, away those guardrails go. I feel free, with so many possibilities again.

Am I free then, I wonder?

Becoming a Christian, this protection is what I asked God for. The world’s “freedom” is only imprisonment. “You’re free to choose,” we hear. “You’re the boss!” But time and time again we roll right into a deep chasm, or off the table completely, or get stuck in a rough spot. It’s not freedom. It’s our ability to choose our bondage, our jail cell.

I am free in Christ.

I ask for his boundaries and thank him for them. I trust he will remove them when it’s safe…and when he doesn’t, I believe he has me on the best, safest, most fulfilling path. Hopefully as time goes by, I no longer stop so frequently in protest. (When I do stop, it’s only me that misses out.) That’s my decision. It must be difficult not to tip the whole surface and force me to continue rolling, but God doesn’t. He gives me the choice.

I thank God for His love and care to guide me day by day. He helps me navigate difficult stretches, keeps me from spending my days hopelessly stuck and frustrated. I like the way this verse talks about God’s compelling love. And “compelling” means more here than I realized in the past2 Corinthians 5:14-15

14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Compels…meaning what?

Controls us,

constrains us,

animates us,

moves us,

and impels us.

God keeps us rolling in the right direction!!

Trust and Obey

Trust and Obey

1 When we walk with the Lord in the light of his word, 

what a glory he sheds on our way! 

While we do his good will, he abides with us still, 

and with all who will trust and obey. 

Refrain:

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way 

to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. 

2 Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share, 

but our toil he doth richly repay; 

not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross, 

but is blest if we trust and obey. 

3 But we never can prove the delights of his love 

until all on the altar we lay; 

for the favor he shows, 

for the joy he bestows, are for them who will trust and obey.

4 Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at his feet, 

or we’ll walk by his side in the way; 

what he says we will do, where he sends we will go; 

never fear, only trust and obey. 

I remember this hymn well from many years ago. It’s so catchy and such a classic, but the truth is….I wish I would have let its word sink into my brain better back then!

It seems not much pleases God as much as His children trusting Him. Isn’t that why Abraham is often mentioned in the Bible as an example to follow so frequently? Or King David? People that please God have this in common – they chose to trust God. They chose to obey God, not always perfectly of course, but still that choice was made.

N1706P22004CTrusting God pleases Him….so what angers God? Well from the Israelites experience of wandering 40 years in the desert and never being allowed to enter the Promised Land, I’d say it’s testing God – not believing He is powerful enough to do what He says and that He loves us enough to take good care of us as He promises. Our unbelieving hearts that are always going astray….this angers God. (Hebrews 3:10 That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’)

When we don’t chose to trust God and obey Him, we spiral downward in our pride and stubbornness, in arrogance that we know better. Our hearts become full of sin and hard as a rock toward God. We become unable to hear Him or see Him and if we persist in our sin and foolishness, God may eventually give us over to all the consequences of a life lived without Him. Sure, it may seem we won, we got our way. But really we may lose everything.

Thankfully God often still grabs our attention to bring us back to our senses enough to repent. But then what? Where do we go from there? We either obey God and prosper in His eyes or we don’t obey God and stray from Him again, and again.  I see where He could get really tired of fickle and often unfaithful hearts. I’m so thankful for God’s patience and mercy.

Let’s trust Him today. Wherever we are, easy or hard, straightforward or completely bizarre, joyful or heart-wrenchingly sad and painful, His way is the way to go. There really is no other way that leads to good things. 

Keep our hearts soft today, Lord. Help us trust you no matter what. Help us obey, quickly and humbly.

The Abundance of God

girlonmountainAs I think about God’s abundance today, two Old Testament stories come to mind, both involving Elisha the prophet in the book of 2 Kings. The first account is of a desperate widow that will soon lose even her sons in order to pay her debts. 

2 Kings 4:4  Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.”

 

We may feel we have nothing, and in our eyes, we don’t. But, God sees all sorts of possibilities with the little we have. It all hinges on our trust and obedience. What Elisha told the widow to do seemed odd really, silly. But she did what he said and therefore was part of a miracle, an unending jar of oil. I love how that oil didn’t stop flowing until they ran out of jars. God’s abundance is only limited by our low expectations and our lack of faith and obedience.

The second account takes place right before the prophet Elisha dies. The king of Judah, Joash, comes to Elisha unsure what the future will bring the divided country. Elisha instructed him to strike the ground with his arrows. Again, a strange request. But Joash obeyed and was blessed. He could have been blessed even more had he struck the ground a few more times. Just another reminder to do what God tells us to do whole-heartedly and with abandon!

II Kings 13: 14-19 Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash king of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” 15 And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows. 16 Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,” and he drew it. And Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. 17 And he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. And he said, “The Lord‘s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” 18 And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.”

God cares about everything that happens to us. He loves every person and wants each of us to come to Him to be forgiven and saved from our sin. He sees us in our need and in our fear and wants to encourage and strengthen us. It doesn’t matter if we seem to have nothing, materially, or socially or inwardly. He does. And He is the giver of good gifts.

It takes faith though. We must believe in Him and be obedient to His commands. It may not make a lot of sense. Why collect jars from all over town? Why strike the ground with arrows? Why give that last bit of money to a needy person? Why give up your day to work on a friend’s house when your own house is a wreck? Why meet with that hurting friend when you don’t really have any answers? Why…

What God instructs doesn’t always make sense but we should all agree, He knows better than we do what needs to happen. Right? And most likely He will be blessing not only that needy person, but the one that chooses to obey Him as well.  God is a God of abundance and excess. He doesn’t do things halfway. And when we obey Him with that same whole-hearted abandon,  He gets the glory and amazing things happen.

 

Whatever God Wants

C162QP34004CBeing a dreamer and loving big dreams, I can quickly become very excited about the future. Ok, that’s a huge understatement! Far too excited is more accurate.

But aren’t we supposed to be excited about the future, anticipating big things, dreaming big dreams?

Not necessarily.

It really depends on whose dreams and whose plans we are banking on. When God gives us plans and dreams and hopes, I don’t think we can do too much to prepare for them. Say you are sure you are to be a missionary. Pray often, read up on it, talk to people, check out countries and ministries, dream big!  But if it’s just your own dream, and you really don’t know what God has for you yet, focus your prayers on wisdom, guidance, obedience. Pray hard for missionaries and the lost, but don’t obsess over your own plan, assuming it’s God’s plan for you.

Whatever God’s plans are for you, it’s going to be a perfect fit for you as long as He leads you to do that. And when He prompts you to move on, well, then that new direction is going to be the perfect fit for that time. Get excited about the doors God opens for you. Don’t waste you time trying to pry open a door you want to open on your own. It’s pointless. All you’ll find is disappointment and heartbreak. The most noble causes are wonderful, but they are also part of

God’s timing and plan.

If your “big dream” right now is being  a stay-at-home-mom, changing diapers, kissing sweet cheeks, do it with all your heart. If it’s a fast-paced career or the mission field, or flipping burgers…whatever it is, do it with all your heart. Do your best. See where you can grow and learn and bless others. When it’s God’s time for you to do something else, don’t worry, He’ll let you know!!

A good friend of mine and I were having a talk awhile ago. I was doing my usual dreaming (my own dreams). I was thinking of all the wonderful things I could do for God…all great dreams, noble dreams. Then I asked her to expound on what she would like to do for God, waiting for a similar list. She wisely said,

“Whatever God wants me to do.”

Amen. Lesson learned.

A Complex Equation

N1007P41006CTrust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

I’ll admit, one flaw in my thinking most of my life, has been that life should be easy. We should be carefree. Obedience should be effortless. Keeping focused on God should be a given. Choosing Godly decisions should be easy.

But it just isn’t easy and that is pretty disappointing and frustrating to me.

I do imagine life in the Garden of Eden was easy and most likely heaven will be. But this life certainly isn’t! It is a blessed life though, walking through it with Christ.

I picture myself chained up to a heavy weight. I want it off completely. I want no hindrances, absolute freedom and the ability to do whatever I please. Instead, becoming a Christian,

Jesus carries it for me.

Some days, this is great and I handle it fine. I do know now what freedom is like. Other days I just fixate on the fact that chain is still there. There are still things I can’t do and I’m not OK with it. If I push Jesus away, I’m completely weighed down again. Living life absolutely independently is really not an option. I have no choice but to get over it and fully accept the arrangement I’m in – always needing to rely on Christ. Free, yet not absolutely free until heaven one day. A free person, yet a slave to Christ. My life is mine, yet my life isn’t mine at all.

There’s just nothing easy about reality. Reality is really a daily challenge. All the difficulty, hurt, trials, and pain is absolutely balanced out with the blessing and joy of a redeemed life in Christ. But it’s not a simple equation – it’s very complex! It’s not “life is easy and fun”. It’s “life is quite difficult, and really impossible on my own + Jesus frees me from all the cares and worries of this life = content me.” Now go live life to the full list and love it. Or spend it having a pity party and missing out on some pain and also on countless joy and blessing.

Class over.