Joy

Leaning Into God’s Will

The encouraging posts about God’s love and care for us are in abundance these days. You will find them on blogs, social media, and in many articles. We so desperately want to be reminded that He will see us through whatever lies ahead. And it is so important to be reminded of this. I share this message often myself here on the blog and over at the Growing4Life Facebook page.

But there is something else that we really need to remember.

Many years ago, I read a book called Green Leaf in Drought. I was so impacted by it that you will find it on my Favorite Books page here on the blog. I hadn’t read it for years, so I decided to pick it up again. It seemed like it might be even more relevant the second time around, given the concerns and fears we’ve experienced over the past year.

Yesterday, I finished it. It’s a short little book and I highly recommend it (I’ll add a link below for anyone interested). When communism started to fully infiltrate China, most of the missionaries left immediately. However, a few were unable to leave. This book is about a family that was held there for almost three years before they were released by the government to come home.

The lessons that they learned are important lessons for us all. I am not going to say a whole lot about their story so I don’t give too much away for those who want to read it. But I do want to share one important lesson they learned that is critical for us all. Perhaps especially right now.

When they were about a year and a half into their coerced stay in China, things were really bad. They were almost starving, fuel was hard to come by, and people were punished if they talked to the “Imperialists” (as they were known) which led to extreme loneliness. And then, on top of it all, imagine being a missionary and being told by the foreign government that you are not allowed to talk to anyone or to leave your house? Their whole purpose for being there could not be carried out and they were left in the nondescript corner of a foreign country with few resources and even fewer friends.

At one point the wife, in a state of fretting and restlessness, waited impatiently for the Lord to rescue them. She was frustrated with the Lord’s timing and, though she was submitted to His Will, she was none too happy about what that “will” was. One day, as she spent time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer, something dawned on her. What would happen if she would gladly and joyfully yield to God’s Will for her life instead of begrudgingly agreeing to it? What if she were to act more like a daughter carrying out a loving mission for her Father than a slave that was forced to do the master’s will? She resigned herself to lean into God’s Will and thus began a change of heart.

As she took this step of joyful submission, the peace and joy that had been missing from her Christian life came flooding in. She recognized that living a joyful life dedicated to the Lord in spite of their trials would be a light that the Chinese Christians could see, even if they never said a word. These conclusions were drawn in the midst of horrible circumstances that neither you or I could even imagine and will hopefully never have to endure. A few months later, God helped her husband understand the very same thing.

As they purposed in their hearts to have a good attitude, Satan did his best to discourage them and they were hit with even harder trials than before. But the peace never left them. The peace and joy they experienced was completely unrelated to their circumstances, just as we are promised in scripture.

I believe this is more than a little relevant for us today.

Or shall I say I find it relevant for me?

You see, I find my heart filled with sorrow and even anger when I think of the world we are living in currently. I feel like I am on the set of a movie that just won’t end. The masks, the social distancing, the vaccine, the economy, the dying small businesses, the election, the unbelievable compromise of Christians we trusted, and then there are the strong opinions about all of these things. The realization that whatever world my kids and grandkids grow up in (if the Lord tarries), it’s going to be quite a bit different than mine. The awful uncertainty of what lies ahead, always there like a dark shadow in the back of all of our minds, no matter where we live in this world. All of this makes my heart just ache and I can even grow angry if I am not careful. The world we lived in is no longer. And life as we have known it is over.

But this book convicted me. We—you, me, all of us—are here right now because God has ordained it. We are in His Will for our lives. We are going to be relatively ineffective as believers if we are focused on all that we don’t like about this new world instead of leaning into His will. We are going to be filled with dread, unhappiness, and fear if we are begrudgingly living in this new world. But if we joyfully submit to where God has us right now, we will show a lost world that God is true to His Word and we will be able to encourage and edify struggling fellow believers.

Do we want to be bright lights for Christ in this new world? If the answer is yes, than I am convinced we need to lean into God’s Will instead of resist it.

On a practical level, we will be faced with a variety of small tests and trials each day. How do we show this in the midst of family disagreements over the whimsical “laws” put in place by over-reaching governors? How do we show this in the midst of our disappointment in the way our churches, workplaces, or schools are handling things? How do we show this when someone asks us to wear a mask or move away from them? How do we show this when we hear more bad news? How do we show this when yet another discussion comes along regarding all that’s going on? How do we show this each and every hour of our lives?

I am not sure of the “how” but I am sure of the necessity of this. You see, if we are dragging our feet and have a bad attitude, then this will show in all of our words and actions. (I am talking to myself here as much as to you!) But if we joyfully yield our will to God’s, then this, too, will show in all of our words and actions.

Look, we are all here. Stuck on a ride we can’t get off. Watching the prophecy of scripture come to life in a way we never thought we’d see. But I can say with 100% confidence that this is where God has placed us.

For such a time as this.

No amount of railing, wailing, or flailing is going to change it.

While I am not saying that we don’t work actively to help change what we are given an opportunity to change, it’s pretty fair to say that most of this is completely outside of our control.

But it’s not outside of God’s control and, in His vast knowledge and incomprehensible Sovereignty, He knows exactly where He’s placed us in the history of this world.

So let’s not just resign ourselves to live in this new world but let’s choose to joyfully live in this new world. Let’s show the world that God’s peace and joy is not based on circumstances.

And, on a bright note, living in this time of history may actually mean we are the generation that is raptured! How awesome would that be? It seems more and more likely each day.

So may we all ask God to help us be joyfully submissive as we walk this path we don’t really want to be on. He is sufficient and He will supply our needs. And, eventually, this will all be behind us as we face the prospect of a marvelous eternity together with Him in heaven.

 

 

—If you are interested in being encouraged further by reading the story of Arthur and Wilda Mathews as Isobel Kuhn writes it in Green Leaf in Drought, you can find it here. (This is not an affiliate link and I receive no compensation for you clicking on it. I am merely pointing you to where you can find the book.)

 

 

Changed Lives: Becky

About a year and a half ago, my dear friend, Becky, messaged me that she had been taken to the ER with stomach pain. By the time all the tests were run, she was given the news that she had stage 4 colon cancer. There was no cure. They would simply be working to prolong her life. As you can imagine–this rocked her world. This was not the only thing going on in her life and was simply added to another heavy, heavy burden that she was already bearing.

And, yet, every time I would stop for a visit to cheer her up…well, she’d end up cheering me up! Here she was–going through all of these things– and she was not only smiling (anyone can fake a smile) but she was full of that deep, abiding joy and amazing peace that is a true gift of God to those who have surrendered and submitted their lives to His holy will.

Becky could write a whole book about her life (in fact, I told her she should and that I’ll help her!). It is full of fascinating and interesting adventures. It is also full of the love and care of her Heavenly Father. She has spent a lifetime loving and serving God and He has been there for her time and time again. But a stage 4 cancer diagnosis will tend to test all you have said that you believe, and Becky was no different.

The last couple of times I was there to visit, I asked her how she could have so much joy amidst such dark times? I told her that if she’d ever want to write about it to encourage others, I’d love to post it here on the blog. Smiling, she’d be noncommital but did say she’d think about it.

And then one day, there it was in my email box. She couldn’t sleep the night before so she had written a bit about her cancer and her journey to joy.

I know you will appreciate this and that it will encourage you greatly as you seek to find joy in your own circumstances. Now here are Becky’s own words about her experience–

___________________________________________________________

It is easy to be happy and have joy when things in life are falling into place the way we want them to. But what happens when things go “wrong” in our perspective? Can we still have joy? What do we do with the verse in Philippians 4:4 that says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; and again I say, Rejoice.” When I say joy, I am talking about the deep joy in our hearts that is there, no matter what comes our way.

So often we like to think that we can handle the turmoils of life when they come our way; but when it does happen, we find out otherwise. What happens when we are going through the major throes of life finding out we have cancer, a child has rejected what you have taught him/her and walked away from the faith, you are having major financial difficulty, or you have lost some one dear to your heart?

That time came for me when I had to do some intense soul searching a little over a year ago when I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. The doctors said that there wasn’t much they could do except try to prolong my life some. This really threw us into shock, and all plans and goals came to a screeching halt. I did not ask God why but how. How was I going to get through this? How was I supposed to deal with this and have the right attitude? How could I glorify the Lord and not fail Him?

Then one day while pondering all this, I started asking myself, “Do I really believe God is Who He says He is”? I grew up in a Christian home singing the hymns of the faith, hearing the Word preached, memorizing Scripture, and hearing of other fellow believers’ experiences of God working in their lives and carrying them through life’s storms. But now that I was put into this position, what was going to be my anchor? Do I really believe God about His character, His promises?

Then and there is when I made up my mind that I do believe God, and Who He claims to be in His Word. That is when I found peace, His peace the passes all our understanding! And along with that came the deep seated joy! Satan wants to steal our joy and make us ineffectual as followers of Christ. If we start concentrating on the “What if’s”, it is easy to fall into depression or get angry. God, in His perfect will and wisdom, has a plan for each one of us, and it’s up to us to accept it with the right attitudes and allow Him to work in our lives and through us, to draw us to Him and show us Who He is and what He can do! In trying to be an encouragement, many say that God will not give us more than we can handle. However, many times He does give us more than we can handle so that we can get to know Him and experience that peace and joy from Him.

Since my diagnosis, my Heavenly Father has been by my side, holding my hand and helping me to learn of Him. My days are not always perfect. There are times when I have to ask God just to hold me in His arms as a child and show me He is there. I have been learning so much and, although I wouldn’t have chosen to go through these hardships, I am thankful for the opportunities. He is my steady anchor and the reason I can have joy no matter what He deems necessary to allow into my life. A favorite verse of mine that is a great picture of our help and safety in God’s character is in Proverbs 18:10 –

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe!”

 

 

The Path to Peace

Sometimes we are forced to travel a path that we just don’t want to be on. We diligently look for options to get off the path and find none. It is at that time that we are forced to make a choice.

First, we have the option to sulk, moan, complain, or get angry at God. When we cannot accept God’s sovereignty in our lives, this is the place many of us find ourselves. We do this over big things–like physical illness and death –but, sadly, we also do this over small things. When life isn’t the wonderful thing we imagined or we don’t get our own way, we so often fall into these sinful responses.

This choice to choose anger and/or sadness over our circumstances yields so many bad fruits.

Two of the most common fruits are bitterness and depression. When we are unwilling to accept the hand we’ve been dealt by God it can potentially drive us to extreme sadness (depression) or extreme anger (bitterness). Both of these turn us into people who are hopeless, unpleasant, and generally ineffective not just for God, but often within our own families or circles. They rob us of our very lives. I’ve seen this over and over. Is there anything more tragic than a person with tremendous potential for God’s Kingdom who has spent most of their adult life in bitterness or depression?

Second, we have the option to work feverishly at fixing our circumstances. We panic and then we pull ourselves up by our boot straps and we decide that, if God isn’t going to help us, we will help ourselves. We try all sorts of things and, as a rule, make things so much worse. All of it often ends in frustration and discouragement when we are forced to recognize that, whatever it is, is outside of our control. In fact, most of us end up at option one (above) after we’ve tried option two.

But we do have one other choice: We can surrender our will and trust God. What does this look like? Well, let me tell you.

I had the opportunity to spend a few days with my brother (Pastor Dean) a few weeks ago. As most of you already know, he lost his wife this past April to cancer after a year and a half of uncertainty. Through all of that, their family remained at peace. They lived out Philippians 4:6-7.

I saw that same peace recently. He is on a path he would not have chosen. He has to do the things he always relied on his wife to do. He is no longer part of a couple when he goes out. He has to grocery shop and clean. But, most importantly, the person he confided in and talked with is no longer there.

And, yet, I have not heard one word of complaint. Oh, he doesn’t pretend that it’s all great. We know this wouldn’t be his preference, but he doesn’t complain. He has told me that he has submitted to God’s will in this and God is providing for Him. This does not mean it’s fun and pain-free. It means that it is bearable and that he experiences the peace promised by God in His Word.

I have to confess that this has gotten me really thinking about the importance of surrendering my will to God’s every single day of my life. Even in the small stuff. Maybe, most importantly, in the small stuff. Because it is this surrender that prepares us for the large stuff.

What are some of these things we must surrender to the Lord?

We face so many different and varied troubles. I think of so many of you that have shared with me your burden of an unsaved spouse or child. How tempting it must be to grow discouraged and angry that God isn’t answering your prayers on your timeline (option 1) or to play the “Holy Spirit” and try to manipulate them into salvation yourself (option 2).

Or you may be facing your own uncertain medical diagnosis and it’s thrown you for a complete loop. Or financial difficulty. Or a job you hate. Or a wayward child. Or a much-beloved church that is leaving its solid foundation. Or a move across the country that took you away from all that is familiar. Or a… the list could go on and on and on.

Big burdens and little burdens. Life is full of them. Everywhere we turn, they are there, revealing themselves as tests.

Will we allow them to make us angry, bitter, sad, or depressed? Will they tempt us into sulking and complaining? Or will we harken back to the promises of God?

As I have watched Dean lean into this trial rather than grow angry or fall into a pit of despair, I have to admit that I have been so encouraged. Dean is no saint (I should know–I grew up with him!) and he doesn’t claim to be one. He gives all praise and glory to God for seeing him through this trial. We are so thankful for this rich reminder that God does keep His promises to those that trust Him and surrender their will to His.

This doesn’t mean we will always get our way. Of course, we won’t. We can’t. But what it does mean is that God walks with us through these things and provides the grace we need to bear them (2 Corinthians 12:9). And that, if we love God, then every single trial we face, both big and small, will yield good things for God’s Kingdom (Romans 8:28).

But this can only happen by surrendering our lives daily to God. There is only one path to true peace and that is submitting our will to God’s. This is no easy task. To say the least. But it is the one thing that will bring the peace and joy that God has promised us in His Word.

 

Please Note: This post is for believers–those who have acknowledged their sin, repented of them, and have trusted in Jesus alone for salvation. If you have not done this, then there is really no way for you to experience eternal peace, as salvation is the only true way to be reconciled and at peace with God. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to email me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net.

 

His Will, Not Mine

Shortly after three of our four kids left the house (which happened within a little over a year), I found myself fairly troubled. Perhaps I even experienced a case of slight depression. I was not where I wanted to be. And, in fact, what made it worse was that I didn’t even know where I wanted to be. Did I want to go back to being a mom of preschoolers or teen-agers? No, I certainly didn’t want to do that. But I also knew that I didn’t want to be at this place where I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to be doing. I had left my comfort zone of full-time mommyhood behind me and had no idea what lay ahead. Compounding this were several other dynamics that, all combined, thrust me into a rather dark period of my life.

Many times, during my quiet time, I would complain and simply pity myself (ashamed to say it but true) because my life had gone by so quickly. I wasn’t ready for this new stage. I just wasn’t ready. I had been very content and comfortable in my mother role and I just wasn’t ready for it to be over. Tears would fall as I reflected on the past. The thought that kept repeating itself over and over in my mind was “This isn’t what I want. This isn’t where I want to be.”

Even as I had this thought, I recognized the utter selfishness of it. If I truly believed the Bible, then I knew that my life should never be centered on what I wanted. While in my head, I knew that I exist on this earth to know God and to make Him known, my emotions put up a giant struggle to be heard and obeyed. I knew there was a much bigger picture (and that what I wanted was fairly irrelevant in that picture)–and yet– even as a committed believer in Jesus Christ, I found myself in a tremendous battle with my emotions.

Thus I was thrust into God’s kiln to be tested and tried in a way I had not experienced before.

(Let me just say here that this is one of the things in my life that God has used to teach me submission to His will. I am aware that there are some women who long for the day when their kids leave the house–I just wasn’t one of them. I know this will seem utterly foolish to some of you and you won’t get it at all. God may be using or has already used something totally different in your life. Honestly, I never had any idea that my whole identity and a good chunk of my security was wrapped up in my role as a mom. But I also recognize that not all of you will relate to this. I do hope this post takes the reader beyond the details and focuses more on learning how to respond when something we want is refused or taken away.)

The last five years or so have been some of the most difficult of my life. I thought I knew who I was and then, suddenly, I realized I didn’t know who I was at all. God gave me the opportunity to live out all that I had talked and written about all through the years and I was failing. Miserably. I became slightly obsessed with figuring out who I was supposed to be now that my mother role was just about over. I faced a whole new wave of uncertainty when my baby left for college a few years later. (I still don’t really know exactly where God is taking me, by the way. Every time I think I am supposed to go one way, God shuts the door and pushes me another direction. What I am learning through all of this is that I need to simply submit and yield without fuss. He is teaching me to be content even when things don’t go at all as I had planned. It’s an excruciatingly slow process and I doubt I will ever be able to say that I have arrived in this area of my life.)

There were two especially bright spots during this time and I treasure them both greatly. First was the birth of my grandchildren. Kids just bring sunshine wherever they go. How can you not smile when they are around?

And, second, and much more importantly, was how aware I became of my need for Jesus. Up until this time, if I am being totally honest here, I thought I was a pretty good person. Yes, I needed a Savior but not as much as some people did. I am almost ashamed to write it and I never officially “thought” it, but as I look back, I can see this is what I believed.

But when I came face to face with my self-centeredness and spoiled-brat mentality, I recognized pretty quickly just how utterly sinful my heart is. My appreciation for Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has increased a hundred-fold in the past few years.

I am still on this journey of putting what I want on the back burner while focusing on what God wants. And He keeps giving me opportunities to yield to Him and His will. It’s not been easy but I do feel like I am moving the right direction.

Why am I sharing this now? I don’t really know except that it all came to mind when Eric and I had the opportunity to spend a few uninterrupted hours talking with my brother (Pastor Dean) a few weeks ago. As most of you know, he lost his wife in April after a year and a half battle with cancer. Even as I write this it still seems surreal. My sister-in-law of 20 years is now with the Lord. Still feels like it just can’t be. As we talked, he shared how he had given Grace to the Lord before he even met her. All he owns is God’s, and that included his much beloved wife. His commitment to Christ is truly a beacon of light in the ever-increasing self-focused, dream-following, mainstream church.

One of the things he said that sort of summed up what I have been struggling through is that he doesn’t ask what he wants but always tries to focus on what God wants. Of course, no one can do this perfectly but this should be our goal.

Sometimes our wants line up with God’s. And sometimes they don’t. This can happen in big things like the heart-breaking devastation of losing a wife and mother to cancer. God called Grace home, despite her family’s longing for her to stay here on this earth with them. Other times, it’s an unimportant, mundane thing where our will doesn’t line up with God’s–like a mom dealing with the empty nest. My time as full-time mom had passed far too quickly and was never going to return, despite my deep sadness and the disconcerting uncertainty that accompanied it. God uses both the big things and the little things to test and grow us.

Perhaps you are facing something totally different. A move you don’t want to make. A lost job. A child that has turned away from the faith. Financial burdens. Family strife. Elderly parents with health issues. There is no end to the problems and struggles that we face on a daily basis. And, often, in these situations our wills don’t line up with God. Many times God seems to says no and the burdens seem to last forever. Or He says wait and we find ourselves stalled in a place we just don’t want to be.

Many times our “wants” are centered on relief from hurt and pain. Our “wants” are often focused on experiencing a carefree, easy, comfortable, and happy life that is free of burdens and problems. But there are also many wants that we have for others, like the salvation of a loved one or relief from pain, disease, or addiction for a family member or a friend. These are wants not centered on us but still leave us wondering when they go unanswered.

And, yet, so often it is when God says no or wait that we experience our greatest growth. These are also the times that we get to shine with real biblical faith before the dark world and the false church. It is easy to smile when things are going well. Having hope, peace, and joy in the hard times–well, that’s when we really stand out as believers. It is actually when we don’t get what we want that we have the potential to be the most effective for Christ!

In this false religion that goes by the name of Christianity, we find people obsessed with self and purpose and following dreams. It is so easy to fall prey to this same mindset if we aren’t extremely careful.

There is a little verse in John 3:30 that flies directly against self-centered Christianity–

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Read that again.

He must increase but I must decrease.

What I want doesn’t really matter in the scope of life. The critical question in regards to our lives is “What does God want”?

Luke 9:23 clarifies this thought even more–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

If we desire to come after Christ, we must deny ourselves. We must pick up our cross and follow Him. Does this sound like a self-centered faith to you?

One of the most effective tests to find out just how yielded we are is when God’s will doesn’t match ours.

Do we put up a fuss and complain (even if it just to God or to ourselves)? Do we desperately try to fix situations ourselves? Do we grow depressed or anxious? These are all signs that we are putting our own wants and desires ahead of God. They are showing us that we don’t really trust God and His sovereignty in all areas of life.

It is a hard lesson to learn. To say the least.

I remember talking with my sister-in-law a few months before her death. She told me that she was at peace. That she had fought her battle with God’s sovereignty ten years earlier when she had been diagnosed with cancer for the first time.

Oh, dear readers, until we can bow before God in all things, we will not experience His peace.

His will, not mine.

When we fully accept God’s will for our lives and trust that He knows best, we will find the peace and joy that is promised in the scriptures. No matter what disappointment and hurt and pains swirls around us. He will never leave us or forsake us. We will never, ever be alone.

Not getting what we want is not an indication that He doesn’t care. Instead, it’s a reminder of our sinful, demanding nature–like an ant shaking its fist at a human being is a little how we must look to the God of the universe when we demand and manipulate and sulk to get our own way.

His will, not mine.

May that be what carries us on through the difficult days and the unanswered prayers.

 

The Sure Road to Happiness

What is the sure road to happiness? This is a worthwhile question because there seems to be so little true happiness in this world. Even church-goers and those who claim Christ do not seem to show any real happiness (as opposed to fleeting merriment).

In my last post I shared with you a portion from Home Truths by J.C. Ryle which was about the counterfeit shortcuts we often try to take to happiness. They are many and we are all–even us Christians–guilty of turning off onto one of these shortcuts on occasion. But Ryle, in the next chapter, tells us about the sure road to happiness.

What he writes may go against all that the world says. It may even go against what the mainstream church is teaching these days. But should we be surprised at that?

One of the things I have often marveled at is that true happiness and true sense of purpose comes from yielding our lives to the Lord. What we most dread doing and often live in rebellion against is the one thing that will give us peace. It is a wonderful thing that what most pleases the Lord is what brings us true happiness! How kind of the Lord to create us in this way. True, unhindered surrender, submission, and obedience brings a very real happiness that no man can take away. This is an amazing truth from God’s Word that is so little spoken of today.

But I am jumping ahead of Ryle. Let’s see what he has to say–

(In order to keep this post from being too long, I had to cut out a bit of it. To read the entire chapter–which I highly recommend–you can purchase the book here. I get no proceeds from any purchases but simply want to let you know where to find it in case you want to read it.)

There is a sure path which leads to happiness, if men will only take it. There never lived the person who travelled in that path, and missed the object that he sought to attain.

It is a path open to all. It needs neither wealth, nor rank, nor learning, in order to walk in it. It is for the servant as well as for the master. It is for the poor as well as for the rich. None are excluded but those who exclude themselves.

It is the one only path. All that have ever been happy since the days of Adam have journeyed on it. There is no royal road to happiness. Kings must be content to go side by side with their humblest subjects, if they would be happy.

Reader, where is this path?

Where is this road? Listen and you shall hear. The way to be happy is to be a real, thorough-going, true-hearted Christian. Scripture declares it. Experience proves it. The converted man, the believer in Christ, the child of God, he and he alone is the happy man. It sounds too simple to be true. It seems at first sight so plain a receipt that it is not believed. But the greatest truths are often the simplest. The secret which many of the wisest on earth have utterly failed to discover, is revealed to the humblest believer in Christ. I repeat it deliberately, and defy the world to disprove it. The true Christian is the only happy man.

What do I mean when I speak of a true Christian? Do I mean everybody who goes to church or chapel? Do I mean everybody who professes an orthodox creed, and bows his head at the belief? Do I mean everybody who professes to love the Gospel? No! indeed! I mean something very different. All are not Christians who are called Christians. The man I have in view is the Christian in heart and life. He who has been taught by the Spirit really to feel his sins—he who really rests all his hopes on the Lord Jesus Christ, and His atonement—he who has been born again, and really lives a spiritual, holy life—he whose religion is not a mere Sunday coat, but a mighty constraining principle, governing every day of his life—he is the man I mean, when I speak of a true Christian.

“What do I mean when I say the true Christian is happy? Has he no doubts and no fears? Has he no anxieties and no troubles? Has he no sorrows and no cares? Does he never feel pain and shed no tears? Far be it from me to say anything of the kind. He has a body weak and frail like other men. He has affections and passions like every one born of woman. He lives in a changeful world. But deep down in his heart he has a mine of solid peace and substantial joy which is never exhausted. This is true happiness.”

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Do I say that real true Christians are equally happy at all times? No! not for a moment. All have their ebbs and flows of comfort; some like the Mediterranean sea, almost insensibly—some like the tide at Chepstow, fifty or sixty feet at a time. Their bodily health is not always the same. Their earthly circumstances are not always the same. The souls of those they love fill them, at seasons, with special anxiety. They themselves are sometimes overtaken by a fault, and walk in darkness. They sometimes give way to inconsistencies and besetting sins, and lose their sense of pardon. But as a general rule, the true Christian has a deep pool of peace within him, which even at the lowest is never entirely dry.[2] The true Christian is the only happy man, because his conscience is at peace. That mysterious witness for God, which is so mercifully placed within us, is fully satisfied and at rest. It sees in the blood of Christ a complete cleansing away of all its guilt. It sees in the priesthood and mediation of Christ a complete answer to all its fears. It sees that, through the sacrifice and death of Christ, God can now be just, and yet be the justifier of the ungodly. It no longer bites and stings and makes its possessor afraid of himself. The Lord Jesus Christ has amply met all its requirements.

Conscience is no longer the enemy of the true Christian, but his friend and adviser. Therefore he is happy.

The true Christian is the only happy man, because he can sit down quietly and think about his soul. He can look behind him and before him, he can look within him and around him, and feel, “all is well.”—He can think calmly on his past life, and however many and great his sins, take comfort in the thought that they are all forgiven. The righteousness of Christ covers all, as Noah’s flood over-topped the highest hills—He can think calmly about things to come, and yet not be afraid. Sickness is painful. Death is solemn. The judgment day is an awful thing. But having Christ for him, he has nothing to fear—He can think calmly about the Holy God whose eyes are on all his ways, and feel “He is my Father, my reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. I am weak. I am unprofitable. Yet in Christ He regards me as His dear child, and is well pleased.” Oh! what a blessed privilege it is to be able to think, and not be afraid! I can well understand the mournful complaint of the prisoner in solitary confinement. He had warmth, and food, and clothing, and work, but he was not happy. And why? He said, “he was obliged to think.”

The true Christian is the only happy man, because he has sources of happiness entirely independent of this world. He has something which cannot be affected by sickness and by deaths, by private losses and by public calamities, the peace of God which passeth all understanding. He has a hope laid up for him in heaven. He has a treasure which moth and rust cannot corrupt.

He has a house which can never be taken down. His loving wife may die, and his heart feel rent in twain. His darling children may he taken from him, and he may he left alone in this cold world. His earthly plans may be crossed. His health may fail. But all this time he has a portion which nothing can hurt. He has one friend who never dies. He has possessions beyond the grave, of which nothing can deprive him. His nether springs may fail, but his upper springs are never dry. This is real happiness.

The true Christian is happy, because he is in his right position. All the powers of his being are directed to right ends. His affections are not set on things below, but on things above. His will is not bent on self-indulgence, but is submissive to the will of God. His mind is not absorbed in wretched perishable trifles. It desires useful employment. It enjoys the luxury of doing good—Who does not know the misery of disorder? Who has not tasted the discomfort of a house, where everything and everybody are in their wrong places, the last things first and the first things last? The heart of an unconverted man is just such a house. Grace puts everything in that heart in its right position. The things of the soul come first, and the things of the world come second. Anarchy and confusion cease. Unruly passions no longer do each one what is right in his eyes. Christ reigns over the whole man and each part of him does his proper work. The new heart is the only really light heart, for it is the only heart that is in order—The true Christian has found out his place. He has laid aside his pride and self-will. He sits at the feet of Jesus, and is in his right mind. He loves God and loves man, and so he is happy. In heaven all are happy, because all do God’s will perfectly. The nearer a man gets to this standard the happier he will be.

Ah! reader, the plain truth is, that without Christ there is no happiness in this world. He alone can give the Comforter who abideth for ever. He is the sun; without Him men never feel warm. He is the light; without Him men are always in the dark. He is the bread; without Him men are always starving. He is the living water; without Him men are always athirst. Give them what you like—place them where you please—surround them with all the. comforts you can imagine—it makes no difference. Separate from Christ, the Prince of Peace, a man cannot be happy.

Give a man a sensible interest in Christ, and he will be happy in spite of poverty. He will tell you that he wants nothing that is really good. He is provided for. He has riches in possession, and riches in reversion. He has meat to eat that the world knows not of. He has friends who never leave him nor forsake him. The Father and the Son come to him, and make their abode with him. The Lord Christ sups with him, and he with Christ. (Revelation 3:20) Give a man a sensible interest in Christ, and he will be happy in spite of sickness. His flesh may groan and his body be worn out with pain, but his heart will rest and be at peace. One of the happiest people I ever saw was a young woman, who had been hopelessly ill for many years with disease of the spine. She lay in a garret without a fire. The straw thatch was not two feet above her face. She had not the slightest hope of recovery: but she was always rejoicing in the Lord Jesus. The spirit triumphed mightily over the flesh. She was happy, because Christ was with her.[3]

Give a man a sensible interest in Christ, and he will be happy in spite of abounding public calamities. The government of his country may be thrown into confusion. Rebellion and disorder may turn everything upside down. Laws may be trampled under foot. Justice and equity may be outraged. Liberty may be cast down to the ground. Might may prevail over right. But still his heart will not fail. He will remember that the kingdom of Christ will one day be set up. He will say like the old Scotch minister who lived unmoved throughout the turmoil of the first French revolution: “It is all right: it shall be well with the righteous.”

Reader, I know well that Satan hates the doctrine which I am endeavouring to press upon you. I have no doubt he is filling your mind with objections and reasonings, and persuading you that I am wrong. I am not afraid to meet these objections face to face. Let us bring them forward and see what they are.

You may tell me that “you know many very religious people who are not happy at all.” You see them diligent in attending public worship. You know that they are never missing at the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. But you see in them no marks of the peace which I have been describing.

But are you sure ‘ that these people you speak of are true believers in Christ? Are you sure that with all their appearance of religion they are born again and converted to God? Is it not very likely that they have nothing but the name of Christianity without the reality, and a form of godliness without the power? Alas! reader, you have yet to learn that people may do many religious acts and yet possess no saving religion. It is not a mere formal, ceremonial Christianity that will ever make people happy. We want something more than going to church, and going to sacrament to give us peace. There must be real vital union with Christ. It is not the formal Christian, but the true Christian, that is the happy man.

You may tell me, that “you, know really spiritually-minded and converted people who do not seem happy.” You have heard them frequently complaining of their own hearts, and groaning over their own corruption. They seem to you all doubts and anxieties and fears. And you want to know, where is the happiness in these people of which I have been saying so much?

I do not deny that there are many saints of God such as these whom you describe, and I am sorry for it. I allow that there are many believers who live far below their privileges, and seem to know nothing of joy and peace in believing. But did you ever ask any of these people, whether they would give up the position in religion they have reached, and go back to the world? Did you ever ask them, after all their groanings, and doublings, and fearings, whether they think they would be happier, if they ceased to follow hard after Christ? Did you ever ask these questions? I am ‘ certain if you did, that the weakest and lowest believers would all give you one answer. I am certain they would tell you that they would rather cling to their little scrap of hope in Christ, than possess the world. I am sure they would all answer, “Our faith is weak, if we have any—our grace is small, if we have any—our joy in Christ is next to nothing at all—but we cannot give up what we have got. Though the Lord slay us, we must cling to Him.” Ah! reader, the root of happiness lies deep in many a poor weak believer’s heart, when neither leaves nor blossoms are to be seen.

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{Now} let me offer a few hints to all true Christians for the increase and promotion of their happiness. I offer these hints with diffidence. I desire to apply them to my own conscience as well as to your’s. You have found Christ’s service happy. I have no doubt that you feel such sweetness in Christ’s peace, that you would fain know more of it. I am sure that these hints deserve attention.

Believers, if you would have an increase of happiness in Christ’s service, labour every year to grow in grace. Beware of standing still. The holiest men are always the happiest. Let your aim be every year to be more holy, to know more, to feel more, to see more of the fulness of Christ. Best not upon old grace. Do not be content with the degree of religion whereunto you have attained. Search the Scriptures more earnestly. Pray more fervently. Hate sin more. Mortify self-will more. Become more humble the nearer you draw to your end. Seek more direct personal communion with the Lord Jesus. Strive to he more like Enoch, daily walking with God. Keep your conscience clear of little sins. Grieve not the Spirit. Avoid wranglings and disputes about the lesser matters of religion. Lay more firm hold upon those great truths, without which no man can be saved. Remember and practise these things, and you will be more happy.

Believers, if you would have an increase of happiness in Christ’s service, labour every year to be more thankful. Pray that you may know more and more what it is to “rejoice in the Lord.” Learn to have a deeper sense of your own wretched sinfulness and corruption, and to be more deeply grateful, that by the grace of God you are what you are. Alas! there is too much complaining and too little thanksgiving among the people of God. There is too much murmuring and poring over the things that we have not. There is too little praising and blessing for the many undeserved mercies that we have. Oh! that God would pour out upon us a greater spirit of thankfulness and praise!

Believers, if you would have an increase of happiness in Christ’s service, labour every year to do more good. Look round the circle in which your lot is cast, and lay yourself out to be useful. Strive to be of the same character with God. He is not only good but “doeth good.” Alas! there is far too much selfishness among believers in the present day. There is far too much lazy sitting by the fire, nursing our own spiritual diseases, and croaking over the state of our own hearts. Up! and be useful in your day and generation! Is there no one in all the world that you can read to? Is there no one that you can speak to? Is there no one that you can write to? Is there literally nothing that you can do for the glory of God, and the benefit of your fellow men? Oh! I cannot think it, I cannot think it. There is much that you might do, if you had only the will. For your own happiness sake, arise and do it without delay. The bold, outspeaking, working Christians are always the happiest. The more you do for God the more God will do for you. Reader, I ask you to ponder the things I have been saying. May you never rest till you can give a satisfactory answer to my question, ARE YOU HAPPY?

Reader, if you are able to answer my question satisfactorily, I ask you never to forget that great decision in Christ’s service is the secret of great happiness. The compromising, lingering Christian must never expect to taste perfect peace. THE MOST DECIDED CHRISTIAN WILL ALWAYS BE THE HAPPIEST MAN.

 

 

Ryle, J.C. . Home Truths. E4 Group. Kindle Edition.

Counterfeit Shortcuts to Happiness

I recently came upon a .99 Kindle book called Home Truths that compiles eleven of J.C. Ryle’s tracts. Ryle lived from 1816-1900, so his tracts were not the kind you think of today but were more like little booklets that were fairly popular among believers back in the day.

If you have been around Growing4Life for any length of time, you will know that J.C. Ryle is, by far, one of my favorite writers. Even though he lived so many years ago, his gift of writing in a clear, easy-to-understand, and concise manner regarding Christian living is–in my opinion–unparalleled.

In the first chapter of this little booklet that is entitled “Are You Happy?”, he offers this wise counsel regarding finding happiness–

“To be truly happy a man must have sources of gladness which are not dependent on anything in this world. There is nothing upon earth which is not stamped with the mark of instability and uncertainty. All the good things that money can buy are but for a moment. They either leave us, or we are obliged to leave them. All the sweetest relationships in life are liable to come to an end. Death may come any day and cut them off. The man whose happiness depends entirely on things here below, is like him who builds his house on sand, or leans his weight on a reed.”*

And then in chapter 2, he goes into the roads we are so often tempted to travel as we search for happiness. As I read this chapter, I just knew that I had to share this here. I believe that almost all of us will find one or two of these that will be our weak spot(s). They will be the things that tempt us most to take a shortcut to happiness. And all of these–no matter which road we choose–inevitably leads us to emptiness. Just like a mirage in the dessert, we travel that road, get to the end, and then find ourselves standing by our tired and thirsty camels, staring at the hot, dry sand, and longing for fresh water more than ever.

I hope that this piece by Ryle challenges and encourages you. I actually had to cut a bit of it out because it was too long (hence the break-line) but if you want to read the whole thing, you can buy the Kindle book here. Some of the spelling is different because he lived in England in the 1800’s, so just keep that in mind, as well. And, so, without any further words from me, here are some very wise words from J.C. Ryle regarding the subject of finding happiness–

 

“There are several roads which are thought by many to lead to happiness. In each of these roads thousands and tens of thousands of men and women are continually travelling. Each fancies that if he could only attain all he wants he would he happy. Each fancies, if he does not succeed, that the fault is not in his road, but in his own want of luck and good fortune. And all alike seem ignorant that they are hunting shadows. They have started in a wrong direction. They are seeking that which can never be found in the place where they seek it.

Suffer me, reader, to mention by name some of the principal delusions about happiness. I do it in love, and charity, and compassion to your soul. I believe it to be a public duty to warn people against cheats, quacks, and impostors. Oh! how much trouble and sorrow it might save your heart, if you would only believe what I am going to say.

It is an utter mistake to suppose that rank and greatness alone can give happiness. The kings and rulers of this world are not necessarily happy men. They have troubles and crosses, which none know but themselves. They see a thousand evils, which they are unable to remedy. They are slaves working in golden chains, and have less real liberty than any in the world. They have burdens and responsibilities laid upon them, which are a daily weight on their hearts. The Roman Emperor Antonine often said, that “the imperial power was an ocean of miseries.” Queen Elizabeth, when she heard a milk-maid singing, wished that she had been born to a lot like her’s. Never did our great Poet write a truer word, than when he said,

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

It is an utter mistake to suppose that riches alone can give happiness. They can enable a man to command and possess everything but inward peace. They cannot buy a cheerful spirit and a light heart. There is care in the getting of them, and care in the keeping of them, care in the using of them, and care in the disposing of them, care in the gathering, and care in the scattering of them. Oh! he was a wise man who said that “money” was only another name for “trouble,” and that the same English letters which spelt “acres” would also spell “cares.”

It is an utter mistake to suppose that learning and science alone can give happiness. They may occupy a man’s time and attention, but they cannot really make him happy. They that increase knowledge often increase sorrow. The more they learn, the more they discover their own ignorance. It is not in the power of things on earth or under the earth to “minister to a mind diseased.” The heart wants something as well as the head. The conscience needs food as well as the intellect. All the secular knowledge in the world will not give a man joy and gladness, when he thinks on sickness, and death, and the grave. They that have climbed the highest, have often found themselves solitary, dissatisfied, and empty of peace. The learned Selden at the close of his life confessed, that all his learning did not give him such comfort as four verses of St. Paul. Titus 2:11-14.

It is an utter mistake to suppose that idleness alone can give happiness. The labourer who gets up at five in the morning, and goes out to work all day in a cold clay ditch, often thinks, as he walks past the rich man’s door,” what a fine thing it must be to have no work to do.” Poor fellow! he little knows what he thinks. The most miserable creature on earth is the man who has nothing to do. Work for the hands or work for the head is absolutely essential to human happiness. Without it the mind feeds upon itself, and the whole inward man becomes diseased. The machinery within will work, and without something to work upon, will often wear itself to pieces. There was no idleness in Paradise. Adam and Eve had to “dress the garden and keep it.” There will be no idleness in heaven. God’s “servants shall serve Him.” Oh! be very sure the idlest man is the man most truly unhappy.

It is an utter mistake to suppose that pleasure-seeking and amusement alone can give happiness. Of all roads that men can take in order to be happy, this is the one that is most completely wrong. Of all weary, flat, dull, and unprofitable ways of spending life this exceeds all. To think of a dying creature, with an immortal soul, expecting happiness in feasting and revelling—in dancing and singing—in dressing and visiting—in ball-going and card-playing—in races and fairs—in hunting and shooting—in crowds, in laughter, in noise, in music, in wine! Surely it is a sight that is enough to make the devil laugh and the angels weep. Even a child will not play with its toys all day long. It must have food. But when grown up men and women think to find happiness in a constant round of amusement, they sink far below a child.

Reader, I place before you these common mistakes about the way to be happy. I ask you to mark them well. I warn you plainly against these pretended short cuts to happiness, however crowded they may be. I tell you that if you fancy any one of them can lead you to true peace, you are entirely deceived. Your conscience will never feel satisfied. Your immortal soul will never feel easy. Your whole inward man will feel uncomfortable and out of health. Take any one of these roads, or take all of them, and if you have nothing besides to look to, you will never find happiness. You may travel on and on and on, and the wished for object will seem as far away at the end of each stage of life as when you started. You are like one pouring water into a sieve, or putting money into a bag with holes. You might as well try to make an elephant happy by feeding him with a grain of sand a day, as try to satisfy that heart of your’s with rank, riches, learning, idleness, or pleasure.

Do you doubt the truth of all I am saying? I dare say you do. Then let us turn to the great book of human experience, and read over a few lines out of its solemn pages. You shall have the testimony of a few competent witnesses on the great subject I am urging on your attention.

A king shall be our first witness; I mean Solomon king of Israel. We know that he had power, and wisdom, and wealth, far exceeding that of any ruler of his time. We know from his own confession that he tried the great experiment, how far the good things of this world can make man happy. We know from the record of his own hand the result of this curious experiment.

He writes it by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, for the benefit of the whole world, in the book of Ecclesiastes. Never, surely, was the experiment tried under such favourable circumstances. Never was any one so likely to succeed as the Jewish king. Yet what is Solomon’s testimony? You have it in his melancholy words, “all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

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Reader, I think it very likely that you do not believe what I am saying. I know something of the deceitfulness of the heart on the subject of happiness. There are few things which man is so slow to believe, as the truths I am now putting forth about the way to be happy. Bear with me then, while I say something more.

Come and stand with me some afternoon in the heart of the city of London. Let us watch the faces of most of the wealthy men, whom we shall see leaving their houses of business at the close of the day. Some of them are worth hundreds of thousands. Some of them are worth millions of pounds. But what is written in the countenances of these grave men whom we see swarming out from Lombard Street and Corn Hill, from the Bank of England and the Stock Exchange? What mean those deep lines which furrow so many a cheek and so many a brow? What means that air of anxious thoughtfulness which is worn by five out of every six we meet? Ah! reader, these things tell a tale. They tell us that it needs something more than gold and bank notes to make men happy.

Come next and stand with me near the Houses of Parliament, in the middle of a busy session. Let us scan the faces of peers and commoners, whose names are familiar and well-known all over the civilized world. There you may see on some fine May evening the mightiest statesmen in England hurrying to a debate, like eagles to the carcass. Each has a power of good or evil in his tongue which it is fearful to contemplate. Each may say things before to-morrow’s sun dawns which may affect the peace and prosperity of nations, and convulse the world. There you may see the men who hold the reins of power and government already. There you may see the men who are daily watching for an opportunity of snatching those reins out of their hands, and governing in their stead. But what do their faces tell from their care-worn countenances? What may be read in many of their wrinkled foreheads, so absent-looking and sunk in thought? Ah! reader, they teach us a solemn lesson. They teach us that it needs something more than political greatness to make men happy.

Come next and stand with me in the most fashionable part of London, in the height of the season. Let us visit Regent Street or Pall Mall, Hyde Park or May Fair. How many fair faces and splendid equipages we shall see! How many we shall count up in an hour’s time, who seem to possess the choicest gifts of this world—beauty, wealth, rank, fashion, and troops of friends! But alas! how few we shall see who appear happy! In how many countenances we shall read weariness, dissatisfaction, discontent, sorrow, or unhappiness, as clearly as if it was written with a pen. Yes! it is a humbling lesson to learn, but a very wholesome one. It needs something more than rank, and fashion, and beauty to make people happy.

Come next and walk with me through some quiet country parish in merry England. Let us visit some secluded corner in our beautiful old father-land, far away from great towns, and fashionable dissipation, and political strife. There are not a few such to be found in the land. There are rural parishes where there is neither street, nor public house, nor beershop—where there is work for all the labourers, and a church for all the population, and a school for all the children, and a minister of the Gospel to look after the people. Surely, you will say, we shall find happiness here! Surely such parishes must be the very abode of peace and joy!

Go into those quiet-looking cottages one by one, and you will soon be undeceived. Learn the inner history of each family, and you will soon alter your mind. You will soon discover that backbiting, and lying, and slandering, and envy, and jealousy, and pride, and laziness, and drinking, and extravagance, and lust, and petty quarrels, can murder happiness in the country quite as much as in the town. No doubt a rural village sounds pretty in poetry, and looks beautiful in pictures. But in sober reality human nature is the same evil thing everywhere. Alas! it needs something more than a residence in a quiet country parish, to make any child of Adam a happy man.

I know these are ancient things. They have been said a thousand times before without effect, and I suppose they will be said without effect again. I want no greater proof of the corruption of human nature than the pertinacity with which we seek happiness where happiness cannot be found. Century after century wise men have left on record their experience about the way to be happy. Century after century the children of men will have it, that they know the way perfectly well, and need no teaching. They cast to the winds our warnings. They rush every one on his own favourite path. They walk in a vain shadow and disquiet themselves in vain, and wake up when too late to find their whole life has been a grand mistake. Their eyes are blinded. They will not see that their visions are as baseless and disappointing as the mirage of the African desert. Like the tired traveller in those deserts, they think they are approaching a lake of cooling waters—Like the same traveller, they find to their dismay that this fancied lake was a splendid optical delusion, and that they are still helpless in the midst of burning sands.

Reader, are you a young-person? I entreat you to accept the affectionate warning of a minister of the Gospel, and not to seek happiness where happiness cannot be found. Seek it not in riches. Seek it not in power and rank. Seek it not in pleasure. Seek it not in learning. All these are bright and splendid fountains. Their waters taste sweet. A crowd is standing round them, which will not leave them. But, Oh f remember that God has written over each of these fountains, “He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” Remember this, and be wise.

Reader, are you poor? Are you tempted to fancy that if you had the rich man’s place you would be quite happy? Resist the temptation, and cast it behind you. Envy not your wealthy neighbours. Be content with such things as you have. Happiness does not depend on houses or laud. Silks and satins cannot shut out sorrow from the heart. Castles and halls cannot prevent anxiety and care coming in at their doors. There is as much misery riding and driving about in carriages as there is walking about on foot. There is as much unhappiness in ceiled houses as in humble cottages. Oh! remember the mistakes which are common about happiness, and be wise.”**

 

Don’t you find his words ring so very true?? So, of course, the question that begs to be asked by the world is: So what road do I take to happiness? We Christians should know this answer already, but I fear we still often find ourselves on one of the counterfeit shortcuts, despite our knowledge. Next time, I will share a bit of what Ryle has to say about where to find true happiness.

 

*Ryle, J.C. . Home Truths (Kindle Locations 111-116). E4 Group. Kindle Edition.

**Ryle, J.C. . Home Truths (Kindle Locations 141-286). E4 Group. Kindle Edition.

Releasing Our Grip

Who do you depend on?

Most everyone that calls themselves a Christian says “God” because they know that is the right answer. But is it really a truthful answer?

The one thing I find that an easy life breeds is dependence upon self. We don’t really have to depend upon God if we have our physical needs met, our relationships in order, and all aspects of our lives going just as planned. While we enjoy those times, it takes much more effort to be intentional and purposeful at keeping our focus on God and to remember that we rely on Him for even our very breath. Oh, don’t get me wrong–we can most certainly glorify God and grow in the good times. But it’s when we are forced to release our {supposed} control on our lives that the reality of our Christian life has the opportunity to shine with authenticity and to confirm our claims that we depend on God.

There is an old Christmas movie that ends with a little girl in great distress running out of the house and climbing up a tree to one of the top branches. The branch she is holding on to cracks and she knows she is going to fall. The man of the house comes running out and stands beneath the tree with his arms outstretched as he promises to catch her.

“Let go, Zoe,” he says, “you can trust me.”

Zoe closes her eyes, releases her grip, and, screaming all the way down, lands in the strong arms of the man.

In a way, this reminds me of our relationship with God. We are holding on to the world. So. Tightly. And we are doing fine. Even better than fine. Some of us even make a comfortable nest in the tree, not recognizing the frailty of the branch that is holding us. And then the wind starts to howl. Sometimes we can see the storm on the horizon and we have time to prepare or sometimes it comes without any warning at all. But, no matter how it comes, we end up with a cracked branch. And, suddenly, we are forced to recognize our vulnerable state. But right below us is our Heavenly Father with outstretched arms, coaxing us to release our grip and promising to catch us.

All of our failures, our broken relationships, the hard times–God uses each one to release our grip on this world just a little bit more. Some of them send us falling into His safe and strong arms. At least for a little while. But then, if we aren’t careful, we find ourselves scurrying right back up into that tree that represents all of the things of this temporal world.

The other day at the store, the cashier started talking about the state of this world. I sensed that she knew the Lord and I had the opportunity to enjoy a short conversation with her, in which I tried to encourage her with the reminder that none of this is outside of the Lord’s control. She smiled and said, “you are sure right about that,” and then went on to share with me how the Lord had taken such amazing care of her and her husband through the death of her son and then subsequent illness of her husband that brought with it an inability to work. She smiled as she said it and I could see that the Lord had indeed been faithful to her and her family.

But this conversation was a good reminder for both of us, I think. If our grip is tight on this world, then the state of it and where it’s headed is absolutely terrifying. And if our grip is tight on this world, then the changes and the diseases and deaths of those we love not only gets us down but they can potentially shipwreck our faith or, at the very least, eliminate our effectiveness for God’s Kingdom.

Only eternal perspective yields peace.

God has really been working on me in this area. I have so far to go. He graciously continues to teach me that my joy and peace cannot be grounded in the precarious, worldly branch of my choosing but that I must be grounded in the immutable and immovable love of the Father, trusting in His Sovereignty.

As life changes over the years I can feel that, little by little, God is releasing my grip on this world. I think He does this for all believers throughout the course of their lives. Each one of us faces trials and challenges. They are all different for each one of us, but none of us is exempt. Our branches sway and sometimes break and it forces us to fall into the arms of the Father. Most of us keep climbing back into that tree over and over again.

But with each sway in the wind and with each fall, our grip grows just a little looser on the things of this world and it changes how we view things, reminding us of what will really last for eternity. This change in perspective gives us a greater passion for the lost while giving us peace and joy for our soul as we rest in God’s sovereign care for both ourselves and for those we love.

This is a lifelong process–recognizing the reality of our vulnerable, powerless state and the great love and care that we find in God alone. We humans naturally tend to rely on ourselves for our own needs until we are forced not to.

Thankfully, our God is so merciful and His marvelous grace covers our treks up that tree and our subsequent falls when the branch just keeps breaking. His love is not fickle or temporary but remains constant even as we fail. And that is something for which we can be incredibly grateful.

 

Enjoying the Ride

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The other night we decided we would spend the evening looking at some Christmas lights. After paying $15 to drive through a display that was considerably short of impressive, we decided to drive across the county to check out another one that came highly recommended.

The thing I haven’t told you is that there were seven of us so in order for us to all drive together in the same car, two people would have to sit in the rarely used backseat. I really thought we’d have more fun if we went together so I offered to sit there. After all, my car was made to “seat 7”. My son-in-law offered to sit there, as well, and so we both climbed into the back. This was our first clue that it was going to be tight.

We weren’t back there more than 30 seconds before we realized that the backseat was definitely not meant for adults. With the two of us sitting a bit sideways and with our knees to our chests, we all set off on our adventure.

The first part of the evening wasn’t too bad. After about 15 minutes we stopped for dinner. And then another 15 minutes after that we drove through the first display. But the last ride–the one across the county– ended up taking over 30 minutes (maybe closer to 45). This is when it started to stretch my patience just a bit. We were going on a back country road and I started to feel a bit carsick. And then the other dynamic was that no one listened to us. We’d try to join the conversation but we were back so far, we were generally ignored because it was so hard to hear us.

About halfway through that drive I was starting to get annoyed. My bad knee was starting to hurt, I was extremely uncomfortable, and the carsickness was really starting to get to me. And it was around that time that it hit me: I can choose to focus on the negative or I can enjoy the ride. After all, here I was, with two of our kids and their families, having a good time together. What a blessing! I recognized that I had so much to be thankful for, even if I was temporarily squished into a seat that was meant for children. And, thankfully, our son-in-law has a good sense of humor and made the ride in the back much more enjoyable than if I would have been back there alone.

Ironically, when we finally arrived, we found out to our dismay that the display was in front of us. As we parked the car in preparation for the light show, we realized that we wouldn’t even have a good view to watch. We just had to laugh.

And that was my Friday night.

But I couldn’t help thinking about this in relation to all of life (of course!)

So often we are on a ride we don’t enjoy and we can’t get off. We can’t change it, we can’t fix it, we can’t stop it. We just have to ride through it. But the one thing we can choose is what attitude we are going to have as we take our undesired ride. We can choose to be joyful or we can choose to complain. We can choose to rely and lean on the Lord or we can choose to focus on our own feelings and despair. Keep in mind that we are going to have to take the ride either way. It’s non-negotiable. Having a negative attitude isn’t going to change anything or make anything better (in fact, it will make it worse), while having a joyful attitude not only makes us more pleasant to be around, it is also a dramatic testimony of God’s grace, mercy, and love that is provided to His children during the tough times.

This is a hard lesson for many of us to learn. I feel like I am writing to myself here, quite honestly. I struggle so with this. We have come to have certain expectations in life. We want life to be convenient and comfortable and easy. And so when the road turns a little bumpy and we are stuck in the backseat, we can tend to grow a little discontent and grumpy. But that isn’t going to help anyone–especially ourselves. And, most importantly, it reveals that we don’t really trust God’s plan for our lives. It truly is an affront to God’s Sovereignty, if you think about it.

Isn’t it amazing what you can be reminded of on a ride through the country?

 

Romans 8:28-30

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Isaiah 45:9

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Daniel 4:34-35

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

Every Life

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Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to see our daughter’s college soccer team play for a National title. They won the first game easily and as we sat watching the warm-ups for the championship game, my husband leaned over and made his prediction of the outcome. He thought our girls could easily beat this other team. They weren’t as skilled and their bench wasn’t as deep. But there were two things that he didn’t see–first, this team really wanted to win and second, he didn’t realize the skill and tenacity of #7. As the game started we could see a fight was on. As the final minutes of regular game time wore down, the score remained 0-0.

As we headed into the first ten minute overtime, the play continued to go back and forth and remain scoreless. It was now sudden death. The first team to score was going to win this championship. With only 1:40 to go, there was a foul and we were given a direct kick. We held our breath as one of our seniors stepped up to take it. She kicked the ball and we watched it sail over the heads of the defenders and then over the head of the goalie to land perfectly in the corner of the goal. (It was actually a very dramatic and pretty awesome way to win such an important game!) The crowd roared and the team ran together and cheered and jumped and hugged. The game was over and we had won because of one kick. What a night for this senior! I am sure she will never forget it.

Don’t you just love when you have moments like this? The perfect kick or hit or shot. The musical piece or dramatic act that is played just right. The phone calls offering the perfect job or the accepted bid for your perfect house or even better yet– the good results of a health test; the rare moments when the whole family is together, having fun, and getting along. The moments of everything working out perfectly. These are beautiful, awesome moments that fill us with joy and inspire us to keep going.

And then there are the other moments…

That same day, after the game, kind ladies prepared a meal for the soccer families. The setup was in a class room, so it wasn’t ideal. But they worked with what they had and did it well. We went through the line and then sat down to eat. Suddenly, we heard a loud crash. We saw one of the hard-working ladies grab some paper towels and bend over to the floor.  As we left the room, we realized that she had knocked down the five gallon container of punch that had sat a bit insecurely on its makeshift surface. My heart went out to her as she and several other ladies mopped up the mess as best they could with school paper towels. I felt bad for her because I’ve been there. Often.

These are the moments we don’t love as much. Embarrassing moments; sad moments; angry moments. The moments we knock something over, or break something; the moments we find out a diagnosis we didn’t expect; or get the call to the boss’s office or the notice from the bank. Spouses walk away from marriages, kids make bad choices, and death comes knocking at the most unexpected times. These are the moments that make us feel insecure, unloved, unhappy, and, sometimes, hopeless.

You may think it naive of me to lump all of the bad moments together. Some are so much worse than others. But my point is this: they are all bad on some level. We don’t have any interest in living them over. Ever.

And every life is made up of ordinary moments interspersed with extra-special, wonderful moments and the frustrating or dreadful bad moments. And this is just how it is. There isn’t anything we can do about it. It just IS.

But so often there seems to be this goal to only live in the wonderful. Doesn’t it seem as if so many of us are constantly searching to live on the happy plane of the extra-special moments? And this is such an unrealistic expectation. I am not sure if it came from movies or romance novels or preachers that don’t preach from the Word, but many of us seem to have an expectation that our lives should be filled with special moments all the time. That to live just an ordinary life is somehow not enough. Some even go a step further and say that to experience bad moments means we are disobedient in how we are living our Christian lives. Of course, we know there is zero biblical basis for this belief and yet some people actually believe this.

But life–thankfully–is made up mostly of the ordinary for most of us. Our ordinaries change often, but somehow we adjust and grow comfortable with our new normals.

Every life experiences the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the wonderful days and the really hard days and a whole lot of ordinary days. We love the wonderful days. They are pretty awesome. But they can never be sustained. Sometimes they are far and few between. And we really don’t like the hard days. They are long and dark and can go on for weeks. But ordinary–that place where there are no big woes or worries; the place where we often find ourselves discontent–that place is truly an often unnoticed but remarkable blessing.

And so as we reflect on our year and think about Thanksgiving this week, it may be good to be intentional about not setting our expectations so high that we find ourselves in a constant state of discontent. But, instead, may we find ourselves grateful for the excitement and beauty of the good moments; may we acknowledge God’s Sovereignty and be looking to learn and grow from the bad moments; and may we enjoy and be grateful for the peace and beauty of the ordinary days that make up most of our lives.

 

Some Lessons for All of Us

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Some of you have been asking how I am doing with this new empty nest stage of my life. It has now been four weeks since I wrote the post We Will Be Fine and you are wondering if I am fine yet. From all outside appearances most people think I am doing fine. So I thought I’d share here how I’m really doing and what the Lord’s been teaching me. If you aren’t in the empty nest stage, I hope you will finish reading this, anyway, because these lessons truly do apply to all of us.

So, first, how I have really been doing…

Well, the truth of it is that many mornings I wake up with a sinking feeling in the pit of my tummy. Oh, yeah, I forgot…another day without any of the kids here. Somehow it feels like the brightness has left this house and we are just left with boring old us (This is how I feel –not what I believe is true). As the day goes on, it hits me once in awhile. Especially in the evenings, which is when we would normally be on the sidelines enthusiastically cheering on a soccer player.

Tears are my new companion and come easily and unexpectedly–whether I am talking with a friend or watching a touching TV commercial. While some women have sobbing episodes in their child’s room after they leave for college, that isn’t really my style. Instead, the empty and lost feelings sometimes just well up and spill over when I least expect it.

I have told the Lord on several occasions now that I just don’t want to be here. I am not ready for this stage of life and this isn’t where I want to be. But He has gently and lovingly been teaching me some pretty important lessons. I am still learning them and would not call myself victorious, by any stretch, but I am making progress. And, for that, I am grateful.

These lessons apply to any of us who are in a place we don’t want to be. Some of you are in a bad marriage; or perhaps you are elderly and weak; you may have lost a loved one and life just isn’t the same; or perhaps you are dealing with a chronic disease. You may be the caretaker for someone who is sick; or your family may be struggling financially; you may even be suffering persecution at work or school for standing up for what’s right.

There are so many painful circumstances in life, I could never list them all. In fact, many of them–if not all of them–are far more painful than mine. What I am experiencing right now is just a normal stage of life. What some of you are experiencing is much, much worse than that. But whatever it is, if you have told God that you just don’t want to be here–in these circumstances–right now, I hope you will find this post encouraging. Some of these might not apply to you, but I hope that you are encouraged just the least little bit as you live your life.

Here are the lessons the Lord has been teaching me for my whole life, but more intensely over the past few years and especially over the past month–

1. I cannot change my circumstances but I can change my attitude. This is probably the most important lesson, by far. If I complain and whine, it doesn’t change my circumstances. However, it does change my relationships with others in a negative way (who wants to be around a complainer all of the time?). My sad and depressed feelings yield nothing good. I must choose joy and that takes work. The nitty-gritty, down-in-the-trenches work of denying our feelings, which is never easy under any circumstances.

2. I must learn to be content. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13–

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

Paul says he has learned. We must learn to be content in whatever circumstances we are in. This means it does not come naturally. Just like we don’t naturally know how to multiply or to read and must be taught, so, too, must we be taught contentment. Again, in this lazy world we live in, most of us do not want to have to learn anything. We just want to go with our feelings. Probably nothing could be more counter-productive than “going with our feelings” when we are in circumstances we don’t like.

To take this a step further, perhaps God allows changes and hard times to teach us this lesson of contentment and finding our peace and joy in Him. Honestly, I have been humbled and rather dismayed these past few years to learn just how much purpose and joy I received from caring for my children. Perhaps sometimes too much.

The good news is that contentment is possible through Christ, who strengthens us!

3. I must take my thoughts captive. Oh, this can be a hard one. But when I am struggling it is because I am allowing my thoughts to take me places they ought not go. Thoughts of self-pity and woe is me dominate and spiral me downward into a pit quickly if I don’t catch them early. I am learning how important it is to live out 2 Corinthians 10:5–

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

When these selfish, negative thoughts assail me, I must choose to think about something else. Sometimes I succeed, but there have been a few days I have not. And when I do not, they are really, really hard days. Days of total self-absorption, full of darkness. They are totally unproductive in all ways. I am so glad that they are rare.

4. Be thankful. Gratitude makes all of the difference in the world. Finding things to be thankful for changes my focus and adjusts my perspective. And isn’t there just so much to thank the Lord for today?

5. Comparison only leads to discontentment. One of the ways we learn contentment is by not comparing ourselves and our lives to others. We so naturally want to compare, don’t we? We look at the lives of others and we think if only… Comparison doesn’t change our situation but it certainly does foster discontentment. God has sovereignly allowed our circumstances in our lives for His reasons. Our job is to trust Him and to learn the lessons He has to teach us.

6. Each stage is a gift with its own blessings. This is for those of you who are in a specific stage you aren’t enjoying. I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. But for those of you who are frazzled moms of infants and toddlers to those of you who are elderly and unable to get around much anymore, each stage of life is truly a gift. I want to find the positives in each stage instead of focusing unceasingly on the negatives. Some stages are harder than others and this is more difficult to do. But there are some there, if only we search hard enough.

The thing is this– when I was so crazy busy, I just longed for some hours to read and relax. But now that I have them, I long for those busy days. We are never happy. And so we must choose to be happy and stop always longing for something different. A hard lesson to learn, for sure.

7. I must get outside myself and serve others. The temptation for those of us who are sad or struggling is to withdraw from much of life. Many of us desire to curl up inside ourselves and back away from relationships. It’s often just easier. But thinking about and serving others helps pull us out of ourselves and gives us perspective. Someone always has it just as hard –and often harder–than we do.

 

And so these are some of the lessons God has been teaching me over not only this past month, but over the past few years, as each of my children has grown up and started their own life. I have to admit, though, that this past month has been especially challenging because it is just so final. Life has changed and it is never going back to the way it was. I know that you, too, have dealt with your own changes. This is life. It can be summarized by one of my favorite sayings: It is what it is.

As believers, it is important that we be full of hope and light, so that, even in the hard times, our lives are pointing to God and showing how He truly does transform us. And so that we are given opportunities to share the Gospel, explaining why we can still smile in spite of our circumstances.

 

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