joy

My Way, Please

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Last night, I was in the toddler nursery at church. During that hour, I enjoyed playing with three adorable toddlers–something I don’t often have the opportunity to do anymore.

At one point, two of them started fighting over a toy. The little girl’s brown eyes widened with indignation as the little boy headed towards her toy. She was quite talkative, and so she let him (and me) know that this was her toy and she didn’t want him playing with it. He was a little younger, but his big eyes said it all. He was determined to have that toy, as well.  My daughter (working in there with me) told them to share and then we watched what would happen.  There were a few moments of tension in that room, before she finally walked away and found a different toy.

Later on, the little boy was carrying around two horses and the little girl wanted one. When I asked him to share one of them, he looked down at them and then promptly put out his hand, offering the small red horse to the girl.  She gratefully accepted and his face lit up with a smile, as he handed his other horse to my daughter, as if to say, “I like sharing!”

Why am I sharing with you these nursery stories? Because these stories don’t only happen in the nursery and they are related to joy.

Don’t we often stamp our feet and argue and debate and manipulate to get our own way? To keep our own “toy”? And, how do we feel afterwards–even if we were right?  Joy and peace are not two words that come to mind.  But, if we can be like the little boy, and release what we are holding on to so tightly, while it seems totally contradictory, joy and peace often come.

My point is this: joy is never found in self-seeking.  We think we know what we want, but when we get it, most of us aren’t satisfied and want something more. We can create a path of destruction trying to get money and power. We can knock down others as we seek to  fulfill ourselves. And yet, when we get to the top, will we experience peace and joy?

I think just a little bit of human observation answers that question in a hurry. True joy is never a result of getting our own way.

The funny thing is, we continually think it is, so many of us try so hard to get that car…or that friend…or that bracket of income. We think we will be satisfied if we just can have a big house, a leaner body, or that brand of clothing. And none of it brings any joy. Oh, it might make us happy for a little while but then we will start feeling empty again.

But joy isn’t related to our circumstances. John MacArthur gives this theology of joy (saying it better than I ever could!): True spiritual joy is not related to circumstances. It is a gift from God to those who believe the gospel of Christ being produced in them by the Holy Spirit because they receive and obey the Word of God mixed with trials and keep their focus on eternal glory. 

I love that! Because it so clearly shows that joy does not lie in getting our own way! It isn’t until we yield our will to God’s that we can experience true joy. What a challenge for us in a culture obsessed with personal fulfillment and purpose.  How ironic that we need to give up our own definition of personal fulfillment to actually experience being fulfilled in a better way that we could have ever imagined. Isn’t God so amazing?

 

 

jumpstart to joyDon’t forget to check out my 10 day devotional on Joy.  You can get it free!  See the details here.

Wednesday Wisdom: The Secret of Joy

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As I have focused on joy this month, I have become aware of just how much I confuse happiness (based on circumstances) with true joy (based on my relationship with Christ).  A.B. Simpson talks about joy in a very profound and helpful way, defining what true spiritual joy is — the kind talked about in Galatians 5:22-23 as a fruit of the Spirit.  Hopefully, this helps you too–

The joy of the Lord springs from the assurance of salvation. It is the joy of salvation. Its happy song is,

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchased of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
 

If you would know this joy, you must accept God’s promise with full assurance of faith and rest upon His word without wavering or doubting.

This joy is the joy of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is… joy” (Galatians 5:22). It is not indigenous to earthly soil; it is a plant of heavenly birth. It belongs to the kingdom of God. To know this joy, we must receive the baptism of the Spirit in full surrender and simple faith. It is characteristic of all who receive this baptism that they know the joy of the Lord. Until we receive this eternal fountain in our heart, all our attempts at joy are but surface wells. They are waters often defiled, and their bottoms are often dry. We talk about the great Artesian stream, the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

This joy of which we speak is likewise the joy of faith. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13). There is indeed a deep delight when God has answered prayer and the joy of fulfillment and possession overflows with thankfulness. But there is a more thrilling joy when the heart first commits itself to God’s naked promise. Standing on His simple word in the face of natural improbability or seeming impossibility, it declares, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17, 18).

If you are doubting God, you need not wonder that your joy is intermittent. The witness of the Spirit always follows the act of trust. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). It is just as true conversely that “if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9).

—Larger Christian Life, A.B. Simpson

January Joy Challenge #2: Finding the Balance

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Balance is very important in the life of a Christian, but most of us have a very, very difficult time finding it. You see, somehow we have to find the balance between —

Accepting where the Lord has placed us

and yet,

Continuing to learn and grow from the trials

And between–

Accepting and resting in the grace of God to cover all of our sins

and yet,

Striving to be more pure and holy with each passing day

And between–

Accepting the way God has made us

and yet,

Never giving up on improving ourselves

This is all especially personal to me, because about this time in life (speaking only for myself, you understand), I am not always accepting with much of anything (just being honest here). My kids are almost grown up and I find myself nearing the end of the only full-time job I ever wanted. I don’t look like I want to look. I often don’t act or react like I think I should. I am frustrated that I haven’t progressed more as a Christian. And, a few years ago, I started to realize that happy endings are mostly in movies. Thankfully, there are a few in real life, but even those take a ton of work. Mostly, you just do the best you can with what you are given.

And, look, I have a great life. I know I do. I am not complaining–not a bit. But, somehow, I have to figure out how to accept who and where I am–right now– without giving in to complacency and apathy. And that’s what is so hard. And that’s where joy comes in.

You see, if I can’t accept the circumstances in which God has placed me or in who God created me to be, then discontent will reign in my heart, pushing out joy (Romans 9:20; Psalm 139:14; Philippians 4:11). But if I am too accepting of myself or of my circumstances, then there is no desire to change for the better, also pushing out joy (Philippians 3:12; I Corinthians 9:24-27; Romans 12:1-2) . And, so, somehow we have to find the balance.

So how exactly do we do this?  I confess I am not totally sure. But maybe we should start with this week’s challenge:

Take some time this week to do an inventory of yourself.  Think about what you don’t like about yourself or circumstances. Are they things you can change or are they outside your control?

Prayerfully, give the things you can’t control to the Lord (you know–things like the scar on your face, your husband’s horrible boss, the wayward adult child). In fact, go a step further, and thank the Lord for these things, for they have probably led you to a deeper walk with the Lord.

And then, look at the things you don’t like that you can control (things like a huge amount of debt, laziness, bad temper, extra pounds) and develop a plan to start working on them, yielding them prayerfully to the Lord.

Of course, sometimes issues get lost in the big black hole between the can control and the can’t control –things like marriages and wayward teens. Okay then, if that is the case, we do what we can do and then submit the outcome to God, praying confidently for His will to be done. After all, we know it is His will that our marriages stay together and that our teens follow hard after Him.

This challenge is a little deeper this week and a little more work, too. But, I truly believe that until we can find the balance, we will either be stuck in the land of discontent or find ourselves in the fields of laziness and apathy. May we always be striving, instead, for the life of balance, which will lead us to deeper joy.

Joy Killers

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Yesterday, I shared some excerpts from a sermon by Spurgeon on the Joy of the Lord. As I thought about his words, I thought of how often I desire to walk in the joyful sunshine of God’s light but then choose, instead, to walk through the dark, cold shade of my own sinful choices.  What are some of those sinful choices–or what I like to call Joy Killers–that are so effective in leading us to the shady side of the street?  The list is probably endless, but here are a few that came to mind–

 Joy Killers

  1. Holding a grudge
  2. Entertainment that glorifies what God hates
  3. Caring too much about what people think
  4. Loving money
  5. Eating more than your body needs
  6. Wasting time
  7. Gossiping about someone else
  8. Caring more about your physical health than your spiritual health
  9. Watching too much news
  10. Anger and Frustration
  11. Caring too much about what you look like
  12. Focusing only on what’s wrong in the world
  13. Making yourself and your needs your top priority
  14. Complaining
  15. Criticizing
  16. Trying to fix, control, and manipulate people and circumstances
  17. Taking something that isn’t yours
  18. Envy and jealousy
  19. Sex outside of marriage
  20. Hating someone
  21. Putting sports (or anything else) ahead of the spiritual welfare of your family
  22. Language that is filthy and crude
  23. Pretending to be someone you are not (hypocrisy)
  24. Abusing our bodies with substances
  25. Twisting scripture to make it mean what you want instead of what it really does
  26. Living only for today, with no thought for eternity

Many on this list are specific things listed in scripture as sin (see Galatians 5). Others are simply unwise to do if we want to live a life of joy. There are so many others that could be added. We humans have been very creative at concocting ways to steal our own joy!

I have been really convicted lately that we need to pray that we (and those we love) would hate sin. No, we will never be perfect here on this earth, but if we have a heart that is yielded to the Lord and we desire to be pure and holy, it is then, and only then, that we make it possible to have deep, abiding communion with our heavenly Father, thus leading to true and lasting  joy.

Do you have anything to add to my list of Joy Killers?

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Spurgeon on Joy

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To get us started off on our Wednesday Wisdom for the month of January, I chose three excerpts from a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon entitled “The Joy of the Lord, the Strength of His People”.  His words are profound and wise. And even though he lived in the late 1800s, this is still so very applicable to us today. You can read the whole sermon here

Now, beloved, I have not yet taken you into the great deeps of joy, though these streams are certainly by no means shallow. There is an abyss of delight for every Christian when he comes into actual fellowship with God. I spoke of the truth that God loved us, and the fact that we are related to Him by ties most near and dear; but, oh, when these doctrines become experiences, then are we indeed anointed with the oil of gladness. When we enter into the love of God, and it enters into us; when we walk with God habitually, then our joy is like Jordan at harvest time, when it overfloweth all its banks. Do you know what it means—to walk with God—Enoch’s joy; to sit at Jesus’ feet—Mary’s joy; to lean your head upon Jesus’ bosom—John’s familiar joy? Oh yes, communion with the Lord is no mere talk with some of us. We have known it in the chamber of affliction; we have known it in the solitude of many a night of broken rest; we have known it beneath discouragements and under sorrows and defamations, and all sorts of ills; and we reckon that one dram of fellowship with Christ is enough to sweeten an ocean full of tribulation, and that only to know that He is near us, and to see the gleaming of His dear eye, would transform even hell itself into heaven, if it were possible for us to enjoy His presence there. Alas! Ye do not and cannot know this bliss, ye who quaff. Your foaming bowls, listening to the sound of stringed instruments, ye do not know what this bliss means—ye have not dreamed of it, nor could ye compass it though a man should tell it unto you. As the beast in the meadow knows not the far-reaching thoughts of Him who reads the stars and threads the spheres, so neither can the carnal man make so much as a guess of what are the joys which God hath prepared for them that love Him, which any day and every day, when our hearts seek it, He revealeth unto us by His Spirit. This is “the joy of the Lord,” fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. Beloved, if we reach this point, we must labour to maintain our standing, for our Lord saith to us “abide in Me.” The habit of communion is the life of happiness.

And here is another excerpt–

Again, “the joy of the Lord” within us is always the sign and symbol of strong spiritual life. Holy vivacity betokens spiritual vigour. I said that he who had spiritual joy gained it by communion with God, but communion with God is the surest fosterer of strength. You cannot be with a strong God without getting strength yourself, for God is always a transforming God; regarding and looking upon Him our likeness changes till we become in our measure like our God. The warmth of the South of France, of which you often hear so much, does not spring from soft balmy winds, but from the sun; at sunset the temperature falls. You shall be on one side of the street in Italy and think it May, cross the street into the shade and it is cold as January. The sun does it all. A man who walks in the sunlight of God’s countenance, for that very reason is warm and strong. The sunlight of joy usually goes with the warmth of spiritual life. As the light of joy varies so does the warmth of holy strength; he who dwells in the light of God is both happy and strong. He who goes into the shade and loses the joy of the Lord becomes weak at the same time. So the joy of the Lord becomes our strength, as being an indicator of its rise or fall. When a soul is really vigorous and active, it is like the torrent which dashes down the mountain side, which scorns in winter to own the bonds of frost: in a few hours the stagnant pools and slowly moving streams are enchained in ice; but the snow king must bring forth all his strength ere he can manacle the rushing torrent. So when a soul dashes on with the sacred force of faith, it is hard to freeze it into misery, its vigour secures its joy.

And another excerpt–

A joyous man, such I have now in my mind’s eye, is to all intents and purposes a strong man. He is strong in a calm restful manner. Whatever happens he is not ruffled or disturbed. He is not afraid of evil tidings, his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. The ruffled man is ever weak. He is in a hurry, and doth things ill. The man full of joy within is quiet, he bides his time and croucheth in the fulness of his strength. Such a man, though he is humble, is firm and steadfast; he is not carried away with every wind, or bowed by every breeze, he knows what he knows, and holds what he holds, and the golden anchor of his hope entereth within the veil, and holds him fast. His strength is not pretentious but real. The happiness arising from communion with God breeds in him no boastfulness; he does not talk of what he can do, but he does it; he does not say what he could bear, but he bears all that comes. He does not himself always know what he could do; his weakness is the more apparent to himself because of the strength which the Holy Ghost puts upon him; but when the time comes, his weakness only illustrates the divine might, while the man goes calmly on, conquering and to conquer. His inner light makes him independent of the outward sun; his secret granaries make him independent of the outer harvest; his inward fountains place him beyond dread though the brook Cherith may dry Up; he is independent of men and angels, and fearless of devils; all creatures may turn against him if they please, but since God himself is his exceeding joy, he will not miss their love or mourn their hate. He standeth where others fall, he sings where others weep, he wins where others fly, he glorifies his God where others bring dishonour on themselves and on the sacred name. God grant us the inward joy which arises from real strength and is so linked with it as to be in part its cause.

January Joy Challenge #1: Step Outside Yourself

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Have you ever had one of those days where everything goes wrong? You just want to crawl up in a hole and stay there for the day, but life continues on and the kids still need to go to soccer practice and the milk is all gone, so you have to go to the store, and it just happens to be on the day you have a mandatory meeting at work or church.

I handle those awful days two different ways with two very different outcomes.

The first way is to just keep completely to myself. I don’t look at anyone, I don’t acknowledge the clerk that is checking me out, and I sit in my car, far away from people while I wait for soccer practice to finish. I say very little, if anything, while sitting in a meeting. I play sad music and, quite honestly, just plain out sulk.

The fruit of all that ungodly self-love is: nothing. Well, that is, if you don’t count the terrible example I am setting for my kids and the lack of love I am showing to the people around me. I guess there is fruit, but it certainly isn’t good.

The second way I have handled days like this is to just stop thinking about myself. On those days, on God’s strength alone, I climb out of my self-created pit to say hello to the store clerk and ask her about her day. Most times, she will look up pleasantly surprised that someone cared to ask. On those days, I am able to step outside my frustration and ask the customer service rep what the weather is like in Pakistan today. I am able to listen intently in my mandatory meeting and add some ideas. I will get out of my car and enjoy talking to other moms, building relationships, while we wait for the end of practice together. I usually feel so much better when I stop thinking about myself.

The fruit of this response is: a deep-down joy because I am doing the right thing, the opportunity to encourage or help someone, new or better relationships, and unexpected opportunities to tell others about Jesus, as well as setting a good and godly example.

And honestly, we don’t have to be having a bad day to be self-centered. Sometimes we are preoccupied or worried about something. Many times we are simply in a hurry. And, quite frankly, some of us are just in the habit of never thinking about someone else.

But here’s the problem: I truly believe that we cannot experience joy without stepping outside of ourselves by showing interests in the lives of others. Jesus set a good example for us when He did this with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Samaritans were hated by the Jews, but Jesus showed an interest in her life by talking with her and asking her questions about her life.

This interest in others is becoming rarer and rarer in our self-centered world. Have you ever run into an old friend or acquaintance and realize after the conversation is over that the whole conversation was about them? There was never even a hint of interest in your life? That is the world we live in.

If we can smile and kindly show interest in the lives of others, we will look different to the world around us. And, ironically, we will feel different, too.

So here’s the FIRST CHALLENGE: 

When you talk with someone this week, make a concentrated effort to smile and to ask them about themselves.

Treat the customer service rep from India and the store clerk at Wal-Mart like they are real people. Ask the elderly lady at church or the man that sits on the same bench every day when you are walking the dog about their lives. Show an interest in others and see if it doesn’t increase your joy.

Comments welcome! I would love to hear about how it goes :)

 

jumpstart to joyDon’t forget my new e-book is ready! If you sign up as a new subscriber to the blog or like the Growing 4 Life Facebook page, I will send you a copy for free. If you are already an e-mail subscriber or facebook fan, but would like a copy, just let me know your e-mail address and I will be happy to send one to you :)

January Joy Challenge: The Explanation

JanJoyWell, the time has come. Are you ready to do some work with me? I am hoping to learn a lot about joy this month. And, hopefully, you will learn a thing or two, as well.

The world tells us that joy is something akin to happiness. In fact, dictionary.com gives this definition for joy: the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.

According to that definition there is very little difference between joy and happiness. Both are seemingly related to circumstances and happenings in our lives.

But would this be the biblical view of joy? Let’s see what scripture says–

Psalm 16:11
You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 32:11
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Psalm 35:9
And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD; It shall rejoice in His salvation.

Psalm 51:12
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

In these verses, joy seems to be related to salvation and righteousness. John MacArthur describes biblical joy like this–

Biblical joy consists of the deep and abiding confidence that all is well regardless of circumstance and difficulty. It is something very different from worldly happiness. Biblical joy is always related to God and belongs only to those in Christ. It is the permanent possession of every believer–not a whimsical delight that comes and goes as chance offers it opportunity.*

So, are you ready to learn about joy together? Here is the plan–at least for now :)

Mondays — I will present a challenge every week for us to work on together.

Wednesdays — I will continue with Wednesday Wisdom and we will see what some godly men and women have to say about joy.

Thursdays — I will write a normal blog post, trying to keep it related to our theme of the month.

Meanwhile, I will be posting all kinds of things on Facebook. In fact, I just posted a question for all of us yesterday. Why don’t you stop over there and answer it? You can find it here.  I will be doing that periodically throughout the month, as well as some other fun things.

And I just want to say here that this will be so much more fun and interesting if you participate! Let me know how your challenges go by commenting here or on the Facebook page. Tell us all how the Lord is working in your life.  I am excited to see what the Lord will do this month, as we try to put into practice this fruit of the Spirit!

And don’t forget, you can get a jump start on joy by getting my little mini-devotional called Jumpstart to Joy.  You can get this free by subscribing or by liking the Growing4Life Facebook page (don’t forget to send me your e-mail address).  Find out  more information here. 

 

*From The Epistle of Joy GTY Study Guide

 

 

But First: A Moment of Confession

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Happy New Year! Are you ready to begin our January Joy Challenge? Resolutions like eating right and exercising are beneficial for our physical bodies, but Paul tells us in I Timothy 4:8 that, while bodily exercise profits us a little, godliness is profitable for all things. I can only assume that joy is a part of godliness, since it is listed in Galatians 5:22 as one of the fruits of the spirit. Therefore, joy is an important part of a godly Christian life.

Is that enough to convince you to join me in the January Joy Challenge?

Tomorrow I will give some details about how this is all going to work. But for today–well, I have a confession to make.

Before we get started officially, I have to be honest. When I came up with the idea last month of having a Joy Challenge for all of us for the month of January, I hadn’t given it an extended period of thought. I was just trying to think of a way to liven up the blog a bit and do something new.

Little did I know that the past two weeks would be so difficult for me emotionally. There were a few dynamics in my life that all came together at the same time and threw me onto a bit of a roller coaster ride (but I am not offering that as an excuse–simply an explanation). Suffice it to say, I have not been even slightly joyful. My poor family. I would wake up and think: today will be different. But then I’d fall right back into the pit of sadness and irritability. While I do occasionally get moody, I don’t think that would be the first word that comes to mind when describing me, so this extended state of negative emotions is quite unusual for me.

Several times I contemplated somehow working my way out of the Joy Challenge. But I couldn’t figure out how to back out gracefully. This hung over my head for the past week or so. I mean- honestly – how can you write about joy if you aren’t even slightly joyful?

I shared this with my mom and she gave me some very wise counsel: You can–in fact, you need–to write the truth, no matter what you feel like.

A moment of epiphany. Yes, of course, she’s right.

In fact, isn’t that what I’ve been doing all along? Writing about areas in which I myself need to change and become more like Christ?  If only perfect people wrote blogs, there would be no blogs.

And so, my friends, it is with a very humble heart that I start up the January Joy Challenge. I have struggled in this area and am doing it for myself as much as for you.

I hope that you will join me.

P.S. I hope to have my new mini e-book Jumpstart to Joy ready for you in the next day or two. You can find out more details here. I will give a free copy to anyone who subscribes to the blog or who likes the Growing4Life page on Facebook. However, if you are already subscribed to my blog or a fan of the Facebook page, just let me know if you would like a copy. I will be happy to oblige :)

The January Joy Challenge is coming!

There is so much going on this time of year! But I wanted to take just a moment to wish you a very, Merry Christmas and to thank you for taking the time to read my blog this past year!

I also wanted to share a little bit of what I have in mind for January–

This time of year you can spot the word “Joy” everywhere. I found it on ornaments, sweatshirts, lawn ornaments (didn’t have the opportunity to take that picture, however), towels, and even on a doughnut!  It’s such a great word that surfaces especially at Christmastime.

Most of us are very familiar with Luke 2. In verse 10 we find this wonderful text:  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 

Tiding of great joy for all people! Can you imagine being one of those shepherds, hearing this wonderful news?

But somehow in the midst of everyday life, in the humdrum of the daily grind, we forget about joy. Especially in January. January– at least for me– has always been a rather depressing month. My favorite seasons are over (spring, summer, and fall) and winter can no longer be camouflaged by the holiday season.

I can find myself growing a bit down and apathetic in January if I am not careful. And so, I thought I would turn our focus to this word “Joy” starting on January 1. The theme of each Wednesday Wisdom will be joy throughout the entire month and look for various challenges and quotes on the Growing 4 Life Facebook page (find the Facebook page here).

Let’s see how this word should apply to our lives every day and not just at Christmastime!

Until January, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year!

 

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