Where Joy is Found

happiness and peace

Where do you find happiness? Where do you look for joy?

I often think I can find happiness in this world. So I outline bigger goals, work harder and longer at achieving them. I buy more beautiful things or schedule more fun in my life.

But happiness in this world is elusive. The moment I’m within arm’s reach of my manufactured bliss, it seems to move down the block.

Lately I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. And I especially like what he has to say about happiness:

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on… That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

All my reaching for more–more success, more things, more activities–does not bring me true happiness.

Because true happiness and joy are only found in God.

Question: In what other things have you sometimes tried to find happiness? Did it work?

When You’re Struggling to Rejoice

phil 4-4

Does that command in Philippians 4:4 make you wince?

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

I certainly have days when it’s hard to be full of joy. Hard to rejoice in anything.

And what is rejoicing anyway?

I looked up the word rejoice in my Greek dictionary and found that it comes from the word chairo.

It carries the idea of being glad about something. It is the picture of a person who is euphoric over something that has happened. Other words to describe chairo would be overjoyed, elated, ecstatic, exhilarated, thrilled, jubilant, or even rapturous. (from Sparkling Gems From the Greek, p. 682)

When I read that I asked myself–when was the last time I was purely ecstatic about God? When did I feel thrilled in God’s presence?

I think it’s been too long.

But perhaps it’s because I keep looking for joy in other things. I expect to find it in success. Or friendship.

I wait for joy to happen when everything goes according to my plan.

And because that isn’t very likely, joy remains elusive.

Perhaps I should be glad that I can’t always find joy in something other than Jesus. Because then in my desperation, I’m forced to look to the only reliable Source of joy–my Savior.

God doesn’t tell us to be euphoric over success, or achievement, or even cute shoes because none of those are lasting.

God asks to be elated in Him.

Question: What has brought you joy in the last week?

God is a God of Celebration?

This month has been a time of celebration for my family. My son (the baby of the family) got married on August 9! My husband performed the service, I sang a song, the little grandsons were all ring bearers. At the reception we feasted, laughed, and danced until our feet ached.

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August 9th was not only my son’s wedding day, but my wedding anniversary! Here’s a picture of John and me with our wedding photo.

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This August 9 will be a time of celebration that will live long in my memory.

Did you know our God is a God of celebration?

For much of my life, that thought seemed incongruous with the Lord I knew. Growing up, God seemed to be a God of serious thought and solemn ceremonies, not a God of rejoicing and celebrating.

But looking closer in the Scriptures, I see God truly is a God of celebration. In the Old Testament Yahweh commanded His chosen people to observe seven feasts each year. For three of these feasts they were to abandon their work and travel to Jerusalem to celebrate their God (Deuteronomy 16:16). These were times of feasting and rejoicing—times to thank God for what He had done for them in the past and revel in the blessings He had bestowed on them in the present.

In the New Testament Jesus was known as a partier. The Pharisees criticized Him for eating and drinking with sinners (Matthew 9:11). People wondered why the Pharisees and John the Baptist’s followers fasted, but Jesus’ disciples went on eating and drinking (Luke 6:33). Parties were a favorite theme in Jesus’ parables. The people in His stories celebrated finding a lost lamb, a lost coin, and a lost son (Luke 15). Jesus even compared the kingdom of God to a sumptuous banquet (Luke 14:15-24).

Too often my worship of my generous, caring, loving God is sedate, somber, and dull. But I want to learn how to celebrate!

Instead of absent-mindedly mumbling my way through worship on Sunday, I want to passionately express love to my King. Instead of looking cool, calm, and collected, I’m going to clap along with the praise songs and sing the hymns at the top of my lungs.

Maybe I’ll even dance. Some churches even use liturgical dance to celebrate our awesome God. I may not dance in church, but maybe I can do it in the privacy of my own home. Admittedly this may feel a bit risky and undignified. But I will be in good company. King David was criticized by his wife, Michal, when He worshiped without inhibitions. David was focused on praising God and not on how he looked. He told Michal, “I will celebrate before the Lord” (2 Samuel 6:21 emphasis mine).

So this week celebrate our awesome God. Sing and clap and dance your worship!

Question: Give your reaction to the statement: Our God is a God of celebration.


Three Simple Things to Help You Find Joy in God’s Presence

Lighted candle. Silver cross. Digital timer.

What do these three items have in common?

At first glance in might not seem they have any connection.

But all three items proved very useful in my quest for my joy.

I have been concentrating on finding joy in God’s presence. Because really, the Lord is the only reliable source of joy. Sunny days make me happy, but this past week we’ve had rain almost every day. Friends bring a smile to my face, but sometimes they are busy–too busy to get together. I love chocolate, but not what it does to my hips.

However, whenever I turn my attention toward God, I discover joy.

So I set out how to do that more often. I asked myself: How could I remind myself to stop and turn my heart to Christ at different times during the day?

Here are three things that worked for me:

1. I lit a candle during my devotional time in the morning. Somehow this made Jesus feel more present as I read His Word to me that day. Christ, the Light of the world, filled the room, illuminated Scripture, and chased all the dark out my heart.

2. I took a small silver cross that usually sits on a bookcase in the family room and started placing it in odd places around the house. Because the cross had sat in that one place on the bookshelf so long, it had become almost invisible. Now when I saw it in the kitchen, near my computer, on my vanity tray it reminded me: Jesus is here. My Savior loves me. Christ makes this place sacred.

3. I bought a new digital timer and put it near my computer. I set it for 20 minutes or 35 minutes or any other random time. When my new little gadget beeped, it reminded me to stop what I was doing for a minute, close my eyes, and put myself in God’s presence. Sometimes I would also take the time to listen to a Christian song that would help me see Christ in my mind’s eye. Another way to use this technique would be to set an alarm on your watch or phone to beep at various times during the day to remind you–God is here.

God is here. What an amazing thought! He is always near, but I don’t usually pay attention.

What I found was that when I did pay attention, I found joy. Joy in that moment. Joy that spilled out into all the other moments in my day.

Joy is found in God’s presence.

And these small items helped me to remember:

God is here.

 Question: What do you do to remind yourself that God is near?

Book Review: Finding Spiritual Whitespace

Finding Spiritual Whitespace

This post is part of the  “Finding Spiritual Whitespace Blog Tour” which I am a part of, along with a group of soulful, journeying kindreds. To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!  

Awakening Your Soul to Rest.

Doesn’t that sound inviting?

It’s the subtitle of a new book by Bonnie Gray titled Finding Spiritual Whitespace. Whitespace is the space on the page left blank–purposely left blank to give meaning to the rest of the words or art share that page.

Bonnie Gray reminds us in her book that our lives need whitespace too. We need blank spaces in our calendars, in our days, in our hours–to rest, reflect, and make room for Jesus.

There are many amazing moments in Finding Spiritual Whitespace, but one that touched me deeply is when she talks about being a “joy-wounded stranger”–comparing herself to the beaten stranger on the road in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. She writes,

Jesus is telling me to stop on the side of the road of my busy life and take care of the joy-wounded me. Jesus is telling me to break away from neglecting my soul. Joy is an act of faith–to offer kindness and compassion–to the joy-wounded stranger in you and me.

Like Gray, I never saw myself as the wounded stranger. I always saw myself as the priest or Levite who didn’t take the time to help. But now I see that I can be all three.

One part of me is the stranger, beat up by the world. It’s injured, hurt, and bleeding. It needs bandages of care and salves of love.

But the other parts of me are too focused on getting where they need to go. The priest in me is too concerned about finishing his tasks. The Levite is too busy to stop and care for the wounded part of me. 

And so the “joy-wounded stranger” inside me continues to languish on the side of the road.

I’ve decided I need to tell the efficient parts of my self to put it on their to-do lists to care for the wounded self. The parts of me that thrive with action items and goals must also attend to the needs of the other part of my self that needs rest, relationships, and time to read a good book. 

We all need to stop and care for the “joy-wounded strangers” inside of us. To care for the parts of us that are wounded. To provide relief and rest for the pieces of our souls that are worn thin through stress or busyness.

How will you take care of your “joy-wounded stranger”?

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith Barista.com who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. I’m taking the journey to find rest through this guidebook and invite you to read it too.  You can get a copy HERE.

 

Joy Stealer: Regret

Two summers ago I ended the season with regret.

I always start the short Chicago summer season with great anticipation. Finally, warm weather! We’ll go to outdoor concerts, do some hiking, maybe even go on a picnic or two. I’ll take some time to do some organizing projects and read a few books on my reading list. It’ll be a great summer!

But that summer ended in disappointment. The unusually hot, dry summer kept me indoors. We only went to one outdoor concert because it was just too hot to sit outside. I didn’t get any of the organizing projects done that I wanted to.  And the reading list? Huh!

Fortunately, summer comes around every year and I had a chance for a do-over. Last summer, I created a summer “bucket list.” I got the idea from my writer friend Lara Krupicka. (Read about her summer bucket list idea.) By making a written list of what I wanted to get out of this favorite season, I’m hoped that I would be more likely to actually do these fun and practical activities. I hoped that I wouldn’t have another summer end with regret.

Of course, regret can be much more serious than simply not having enough fun in one summer. We all have words we regret, actions we regret. If only we could go back and have a do-over. We wish we had not hurt others, messed up our lives, or taken a wrong turn from God’s path.

The trouble with regret is that it steals our joy. Living under the cloud of “if only” continually darkens our spirits.

Fortunately, God has a better way. Instead of existing with regret, He wants us to truly live–with repentance.

2 Corinthians 7:10 says:

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

What’s the difference between regret and repentance?

Regret is constantly wishing you had done something different, that life had gone another way. The pain of this self-condemnation never goes away. Your inner judge continues to pound the gavel and yell, “Guilty!” This kind of grief can put you under a soul-killing death sentence.

There is also grief in repentance–a sorrow over past mistakes and sins. But repentance takes this grief to the eternal Judge–Jesus. And Jesus is not only our Judge, but the one who took the punishment for those mistakes and sins. Repentance places all that sorrow in a loving Savior’s hands and listens for the words, “Not guilty!”

Some of you may continue to live under the cloud of regret because you think: Forgiveness is too easy. Even though I know Jesus died for my sins, it’s not really enough. It would be wrong if I felt happy after what I’ve done. I need to hang onto this heavy regret in order to pay for my mistakes.

Dear sister, Jesus wants you to let that grief go. 2 Corinthians tells us that godly grief produces no regret. God doesn’t want to live with self-condemnation. If we have repented of our sins, we can live joyfully forgiven.

Every day, listen for Jesus’ words, “Not guilty!”

 Question: What do you do when you are tempted to live under a cloud of regret?

(By the way, the summer bucket list idea really worked! I had a fantastic summer in 2013!)

How to Run When You Can Barely Walk

psalm 119-32

 Don’t you love watching little kids run?

I mean they don’t run because they really need to up their fitness program.

They don’t run because they are trying to get their 10,000 steps a day in a shorter span of time.

They don’t run because they are trying to burn a few extra calories.

Little kids run because they want to. They run out of joy. They run because energy literally bubbles out of them.

I’ve been reading Psalm 119. Every day I read a stanza–meditating on it, savoring it.

The other day I got to verse 32 and stopped.

“I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.” (Psalm 119:32 NIV 1989)

Immediately I pictured a little kid whose just been sitting in school all morning running out of the door out of sheer joy of being outside.

He runs because he is free.

What I found especially interesting is that just four verses earlier in the psalm, the writer says, “My soul is weary with sorrow” (verse 28). It sounds like he could barely walk because of sadness. How was it that he could now run?

I think the psalmist could run because he went to a reliable source of strength–God’s Word. He says:

“Strengthen me according to your law” (verse 28). Lord I know that Your Word is where I’m going to find the energy and the hope to keep going.

“I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord” (verse 31). Even though things look desperate, I’m clinging to Your promises.

“I run in the path of your commands” (verse 32). I‘m sticking to Your path, following the signposts in Your law.

So when you can barely walk look to God’s Word. Ask Him to give you hope and strength from Scripture. Cling to His promises.

Because when we look to God’s Word and listen to His voice, He sets our hearts free. That word “free” is from the Hebrew word rachab  which means “to grow wide or large.” Some other versions use the phrase “enlarge my heart.” As God widens our hearts so that we can better understand His promises to us and more fully grasp His love, we no longer feel like we are plodding through life.

We are running on the path He has set out for us. Running out of joy.

Question: How do you feel today: plodding on a path of sorrow or running full of joy?

 

 

original photo credit

When You Struggle to Rejoice

phil 4-4

Does that command in Philippians 4:4 make you wince?

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

I certainly have days when it’s hard to be full of joy. Hard to rejoice in anything.

And what is rejoicing anyway?

I looked up the word rejoice in my Greek dictionary and found that it comes from the word chairo.

It carries the idea of being glad about something. It is the picture of a person who is euphoric over something that has happened. Other words to describe chairo would be overjoyed, elated, ecstatic, exhilarated, thrilled, jubilant, or even rapturous. (from Sparkling Gems From the Greek, p. 682)

When I read that I asked myself–when was the last time I was purely ecstatic about God? When did I feel thrilled in God’s presence?

I think it’s been too long.

But perhaps it’s because I keep looking for joy in other things. I expect to find it in success. Or friendship.

I wait for joy to happen when everything goes according to my plan.

And because that isn’t very likely, joy remains elusive.

Perhaps I should be glad that I can’t always find joy in something other than Jesus. Because then in my desperation, I’m forced to look to the only reliable Source of joy–my Savior.

God doesn’t tell us to be euphoric over success, or achievement, or even cute shoes because none of those are lasting.

God asks to be elated in Him.

Question: What has brought you joy in the last week?

 

When Joy Begins in Brokenness

When my children were very young we lived in the parsonage next to the church. I taught piano lessons in the afternoon and took my kids to a neighborhood babysitter before my students came. One day I was running a little late. I picked up my toddler, grabbed the diaper bag, and told my 4-year-old to hurry up. I rushed out the door and locked it behind me before realized I had left my keys in the house. Ordinarily this would not have been a big problem because I could have just walked over to the church next door and gotten a set of keys from my pastor husband. But that particular day he was at a pastors’ conference an hour’s drive away.

My mind clicked through my options.

Option 1: Go to a neighbor’s house and call a locksmith. (Much too slow and expensive.)

Option 2: Break the small window in the door and unlock the lock. (Much faster and probably less expensive than the locksmith.)

So I grabbed a big rock and took my daughter’s doll blanket from her. I wrapped the blanket around the rock and my hand and smashed the window. Now I could unlock the door, grab the keys, take the kids to the babysitter and get back before my students came.

It all worked out very well—except for the fact that when my husband came home later that day he thought a robber had broken in!

And I had to admit that I was the one who had broken the window.

But I had to break the window in order to unlock the door.

I find this is true in my emotional life as well. Sometimes God uses painful experiences to break into my life. Sometimes it takes a disappointment or a sorrow for God to get my attention. I don’t enjoy the painful periods in my life, but sometimes it is as if those experiences break through the stuff of the world and help me feel God’s presence more clearly.

Brokenness can be the beginning of joy because it tears away the unimportant. Without all the clutter of life in the way, we can see God.

Brokenness can be the beginning of joy because it pushes us to our Savior. We can see Him holding out His hands to us, waiting for us to step into His embrace. We can see the mercy and love in His eyes.

Brokenness can be the beginning of joy because God’s joy isn’t limited by our situation. Jesus can transform our brokenness  into joy. A joy that can’t be explained by our circumstances. A bubbling up of peace and happiness that makes no sense except in the presence of God.

Sometimes our heavenly Father uses pain to break through the myriad of distractions in our lives and unlock the door to His presence.

Sometimes joy begins in brokenness.

Question: When have you experienced joy in brokenness?

 original photo by Justus Hayes

Scripture Memory: Verses to Get You Out of An Emotional Basement

ScriptureMemory

Over the years I have memorized (and forgotten) dozens of Bible verses.

I love God’s Word–a healthy dose of it is what gets me through each day.

But memorizing? I’ve not been very consistent in committing Scripture to heart. Somehow it’s been like every other diet I’ve been on. I’m faithful for awhile and then let it drop.

Lately though, I’ve realized that having Scripture in my head and heart make a big difference in my outlook on life. Without regular review of God’s words to me, my mood is more dependent on my circumstances, I’m more susceptible to negative attacks from the enemy, and my prayer life suffers.

So at the beginning of this new year, I’m picking up a habit I never should have dropped. I making an effort to store God’s word in my heart.

I encourage you to do the same. Start with one verse. Write it on a sticky note. Post it where you will see it often. Read it out loud every day and then try to say it without looking at the note. By the end of the week you will have one verse memorized.

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Don’t know where to begin? Here are some of my favorite verses that speak of God’s love for me. These are the verses that consistently pull me out of any emotional basement I’ve been in:

  • All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you. (Song of Songs 4:7 NIV 1984)
  • The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love. (Psalm 147:11 NIV 1984)
  • As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5 ESV)
  • The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17 ESV)
  • How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1 NIV 1984)

I have heard it said that when we memorize Scripture we are giving the Holy Spirit the opportunity to speak to us in His language. When we store God’s Word in our minds, He can easily bring them to mind when we need them.

Question: What Scripture verse gets you out of your emotional basements?