Sunday, September 23, 2018

Fighting Joy -thieves

I never thought I'd be thinking so much about joy, much less writing about it! Most people would say I'm a pleasant person overall, but my close friends know I've got quite the melancholic streak. I chalk it up to my personality, which I think is pretty valid, but the way I battle my bouts of sadness or being overwhelmed by life are totally up to me, no matter how I'm wired. I don't have to let my personality rule, and I can have plenty of joy despite it.

September and October are really challenging months for me. Our two boys play Fall Sports, so I am chauffeur at least four evenings a week, sometimes both for dropping off and picking up the kids. Sometimes I stay for the entire practice (where I usually try to get in a nice walk and some reading or tutor prep), and sometimes I go home to fix dinner while my husband handles the pick-up. Add in two games every Saturday plus some snack-bringing obligations and serving in the Tigard High snack shack on top of all our regular life stuff, and well, it's a recipe for stress.

Last year I had to really cut back on my practice-watching. It was draining me of all joy and motivation. I started to doubt things about my life, my purpose, my investments in others, when none of those things were actually a problem. My full schedule pushed out my joy because I believed I needed more free time, more time for personal endeavors, and less time taking care of everyone else in order to be happy, in order to have a good, worthwhile, joy-filled life. In case you don't know, I was completely wrong.

Today I woke up feeling a similar type of stress. I was tired of people needing me. I was feeling worn out from others wanting a piece of my time and energy. My brain kept working through what caused my oldest son's football team to get so creamed the first half of their game yesterday. Because I have learned that I allow my joy to be stolen (rather than assuming I just don't have any) I started to pray and ask God why I couldn't get my emotions under control.

I said "God, just help me stop worrying over problems that aren't mine!"

Immediately His Spirit spoke to my heart...

"Which ones ARE yours to worry about?"

So funny, right? I actually started laughing and felt so relieved.

The answer is none.

None of the problems I allow into my head are mine to try and figure out. Not because I'm not responsible for anything, and not because I don't have things that need taken care of, but because God already knows what I need. My worry doesn't help Him take care of my problems.

I am a natural logistics person. Give me a problem, an issue, or a system that isn't working right and I can quickly, and usually pretty easily, see what the root of that problem is. And I'm good at finding practical solutions. But joy comes from somewhere else. It is not born out of perfectly worked out solutions. It doesn't live only where there are no problems. Because of Christ, it exists anywhere we allow it to reign. When we let stressful situations and circumstances circle in our minds, we are allowing joy-thieves to enter our hearts and push joy out. Instead, we need to push them out, lock the doors and let them know that they are not welcome.

Photo credit: Renee Fisher

The testimonies of Amy Carmichael and Corrie Ten Boom have really strengthened my resolve to stop letting problems here on earth take the joy that Christ has given me.

In Elizabeth Elliot's book, A Chance To Die, she talks about Amy's perspective on asking for funds. Early in her missionary journey, Amy would sometimes debate whether they should ask for money, or even prayer, for financial gifts. She feared asking for prayer about it would be dropping more clues than necessary. As she grew older, she was more and more convinced that if she truly trusted God, she would not ask others. She fully believed that God knew her needs and that He would tell whoever else needed to know in order to help or provide. And He did, over and over again, reaffirming that God does not need our worry or suggestions. He alone can provide every need.

When Corrie Ten Boom was a young girl, she often rode the train with her father to go and get the "true time" off a clock in another town. If this makes zero sense to you, just try and google why people did this, it's too much to explain here! On one of their train rides, she asked a question about something too mature for her age. Her father said he would have to explain it later, but Corrie was not very content with that answer.

Her father gave her an analogy she never forgot, and neither will I. He asked her to remember at what point during their trip he hands her the train ticket. She responded that it was right before she got on. He explained that God is the same way. We are His children, and we are in His complete care, and that means He will always give us what we need, but it is often right before we need it.

I'm not saying don't ever ask for help, or prayer, or try to be prepared. I'm saying don't spend your time trying to piece out details in your head that God is already lining up for you.

So dear friend, what problem is robbing you of peace, or sleep, or contentment? Do you understand that God knows exactly what your problem is? Do you know He already knows the solution? You can trust that He will give it to you right when you need it. Likely not long before, not definitely not after.

The testimonies of these two women are helping me walk in faith every day. I can trust God with any problem I encounter. It's not "on me" to fix everything; I am only called to obey. When my mind is tempted to dwell on the challenges that might arise or the roadblocks I might encounter, I can close that door and know 100% that God will help me as I need it. It frees me to simply enjoy what I am doing instead of grumpily going through my tasks, my mind swirling in frustration and unknowns.

There is no problem worth your worry. There is no circumstance worth stealing your joy. It's exactly what Satan wants to do and exactly what the Holy Spirit can help us overcome. We can use our time to work, to plan, to deal with situations that arise, but we must never allow it to create chaos inside our hearts and minds. God gives us the power to overcome.

His joy is our redemption, the solution to our biggest problem. And His joy is enough to get us through anything we encounter. We must let it reign and fight anything that tries to take it away.

The bonus I'm finding in all of it is in this little verse, a verse that might not seem that encouraging at first glance.

"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." Hebrews 11:6

It takes faith to say "I know God will take care of my financial problems, so right now I am going to cook dinner with a smile."

It takes faith to say "I hate that my loved one is in pain, dying, but I know God is here in all of it, and I can comfort them and myself with His love and goodness instead of my anger and frustration."

It takes faith to face a million little problems and still believe that God is there in the midst of it, giving you what you need to be kind, courageous, and generous to those you encounter.

It takes faith to continue obeying in your mundane life, trusting that happily sacrificing your life for the benefit of others will be worth it.

When we deny the joy-thieves of difficulty, pain, doubt, and despair, we are walking in faith. And it pleases God. He rewards us for seeking Him in all of these trials, big or small. Only God could be good enough to give us the solutions to our problems and then reward us for turning to Him! It's kind of over-the-top ridiculous, don't you think?

Today I am grateful that He never gives up on me. When I ask for help to fight depression, sadness, or just general weariness in life, He gives. He gives however much I am willing to receive.

So I encourage you, become willing to receive. Be open to being happy. Be open to joy taking over your dreary day. I know it's a battle, but it is one you will always be glad you fought.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Called to Receive His Joy

I feel God's goodness toward me in far too many ways to count lately. We began homeschooling again this week, and while we had our fair share of bumps, it was far less tortuous than I was expecting. Sometimes the kids were glad, sometimes they whined or cried, and other times they enjoyed their work immensely. Overall, it was good. And I'm learning to have joy in many things that are just good.

I recently participated in an online bible study through the book of Philippians and before doing this study, I really didn't realize how much Paul talks about joy in this letter. I know there were several verses about rejoicing, but going through the entire book in only two weeks changed my perspective on what joy truly is and how we are to understand genuine, Christian joy. Then, as I was praying through my last four topics for our 12 Months of Called, I began to see this Call to Receive His Joy stand out in neon, flashing lights. 

Photo by Konstantin Planinski

In August I finished reading the book A Chance to Die by Elizabeth Elliot, which is a biography about Amy Carmichael. It was challenging, convicting, and thought-provoking. Many people think of those who sacrifice so much of "their" life as being very serious, boring, or too self-deprecating, but I have a very different picture of Amy after reading more about her life. She held onto joy in the most dire of circumstances. She remained willing to be happy in the Lord despite losing an astonishing number of children and babies to disease and tragedy. She truly embodied what it means to rejoice in the Lord always. 

I think the way she lived is what Paul talks about in Philippians 4:11-13, about learning to be content in all things through the power of Christ. After losing a child that was very dear to her, Amy talks about a conversation she had with God. She says He asked her if she was prepared to move forward without that child and if should would still be willing to find joy in the life she would live for God. Amy doesn't say that she was immediately happy, filled with joy, or even in a good mood. She just says she knew that if she wanted to continue in her ministry and truly give all to the Lord, she would have to willingly part with anything He allowed to leave her hands. 

So she continued on. Not without grieving the many losses she continued to endure, but with a different perspective. Amy realized that if we are Christians, we automatically obtain joy, but that we often allow it to be stolen, or that we give it to things that actually become idols in our lives. When we are unable to be joyful because we don't get something we want, we have placed joy in something that God does not desire. Sure, we can be happy about other things, but we cannot make our happiness reliant upon them. 

Jesus says in John 15:11 that what He has spoken to His disciples (about abiding in God) is so that His joy would be in them, that their joy may be full. Being one with God is the way we receive full joy. Jesus' joy was our redemption, our reconciliation to God. It's the joy that enabled Him to go to the cross, endure the wrath of God, and defeat death. Our perfection is His joy, and it should be ours as well. 

James 1:2-4 reiterates this for us too. We can consider our trials joy because of what they produce in our lives: perfection. Not that we are perfect yet (just as Paul says in Philippians 3:12) but we are getting there. And it's our onward march toward glorification with God in eternity upon which our joy ought to be set. 

There will always be distractions here on earth. We can always find things that leave us lacking, that drive us nutty, or that pull us under. Unless we are receiving the joy that Jesus gives, and unless we are willing to hold onto that joy with both hands, the happiness we find in things on earth will always, eventually disappear. If we cannot be joyful without these temporary things, we will never obtain the true joy that God gives.

What can we do to keep our joy properly placed? It begins with our thoughts. 

We have to continually point our thoughts back to Christ, to God, to the Holy Spirit's work in our lives. This means abiding in Him, obeying Him, seeking Him when we would rather seek the things in the world because we know it will be worth it. I often despair at how easily I allow my happiness-meter to be filled with earthly stuff and temporary circumstances. It feels innocent, like I'm just enjoying God's good gifts (as we are also called to do), but the longer I turn toward those things when I am feeling less than joyful, the less clear a joy in Christ seems to be. 

Our minds need to be on Him. We have to train our hearts to rely completely upon God's promises, to have faith that His coming redemption is completely enough to get us through life right here, right now. When the gifts of His abiding presence feel too far off, too intangible, we must speak the truth of the gospel into our brains and into our souls. We must tell ourselves over and over that what is happening in our world, in our life, and in our emotions is not what really matters. It's our hearts that God desires. And when we stop allowing other things to take our joy we will find the world far easier to navigate. Losses feel more temporary, less pivotal. The tragedies we endure do not define the rest our lives, but offer us a springboard into knowing God better. 

When the people of God have returned to Israel after years of exile and Nehemiah is leading them in rebuilding the wall, he first guides the people in repentance and restoring the festivals they have not kept. The people despair, and weep, perhaps feeling the weight of their sin or the sadness of their circumstances, but Nehemiah encourages them to rejoice. It is God's joy that will strengthen them to endure. 

I have been striving to understand what that really means and I can feel a difference in how it is beginning to make sense. Knowing that the joy God offers, that Jesus has, in my perfection, in my salvation, in my already-but-not-yet glorification, is a stronghold I can cling to at any moment has altered every single day for me. Dirty dishes don't have to be joy-thieves. Uncooperative children or unexpected bills no longer have the right to steal my smile. I don't have to allow it. The temporary circumstances we walk through in our flesh can be overcome by clinging to the perfection God is giving me and that God rejoices in. 

I pray that God's joy in you will pierce your soul in the best way. Your joy does not have to be contingent on your circumstances. Your feelings may lie, your brain may tell you many other things, and it's not wrong to feel less-than-joyful as long as you don't succumb to it. Set your mind, as often as you can, on God's joy in you and it will strengthen you to endure more than you can imagine. Maybe more than you ever want, but even suffering is not strong enough to rip God's joy in you from you. 

If you are not already a part of our Facebook group, please feel free to join! You can follow the link to join here. There are surveys, free backgrounds, and a few live videos for you to enjoy. My hope is that we can all be mutually encouraged in walking down the paths of life in God together. Thank you for spending time here with me and have a blessed day!