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!

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