The Joy Series: Joy Is Our Strength

 

 

How do we translate joy into strength when this life seems to drain us of our energy?

 

We live in the thin place where we function in this world but not of the world. Where we embrace grace so that we can live well with grace while resisting the temptations of the world that hold us back and prevent us from standing strong in the faith that saves.

 

It’s in the thin place where we realize that we don’t affect transformation but that God works within our surrendered hearts so that we experience renewal. If we look within ourselves for joy and fulfillment we’re let down. If we look to others then we join the human race of competition and comparison where we’re always, always disappointed.

 

But if we look to God for joy, we discover the source of joy, and the strength to face the troubles that comes with this life.

 

The end of Nehemiah 8:10 states, “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” In context, we discover the Israelites weeping as they listening to Ezra reading the word of God.

 

Nehemiah tells the people that it’s good and right to be sorrowful over their sin, but not to allow their sorrow to be so excessive that it hinders their joy in God and cheerful service. He exhorts them to find strength in God’s joy.

 

This joy of the Lord as our strength is not found in the flesh, but found in the holy understanding that God is good, that his grace directs and governs our lives, and that our hearts delight in his love and favor.

God is Good

 

Many times the world seems to disprove this, but if we look with eyes to see, we find God’s hand. At times we expect God to ride in on a white stallion and remove us from our situations, when in reality, he sends people along with a kind word, a gentle smile that gives us the strength to endure. We can serve other’s in this way as well.

 

God is good. Just because bad things happen doesn’t mean he endorses them. This life holds pain, struggles, triumph, and joy, and we mustn’t judge God based our circumstances. Knowing the joy of the Lord as our strength begins with wrapping our minds around the truth that he is good.

God’s Grace Directs and Governs

 

God’s grace does not endorse sinful behavior, but makes a way to resist the behavior that separates us from him. We’re not sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re born sinners. God’s grace governs and directs our lives and makes a way for us to resist temptation.

 

As living sacrifices we struggle with the battle between our flesh and our spirit and it’s through God’s grace that we’re able to be renewed. God’s transforming grace governs our lives as we surrender to him day after day. His joy is our strength to say “yes” to him over and over.

God Loves and Favors Us

 

Joy as our strength to obey comes through the celebration of God’s love and favor for us. Receiving God’s love is foundational to our day to day walk with Christ.

 

He loves you with an everlasting love that doesn’t waver based on your feelings, but remains constant because God is constant. It’s his consistent love that compels us to obey him even when it’s hard. God’s love propels us onward because his joy is the oil that lubricates the wheels of our obedience.

 

His favor rests on you, the apple of his eye, and motivates you to obey his call in your life. He calls us to live a worthy life: a life clothed with compassion and kindness, grace and mercy, love and obedience.

 

The joy that radiates from him like a piercing light is the place where we receive the strength to do the hard things like resisting our sinful nature and saying yes to the ways of God.

The Takeaway

 

God’s joy is our strength to receive his forgiveness and to live like we’re forgiven. Yes, we grieve over our sin and troubles in this life, but we also can live in abundance and God’s joy is the strength that enables us to do so.

 

Rest in him.

 

Embrace his goodness.

 

Receive his love.

 

Celebrate him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Joy Series: Joy Fuels Your Endurance

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Joy as a feeling is something we’re familiar with, but joy as fuel is something entirely different.

 

We need motivation when we tackle unpleasant tasks and procrastinate like crazy. There’s an idea that we’ll feel joy once we accomplish the tasks, but in order to understand joy as fuel, we must shift our perspective.

 

Joy is not the outcome of finishing, it’s our motivator. Especially when we face trials. Jesus faced trials during his earthly ministry ending with the ultimate trial of a horrific death. So what was his motivation?

 

Jesus is fully God and had the power of God at his disposal while on earth, but he chose to live as fully man. He experienced a face to face with the devil, crowds that gloried in what he could do for them, and gangs that attempted murder. He faced traps set by church leaders, betrayal by disciples, and misunderstanding by all.

 

Beyond obedience and love, what motivated Jesus to continue down this path of exceeding trials?

 

 

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

 

Jesus focused on joy as he endured the cross and shame.

 

We may not face execution via crucifixion, but we do face trials that require endurance. Your relationships may crumble. You experience blackballing. People slander your character and you choose things that destroy your reputation. Consequences of our choices and other people’s decisions haunt our days and prompt nightmares.

 

How do we endure through our current sorrows and broken hearts and shame?

 

We shift our perspective that joy is somehow developed by outside circumstances to an inward realization that we’ve misunderstood joy all these years.

 

God is our joy.

 

When we allow him to nurture our hearts and to feed our souls by his love, joy, and word rather than depending on outside stimuli, we can know the kind of joy that causes us to endure well.

 

James takes it a step further in James 1:2 where he states that we should “consider it pure joy” when we “face trials of many kinds.”

 

Not just any joy, but pure joy. Not the kind that masquerades and fools us into looking for it in the outcome of our circumstances, hopes, and dreams. But joy in God and all he holds out to us to receive.

 

Christian maturity on this earth is just as important as our eternal destination. God promises us peace, joy, goodness, and mercy here and these grow in us as we mature. In order to reach that maturity we need to shift our perspective about the difficulties we face.

 

We can find the joy that fuels endurance when we realize that faith undergoes a refinement.

 

It’s so easy to quit when life gets hard. We think running away from our trials is the answer, but it’s not. Standing firm in Christ and facing our trials is where we discover perseverance in order to face our trials with grace and dignity. And, yes, joy.

 

Just like a photographer chooses his focal point, we can choose ours as well. We can choose to let our trials blur and sharpen our focus on God’s almighty kindness.

 

His kindness leads us to repentance and his kindness fills our heart with joy. Focus on his joy as you navigate your trials. Open your bible and let the Holy Spirit illuminate the message God has for you. Look for his heart in his Word.

 

As you develop a completed picture of the Lord, it becomes easier to focus on him and let the your aches and disappointments blur so that you see him clearly.

 

As you do this, you begin with a framework and with each revelation the pencil outline of God’s character gets filled in, color and perspective is added. Today, sketch God’s outline with these three words: Joy. Kindness. Mercy. And let the Holy Spirit begin to fill it with color and depth.

The Takeaway for Joy

 

Meditate on these verses about God’s kindness, mercy, and joy.

Titus 3:4-5

1 Peter 2:10-11

Psalm 21:6

The Joy Series: Joy Affects Others

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Joy seems elusive right now. I need the reminder that it’s not a feeling but a fruit, it’s part of God’s nature, and it’s tied into the gospel news.

 

My heart hurts and feels bruised by disappointments and relationships. I trudge through the same routine over and over again. I’m weary of white. Of the threat of water in my house if I wash a load of clothes or use the shower. The feeling of failure looms over my ability or inability to wife and mother well.

 

It’s in these moments when I need my relationship with my Father God, even if I’ve been distant with him. Friendships have felt dangerous due to recent relationship rejections. And I hold myself together by sheer will and search for joy.

 

You develop a friendship only to realize weeks or years later that it was false. And realize that it’s like a trick pack of gum kids use on one another and wonder if relationships are worth it. But as difficult as relationships are, we need them to develop joy in our lives.

 

Partly because we’re instructed to bear one another’s burdens, to share sorrows as well as joys. Our lives need relationships even when friends bruise our hearts. I’m drawn to people like a moth to a flame even while I toy with the idea of disavowing future relationships.

 

I love people. I want to know if you’re a morning or night person or if you like to shop or hate it or if you’re a hopeful pessimist or a realistic optimist. What sorrows and joys have you lived and what has scarred you and how have you healed. Do you like coffee or tea or neither?

 

You’re interesting before I even meet you, but I wrestle with fear of you too. Rejection is a possible outcome.

 

Fear and curiosity tussle within me. Sometimes fear wins and I sacrifice myself on the altar of your approval. And other times curiosity wins and the security of God’s love propels me forward. And sometimes I move forward with fear dogging every step.

Joy and Our Walk with Christ

 

Joy and our relationships relate to one another. We get to live this life as a believer and follower of Christ in community, not in isolation. And it’s in community that we learn to choose right actions, to temper our responses to reflect Christ, and to share the joy of the Lord.

 

We contribute joy to another’s life when we refresh others, and when we live our lives in ways that honor the teaching we received about the Lord.

 

Paul and John write about this throughout the New Testament. He references how his hearers bring him joy when they give themselves to the whole of Jesus’ teaching and their lives change.

 

   See 1 Thessalonians 2:19, Philemon 4-7, 2 John 4, and 3 John 4.

 

We bring joy to our mentors, friends, teachers, and spiritual directors when we choose God’s way over ours. His ways don’t always make sense, but when trusted and implemented, bring about joy and lasting change that we could never accomplish on our own.

 

Who’s teaching have you benefitted from? Do you have someone in your life from whom you receive spiritual direction and teaching? Bring joy to them by living your life according to God’s standards and righteous ways.

 

Joy spreads. As you learn from a sound biblical teacher, you teach others as you live your life. Whether you realize it or not, there is someone who learns from you. You need others who are a few steps ahead of you and a few steps behind you. And this joy that comes by living lives that reflect the love of Christ become like the spreading ripples of a pebble dropped in a pond.

 

Relationships: difficult and painful, but oh so necessary. Joy: complex and simple, but contagious.

 

And just as we affect joy in other people’s lives by how we live our lives, we also bring joy to others as we refresh each other.

Joy and Refreshment

 

Refresh indicates a restoration, a renewal, and a revival. Do you need your spirit revived? Is life dragging you along and you question whether or not there’s more than this, whatever this may be?

 

Extend joy by sitting with someone in their sorrow and rejoicing with them in their triumphs. Offer the refreshment joy brings by extending kindness and mercy, overlooking an offense, and extending forgiveness.

 

When we reach out to someone, our hearts receive refreshment, and the joy overflows and affects the lives around us. We sit with someone in sorrow and we rejoice with someone in their triumphs. Refreshing others brings joy to our hearts.

 

Let’s hold to the truth that joy comes from a relationship with its source: God. But as a byproduct of receiving that joy, we get to refresh others and be blessed ourselves.

The Takeaway

 

Consider how your life affects someone else’s and take a small step to bring them joy.

 

Pray: “Lord Jesus, you are my rock, my comfort, my everything, and my joy. Let me live a life worthy of your calling. Lord, I surrender my will and my ways and submit to your transforming power. Let your joy flow from you and to others as I live for you.” Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The Joy Series: The Gospel as Joy News

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Have you ever noticed that not all good news floods your life with joy? Sometimes good news brings trepidation, anxiety, concern, or questions.

 

Sometimes good news brings change, and for some, change causes apprehension, which haunts the joy that the news intended to have. For example, the news of each of my pregnancies carried joy wrapped in anxiety whether or not I would meet my child.

 

And this is the thing about joy: joy and suffering do not preclude one another. In fact, it’s fully possible to experience joy while suffering, and it’s fully possible to experience suffering and know indescribable joy.

 

We shouldn’t live this life one where one or the other overshadow each other. They live side by side, at times simultaneously and at other times alternating. But when we try to keep suffering separate from joy, we lose authenticity within ourselves.

 

Suffering happens. It’s part of growing as a Christian. But we don’t have to be afraid of it.

 

Foundational knowledge of joy starts with understanding that God is joyous and that joy is fruit. Joy is not a feeling, although it brings emotions. To broaden our understanding of joy we need to expand our understanding of the gospel news.

 

Luke 2:10, “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The Israelites were a chosen people, destined to show God’s rescue of the world, but they themselves needed rescuing.

 

 

It’s this type of good news that joy finds its ability to live side by side with sorrow. And because of the joy that the good news brings, we don’t have to live in acute suffering because Jesus himself takes it and carries it for us.

 

In Simply Good News by N. T. Wright, we read, “We can be, and we are called to be, good-news people–people who themselves are being renewed by the good news, people through whom the good news is bringing healing and hope to the world at whatever level.”

 

This is how joy and sorrow live side by side. It’s this understanding of the true meaning of the gospel, which isn’t just to save you from eternal damnation, but it’s also so that you live transformed lives choosing “right-living” so that you can put the world to rights, right where you live.

 

We get to become good news people, living transformed by belief in the gospel, recruited for God image-bearing work, justified or “put right” by Christ’s death and resurrection so that we can be “putting right” people for the world. We’re healed people whom God brings healing to the world.

 

This gospel, this understanding of the gospel, is joy unspeakable. It’s joy that sustains us through devastation, suffering, and disappointments because our foundation is God’s truth that he is full of immeasurable love for you and me.

 

This news should bring joy that swells in our hearts so that we shout it from the rooftops. It enables us to live 2 Corinthians 4:7-9: hard pressed, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not despairing. Persecuted, but not abandoned. Struck down, but not destroyed.

 

Let’s let the good news of the gospel do it’s work within us. It transforms us as we submit to the work of the Holy Spirit. And as we trust God’s heart for us we understand the power of his joy.

The Takeaway

 

Read Colossians for one or two or more weeks. Reading a book over and over reveals new truth each time you read through it. Ponder the truth found in it for living out the gospel.

 

Check out N.T. Wright’s book: Simply Good News

 

The Joy Series: Joy as Fruit

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I bought fresh blueberries the other day. They tasted a bit tart at first, but then gave way to sweetness. Living with joy in our lives is a little like eating blueberries. It can be a bit sour as we choose joy in the midst of harrowing circumstances. But as we obey, God’s joy overflows into our hearts and brings an indescribable sweetness.  
 
Galatians 5:22 gives us list of fruit of the Spirit and joy comes right after love. Love motivates and joy sustains. At the moment, I’m covered in snowdrifts and spring with its green growing plants seems so far away.   
 
It’s easy to judge our lives based on what our physical eyes see and then feel disappointed when we don’t see what we want to see. But much of the good that comes out of our lives happens below the surface of what our eyes see. That’s because it’s in ours hearts where change occurs as we yield to the Holy Spirit.  
 
In my flower bed, I have wild-growing yarrow. It’s no respecter of boundaries and creeps into my grass. Imagine if we allowed joy full range into all areas of our lives? The difficulties and the pleasures.
 
To rejoice when we’re overcome with sorrow tastes bitter, but the bitter turns sweet as we choose joy. But this is the trick–we grow frustrated when we attempt to conjure it up in our own strength. It doesn’t work because it feels fake. And then we develop a wrong belief about it because it’s tainted by our own effort and strength.
 
But God is full of joy and delights to share it with us. He is joyous and he provides all we need for this life in the thin place. But how do we grow joy in our lives? How do we stop relying on ourselves for it and letting our circumstances dictate it?
 
When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we’re grafted into God’s family. We become part of his family tree. And as we stay attached to the vine and trust God’s process of transformation, we will bear fruit. Even when it seems like no growth takes place. Even when life is bitter.
 
John 15:1-17 tells us how to have complete joy and that’s by abiding in Jesus. It’s absorbing all the nutrients and allowing him to prune us. It’s yielding to the growth process by remaining in him.
 
The key to growing this fruit in your life is remaining in Christ. Allow him to be the gardener of your heart and stay close to him as he grows you. We do not drift into maturity. We determine to cooperate with the power of God that is within us on our way to maturity.
 
It’s in this place of abiding, that we find the most complete joy we could ever know. Jesus asks us to obey, to remain in him, and to love. As we do these three things his joy becomes complete and we know complete joy.
 
Life is full of troubles, agonies, and sorrows. It’s also full of beauty, fun, and laughter. To live life with joy, we must cultivate its fruit in our lives. As we abide in Christ, we produce fruit. We will also experience pruning so that we produce even more.
 
I know what it’s like to feel lost amidst the gray dark days of life. We can practice joy by focusing on God’s heart for us. Then by walking with him in that thin place of abundance.
 
Choosing joy might taste bitter at first, but persist in it. You will see God turn the bitter into sweet and it will bolster your heart.
 
You can be the brightest gift to those around you because of the joy that’s within you. Cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit to grow you, to guide you, and to produce joy. Rejoice! And again I say Rejoice!
 
As you obey the Lord, you remain in his love, and as you remain in his love, your joy grows complete. Oh how he loves you! 

The Takeaway

 

Joy can be defined as the source of delight.

 

Read John 15:1-17 asking the Holy Spirit for fresh new insights.

 

Write Galatians 5:22 on a notecard and paste it somewhere to remind you to remain in the vine.

 

Choose joy. Delight in God’s goodness, kindness, love, joy, and peace.

 

 

The Joy Series: God is Joyous

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God is joyous and filled with joy over you. He rejoices and is glad in you. Do you feel that joy? Or do you look at yourself in the mirror and still see a lost little sheep wandering, taking this path and that path, getting more and more lost?

 

When life or people or circumstances tell us that we’re not worth someone’s glance or kindness or mercy, it’s easy to believe that God is like the darkness that we see around us. We begin to internalize a life without joy, and a life that leads us to believe that following God down salvation’s road is one of trial and suffering, lacking joy.

 

My heart broke when a woman told me that she didn’t want to know God anymore than she already did because of what he might ask her to walk through. Her declaration rested on misconceptions about God’s character: That he is a joyless taskmaster rather than a joy-filled, strength-giving, compassionate God.

 

Misconceptions about God’s character will lead us down a path that’s joyless and lonely. This world overflows with suffering. Everyday someone loses a loved one, a marriage falls apart, kids and parents betray each other, and instead of finding comfort in God’s character, they run to earthly comforts.

 

The greatest struggle we might need to overcome is how God can simultaneously be joyous and just. Filled with joy and sorrow. Sorrow over his lost ones and joy over his found ones. But maybe it’s not so much as understanding as accepting and experiencing.

 

We have a saying in my home that if Mama put something away so it’s “safe” that it’s so safe it’s actually lost because I never remember the “safe” places. Several years ago, I needed my marriage license as one of five documents proving to the Iowa Motor Vehicle Department that I am indeed Jessica Marie Van Roekel.

 

But I couldn’t find it. I searched drawers and cupboards and nooks and crannies. I’m allergic to filing cabinets so I keep ours in the attic. But I trudged up the flight of stairs anyway and pushed open the trapdoor to the attic and glared at the black box.

 

I rummaged and shuffled and dealt with unruly metal drawers that refused to slide like butter to close. I wrestled those drawers and dealt with the squeaking metal that has the same affect on me as nails on a chalkboard has to you. But for all that annoyance I found no marriage certificate.

 

Still undaunted I kept looking. For 3 hours. Life stopped. I dumped drawers and rummaged through cupboards. The “safe” place held it’s location secret no matter where I looked. Meanwhile at the courthouse, and unbeknownst to me, my husband decided to have a copy of our license reprinted.

 

In the meantime, I re-checked that nasty old filing cabinet and found the missing license on the floor of the drawer, underneath the hanging files. I skipped downstairs with joy in my heart just as my husband called to tell me that I could stop my frantic searching. So we now have two copies of our marriage license and both are safe and found. Not safe and lost.

 

My point? We rejoice when we find what we thought was lost. I felt a little like the parable of the women who lost her coin as I searched for my marriage license.

 

A long time ago, in a perfect garden, joy, peace, and God and man meeting face to face was lost. And in the ensuing centuries, mankind experienced enmity with God until Jesus’ work of death and resurrection on the cross. God carries joy and sorrow. Sorrow over broken relationship and joy over restored relationship.

 

God rejoices. It’s part of his character and one we need to embrace. God doesn’t lead and guide us with a stern countenance, but he leads us with joy. He tells us to go forth with songs of gladness. If joy wasn’t an integral part of his character than why do we read so many references encouraging us to rejoice, to experience joy? To know God as joyous is to grow in our relationship with him.

 

Consider the Parable of the Lost Son. Aren’t we all lost sons and daughters at one time? Haven’t we lost our way and ran away from our God rather than to him? The joy the father felt as he finally saw his faraway son is the kind of joy that God feels for you when you come to your senses and come back home.

 

No matter where you are in your walk with the Lord–whether you’re like my friend and find yourself adrift  in misperceptions about God or resting in the delightful fact that God is rejoicing over you this moment, may your eyes be lit from within because of your preciousness in God’s sight.

 

He see you and rejoices. He oozes joy because of you. If joy were sparkles, you’d be shimmering like a glitter-bomb.

 

Remember that thin place? It starts here: Embracing the truth that God is joyous. That he is a laughing kind of Lord who knows gladness when he looks at you because you bring joy to his heart.

 

Oh friend, how he loves you. How he wants you to know that he abounds with joy and gladness because you are his own.

 

Rest in that truth. Live from that knowledge. You are God’s joy.

 

The Takeaway

Read Luke 15. Pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal God’s heart of joy for you.

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