How to grow in joy:

1 Peter eludes to the idea that we can be filled with inexpressible and glorious joy. We greatly rejoice in the living hope we have in Christ. The dots don’t always connect for me though. The Bible calls us to rejoice always… I rejoice sometimes. Over the last several years I’ve been working through my understanding and convictions on biblical joy. People have told me to choose joy, pray for joy, work through what is stealing my joy, and now I’m learning to pray for the testing of my faith if I want to experience more joy. I see that the center of our joy is is founded on our faith in Christ. That’s what I’d like to reveal here by walking through 1 Peter.

To be filled with glorious and inexpressible joy that results in rejoicing, pray that your faith be tested and proven genuine


What is the goal of your faith? Why do you believe in Jesus?

1 Peter 1:9 says our goal for our faith (believing in Christ) is the salvation of our souls (the preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss). That salvation, our inheritance, can never spoil, fade, or perish (1 Peter 1:4). It is kept in heaven, safe for us. In the meantime, we who keep believing in Christ, are shielded by God’s power (1 Peter 1:5). And so we have a living hope because we have been shown great mercy (not getting what we deserve) for our sins, an inheritance that is kept safe, and we are shielded by God’s power. We rejoice greatly in this living hope even though we have trials. But not merely by will power…

Why do we have trials, grief, or suffering? 1 Peter 1:7 says we have trials so our faith may be proved genuine, authentic, honest, and true. This authentic belief in Christ and what he has done leads to the praise, glory, and honor of Christ when He is revealed (because it was He who did it!) and genuine faith leads to being filled with an “inexpressible and glorious joy because we are receiving the goal of our faith”. 1 Peter 1:8-9

So it might stand to say that the reason we have little joy is because we are struggling in our faith in Christ. And the response to one another ought not to be “Just have more faith!”, but to tell God to have our faith made more genuine, more sincere and proven true.

God gives us trials so that by testing our faith and making it more genuine, we may have more joy. If we want more joy in Christ, we need to desire and ask for our faith to be tested so the un-authentic parts can be revealed, confronted, and removed. The result of authentic faith in Christ is praise, glory, and honor for Christ and inexpressible joy because we are being delivered from all harm, ruin, and loss.

Doesn’t everyone want the un-authentic parts of their faith removed? Well, it’s quite uncomfortable isn’t it? But, who really wants to say, “I want to keep the un-authentic parts of my faith!”? I suspect no one.

This is our plight as Christians. It turns out our childhood confessions of Christ as Lord and Savior need to be proved sincere. We are being ever tested that we might run the race and fight the good fight of faith through all circumstances. To endure the testing of our faith to that end (expressing and experiencing more praise for Christ and joy) we must grow up in our salvation (1 Peter 2:2) and we must not stumble because we disobey trusting in Christ (1 Peter 2:8).

Understanding that our trials are working FOR US to lead us away from death and INTO LIFE, as a GIFT from the Lord, Peter spends the rest of the letter persuading it’s readers to have the right perspective on trials so they may continue in faith, and so in the praise of Christ and joy.

To grow in faith and to not stumble in our suffering and grief we must:

  • Prepare our minds for action and be self-controlled so we can pray (1 Peter 4:7)
  • Abstain from sinful desires like malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander (1 Peter 2:1), don’t conform to evil desires, but be holy. Crave holiness! Sin wages war against our souls. Christ has brought us salvation from harm, ruin, and loss. Sin has brought us harm, ruin, and loss. Sin is the opposite of our goal. Resist the devil.
  • We ought to live good lives described in 1 Peter 2:12 to the end including repaying evil with goodness and submitting to all kinds of authority.
  • Do not be surprised by the suffering we are facing when suffering for Christ or doing good.
  • Commit, pledge, and bind ourselves to the faithful Creator, and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:12)
  • We set our hope on GRACE as the gift of salvation we do not deserve and could not earn.
  • Take on the attitude or have a settled way of thinking that suffering helps us flee our evil fleshly desires, and live our lives for the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1-6

How do I respond when trials come? Why don’t I immediately think that God is testing my faith? That he wants me to have more joy in the promises of salvation and the hope of eternity? That he wants me to give him praise and glory? My immediate response is usually frustration, anger, and doubt. If it doesn’t feel good or work how I would like, I let that lead me to the conclusion that he’s doing something not good and, almost subconsciously, that God isn’t good. I pray that God gives me the settled way of thinking that the trials and suffering in my life are to refine my faith, to make it more genuine, because he wants me to glorify him and experience the inexpressible glory and joy from trusting in my savior. I pray that he refines my faith. I pray he tests my faith so the un-authentic parts can be revealed, confronted, and removed so all that’s left is faith and rejoicing. Test my faith Lord! Test my faith! Send me the trials to reveal the parts of my heart, soul, and mind that do not believe in your truth. Help me to not be afraid. Help me to consciously declare that you have given me suffering so that through my faith being refined I will praise you more and have more joy after being tested.

Amen.

 

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Hoping IN versus hoping FOR and why it’s ok to listen to your heart

“Do not put your hope in [fill in the blank here]” says every Christian mentor ever. Years have been passing as I’ve struggled in trying to understand myself, my desires, and God’s desires. Message after message I’ve heard telling me to not follow my heart, don’t pursue happiness, don’t put your hope in marriage or a job or kids or friends or family.

Maybe it was me or maybe it was actually the message being given to me… I’ll never know, but the truth wants to come out. There’s dreams and desires stuffed down in there that feel covered in shame because either I was told to not have hopes and dreams, I’m afraid of loss/disappointment, or whenever I was being told not to put my hope in something I thought it also meant that I shouldn’t hope for anything either. Maybe they were telling me that, maybe they meant I ought not to hope for the things I longed for. Maybe I didn’t know the difference. Either way, my heart and soul are finding freedom. Here’s is where I am now:

Hope: the expectation/longing for good, a desire for something to happen, a type of trust/assurance

Hoping in: 

“Thus says the LORD, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD.” Jeremiah 17:5

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” Psalms 146:3

“Here’s what you say to those wealthy in regard to this age: “Don’t become high and mighty or place all your hope on a gamble for riches; instead, fix your hope on God, the One who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.”” 1 Timothy 6:17

Man can turn away from the Lord, the strength that comes from man is not strong enough for what we need. Man was never going to be able to save our souls. If we want good things, why not look to God and expect the good we desire from him who provides those things instead of leaving it up to chance or asking man alone to provide?

Hoping for:

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.” “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.  Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”…So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” 1 Samuel 1

 “As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant.  They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” Luke 18:35-43

Beautiful longings come from the pouring out of our souls, our desires, our dreams. God doesn’t always answer yes, but the outpouring of our souls finds favor in his eyes. In it lies the confession that we know it is he who provides and we didn’t earn or deserve his favor, but it is a gift.

The heart: an anatomical feature given to describe desires and passions

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

“Watch over your heart with all diligence for from it flow the springs of life” Proverbs 4:23

“Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility. Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.” Ecclesiastes 11:8-9

The heart can be deceitful, it must be watched over, but from it flow the springs of life. We have the freedom and permission to follow the impulses of our hearts and the desires of our eyes, we are to enjoy the days that are good because they won’t last. Yet, there is a warning… God will judge our hearts. He will declare them as righteous or wicked. We will be held accountable for what the impulses of our hearts led us to do.

What God does with the heart:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lordhe turns it wherever he will.” Proverbs 21:1

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Proverbs 21:2

“All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Provers 16:2

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.” 1 Chronicles 28:9

“‘I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.'” Jeremiah 24:7

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

“It is clear that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Corinthians 3:3

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

God knows our hearts. He directs our hearts. He weighs our hearts to test if it is pure or selfish. He cares about our motives. God sees our hearts. He searches our hearts. The Lord gives us a new heart that longs to know him. He creates a clean heart in us. The Spirit of the Living God has written the gospel on our hearts. He removes our hearts of stone and replaces them with a moving, breathing, bleeding heart.


Hear what your heart is saying. Listen to it. Listening doesn’t mean doing what it says, listening means paying attention. Take note. Affirm the desires and passions. Bring them before the Lord and ask “Have mercy on me!”. “Treat me unlike I deserve”. “Give, though I have not earned.”

Pray and do not lose heart. Luke 18:1

Nehemiah was merely a cup bearer to a king. Upon hearing the news of the destruction in Jerusalem and the despair of the people, with sadness of heart, he asked the king if he could aid to rebuild the temple. The Lord made a way for the conception and establishment of Nehemiah’s desire.

“And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid.  I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.  And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah,  and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” Nehemiah 2:2-8

It wasn’t an easy task, it wasn’t met without trouble or consequences, but where would Nehemiah been if he had never asked? What of Hannah or the blind man or the persistent widow begging for justice? What does silencing our desires do? If our only excuse is to avoid disappointment and pain, then I think we are choosing not to believe the Lord can truly satisfy in our unmet desires. That his comfort is sweeter than numbness.

Never allowing your heart to have a place in your life is about as crazy as not allowing your heart to hope for heaven. All of our hoping and waiting is just a small picture of the greatest redemption and gift our hearts long for.

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8:23-26

“Do not follow your heart, if it means your going to settle when you know there’s something better.” What if you’re not settling? What if following your heart is you becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be and the person God has always wanted you to be?

I’d say listen, I’d say go… and God will hold you accountable for all that you do.

New Foundations

For my faithful readers, you have been following a roller coaster ride on the relationship with my mom. I started this blog around 2011…. I think. (Just did a quick archive check… yup, November of 2011)

To do a quick recap (and for anyone that may be stumbling across this for the first time)… at that point in my life I was really struggling with a lot of anger towards her, a lot of temptation to blame her, and a stone cold heart. She’d say mean things to me, blame me for things, tell me I’m wasting time at church; I’d lie about how much I loved her and treated her like a jerk. But, at that time God was really knocking hard at my stone heart, knocking down walls and shining light into deep, dark infected places. The deconstruction began followed by this long, slow rebuilding of a relationship. The ministry of reconciliation that God has called us to mainly comes in sharing the gospel (reconciliation with Him, through faith in Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection), but I believe it carries out in our relationships with one another. Specifically, I believe God has called ME to be reconciled to MY MOM. (2 Cor 5:11-21, Rom 12:18)

I was not convinced she was a believer at that time in 2011. It wasn’t until her boyfriend who’d been living with us for five years was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and died a month later. It was during that time that the gospel became the most important truth, especially for Jeff. The need for Jeff to believe it allowed us to have conversations that resulted in her accepting, believing, and affirming that the Lord Jesus is her Savior and she will spend eternity with Him in heaven.

After that, everything changed. But, the one thing that was different was I found myself wishing she wasn’t saved so she would suffer for the things I’ve suffered through. Harsh, right?  I think Jonah probably felt similar, but I am ashamed…

So it was clear to me by my attitude that there was a lot of work to do in my heart. So God continued to deconstruct and renovate my heart like the good carpenter he is. This covers the last two years. There’s high points and low points, but it wasn’t until this last Christmas Break that I reached the lowest point and considered giving up on the relationship all together. “I’m done! This woman is infuriating!” I told the Lord on my 5 hour drive home.

I was driving back to Iowa to a conference in Des Moines called “Faithwalkers” where we gather and hear teachings and encouragement from our sister churches all over the midwestern USA. God always has a way of using that time to redirect my life. A pastor of ours shared about trials and how the key to overcoming trials isn’t their finish, but in our endurance. That to endure is God’s prime objective. (Rom 5:3, Heb 10:36, James 1:2-3, Col 1:9-11) If we don’t… what does that say of our faith? So I was encouraged as it says in Colossians to pray this:

 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

May you be strengthened with power… so that you may have great endurance and patience…

I was really struck by that and considered that maybe God wasn’t calling me to give up, maybe this was a lowest of the low points. Maybe God is calling me to endure through the highs and lows of this journey to reconciliation. What I needed was to pray to persevere! God put it on my heart to do a little book study with my mom via the phone, so I mailed her some materials (because at this point I was all too frustrated to talk with her on the phone) and I thought if any thing could help this relationship, surely it was God’s word.

I thought Maybe I can’t trust her yet, and that’s ok. I can rest in the safety of God’s word. 

So each week (it’s been 3 now) we call each other on the phone and for 2 hours or so we study through the gospel answering questions about how Jesus claimed to be God and how we can have assurance for eternal life through faith in the blood of Jesus. There’s questions at the end that ask you to reflect on what you just read and there’s nothing sweeter than hearing my mom say “I’m so grateful for God’s mercy and I’m so glad I know I have eternal life because of Jesus.”

This breaks my heart of stone.

In all of my attempts of reconciliation, I never once realized how what we really needed wasn’t heart to hearts of disclosing past wounds (though there is time for that) or taking unsafe chances of sharing my life with her. What we need is a new foundation built up from the truth of the gospel. It’s there I find courage to confess my sins, to share how the truth impacts my life, to open up about who I am. Its there I build trust with a women who has the Holy Spirit living and active inside of her. It’s possible all of my attempts that seemed more harmful than good to reconcile weren’t useless, but it’s possible (and I pray so much for) that rebuilding our relationship on the word through studying it together will yield greater fruit than my plans to relive and bring up the past ever could have. I don’t mean to say there aren’t things we need to talk about or that everything is forgotten, but rather to allow time for God to knit our hearts together and to allow His word and His timing to reconcile our relationship. By having a relationship built on the trust of the Lord and His word, it makes it possible to talk about past hurts and pains in light of the gospel. It may be that the most glorious thing God will do with my life is to reconcile my relationship between me and my mom. And I pray for that. I’ve always prayed for that… that I would see His glory.

And a glorious thing it will be. Please pray for me. I am encouraged at what God has done in 3 weeks, but I need to depend on the Lord for strength and love and I can’t do it alone. Thank you!

In His love,
Teresa

 

The pursuit of Joy. Day 6

The Psalms: the last installment

Distant songs of joy

  1. We can proclaim the satisfying pleasure we find in God through jubilant song and shouts of victory, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and horns, with dancing. Not only that, but the rivers will clap and the mountains will sing because God has done marvelous things like revealing and clothing us with his salvation. God’s right hand has done mighty things!  (Psalm 98, 107, 132, 118, 149)
  2. God’s law is our joy (119:111)

    “Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.”

  3. To be liberated from slavery is joy and the cause of it, which God has given us and why we sing songs of joy to him. (105, 126:2)

    When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

  4. In times of sorrow, songs of joy are distant, but we yearn to sing them once again. (Psalm 137)

    “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.”

I wish I sang songs of joy more often for the salvation God has given me, for the freedom he has liberated me to in Christ. I wish I was so moved that I might praise God with dancing and instrument, with laughter and joy. There are times when I forget that I have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord and that he is ever with me!

But I can imagine the sorrow the nation of Israel felt in exile, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land,” they said as they hung up their harps.

Unit next time…

The pursuit of Joy. Day 5

The Psalms

“Satisfy us with your unfailing love that we may sing for joy”

1. Mountains and trees sing and shout for joy (if you can believe it). They declare the pleasure and delight of God by displaying his splendor, his greatness, and his power. (89:12, 96:12)

2. When God helps us triumph over our enemies, we shout and sing for joy in the work he’s done on our behalf. Not only in war, but in his unfailing compassion and grace after we act unrighteously or rebelliously. It is by his deeds and nature we are made glad. (66:1, 67:4, 71:24, 81:1, 92:4)

3. Comfort and consolation during grief and anxiety from God brings us joy because of the truth of his sovereignty in trials. (94:19)

4. We can call each other to sing for joy over the wonderful things God has done. (95:1)

5. And yet again it is God who is our source of joy and we ask him to satisfy us in our time of need and plenty. That satisfaction in his unfailing love (who he is and what he’s given us) is what gives us that fulfilling and satisfactory joy for all of our days. (86:4, 90:14, 92:4)

Biblical Joy: to be satisfied and find pleasure in who God is and what He has given us- D.A. Carson.  This is why the pursuit of Joy is really the pursuit of God and glorifying Him for all that He is and does with all that we are and  do.  

Until next time :)

In the pursuit of Joy. Day 4

What is stealing my joy?

I finally found a definition of joy I agreed with from D.A Carson who described joy as being satisfied and finding pleasure in God and what he’s given us. However, he followed up his definition with something that was really impactful for me: we are grateful for the things that give us joy, but when we don’t have joy its because there’s something that God has given us in our lives or something about who is that we are not grateful for.

So why is that so different? Well instead of forcing myself to consider all the things in life I’m grateful for and trying to choose to be happy and joyful by focusing on those things (like Philippians 4:8 though valuable), I instead ask myself the question: What is it that God has given me in my life that I am ungrateful for?

Oh. I see. Now it’s really about the fact that I’m not trusting His plan with that situation in my life. Or whatever it is. It sucks and the great thing about God is that you can tell him that! You can tell him how much pain you feel. And you can tell him how you don’t understand. And you can ask him for the strength to get through it. And it’s quite possible that only He can provide that joy in that time, and so we ask him for joy in the unpleasant circumstances.

Is it possible that God works all things for the good of those who love him? Is it possible God cares truly about me experiencing His utter and complete goodness? I think so. I know so. This I know because berries taste sweet and because a child’s laughter fills my heart and because music connects dots in my soul and these things have nothing to do with whether I have money or was born into a “good” family. There’s non-circumstantial goodness out there waiting to give God the glory. This I know also because God’s good book says not only that God works all things out for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28) or that he desires to give his children good gifts (Matthew 7:11) but that He hears our prayers, forgives our overwhelming sins, fills us with good things from His house, answers us with awesome deeds, is our Savior and the hope of all of the ends of the earth, he formed the entire world including the mountains and the roaring seas, he waters the land and cares for it, he gives us delicious food and all of this causes us to be satisfied and find pleasure in our great wonderful God and even creation itself shouts for joy and sings (Psalm 65).

Until next time.

In the pursuit of Joy. Day 1

This starts a collection on my study of the word JOY in the Bible, starting from the beginning. A friend of mine gave me an NIV concordance which I hope to wear out dry. I hope to uncover what it means to have joy, what it looks like, when it happens, and how it arrives. So here we go:

“God filled them with joy.”

1. Being in the presence of God, dwelling with him, and seeing his glory and appearance gives us joy, and complete joy worthy of celebration. (Leviticus 9:4) (1 Chron 16:27, 29:22) (Ezra 6:22)

2. When God establishes the work of our hands and blesses us (such as with bountiful food, success, good Godly leaders) we can celebrate with joy, even for days! It is worth celebrating! (Deuteronomy 16:14-15) (1 Chron 13:40)

3. We are a joy to one another when we give willingly and do things or treat each other honorably and in good faith. (Judges 9:19) (1 Chron 29:17)

4. We have joy when we obey his commands and remember continually all the things he has done, such as the things in point #2. (Ezra 3:13, 6:16)

5. God fills us with joy. (Ezra 6:22)

“and the pursuit of happiness.”

Apparently pursuing happiness is a common phenomenon among people. You hear phrases often that say “do what makes you happy,” and the like. We pursue certain jobs, eat certain food, drink certain drinks, date certain people, and live certain lives that make us happy and the world tells us that is our purpose… to be happy.

This isn’t another one of those posts about the secret to a joyful life or defining happiness and joy differently and the dependence on emotion that the definition takes… no really, its just an honest consideration. In the Christian world, there’s a huge stigma against living for happiness, people often comment on how “the heart is deceitful above all else,” and we should seek joy and not happiness. God guarantees joy if we obey his commands (John 15:10-12), but not happy emotionalism. I went to a Christian concert the other day where someone defined joy and the abundant life as sadness too. Whether that’s accurate or not, the cry I hear of Christian souls is “This world is actually quite depressing and because I’m impacted by that I feel guilty that I’m not beaming with joy all the time.” But if you define joy, it really is just pleasure and happiness. Sounds like an emotional feeling to me. I don’t think we need to feel necessarily guilty that we experience joylessness, but I’ve realized I don’t particularly feel differently from that very often.

The truth of the matter is, whatever it means, I don’t “feel happy” or really that joyful. When I pet kittens I do, but I haven’t done that in a while. Maybe you can relate, but the world gets me down. There’s a lot of crap that happens here, relationships are always a struggle, there’s always a continual battle for loving my family and fighting bitterness, I’m fighting for courage to share the gospel with people, and fighting not to give into sin’s temptation. This is a weary land. The call I hear from Jesus is, “Come all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

So how come I’m not living for happiness? As I think about that, I reflect on my experience being alive so far and consider all the facets of my decision making. I can honestly say that “my happiness” isn’t something I’ve really ever considered so I really don’t understand the mindset of people who live to do whatever makes them happy. Is it the way I grew up? I wonder. Living on farm you learned to do things whether you liked them or not, for survival, but life never felt good. I kind of accepted that and I think it’s colored my view on life. Life is hard, so don’t expect joy. And the call I hear from the bible is to “seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14) not happiness.

So I’m not pursuing happiness like the world suggests. Great! I’ve saved myself a lot of trouble, but yet, why this discontentment? Why this joylessness? Why do I so often feel like life on earth here is a means to an end?

I don’t have a lot of answers to those questions. Actually, I don’t really have any. I suppose the soul is a vast and deep water which only God can navigate, but I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts about having joy in a, what seems like most of the time, a joyless place. I have hope in the next life, I’m so excited for eternity with God, but sometimes it’s really just hard to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. Maybe you will read this and have some wisdom to share, or maybe God’s got some good things to teach me in the next year. Stay tuned for more conclusions.

Psalm 27:13-14 “I am confident of this, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living. Wait on the Lord, be strong, and wait on the Lord.” Is this a promise I can take to mean this life, or does it really just refer to heaven… I just don’t know, but people keep sharing it with me so it must mean something. It must mean something.

Lost in Transition

I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately listening to “For Good” from Wicked. It was the class song of the graduating class above me, and while it wasn’t my class that sang it, in that class was the majority of my friends who would be moving away to college.

Recently, I’ve been listening to that song not because I particularly miss my friends from high school, but it seems I’ve found myself in a similar place once again.

Transitioning out of college has been an adventure in a half. Friends are getting married and moving away, other friends moving out, some changing ministries in the church, some changing churches all together, others getting into relationships, others are having babies, and some are getting full time jobs. It seems that a lot of lives around me are changing and we’re all going places, but it feels kind of like this:
grand-central-terminal

We’re all going somewhere and I jump on for the ride not really sure where I’m going to end up.
The only thing is when the train pulls up to the station and everyone gets off to where they’re going, it feels kind of like this:
Woman on train

and I’m just like… “Where’d everybody go?” And it’s not like I’m not going places with my life right? I’m applying for grad school now to get my Masters and I’m planning a trip to either Greece, Ireland, the Grand Canyon, or maybe Halifax with my roommate. I’m on staff with my church part time and I help out with some down and out kids in our community. My relationship with God is ever growing relative to my humbleness and I get to influence people for Christ. Where I’m going isn’t the problem, but its who I’m with and lately it seems like, now, everyone’s going new places without me and it’s starting to feel a little lonely.

Where I’m going isn’t the problem, but its who I’m with and lately it seems like, now, everyone’s going new places without me and it’s starting to feel a little lonely.

Over coffee (or actually hot cocoa and water) a sister and I were empathizing with one another as we feel we are in similar places since her childhood best friend is getting married and moving away. We joked about how one day, though now pretty content in our singleness, we will really appreciate being in a committed relationship because it semi-guarantees a person will actually stick by your side. They’ll be around, you don’t have to worry about them getting a job that moves them away… they’ll basically never leave you or forsake you, right?

“Sounds like God” one us said. “Yea, funny how that works.” A woman at a bible study gave a message the other day about her husband dying in October and just how lost and purposeless she feels. Even at the end of her life, and me at the beginning, it’s funny the same truth is what fills that space. Through the bitter conquest of war, to the bottom of our pocketbooks, to the loneliness of our hearts and love beyond death God reminds us “Never will I leave you or forsake you.” (Deut 31:6, Heb 13:5)

And while that doesn’t make it easier, it does show us that we’re built for an eternal relationship with our God. We can’t fulfill that in one another, but in the meantime, we can make an impact on one another for a short time. And we do, we help each other grow and grow towards Christ.

And so having the song “For Good” stuck in my head has actually been quite perfect. People come and go in our lives and they make an impact and its sweet or hard, but people change us and God uses them too. And we must learn, maybe as one friend leaves at a time, God’s the one that never leaves, and we can depend on that.

And we must learn, maybe as one friend leaves at a time, God’s the one that never leaves, and we can depend on that.

For Good:

I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn
And we are led to those who help us most to grow, if we let them and we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today because I knew you…

Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you I have been changed for good

It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime so let me say before we part
So much of me is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me like a hand print on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine by being my friend…

Like a ship blown from its mooring by a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a sky bird in a distant wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you I have been changed for good

And just to clear the air I ask forgiveness for the things I’ve done you blame me for
But then, I guess we know there’s blame to share and none of it seems to matter anymore

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
I do believe I have been changed for the better

And because I knew you I have been changed for good.

Repent and Live!

I finished reading Ezekiel this week, and while most of it was obscure and almost incomprehensible for me, there is one theme I saw over and over which is God’s heart towards his people and sin. One question I think about that I’ve heard from people who doubt God and question him is the idea that God is not good because he sends people to hell or that maybe God even delights in sending people to hell, or at least doesn’t mind. Then those people stray away from God. I mean if God delighted in the death of the wicked, I think I would be hesitant too. Seems a little twisted.

However, that’s actually not how God feels at all.

Ezekiel 18:23-32. You can see that what God delights in, is not in the death of the wicked or unrighteous, but rather he delights in those wicked and unrighteous people repenting.

He asks (vs 23) “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? […] Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

Then he goes on to declare about how if righteous people pursue wickedness they will not live, but if the wicked turn from their evil deeds and pursue righteousness they will live... so may we always pursue righteousness! 

And then “Therefore, oh house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “Repent! Turn away from your offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone. Repent and live!”

God is not concerned with our list of acts of wickedness or righteous deeds. He concerned about our heart of repentance. That we would turn from our offenses and not allow sin to cause our downfall.

I don’t know how you come to the Lord today. Whether you are burdened with guilt from your sins or wallowing in self righteousness and pride, but what God wants for you is to continually come back and turn from your sin, to leave it behind, and to look towards Jesus to give you a new heart and a new spirit.

It’s interesting to think about how these verses apply today since most people think that accepting Christ once is all it takes, as if you don’t have to listen to God’s word any more now that you’re saved. We’re righteous now right, covered by the blood of the lamb? I might encourage you to stop and think about your salvation if you’re not living a life with a repentant attitude. Verse 24 says “But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.” Are you a “righteous” man and doing wicked deeds and not looking to Christ and the Holy Spirit to help you overcome? You just may die. And I mean that to question how seriously you’ve taken your salvation and to encourage you to reconsider what you’re living your life for. There will be more hope for a wicked man who repents than that righteous man who continues in wickedness, trusting in his own righteousness (Ezekiel 33:13).

And God pleads with you “Why will you die?!”

So repent, repent and live! And trust in the righteousness of the Lord!