Finding Joy

I come from a long line of negative women. I love my mom, but she tended to be very pessimistic. She came by it honestly because my grandmother was also. It’s not that any of us had a really bad lot in life, but that was just ingrained in us. Who knows how far back it went in our family. Fast forward several years ago, when a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and as I prayed for her I said, “What a waste of a beautiful life it will be if she dies this young.” And the Lord replied: “No more a waste than if you live for 100 years with a bitter, miserable heart.”

That was like a glass of cold water in my face. I had to make a change, but I wasn’t sure I could do this. To be honest, being miserable became a comfortable, known place. But God started gently through my best friend who began to rain down “Joy” on me. She gave me coffee cups, kitchen towels, figurines, photos, whatever she could find with those three letters emblazoned on them. She said, “I’m going to make you Joyful whether you like it or not.”  Then the Spirit began to direct me to Joyful verses in His Word:

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with Joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with Joy” (Psalm 30:11).

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of Joy” (Psalm 65:8).

“This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Then He pulled out the big guns and send a beautiful little girl into my life named Joy.  She calls me Nana and she lives up to her name. Not that my Joy is in her, but she is a constant reminder that “The Joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

I don’t know your life or what traits were passed on to you, but I know that in Christ, you can be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Lord can set new patterns in your mind and heart and give you Joy, hope, and peace. If you’re tired of negativity and misery, today can be the start of a new attitude. Come, Beloved, find your Joy in the Lord.

How to Battle Negative Thoughts

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin

I’ve had several conversations recently with ladies who are struggling with oppressive, negative, angry emotions. They are surprised when I tell them that the key is to learn to take control of their thoughts. We tend to focus on our feelings, but forget that those feelings are fed by our thoughts.  And our thoughts can be controlled. Negative thoughts, depressive thoughts, sinful thoughts, angry thoughts can and must be brought into submission. It’s a matter of paying attention to what’s running around in your head.

Psalm 77 was written by Asaph, one of the Temple priests during the Babylonian captivity. The situation seemed hopeless, and this is reflected in his Psalm. In verses 1-9, Asaph lamented God’s apparent rejection of His people. In verse 2 he says “my soul refused to be comforted.” Ever been there? I know I have. But look at verse 10, Asaph turns his mind and heart on a pivot, like a door on its hinges. “Then I thought, to this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord…I will meditate on all Your words” (vs. 10, 11, 12). Did you catch the keyword? Thought. In that moment of despair, Asaph took control of his thoughts and changed the focus of his heart and mind.  He deliberately remembered and meditated instead on the character and deeds of God. And when he opened that door, hope and peace flooded in.

We see the same change of mind in Lamentations 3, which starts out: “I am the man who has seen affliction,” (v.1) and continues for 20 verses saying “my soul is downcast within me” (v. 20).  And then verse 21 begins with that hinge word: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” There’s the clue again “I call to mind.”  Jeremiah’s whole focus and attitude is transformed. A change in his focus changed everything.

Paul said, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Then we take the Philippians 4:8 prescription – I’ll let you look that up. It’s how we battle mental negativity. Beloved, the only sure way to find peace in seasons of struggle is to intentionally turn your thoughts to God, to wrap His Words around you like a comforter, and trust in His love, faithfulness, and peace to carry you through.

Word of Life

See the source image

Years ago, in a Ladies’ Bible study class, I asked, “Do I have to read the Bible? Can’t I just read books about the Bible? It’s so hard to understand.” I will never forget the leader’s answer: “Yes, you need to read the Bible. You need to know what God said, not someone’s interpretation. Never take anyone else’s word for what God has said but God Himself.”  You’ve probably heard me say that a time or two. It made an indelible impression on me and want it to have the same effect on you.

Thankfully, about twenty-five years ago God gave me an overwhelming passion to study the Bible. It has not gone away. It is my life’s purpose and mission. I took to heart: Deuteronomy 32:47 – “These are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” I intend to read and study the Bible until I draw my final breath.

Why? Because it is full of wisdom, power, truth, discipline, and insight. Because it teaches me, corrects me, encourages, chastens, strengthens, and humbles me. Because the Word of God is alive and full of the Spirit of God and reveals the heart of God. Because it is a Word of beauty and grace and peace and hope and Joy.

And because it is the only weapon I have to fend off the enemy of my soul. Jesus used this same sword when the devil came to tempt Him. In the face of every temptation, He said, “It is written . . .” and He resisted the devil at every turn with the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 4:1-10).  I need that kind of power because His enemy is my enemy too. If the Holy Word was good enough for Jesus, it’s certainly good enough for me.

John MacArthur wisely said, “Make sure Satan has to climb over a lot of Scripture to get to you.” I’m surrounding myself with God’s Word and filling my heart and mind with its truth so that I am protected from without and within.

What is your strategy for dealing with the devil? If it doesn’t involve the Word of God you are sure to fall. Beloved, you need to get into the Bible and let the Bible get into you. Let it sink its roots deep into your heart. Let it surround you. Because these are not just idle words for you—they are your life.

Shameless

It never really bothered me if my Mom got angry with me, if she spanked me (she did not spare the rod, and I am better for it), grounded me (she once grounded me for the rest of my life), took away privileges, added chores, or even yelled at me. I was sort of immune to her anger. But oh, let her say she was ashamed of me, and my heart would break. Just writing about it, I can still feel the weight of it.

It seems all my life I’ve carried a heavy load of guilt and shame. I know well the words King David cried out to God, “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:4). From being abused and rejected, making countless foolish mistakes, hurting others, jumping into the pit of sin, and feeling responsible for the actions of my child – every failure left me with eyes cast down so as not to see on the face of God the sorrow my sin has caused Him. Rather than “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” I slink back into the cave of despair because I can’t bear to know that God is ashamed of me. Something tells me that you can relate.

Jesus came into this sinful world to set us free from guilt and shame and the evil that caused it. Listen to His words to Nicodemus, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus came, not to point to you and me with all our bags and say “I AM ASHAMED OF YOU!” He came to say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Rest from the weight. Rest from the shame. Rest from the guilt.

Do you come to God this morning with a load of guilt and shame? Are you expecting chastisement and rejection? Look up, Beloved. Jesus has stretched out His nail-scarred hand to take your heavy bags of misery. He bids you rise and face the day, forgiven, freed, and radiant in His love.

Waiting Well

See the source image

It seems as if we’re always waiting. Waiting for the baby to be born. Waiting for school to let out. Waiting for your kid to come home. Waiting for a call about a job or a medical test. Waiting is an unavoidable part of life. You and I need to know how to wait well. Thankfully the Bible – especially the Psalms – has a lot to teach us about how to wait.

Psalm 5:3 tells us to wait expectantly – “Oh Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” I love how the NKJV renders this verse: “ I will direct my prayer to you and I will look up.” The heart of expectation is watching intently for what you are certain will come.

Likewise, Psalm 33:20 says, “We wait in hope for the Lord.” Hope and expectation are synonymous.

Psalm 27:14 says to wait courageously: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Courage is a by-product of hope and expectation. Courage is the best cure for doubt.

How long must we wait? Psalm 25:5 tells us to wait “all day long.” Wait for the long haul. Wait until we see God act. That’s why we need hope and courage.

I don’t want to include this one, but here goes: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7). Waiting is an act of patience and we all know how we learn patience. I’ll just leave that one there.

Psalm 119:166 adds a new wrinkle: “I wait for Your salvation, O Lord, and I follow your commands.” In the waiting, we are still obedient. Those small steps of submission will often lead to the very thing for which we are waiting.

There’s one theme in all these “waiting” verses that is key to waiting well – it’s not what we’re waiting for but whom.  Psalm 62:5 says, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” Wait for God alone. Not for the desired outcome, but for the living God of heaven. Wait for Him, not just for what He can do for you. His ways and acts are wonderful, but the true treasure is the presence of God in your life. Don’t just wait, Beloved, wait well.

In the Valley of Sorrow

See the source image

My best friend cries at the drop of a hankie. I hardly cry at all – unless I am very overwhelmed. It’s kind of a running joke between us that somehow she got my allotment of tears. I just don’t like to give in to my emotions. Still, there are times when I’m sure I just need a good cry. I guess I’ll just let her handle those times for me.

Tears are not a bad thing. Jesus wept. And we know that whatever Jesus did is right. In fact, emotions are not a bad thing. God is depicted many times in Scripture expressing emotions.

Anger – Psalm 7:11; Deuteronomy 9:22; Romans 1:18

Compassion – Psalm 135:14; Judges 2:18; Deuteronomy 32:36

Grief – Genesis 6:6; Psalm 78:40

Love – 1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Jeremiah 31:3

Hate – Proverbs 6:16; Psalm 5:5; Psalm 11:5

Jealousy – Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14; Joshua 24:19

Joy – Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 32:41

So really, my refusal to show emotions is rejecting this God-like quality that reflects His own image. Wow!

Tears have their place and can turn into a blessing for others. Psalm 84:6 talks about God’s people on the pilgrimage of our earthly life. The psalmist noted, “As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs.”  The Valley of Baca refers to a place of weeping and deep sorrow. This life is filled with sorrow on top of sorrow. But sorrow has a purpose as this verse shows.

When the tears flow and seem to never stop they collect into springs which become pools of refreshment for those who enter the Valley of Baca after us. How comforting it is to know that our tears are soothing for another weary, weeping pilgrim.

That is a lovely, poetic expression, but how does it translate in real life? Paul said that “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the same comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Sorrow becomes a bridge to another hurting soul, and the pool of our tears becomes a cup of cold water we can share. “I have experienced that same heartache, let me walk through it with you and give you the same comfort that God gave to me.”

So, my beloved, weepy friend, let your tears flow, and I’ll work on mine. Someone needs the refreshment of your tears. It might even be me.

This is The Way

See the source image

Ask a group of kids, “Who’s your hero?” and you’ll get as many different answers as you have kids. “Batman.” “Tim Tebow.” “My Dad.” “The police.” I have many heroes, some from the Bible – like Deborah, Ezra, and Stephen,  some from history – Perpetua, Corrie Ten Boom, and Elisabeth Elliott, and some from my own life – my mom, my high-school writing teacher, and Mike Shockley. Then there is Roger Easton, Ivan Getting, Bradford Parkinson, and Dr. Gladys West. Who are these heroes of mine? The creative minds behind the  Global Positioning System. Oh, how I thank God for my GPS.

I am directionally challenged. My mom used to say that you could take me to the backyard, spin me around twice, and I couldn’t find my way back to the house. My husband would agree. His favorite thing to do is take me on unfamiliar roads and ask – “Do you know where you are?” And I never do. I depend on my GPS like a drowning man depends on a life preserver.  No matter where I am, I can punch in where I need to go and this magical device not only shows me the way but tells me what lane to get in and says, “Turn left.” Thank you, Roger, Ivan, Bradford, and Gladys!

Yet there is One who goes even farther to help this lost child. Jesus said, “I am the Way . . .” (John 14:6). He didn’t say I will give you a map so you can find the way. He didn’t say I will point to the way. He didn’t even say I will make a way.

He said, “I AM the Way . . .”

He is the way to the Father.

He is the way to everlasting life.

He is the way to peace.

He is the way to hope.

He is the way to Joy.

He is the way to love.

He is the way to God’s promises.

He is the way to everything that truly matters.

As much as I love my GPS, it can never get me to heaven. But Jesus can. He not only gets me to my destination, He takes me into the throne room of His Father and says, “Abba, Your daughter is home.” I am never lost with Jesus. He is my eternal GPS – God Positioning System.

You’re Not too Heavy for Jesus

Joy and Nana at her 2nd birthday party

When we go somewhere that requires a lot of walking, Joy’s little legs tire very quickly.  She starts to slow down and stumble and cry.  That’s when Nana picks her up and carries her.  The burden of her weight rests on me.  I love to hold her, but at almost thirty pounds, she can become a heavy load pretty quickly. I know every parent and grandparent is nodding. Those babies get heavy, and as they age, the burdens they bring shift the weight from our arms to our knees. The idea of carrying others’ burdens has its roots in Israel’s ancient worship traditions.

When God gave Moses instructions for the priests, He said, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel . . . Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders before the Lord” (Exodus 28:9,12).  Aaron, the high priest, would enter the holy of holies at the appointed time to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel.  He would come before God with the names of each of the twelve sons of Jacob, the family tribes of the nation, engraved on the stones that made up part of his ritual garb.  He would literally bear the weight of the names of the sons of Israel while symbolically bearing the weight of their sin on his shoulders. 

At Calvary, Jesus bore the weight of every sin you and I have ever committed.  But it wasn’t a symbolic act like the priest bearing the names of the sons of Israel, and it was far more than thirty pounds.  The weight of all the sins of humanity – including your sin and mine – was a real, crushing burden heaped on the Son of God.

I bear the weight of Joy because I love her.  Jesus bore the weight of your sin because he loves you.  I’m nearing the time, though, when my granddaughter will be too big of a physical burden for me to carry.  Here’s the good news: you will never be too big of a burden for Jesus.  Your sins will never outweigh His love for you.  You can rest on this promise Beloved – Jesus will carry you – all the way home.

For the One Who is Losing Hope

See the source image

It’s been such a hard year and a half for the world. So much tragedy and pain and loss and anger. So much despair and hopelessness. I see you, friend – struggling to hold your head up. This message is for you – the one who is losing hope. I know how that feels. I have been there. When you think that these hard days will never end, the pain will never stop, the sin will never leave you, the loneliness will never go away. When you wonder if there’s any point in going on.

Please hear me: there is a reason to keep going – you are only in the middle of your story. When I read a book, and the plot twists put the heroine in a desperate situation, I know there are more pages and chapters for the story to turn around. But when we are in the middle of our life story, we think this is all there is, and this is how it will always be. But there are more pages and chapters to come. And with them comes hope. Because the Author of your story is the God who loves you, and He is writing a glorious turnaround for you. He sees your story from beginning to end. He sees you in the middle, where the struggle is now – and He sees you on the other side, whole, stronger, at peace.

Psalm 33:11 says “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” He has a plan and a purpose for your life – and for this present season that seems unbearably hard – and He has the power to fulfill His plan. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). He never leaves anything unfinished. And that includes you and me.

If life is hard right now, remember that this is one page in the story of your life – but it’s not the whole story. The struggle, the pain, the ache you’re feeling now is not the final word. Let God keep writing your story. Trust Him to turn the plot around. Beloved, as long as there is breath in your body, your story is not done – there is hope. Please keep reading – the best is yet to come.

A Strong Foundation of Love and Peace

I began praying for my granddaughter before she was born and have prayed every day since. I pray for her health, protection, provision, and growth and I pray Ephesians 3:17-19 over her. “That Joy, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that she may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That part, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” always puzzled me.  It brings to mind Philippians 4:7 that says that “the peace of God, which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” How can you know something that surpasses knowledge and understanding? This is a beautiful expression in both verses and it means to take firm possession of something that has complete authority over you and gives you an assurance that cannot be overridden. Specifically, in the terminology for Philippians 4:7, it means to have a superior hold of the mind in reference to “alarm and agitating emotions.” So I am praying that the love of Christ would rule and reign over her. Yes, she is only 2 years old, but I’m praying a foundation for the rest of her life. And I’m partnering with God in “rooting and establishing” her in love so that one day when she is a little older, she will be able to grasp the immense love God has for her. Is there a more important job for a grandmother?

Beloved, the love and peace of Christ are available to you too – today – right in the midst of anxious, frustrating, heartbreaking circumstances. The key is in the verses that surround these two verses – about living in God’s grace, rejoicing in the Lord always, trusting in His presence, praying about everything with thanksgiving, and keeping your thoughts focused on the good stuff.

I encourage you with all my heart to sit with your Bible and a fresh cup of coffee and meditate on Philippians 4:4-9. Then “the God of peace will be with you” in ways you cannot understand, but you can certainly know and rest in.