#tbt – Joy. It’s not just a dishwashing liquid!

(Originally written 7/20/06)

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me [with thy] free spirit. Psa. 51:12

This was going to be a theoretical discussion about joy, but I’m beginning to see that God is going to use this study as a way to test me as well.  I’ve already been tested on love.  I’ve had to come face to face with what I consider to be love, what I do to show that love, and I come up woefully short of the mark.  As I mentioned before, I grew up disconnected from other people, so I didn’t really know what it was like to forge loving bonds until much later in life.  And even to this day, I still think that is one of the toughest things I deal with.  And, of course, since I really don’t understand love here on earth, it makes it that much harder to understand God’s love, an unconditional love that never asks for anything, and yet gives everything.  A love that will always be there, no matter what.  When the love I see and feel here on earth is so fleeting, it’s just hard to grasp the concept of self-sacrificing love, agape.  So, I’m working on it.
Which brings me to joy.  I’m always big on saying I may not always be happy, but I’m always joyful.  The joy is from knowing I’m saved, knowing that my future is secure.  But, just like David, I’ve let the worries of the world steal my joy.  I’ve let trivialities knock me down, forcing me to take my eyes off God.  And if I’m not focusing on God, I forget the reason why I do all that I do.  I’m reminded of Peter, when he walked on water.  As long as he focused on Jesus, he was safe from the storm, but as soon as he concentrated on the storm, he lost faith, was afraid, and fell into the water.  The cool thing about it is that Jesus was right there to pull him up, just like He’s there to pull us all up out of the crashing waves.
David wrote Psalm 51 after being confronted by Nathan for the sins he’d committed.  There was no question that, although David broke every commandment, he was still saved.  But, he was no longer joyful.  He’d let the world intrude into his relationship with God.  Instead of looking to the heavens toward his Creator, he chose to look down to earth where Bathsheba bathed.  I’ve been looking down at the earth for too long.  I’ve forgotten that nothing here on earth matters if I’m not focused on Jesus, on my Creator, my Savior, my King.
Joy is not happiness.  Happiness depends on current circumstances.  Something good happens, you’re happy.  Something bad happens, you’re not happy.  But being joyful is completely different.  1 Thessalonians 5:16 says “Rejoice evermore.”  Always be joyful?  How’s that possible?  Things go wrong, life takes a nasty turn, how can you be joyful in times like that?  That’s where happiness and joy are different.  You can be joyful and not be happy.  Happiness is the temporary state, joy is the eternal state.  Can you be happy and not joyful?  Absolutely.  But it’s an empty happiness, almost an echo of happiness and not the real thing.
You can lose your joy.  David did.  Any time you take your eyes off the prize, you lose sight of your goal.  My goal is heaven, and eternal unity with the Lord Jesus.  I forget that goal in pursuit of earthly goals: a good job, a wife, the next good book or TV show or movie.  Those things can make you happy, but they cannot bring you eternal joy like God can.
I’ve been acting a lot like David lately and I realize this.  I know I have sinned and fallen far short of where I should be.  I’ve let my joy wither while I concentrated on the elusive pursuit of happiness which, while a constitutional right, is not as fulfilling or satisfying as the pursuit of joy.  Today, I pray like David did, Lord, restore unto me the joy of my salvation, remind me of the important things, help me to walk the path You have set for me, no matter the price, no matter the consequences.  I’m ready to go wherever You need me, whenever You need me there.  Restore my heart, and allow me to appreciate Your love for me, how deep and eternal and unchanging it is.  Holy Spirit, fill me with joy, fill me with wisdom, guide me today and every day.  Jesus, help me to be more like you, help me to keep the old man dead and buried.  Amen.

Fear Knot

It’s been about a week since I’ve returned from Europe, and I’ve got lots to talk about. But before I get into that, there’s another subject I wanted to discuss – fear.

It’s hard for me to admit this, but I’ve spent most of my life afraid. When I was younger, I was afraid of everything. I was shy – a nicer term for afraid – and had trouble talking to people, especially girls. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing. I was afraid of looking like a fool. I was afraid of rejection. When I almost drowned, I became afraid of water. I wanted to be an author/artist/celebrity, but I was afraid of failing. Paradoxically, I was also afraid of succeeding. I was afraid of – and still am afraid of – snakes. Actually, most wild animals, I suppose. I was born and raised in a big city, so wilderness definitely scares me. I’d much rather face a crowded city street than a desolate forest trail. By the same token, I was raised to be afraid of getting mugged or attacked in a city environment. In short, I spent most of my life in fear. Afraid to die, and afraid to live. I built myself a comfortable box, and I stayed in it for a long time. While the box has gotten bigger as I’ve gotten more comfortable with some changes, it’s still a box. I have overcome my fear of water, even though I still can’t swim. I’ve mostly overcome my fear of talking to strangers, although I still can get a little tongue-tied around women. I’ve opened myself up to new experiences, especially since my last birthday, which is when the whole “Jax out of the Box” experiment began. But, I learned that I still have plenty I fear. The week before I was supposed to go to Europe, a part of me was hoping that plans would fall through, because the thought of going to a whole new continent was very scary. If my flight attendant friend wasn’t going to be able to get me on a flight, or if my boss wouldn’t be able to schedule my time off, well, then, at least I could say I tried to go, and things just didn’t work out. There was so much to be afraid of. What if something happened to the planes? What if I got robbed? What if I couldn’t figure out how to get around? What if I got stranded? What if I couldn’t access my money?

And yet, none of those things happened. That reminds me of the saying that F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. That is so true. We fear things that, very often, never come to pass. I’ve heard many pastors say that the Bible says “Fear not” 365 times, one for each day of the year, as a daily reminder. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, having never counted them myself. (And what about Leap Year? Are we allowed to be afraid on February 29th? In that case, I had reason to be afraid about the upcoming Europe trip!) But I do know there are plenty of times the Bible does tell us to have no fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Hebrews 13:6 states, “The Lord [is] my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” And my favorite: “The LORD [is] my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD [is] the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) One night, when the apostles were on a boat and saw Jesus walking toward them, they thought he was a spirit and were afraid. Jesus responded, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) Peter went from fear to trust, enough trust to step out of the boat and walk on the water toward Jesus.

Once the airline tickets to Europe were purchased, though, my fear became something else. Yes, I was still nervous, but I was also beginning to look forward to the trip. A friend of a friend posted something on Facebook which I’d never heard before, but really liked. She posted that “the only difference between fear and excitement is your attitude about it.” As far as the Europe trip, that proved true. Once I changed my attitude from worrying about what can go wrong to thinking what an amazing opportunity this was going to be, the fear was gone, and it was replaced with excitement. I took a giant leap out of the box, and I got to experience so many wonders that would not have come to pass had I let my fear take over.

I know from experience how hard it is sometimes to let go of the fear. But if we never let go of that fear and step out of that boat, or that box, we may miss out on some amazing experiences. I came close to postponing, or even canceling, my travel plans, but, after the wonderful time I had, I’m glad I felt the fear and did it anyway. How about you? Is there something you might be missing out on because of fear? “Fear not.”

…but God

I was talking to a very dear friend last night, and during our conversation I was reminded how powerful those two words – “but God” – can be. She is going through a difficult time in her life and she was talking about the pain she was going through, and she finished her statement by saying, “but God has helped me tremendously and is giving me strength daily.” Those two words immediately sapped the power from the pain and gave the power to God, where it belongs.

As humans, we tend to put the positive thought first, then immediately nullify it with a “but”. “I would love to get that promotion, but I probably won’t.” “I should start dieting, but it’s too hard right now.” The problem with that is that anything before the “but” doesn’t matter. And it’s the same way with God. When He’s involved, anything before the “but” does not matter either.

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; [but] God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as [it is] this day, to save much people alive.” Genesis 50:20.

“And he was sore athirst, and called on the LORD, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? But God clave an hollow place that [was] in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived:” Judges 15:18-19

“Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.” Psalms 49:14-15

And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him (Jesus), they took [him] down from the tree, and laid [him] in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead:” Acts 15:29-30

Something terrible has happened, is happening, or will happen, but God is in control. And when God is in control, everything before the “but” DOES. NOT. MATTER.

Having that conversation with her has made me more aware of all the “buts” in my life. I’ve allowed some negative things to define my life, but now I will remember that God is stronger and bigger than anything that’s going on in my life. See what I did there with the “but”? Try it yourself. Think of the worst thing that’s going on in your life. Then say, “_________ is what is happening to me, but God will help me get through it and give me the strength I need.” You may be surprised by how the change in perspective can help you see things in a different light.