Joy

Galatians 5

When I began writing about joy at the beginning of June, my plan was to touch on each of the fruits given by the spirit. I wanted to share the excitement of “finding” these fruits and hoping we could journey together and find answers in the scriptures.  The amazing part about God is that when we ask Him for answers, He will give them to us and they are rarely what we expect.  So today I am writing to tell you that I misunderstood and I would love to share with you how God showed me how I missed the grace in His gift. I thought that if I studied each gift of the spirit, that I would be ready to use them when life got hard. But the fruit of the spirit is an outward showing of what the heart already believes.

When I originally thought about the fruits of the spirit, found in Galatians 5, I thought of each fruit as a tool to use when I needed them. But the more I studied each fruit, the more I saw that it boiled down to one thing, knowing God deep enough to trust Him above everything else. I was mistaking the gifts of the Spirit, for seeking the Spirit Himself. God wants us to get to know Him. When we seek Him, He will not hide Himself from us. But we are not perfect and sometimes we get it wrong.  But when we do get it wrong, like I did, we have to decide how we react. We can get discouraged and give up, pretend we aren’t wrong and refuse change, or learn from our misunderstanding and make corrections to our thinking. At first, all I wanted to do was pretend I wasn’t wrong and continue with what I had planned for writing. But I want to abide in Christ, even if it means admitting I am wrong.

Reading Galatians 5 the main message is remembering who God is, over who the world is going to say He is.  Paul wants to encourage his fellow Christians, that if they remember that they are set free through Jesus and live a life through the direction of the spirit, their lives will produce outward fruit of “Love, joy, peace, patients, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a NLT) This is very important distinction. One that I missed the first few times through. We do not strive to find the fruits of the spirit, but we should strive to get to know God, and through the knowledge of Him, we will see these fruits in our lives.

One of the aspects of Christianity that I really struggle with, is the discernment between letting God handle it, while also making choices that move me forward. As I read Galatians 5, I think this problem gains a little clarity. As a Christian we know that there is nothing good in the world without Him, which means we cannot do good without Him. That is hard for me, because I want to be good in my own right. But Galatians 5 is very clear that there is a distinct difference between the flesh and God. Which means we need God in us, the Spirit, to help us fight the flesh. “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.” (Galatians 5:17 NLT)

It is a hard thing to admit that there is no good in me. I truly believe that is why I want to help God so much. I don’t want to admit that I am nothing without Him, because that means that I am powerless. But the slow realization that I am learning is that by giving up the power I think I have, I am trading it in for the power that the creator of the universe does have and chooses to give me through the Spirit.  I just want that to sink in for a minute. The same God who created the universe, loves us enough to want a relationship with us. So much so, that He came to earth to die for us, thus creating a way for us to be with Him again. It is my sin, my flesh that wants to do evil and broke the relationship to begin with. Yet, Christ paid it all so that the Spirit could live in me. That means while I’m separated from Christ here, the Spirit allows me to still have a relationship with Him.

So now that I see where I was wrong, what next? First, I want to say that I am sorry if I misguided anyone. I sincerely ask for your forgiveness.  Second, I believe there is more to dig into, when it comes to the power of the Spirit and I intend to explore that. Third, I encourage you to read Galatians 5 for yourself, it is a chapter full of encouragement and direction. It has quickly become one of my favorite chapters.

My friend, enjoy the freedom we have in Christ and let the Spirit guide your heart to what is good. We will never be good enough on our own. Find encouragement in that, because God doesn’t expect us to do it alone. He has given us a helper and it is wise to listen and let the Spirit guide us.

Joy

Choosing Joy

 

In a world where you can’t turn on the TV, read the news or look on Facebook without seeing something bad happening, how do we find joy? I truly believe that joy is the result of a grateful heart. Not just grateful for things, but so grateful for the salvation and love of Jesus, that we can’t help but be joyful. I understand that I have not suffered as some have, but the Bible is full of stories of those who chose, through God’s grace, to be joyful despite the world.   This is the hope that I stand in, that the words in the Bible are true and reliable. Unshakable joy is available to everyone who believes that God is the source of their joy, and I have seen the change in my own life when I choose joy.

I have not always been a joyful person. When I believed that joy came from myself, I would try to make myself joyful. When had a bad day, I would try my hardest to simply be joyful. But time and time again, I failed. I would pretend to be happy for a while, push down the other feelings and put on a mask. But eventually I would explode. I’d erupted with all the feeling that I was hiding and more times than not, say something that hurt someone else.  I faked my way through it, pretending to be happy, and eventually I failed because I am not God. When I saw the pattern of pretend and fail happening over and over in my life, I knew I had to do something, but what? I needed my joy to come from someone else. I needed my joy to come from the giver of joy Himself.

But how could I get this joy? As I began to learn what joy was, I saw that the only way to have joy is to get to know the giver of joy, God. I wanted a short cut and I tried them all. I would read bits of scripture out of contexts, I read books on what others though about the Bible, I even listened to sermons and podcasts online. While these things are good and can be fantastic tools, they are not a substitute for reading and discovering the Bible for myself. Once I started reading, I discovered how little I knew. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read. I discovered that there was no short cut if I wanted the real thing, and I desperately needed the real thing.

As I learned about God through reading the bible for myself, the more it gave me an opportunity to practice being joyful. It started with my trust in who Jesus is. I asked Jesus into my heart when I was young, but really began to understand what faith was in college. Making the choice to take on faith as my own meant that I had to admit that I needed help, and that there is nothing good in me without God. Psalms 32:1 “Oh what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight.” (NIV) When I remember that I deserve nothing but death, yet God chose to give Himself in my place, I can’t help but be joyful. When I truly believe that I need God, it should change everything about the way I think. Acts 13:52 “And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (NIV) When we become believers it should noticeably change us and continue to change us as we mature in our faith.  Joy is one of the ways we show the world that we are different. That we have trust in something greater than ourselves. Having joy when there is no explainable reason, is an amazing testimony and witness.

When I was a child and excepted Jesus into my heart. I was on fire for God, telling everyone I met with no shame. I thought that is how it worked, that I excepted God into my heart and God changed me in that moment. I did not understand that it was only the first step. Asking God into my heart was not the end, but simply the start of me asking for help. I knew I was a sinner and needed help, but at such a young age there was no way I could have known how much help I needed. But then came college and I was on my own. I had rarely read my Bible and I simply identified as a Christian. I lacked the desperation to read. I truly thought I was fine. But then life got away from me and I was miserable. I was missing something. I began to feel the desperation of my heart as I reminisced on the days of my childhood faith. There was no joy in my life because there was no God in my life.

God has a gracious way of making us desperate. He bends us so that we see how imperfect we are and in the same moment, how loved we are. He shows us our sin, so that He can free us from it. I have felt the desperation of my sin, and in that I have learned what real joy feels like.  Joy takes trust and experience in a steadfast God who has proven himself to me over and over again.  John 15:4 has become my life verse, I want nothing more than to be so consumed with God that it pours over into everything.  “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (NIV) When I am abiding in God, life becomes less about me and more about who God is. I find that joy is much easier to come by, because I am truly joyful. But this is not a one-time deal, abiding means getting to know and continuing to get to know. I want so much to be perfect, have all the answers and do what is right. But God saves us from ourselves in this. If we pretend to be perfect, then how would we point others to Him? We have to be genuine in our struggles and God can and will use it to His glory.

God is foolproof and exudes joy, so if I spend my time abiding in Him I have the opportunity to learn from Him. The bad news is, I’m not God. So, unless I keep coming back to Him, relying on Him and getting to know Him, I don’t stand a chance to have any kind of joy. Life gets hard, complicated and overwhelming, but God wants us to come to him like children. This means that we should have a heart of eagerness and relentlessness to learn.  Matthew 19:14 “But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” (NLT) We access joy by spending time with God, by taking baby steps of trust, and by remembering what is true. We will never reach perfection, but joy is a blessing that God gives us to combat all that aims to bring us away from the good that He freely gives us. So my friend, read, learn, remember, and choose joy.

 

Joy

Getting to know Joy

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Getting to know Joy

“Mama, look at me.” “Mama, watch this.” “Mama, come play with us.” When my babies want to spend time with me, it can bring joy to my day. But these same moments can easily become my biggest frustration when I’m not careful.  I spend the majority of the day just me and my three kiddos. This, I quickly found out, is the blessing and hardship of stay at home parenting.  I have the privilege of being with my children all the time, but it can quickly turn into a job and I can lose sight of this privilege. When the days are long, joy seems to be the first to leave the house. I get cranky and short tempered. I miss moments I know are blessings all because I am so wrapped up in myself. This is where I fall short in parenting. I get in my own way. I am getting better, but it takes failing and praying that I will do better next time.  So here I am trying to do better. I want to be able to lean on joy when it is not my first instinct to do so. But if I want to get to know joy, then I need to know what joy is.

I looked up the definition of joy in the dictionary: “a state of happiness or felicity.” (dictionary.com) But is joy really just some version of happiness?  I have a hard time believing that joy is just a better version of happiness.   If I have learned anything in motherhood, it is that I cannot make myself happy or joyful, just because I wish to be.  So, I set out to find what the Bible had to say about joy, and this is what I have learned so far.  Joy comes from God, and because it does, it is a source of strength and is only ever fully known by the person who receives it. Joy is a steadfast gift we learn to use through faith in the giver of this gift. When we choose to be joyful, we are choosing to trust that God is who He has promised to be, “never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17b) I love that God never changes, He never plays games or makes us guess what He is thinking. I have to put in the work of looking for answers, but the answers don’t change over time, they just become truer.

                I have noticed that People try to find joy, they search for it, seek it out, and yet they come up short. They are looking to make joy happen, to find it within themselves to be more joyful. But in my experience, that only takes me so far.  In Psalms 4:7, it says “you have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” God puts joy in our hearts. True joy gives me a reverent gladness because I know that I can trust God to be the same God, no matter the situation. Think of the freedom this gives, that God has given us the gift of joy so great, that it exceeds earthly expectations of need or want. With joy, our hard days as parents can be victorious because we know that even the bad days are blessings.

                Joy is starting to seem more powerful than a fleeting feeling, isn’t it?   In Nehemiah 8:10, it says “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Joy is our strength! Let that sink in, joy is a source of strength.  In Nehemiah, the people had gathered to hear God’s word and instruction. It was meant to be a celebration, but when the people heard the word they were grieved because they had fallen away from God so much, that the words were painful to hear. But Nehemiah, tells them to take heart and celebrate anyway. This is a glimpse of grace. The people are being shown grace for what they had done, because of their response to hearing they were wrong. They didn’t try to deny or hide from it, but instead knew their guilt and were grieved.  God wants us to see our sin, but not so that he can leave us there in it, but rather so that we become aware of it and want to walk away from it.  God gives us strength through joy so that we have courage to see our sin and know that God already has it covered.

When I think of what joy means to me, and I am hit with a flood of memories.  I remember those really hard days when I was alone and fighting postpartum depression.   When I didn’t know what else to do, I would choose to be joyful by finding the little joys. Counting my joy became a habit and became my source of strength.  Choosing to be joyful, gives me a power that is hard to explain to others. Each of us has our own story to tell, and God can us our stories to inspire and challenge others, but no one will fully know your joy the way you do.  In Proverbs 14:10 it says that “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one can fully share its joy.”  To be honest, I struggled with this verse for a while. How can we not share joy, isn’t that what the church does, share in each other’s’ joy? But the more I thought about it, the clearer it became. We do share joy with others, but it’s not the same as experiencing joy first hand.  We all have a personal and distinct relationship with God, so why wouldn’t it be true that our joy is only fully known by us.

So often I think of joy as a feeling, but the more I get to know joy and the power it has, the more it is becoming a weapon I can rely on when I need courage.  Joy has power through God, because it comes from Him. I find strength in knowing that I can choose to be joyful, even when there is no reason to be happy. Joy is a reminder that God is constant and truly in charge of it all.   When I choose joy, I am choosing to trust that God will lead when I have an obedient heart.  My friend, I hope you can see the power in joy and that it makes you want to get to know joy too. Start small, your feelings can lie to you, but God is real and constant. I pray you see and believe the grace that comes from choosing joy.