I will be joyful

It’s easy to be joyful when things are going your way—when you meet that special someone, when you get a big promotion, when you receive an unexpected gift. But what about the other times, when things aren’t going the way you’d hoped? Can you still say that you’re full of joy?

We often look at the dry or dark times in our lives as seasons where God just isn’t there. We struggle on hoping to pass through the difficult season and into the one of abundant harvest so that we can find our joy again. Maybe we’re missing the point.

I don’t believe that God brings the dark times, but I do believe He will walk with us through them. Psalm 23 says that, even though we walk through the dark valley of death, He walks beside us. And not only does He walk with us, He prepares a feast for us in the presence of our enemies. He doesn’t make it all go away, but He endures it all right beside us.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NLT)

The world may be able to take a lot of things from you, but it cannot take your confidence in your salvation. It cannot take your joy. It cannot take God away from you.

What could be worse than the thought of losing everything? The thought of an eternity without God.

If you are in a dry season, take comfort in this: God is still God, He is right beside you, and He will never, ever leave you alone. If you are in a season of abundance, keep the joy that you have now no matter what comes next. If Habakkuk could look around and see nothing but doom yet still find joy in the God of his salvation, who are we to do anything but likewise?

Daily Bible reading: Habakkuk 1-3, Revelation 14

Don’t shoot the messenger

We all have people in our lives that we’d rather not have in our lives. An annoying coworker. A nosy neighbour. That weird uncle that only shows up at holidays. We avoid these people at all costs and even begrudge them when something good happens in their lives. We hold on to our dislike—hate even—like a security blanket. So long as that person keeps doing the things we dislike, we can grip our sense of superiority over them.

Jonah experienced a similar feeling when God brought him to a certain city in a rather roundabout way. Jonah finally made it to the city of Nineveh by way of fish. It probably wasn’t the most popular mode of transportation in his day, but it did the trick. Jonah was finally where God told him to be—surrounded by people he didn’t like. Not only did he have to be there, he had to share a certain message.

On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”

Jonah 3:4 (NLT)

Still believing himself to be above the people in the city, Jonah shared his message with a great sense of satisfaction and then found a prime spot to watch the promised destruction. Yet that destruction would never come. Because, in spite of his hatred for the people of Nineveh, they had received and embraced his message.

The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to go without food and wear sackcloth to show their sorrow.

Jonah 3:5 (NLT)

I doubt this was the response Jonah was expecting. In a city he hated, Jonah was forced to watch as his reluctant message was acted upon. Repentance ran rampant.

What all the saints make a matter of joy and praise, Jonah makes the subject of reflection upon God; as if showing mercy were an imperfection of the Divine nature, which is the greatest glory of it.

Matthew Henry

The account of Jonah is not merely a story of delayed obedience. It is a story of attitude, of mercy, of grace. And it is an account that show us that, even if our attitudes do not reflect our message, God can still work in the hearts of even the greatest sinners. But, unlike Jonah, when our message is received, our hearts should rejoice along with those who have received the gift of grace.

It is the neighbour we like the least that needs the most love. Hesitation on our part to share the Gospel is like shooting the messenger before he even has a chance to tell his story. We do ourselves and our neighbour a disservice by holding on to our hatred and dislike. We want to show our superiority while God wants to show His grace.

Immediate obedience to God’s instruction is far easier on our egos than waiting until the last possible moment.  Let us share in the glory of God’s grace rather than hoarding our own personal comfort.

Daily Bible reading: Jonah 1-4, Revelation 9

Let it grow

If you’ve never heard the song Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past few years. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you can probably belt out a line or two of the chorus. And anything that sounds remotely like “let it go” can (and probably has been) turned into a parody. Our verse today lands us in this boat.

Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.

James 1:2-4 (NLT)
emphasis added

Immediately, images of the blonde princess blasting ice everywhere came to mind and I wondered how this could possibly apply to the Bible. But if you think hard enough, you can apply just about anything—even a cartoon.

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

In the film, Else—a princess with magical wintery powers, runs away and embraces her struggle. She no longer has to hide her abilities and, once she accepts that, she becomes stronger for it.

Now, we don’t have the ability to make an ice castle from nothing or bring on an eternal winter in the middle of a beautiful summer, but we do encounter struggles. Inside us all is a strong, confident person trying to get out and prove something. But the storms life throws at us push that confidence deep down inside. We get down, maybe depressed, because the storms never seem to end.

But what if, like the princess, we embraced the storm? Instead of seeing a setback, we saw opportunity? Naturally speaking, storms can be beneficial. They bring rain to promote plant growth. They bring cool air to moderate the climate. Lightening actually improves soil quality by converting nitrogen gas into nitrogen compounds which help soil fertility. Storms also help diminish pollution.

If natural storms can do all this, don’t you think that spiritual storms can do the same? Sometimes we need a little rain to stir us up. If we never struggled at all, how would we ever become stronger? What if your current struggle is meant to take some pollution—some unnecessary and poisonous things—out of your life?

Don’t fight the storm. Allow your faith to be tested, tried, and strengthened. Then let it grow.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 20-21, James 1

Sustain

What sustains you? Food, obviously. Hopefully sleep. Water. Maybe the help of family or friends. Perhaps there are things in life that you enjoy that make the tough times more bearable. But what about words? In many cases, words are empty. On their own, they may hold great meaning, but when offered by certain people in a certain way, they may be hollow and weightless. Worthless.

Your words are what sustain me. They bring me great joy and are my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.

Jeremiah 15:16 (NLT)

Few of us could say that we have it worse than Jeremiah when it comes to the words of God. The prophet spoke these words while God was in the middle of telling him of all the destruction He was going to bring upon Judah and Israel. They were to be utterly destroyed and yet, somehow, Jeremiah finds it within himself to let God know that His words are sustenance. They bring him joy and are his heart’s delight.

SUSTAIN: To bear; to uphold; to support, as a foundation; to keep from falling; to keep alive; to endure without failing or yielding.

In the midst of what must have been a truly dark time, Jeremiah still found God’s word to be full of life. Enough so to support him, to keep him from falling or failing, to keep him alive. And Jeremiah wasn’t the only one who found delight in the words of God in the middle of a trial.

Your decrees are my treasure,
they are truly my heart’s delight.

Psalm 119:111 (NLT)

How can these two men, through storms, destruction, war, and everything else that may have come against them still have found comfort in God’s words? Aren’t they just words?

The yes to all of God’s promises is in Christ, and through Christ we say yes to the glory of God. Remember, God is the one who makes you and us strong in Christ. God made us his chosen people. He put his mark on us to show that we are his, and he put his Spirit in our hearts to be a guarantee for all he has promised.

2 Corinthians 1:20-22 (NCV)

Jeremiah, David, Paul, and many others all found joy and delight in the words of God because God gave us a guarantee. He gave us His mark. He gave us His name. And because He has never failed, we can take that as our assurance that His words will indeed sustain us through whatever may be in store for us in this life.

So he will do for me all that he has planned. He controls my destiny.

Job 23:14 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 14-16, 1 Timothy 5

 

A hug a day

“As a belt clings to a person’s waist, so I created Judah and Israel to cling to me,” says the Lord. “They were to be my people, my pride, my glory—an honor to my name. But they would not listen to me.

Jeremiah 13:11 (NLT)

As I read this verse this morning, what came to mind were the actions of a father and son. On Sunday morning, as a group of volunteers were praying before the church service, one of the kids came running in. He made no sound as he rushed to his father, grabbed him tight and climbed into a position where he could be held. The boy’s arms were wound tight around his father’s neck, his legs wrapped around his waist. The father held on to his son just as tightly. They remained that way for the duration of our prayer time.

I think that’s how God would love for us to be—as innocent children seeking safety and comfort in the arms of the protective Father. It is to the benefit of both parties. We receive our comfort and God receives His glory. But only if we cling to Him.

CLING: To adhere closely and firmly, in interest or affection; to stick to; to hold fast upon.

If you’re at all concerned that this promise was strictly for the Jews, don’t be. God addressed it just a few verses back.

“And if these nations quickly learn the ways of my people, and if they learn to swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’ (just as they taught my people to swear by the name of Baal), then they will be given a place among my people.

Jeremiah 12:16 (NLT)

We’re good. Even long before Paul was sent out to reach the Gentiles, God made a way for all people to be able to come running to Him, to throw our arms around His waist, to hold on to Him, and be held by Him. He made a place in His embrace for all of us.

Studies show that the benefits of being embraced go far beyond that of a simple touch. In a physical sense, those who embrace others with regularity have stronger immune systems, lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and are less likely to become depressed. A hug is an affirmation of love and, according to Stan Tatkin, PsyD, can have measurable neuro-biological consequences.

While a physical embrace with God may not be possible, I have no doubt that, the closer we are to Him, the more we cling to Him, the more we can also reap these benefits along with many others.

Do not forget that you are God’s child. You are His pride and His joy, set apart for His pleasure. And when we pursue him as the boy with his father, we bring honour and glory to His name. Embrace it. Embrace Him.

Have you hugged God yet today?

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 11-13, 1 Timothy 4

Children of the Light

There are many definitions for the word light. It’s meaning goes far beyond that of simple illumination:

  • life
  • day
  • means of knowing
  • a window
  • God
  • Christ
  • joy
  • comfort
  • deliverance
  • the Gospel
  • a true Christian
  • favour

All of these things exemplify light.

For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night.

1 Thessalonians 5:5 (NLT)

When we claim the title child of God, it means so much more than belonging to God. And that is a wondrous thing! When Paul says that, as Christians, we are children of the light, we have life, we have a way of knowing, we have joy, comfort, deliverance, favour. And, if we have anything other than these things in our lives, we have allowed ourselves to be pulled back into the darkness that Jesus died to save us from.

DARKNESS: absence of light; obscurity; want of clarity; that quality or state which renders any thing difficult to understand; a state of being intellectually clouded; great trouble and distress

These characteristics are unbecoming of a Christian. They have no place in our lives. Do we live in a dark world that would see us all brought back into that darkness? Yes. But that is why we are called to let our light shine. Let our joy, our clarity, our comfort, our deliverance, and our favour overflow and overcome the darkness that surrounds us.

But let us who live in the light think clearly, protected by the body armor of faith and love, wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NLT)

The close we get to God and the longer we remain in His presence, the more clarity we will find and the more confident we will be in our salvation. Darkness will become a distant memory that no longer has a hold on us because we are protected by these gifts from our Father.

So let us live as we are meant to, as children of the light. Let us cast all darkness from our lives and walk in the close comfort that comes with our salvation.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 62-64, 1 Thessalonians 5

One more reason

Since reading Ecclesiastes 5 several weeks ago, my outlook on work has changed. And not just a little bit, but drastically. To help you understand, allow me to explain my current work situation.

Some friends of mine from church own a cleaning business. Work started to get a little crazy, so they brought me on to help them out. Do I love to clean? Not at all. Ask my mother. But it’s a job with a paycheque and the whole starving artist thing can only work for so long.

We clean new construction only. Meaning we get new houses and apartments ready to be moved into after the build is complete. Our current contract can be explained as less than ideal. We’re working on the second of what will be a three building apartment complex. The first building is complete and occupied. The building we are in is supposed to be occupied in a couple of weeks. The roof was two months late getting on and, as a result, every other trade has been pushed back. But in an effort to maintain the move-in dates, everyone is working at the same time. Drywallers are tripping over painters who are working over carpet installers who are working around guys pouring concrete who are working beside men trying to finish the siding. I think you get the picture. It’s a gong show.

No one on site is really happy about the situation. Myself included. I’m the peon on site. The lowliest of all the trades. It’s my job to clean up the mess everyone else left behind. Almost every day, I hear from another trade that I shouldn’t be there. I know that and they know that, but I’m trying to do my job just like they are. I could very easily take offense. I could very easily allow the situation to frustrate me and get me down. But since reading Ecclesiastes 5:19, it all rolls off.

And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—that is indeed a gift from God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19 (NLT)

I don’t take for granted this incredible gift that God has given me. Every day I walk on to the job site with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. (Most days those songs come out of my mouth, too—I’m pretty sure the site supervisor was laughing at me yesterday when he caught me singing to myself rather loudly.)

I’ve said all that to say this, God has given us so many reasons to praise Him. I praise Him daily because He has given me an inexplicable gift of joy that allows me to enjoy my work in what can be a rather hostile environment. And the reasons to praise Him keep on coming.

The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us everything he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. This is just one more reason for us to praise our glorious God.

Ephesians 1:14 (NLT)

After all that God has done for us, He sent His Spirit as a guarantee that He will do all He has promised. I guess I have just one more reason… to praise our glorious God today! What’s your reason?

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 16-18, Ephesians 1