joy

Wednesday’s Words: Fear versus Joy

 

iStock_000003550839XSmall  Then they rejected the pleasant land, because they did not believe God’s promise. Psalm 106: 24

 

Why did the Israelites refuse to enter the Promised Land? They were afraid because they didn’t trust God to keep his promise.

 

When we reject the good God offers us, it’s probably for the same reason: fear. When we reject God’s loving plan for us, fear is probably involved in some way.

 

Let’s look at the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

 

  • Pride is giving self-will priority over God’s will. If we believe God is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-loving, why would we ever choose our own way instead of his? On some level, we must be afraid that God won’t do as good a job as we could or that his plan is not as good as ours, so we use manipulation or force to get our way.
  • Greed probably involves fear that we won’t have enough or get enough or keep enough of whatever we feel greedy about: money, things, approval, attention. We grab for or hoard more than we need because we don’t trust God to provide for our needs.
  • Envy might include fear that we aren’t good enough, or that we aren’t as good as others. Resenting what they have fuels our feelings of inadequacy. We don’t trust God’s love for us and the value we have simply because he loved us into existence.
  • Anger, chances are, often involves thwarted self-will. Maybe someone or something threatened our fragile self-esteem, or we didn’t get our way. When our illusions of control are shattered, we get angry. We don’t trust that things can still turn out just fine-even if they don’t go our way-because God has it all under control.
  • Lust, at least in part, may include the fear that we are unlovable or perhaps the fear of true intimacy and the mutual surrender involved in sharing love on a level that goes so much deeper than the physical plane.
  • Gluttony might, in part, be connected to fear of discomfort. It might also involve trying to fill our emptiness in a self-defeating way because we fear that God’s love and his plan aren’t enough to sustain us, that his allotment of our daily bread won’t fill the gaping hole within us.
  • Sloth, laziness, procrastination, might disguise a fear that what we do won’t be good enough. We’d rather not try at all, than try and fail. Underneath may lurk a fear that neither God nor anyone else could love us as we are, that we’ll be rejected unless we’re perfect or successful in the way the world defines success.

 

In all these options, we short-change ourselves. We deny ourselves the joy that comes from abandoning ourselves to God’s loving care and protective power. It’s risky to trust that he does love us, that he knows what he’s doing, that his plans are to build us up and to give us the future we hope for (Jeremiah 29:11), and that he will keep his promise. It’s a risk worth taking.

 

Prayer: Lord, lead me to the Promised Land you have in mind for me.

 

Reflection: How is fear blocking you from the joy God has in mind for you?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Choosing To Praise

iStock_000003550839XSmall  [Job] said, “I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The Lord gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!” Job 1: 21

 

Job lost his children and all his wealth in a single day, but still praised God. This doesn’t mean he didn’t have feelings, grieve the loss of his children, or fear his new-found financial insecurity. It simply meant he did not blame God for his misfortune.

 

Job was able to praise God because he recognized that all the good things he had been blessed with were gifts, not entitlements. Job may have felt sad, scared, overwhelmed, or even angered by his loss, but he didn’t feel wronged by God because of it.

 

Are we fair-weather friends of God? If we’re in it only for what God can do for us, that’s not much of a relationship.

 

I have Multiple Sclerosis. During an M.S. attack, I suffered an excruciating headache for days. I wanted to trust God but was shaken to the core by pain and overwhelmed with anguish. I shared my frustration and despair with a spiritual mentor, who suggested that perhaps there was a bit of spiritual warfare going on, an attempt to get me to turn my back on God. I’d never thought of it as a temptation, but in the story of Job that’s exactly what was going on. Satan’s theory was that Job worshipped God only for what he could get out of the relationship and would turn his back on God if his blessings were taken away. The book of Job shows otherwise.

 

Right after the conversation with my mentor, a contemporary Christian song came on the radio affirming that we can choose to praise the Lord whether things are going well or terribly.

 

Hearing that song at that moment, made it all click for me. I sang along at the top of my lungs in spite of my pain. As I sang, I felt a wave of victory come over my spirit such as I can’t describe. There is power in exercising our free will. No person or circumstance can take that away from us.

 

Prayer: Lord, blessed be your name.

 

Reflection: What might happen if you praise God in the midst of a problem?

Wednesday’s Word: Blessings

iStock_000003550839XSmallCome and listen, all who honor God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. Psalm 66: 16

 

If we wanted to tell others what God has done for us, where would we begin? We should probably start by telling ourselves. Want to try it?

 

You might make a timeline. Turn a blank piece of paper so the widest part runs horizontally. About half-way down the page, draw a line from left to right across the entire sheet to represent your life from birth to the present.

 

Beginning with your earliest recollection from childhood, write the milestones or other significant memories in chronological order. Note the happy events on top of the line; note the hard times underneath the line.

 

Continue to review your life through your school years, your teens, early adulthood, and so on, noting both positive and negative times up through today.

 

Review your list. The blessings on top of the line may give you plenty to share when telling others what God has done for you, but don’t stop there.

 

Think about the items beneath the line. What got you through those challenges? The support and love of other people? That’s a blessing. The strength and willingness to keep plugging along when you felt like giving up or running away? That’s a blessing. An inspiring word or phrase you read or heard in a song at just the right moment? That’s a blessing, too. You get the idea.

 

Maybe the blessings that come in the midst of our pain are the sweetest. I’ve been richly blessed with family, friends, career, and more, but the consolations I treasure most are the times God met me in my sorrow, fear, grief, and desperation. I know for sure that God’s blessings got me through those struggles because in those dark times I had absolutely no resources of my own.

 

C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pain.” When has God whispered or shouted to you?

 

Prayer: Loving God, open our eyes to all your blessings.

 

Reflection: What has God done for you?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Invitations

iStock_000003550839XSmallI tell you all that none of those who were invited will taste my dinner! Luke 14:24

 

What did a jilted bride do when the groom broke their engagement a week before the wedding? She invited the homeless and guests of a local food bank to attend the feast at the reception hall. Despite her sorrow, she brought joy to those who have little to celebrate. I’ll bet her generosity helped her feel good on some level.

 

How like the parable in Luke’s gospel. Why won’t the invited guests taste the dinner? They didn’t want to go. They had something better to do than go to a banquet. Their excuses sound pretty lame. Who would rather work (try out his oxen) or check out real estate instead of going to a party? Another guest excused himself because he just got married. Who would think so little of his host to assume his new bride wouldn’t be welcome?

 

But their unwillingness to celebrate didn’t stop the party from happening. The host found other guests. He welcomed not only the poor and disabled, but pretty much anybody else he could find that wanted to come. God’s generosity is not thwarted by our refusal to accept it. Why would beggars, invalids, and other last minute invitees accept? Maybe what they had—or didn’t have—made what they were being offered look too good to pass up.

 

The things that kept the first string guests from attending were possessions and a brand new relationship. How do we let our possessions, our work, our romances, get in the way of accepting the goodness God wants to offer us? So often we get what we think we want and still feel let down. Why do we see time with God or time sharing His love in service to others as an obligation? Did you ever do something you felt called to do and feel good about yourself? Did you ever experience the joy of camaraderie in working with others? Did you ever lose yourself and forget your problems by getting caught up in something outside your own plans? We weren’t meant to live in isolation. Sharing creates a nourishing banquet for our hearts.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me say yes to you.

 

Reflection: What have you got better to do today than accept God’s invitation?

 

 

 

 

Christmas 2015

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For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9: 6 (NRSV)

 

Good news! A savior was born into our dark and hurting world—and what a savior! This son of God is given to us. We can’t earn or deserve this blessing—it’s a pure gift of love. That should delight and humble all of us.

 

God loves us beyond comprehension, warts and all. How amazing that someone who has tasted heaven should take on our humanity and subject himself to human limitations, indifference, and contempt—all because he loves us. No wonder he’s called Wonderful.

 

He is Counselor supreme. One with the Father, Jesus has all wisdom and wants to share it with us. Our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, speaks to our hearts, when we’re open to receive it and quiet enough to listen.

 

Jesus is not just holy man, but Mighty God. We may be up against circumstances, forces, and problems bigger than we are, but no problem is bigger than God. When we feel small and powerless, we can rely on his strength.

 

Everlasting Father: God’s son conquered death for us. He was willing to take on flesh, knowing he would sacrifice that flesh-life to share eternal, everlasting life with us.

 

Prince of Peace: The peace that Jesus offers does not depend on comfortable circumstances, but on our connection with him. His peace passes understanding. The world can’t give that peace or take it away.

 

We have good reason to rejoice today, for unto us is given everything our hearts could need: a wonderful, powerful, everlasting counselor who wants to fill our hearts with peace and love.

 

Which aspect of our Lord’s greatness do you rejoice in most today?

 

Glory to God in the highest. Joy to the world. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday’s Words: Mercy, Hope, and Joy

iStock_000003550839XSmall“O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, from the depth of our troubled, weary souls we cry out to you. Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy on us, because we have sinned against you. Baruch 3:1-2

 

Troubled, weary souls have been around a long time. If mankind could have gotten its act together on its own, it would have done so by now. Instead, we continue to cry out to God. If we’re honest, like Baruch, we can admit that we need mercy because we have sinned against God. The fact of the matter is, if we could save ourselves, then “Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)

 

So we cry out from the depth of our troubled, weary souls. And we have hope because God has done—and continues to do—what we could never do for ourselves. We anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Christ who brought us the gift of mercy and freedom from the bondage of self-defeating sin. That beautiful carol, O Holy Night, describes what we feel: “a thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming into our troubled, weary hearts and world.

 

Reflection: Where do you most need the thrill of hope today?

Saturday Spotlight: Psalm 8

OurMrSun-Psalms

O Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world! Your praise reaches up to the heavens…

When I look at the sky, which you have made, at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places—what are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them?

Yet you made them inferior only to yourself; you crowned them with glory and honor. You appointed them rulers over everything you made; you placed them over all creation…

O Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world!

Psalm 8: 1; 3-6; 9

 

Ever seen the Grand Canyon? Or look out over the ocean? Or study the delicate petals of a single rose? Observing the wonders of creation generates opportunities to praise the Creator.

 

A sense of awe gives us a healthy perspective on who we are in the cosmic scheme of things. It’s so easy to think of ourselves as the center of the universe. Why else would we get irritated when plans don’t unfold according to our schedule or people don’t follow our agenda? Awe-inspired awareness of our creature-hood invites us step out of self-centeredness without developing an inferiority complex. As the Psalmist points out, even though we are “mere mortals,” God cares for us. For whatever reason, he placed us in charge of creation. What we’ve done with the environment he gave us speaks for itself. Even so, God not only cares for us, he crowns us with glory and honor.

 

As an antidote to getting puffed up with pride, let’s remember that any honor we have is a gift from God. We reflect his greatness, not our own. That greatness can be seen in all the world and is evident to anyone who opens their eyes to see it. God doesn’t need our praise. His glory and achievement is self-evident. Praising God enhances our lives. I think that’s because it helps us remember who we are: frail, humble creatures loved by an almighty, glorious Creator!

 

How about you?

  • What part of creation reveals God’s glory to you?
  • When have you felt your frailty, mortality, creature-hood?
  • How does it feel to think about God loving you with all your weaknesses?
  • What difference does it make to give God the glory instead of grasping at glory for yourself?

 

I invite you to read the entire Psalm and meditate on the thought or phrase that speaks to you today.

Saturday Spotlight: Psalm 5

OurMrSun-Psalms

 

Listen to my words, O Lord, and hear my sighs. Listen to my cry for help, my God and king!

I pray to you, O Lord…at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer.

You are not a God who is pleased with wrongdoing; you allow no evil in your presence.

You cannot stand the sight of the proud…you destroy all liars…

But because of your great love I can come into your house; I can worship in your holy temple.

Lord, I have so many enemies! Lead me to do your will; make your way plain for me to follow.

What my enemies say can never be trusted; they only want to destroy. Their words are flattering and      smooth, but full of deadly deceit.

But all who find safety in you will rejoice; they can always sing for joy. Psalm 5: 2-5; 7-9; 11

 

Listen to my words, O Lord, and hear my sighs.  The psalmist longs for God to hear his sighs as well as his words. When we cry for help, words just can’t carry the whole story. They leave out so much of what are hearts burn with. It comforting to know that God does hear our sighs, and that when words are inadequate or won’t come at all, the Holy Spirit helps and “pleads with God for us in groans that words can’t express.” (Romans 8:26-27)

 

…at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer I’m an early riser, so I do offer my prayers to God at sunrise but must admit I don’t always wait for his answer…especially when I’m running late. Other times, his answer is hard to accept—especially when God speaks to my heart saying, “Don’t always look for answers; just be still with Me.”

 

You are not a God who is pleased with wrongdoing; you allow no evil in your presence. You cannot stand the sight of the proud…you destroy all liars…But because of your great love I can come into your house…Although God is not pleased with wrongdoing, and allows no evil in his presence, we can come into God’s presence, not because we are perfect, but “because of his great love.” When we bring ourselves to God, we don’t have to cover up our flaws or put on a false front of perfection. After all, God can’t stand the sight of the proud. When we’re honest with him about our failings, we are not being proud. We are humbly aware of who we are and that our relationship with God depends on his love and goodness, not our own merit. When we tell the truth—even about our shortcomings—we are close to God, who is Truth. Maybe that, in part, is how he destroys our lies, by making it safe for us to be honest with him and with ourselves.

 

Lord, I have so many enemies…what they say can never be trusted…their words are flattering and smooth, but full of deadly deceit. Many of my enemies are within me: my impatience, my self-will, my tendency to want to cover up my weaknesses. Sometimes they gang up on me and make it difficult to discern what God is calling me to do, let alone actually do it…but what these enemies tell me can’t be trusted. Smooth, ego-feeding propositions make it sound like I’ll be happy if I listen to them. I’ll get my way, on my time table, and look impressive. It’s not true. My impatience doesn’t get me where I need to be any sooner; it often slows me down. Trying to force my agenda puts me in conflict with others, and destroys my serenity. If things do happen to go my way, it means, coincidentally, that’s the way God wanted them to go at that point in time. Otherwise, my contentment will be short-lived because my goals are often short-sighted.

 

Lead me to do your will; make your way plain for me to follow. I need God to make his way plain for me and enable me to actually follow it—and he does, when I am open to it. I put a saying on my refrigerator where I’m reminded to ask, on a daily basis, “God, what does success look like to you in this situation?” Sometimes God’s idea of success is keeping my mouth shut when I’d like to have the last word instead of getting my way.

 

But all who find safety in you will rejoice…When I am able, by God’s grace, to surrender to his will instead of my own, I do find security, safety, and joy. God is in control, even when it doesn’t look that way. When my goal is for his will to be done, I can trust that that will happen. There is safety in trusting that and joy in the reassurance it brings…when I have the eyes to see it.

 

How about you?

  • Have you prayed without using words? What was that like?
  • What prayer time works best for you? Morning? Bedtime? Throughout the day? Does this time allow you to tell God all that you need to and give you time to listen for his answer?
  • How does being honest with God about what’s really going on inside of you help to melt your pride and overcome the lies—even the little white ones—you tell yourself about motives, feelings, and the like?
  • What is it like to enter God’s presence knowing you are loved, warts and all?
  • What enemies are you facing today? Are you able to see how God is guiding you in facing these enemies today? Can you trust God enough to follow his directions?
  • What lies are your enemies telling you? How does flattery make it easy to be misled?
  • How has God provided you with shelter/safety? What joy can you find in that? Where else can you find joy today?

 

I invite you to read through the entire Psalm, and reflect on whatever phrases speak to your heart today.

Wednesday’s Word: Gifts

iStock_000003550839XSmall

 

Each one, as a good manager of God’s different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. 1 Peter 4:10

 

What’s your special gift? Sometimes it’s hard to answer that question. Maybe we were brought up to think acknowledging our talents wasn’t being humble and so we learned to deny our abilities—at least in front of others. Belittling ourselves is NOT humility, it’s another form of egotism, keeping ourselves the center of our focus. Besides, there’s a difference between recognizing our gifts and thinking those gifts put us in some special level of worthiness.

 

Gifts are given to share. When I was a kid, money was tight at our house. We always got a few things for Christmas, but often our gifts were games like Chinese checkers or Clue. We had to share those gifts to enjoy them. What’s the point of playing Chinese checkers by yourself? St. Peter tells us the point of the gifts that we’re given is not to show others how wonderful we are. Neither are we supposed to hide them, convinced of our inadequacy compared to the talents of others.

 

Maybe we’re good at sports, or math, or multi-tasking. Maybe we have musical talent, or a knack for putting people at ease, or seeing both sides of an issue. Whatever it is, it’s a gift. Maybe we’ve worked hard to develop that gift, but even willingness and perseverance are gifts. Not using our gifts is no better than showing off or bragging about them.

 

When we are focusing on others and not on ourselves, we don’t have to be afraid we’ll mess up or what we have to offer won’t be good enough. It’s not about us. It’s about passing on what we’ve been given for the good of others. Besides, we usually like doing what we’re good at, so the joy we pass on comes back to us as a sense of satisfaction, competence, and pleasure. What are you waiting for?

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see the gifts you’ve given me and guide me in using them.

 

Reflection: What are you doing with your gifts today?

Saturday Spotlight: Psalm 1

OurMrSun-Psalms

Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God.

 

Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night.

 

They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do.    Psalm 1: 1-3 (GNT)

 

I joined “those who have no use for God” during my college years. Listening to God didn’t sound like much fun at the time. I did things my way. I thought that would guarantee happiness. Instead it let me down. When pain brought me to my knees, I turned back to God. He was waiting for me with open arms. Instead of fun, God offered me joy.

 

As far as studying God’s law day and night, Jesus said the most important laws were loving God with all our being, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves. That gives me plenty to reflect on. I can’t think of a single conflict with others or internal struggle I’ve ever had that can’t be traced back to my neglecting one or more of those.

 

Like a tree growing beside a stream? I can tell you that since I’ve recognized my need for God and have started spending even a little time each morning in prayer, I have increasing peace in my life. The fruit I have to share is the story of my mistakes and limitations and God’s unconditional and limitless love.

 

Succeeding in everything I do? That depends on what you call success. I’m gaining a sense of who I really am instead of who I thought I was supposed to be. Jesus warned against gaining the whole world and losing our own selves. If a more honest sense of self counts as success, I guess I’m succeeding.

 

What about you?

 

  • When have you followed the example of those who have no use for God? When have you rejected their advice? How did things turn out in each case?
  • Think of a time you found joy in doing what you felt was right, even though it seemed beyond you at the time. Looking back, can you see that God gave you all you needed to do what you felt called to do?
  • Are you feeling “dried up” today or refreshed and replenished? What can you do in either case?
  • What will success look like for you today?

 

I invite you to read this psalm through on your own and reflect on whatever phrase or idea might speak to you at this moment in time. I welcome comments if you’d care to share your reflections. Peace and good.

 

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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