24-7 Joyful?

This morning, I read a tweet that said the following. “What is God’s will for my life? Surprising answer: 1. 24-7 joy. 2. 24-7 prayer. 3. 24-7 gratitude.”

I can see where this comes from. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we’re told: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus”, but what about Jesus? What about when He said: “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38), or when we read that while Jesus lived on earth, He prayed tearfully and was heard because of His reverent submission (Hebrews 5:7)? Was the Son of God a rebel because He wasn’t 24-7 joyful?

I have a deep love for Jesus. I believe He was faultless and not rebellious at all, so maybe 24-7 joy is more about attitude than a show of emotion. While Jesus was in Gethsemane – his soul so overwhelmed with sorrow, being all-knowing, I imagine He was grateful when He thought of the people His sleeping friends would later become. We’re told Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that awaited Him (Hebrews 12:1-2); that is, the joy of completing His saving work for us – of being with the Father, and seeing countless people come into a relationship with God because He died in our place.

Jesus endured the cross by focusing on what awaited Him. In other words, He was centred on joy even when His soul was sorrowful.

When you read about 24-7 joy and 24-7 gratitude, don’t take it as an indictment because you feel sadness. Take it as a reminder that even in your grief, you can find the joy in life and things to be grateful for.

Remember the Difference

Reading the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians today, I noticed this verse: “You suffered much, but still you accepted the teaching with the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). I suppose it jumped out at me because for a while lately, I’ve realised I haven’t felt as close to God. It’s not that I’ve stopped believing in Him or been particularly venomously angry with Him. It’s been more a sadness really. When you see friends or family going through trials, sometimes you feel disillusioned and you can think so much about the problems, but not enough about the difference God makes.

This post I wrote for Alex is one example of the difference God’s made in my life, just this year. When I went up Table Mountain in Cape Town, I prayed the night before about which guide I’d have on the day. It’s really important to pray in faith about the little things, as well as the big things. I really believe God will help you if you involve Him in your life and your plans, but conversely, if you don’t involve Him so much, it can have a negative effect. When I’m not as zealous in my heart about the difference God can make, I don’t cope as well with situations. Like Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing”.

I went out last night to hear some Christian songwriters share their stories and perform some of their music. One thing somebody said was: “We can change, but God never changes” – so true. We might feel great; and six months later we might not feel so good, but God stays the same. We were encouraged to remember what we’d already come through, and that’s what I want to do.

I want to be like those Thessalonians. When suffering comes my way, or my friends’ or family’s way, I still want the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit. I want to remember the difference God’s made to me and keep close to Him. That’s my prayer. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

Look Up

My absolute favourite verse in this chapter is Luke 21:28: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” It inspired a song I once wrote, and it’s an encouragement to every Christian.

‘When these things begin to happen’ refers to the things Jesus had been speaking of: The destruction of the Jewish temple, and the run-up to the end of the world. Many will claim to be the Christ; nations will come against each other; earthquakes, famines and diseases; dreadful sights and miraculous signs from heaven; believers brought to trial by the authorities; persecution even by close family; distress for pregnant women and nursing mothers; signs in the sky; storm-tossed seas; confusion and anxiety on the earth. Do any of these sound familiar? From the time Jesus was taken up into heaven after His resurrection until now, we’ve been in the last days; in limbo if you like, as we wait for Jesus’ return.

A verse that’s always puzzled me has been Luke 21:32. It says: “This generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place.” But all these things haven’t taken place! The world hasn’t ended, and all of the generation Jesus was talking to (even John, who lived to quite an age) have passed away. “Birth of the Church” explains the word ‘Generation’ can also mean race, Jesus’ point being that the Jews will remain as a people until all these things have taken place. That makes much more sense.

This is a word to me as much as anyone that when we’re faced with wars or natural disasters, trials, problems in our relationships, or any kind of difficulty, we can do as Jesus says: Look up; lift our eyes, because our redemption (the time of our freedom) is drawing near.

* * *

There are 3 chapters of Luke left and we’re approaching Easter. I’ll aim to post alternate days this week, so we can read the last chapter on Easter Sunday.

Isolation

I really like being with people, but I also like to have some quiet time in order to process what’s gone on. Being amongst people from different backgrounds who don’t understand where you’re coming from and don’t necessarily say things the same way you would – it can be hard, and if I’ve had one of those difficult days, I like to come home, flop onto the sofa and get into a book that’s going to lift my mood. Sometimes I get far more encouragement and strength from reading a book by someone in my situation than I do from people who’ve never experienced it.

The problem comes when my four walls become my safety net. I’m tempted sometimes just to be around family and close friends, and not to bother with anybody else. After all, no one can upset me if I’m not there, but here’s a Bible-verse that really hit me earlier in the year: “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire” (Proverbs 18:1). So it’s saying isolation is selfish? I always thought of it as unselfish. If I’m feeling fragile, I won’t go, they won’t upset me, I won’t fly off the handle and everybody wins … but that’s not what the Bible says. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2).

Brian May (my hero as a teenager) said once: “If you’re hardened off, you’re not living,” and he’s right. I have to let people see the real me – not just me when I’ve got it all together. “The fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is … self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Fruit needs a chance to grow. If I choose to be with people and let the growth happen, surely that can only be a good thing.

Have you ever been tempted to isolate yourself? If you’re unable to leave the house, what ways have you found to connect and grow?

Insecurity

A friend was talking on her latest radio-show about someone daunted by their new job, who really needed peace. If anything’s unusual or doesn’t go the way we think it should, it can cause panic, can’t it? Because we don’t know what a future employer, a spouse, or whoever, might be thinking.

I remember another friend telling me about her husband’s funeral – how people said such lovely things, and she wished he had known what he meant to them. That’s why I try to point out the good in people. It does no harm to give encouragement, and better now than when it’s too late, but not everyone expresses themselves in words. If you haven’t read it, I’d really recommend Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love-Languages” for ideas on various ways people can show their feelings. They might buy you a gift, or do something extremely kind. If I expect a certain response from someone, eventually, they’re going to let me down. That’s not their fault; it’s just that nobody’s perfect, and (thankfully) nobody’s exactly like me.

My lovely friend Becky from New York is a reader of this blog. After her husband proposed, he wrote her a poem. It’s really beautiful and I’ll just share a little of it here:
When you feel your feet slipping down into the deep and you’re looking for something to stand on,
My love will never be enough …
When you are determined to rely on God and not give up,
Then my love will be enough
.”

Can we take a leaf out of Becky and Dave’s book? If we feel the weight of insecurity, let’s give whatever’s troubling us over to God. “In Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). That means if I haven’t been the person I’d like to be or if I feel let-down, God can help us with our shortcomings. It’s only through Him that real transformation is possible.

If this has brought to mind a situation in your family, or the family of someone you know, why not pray about it? “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Competitiveness

When I was at school, I heard one of my classmates say he had eighteen albums by the rock group Queen. From then on, my goal was to collect nineteen or more. Have you thought where it comes from – this desire to outdo somebody else? It’s not just about the number of CDs we happen to own; it can be anything. We see someone with a gift of hospitality, and suddenly we want to plunge into home-baking.

“When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). The wise way to live is not to compete, but to appreciate one another’s giftings. Paul writes to the church at Ephesus about this very thing: That Christ is the Head, and we as His body depend on Him (Ephesians 4:15-16). As each part does its share, the body becomes stronger, so when we see someone living the life they’ve been called to, let’s encourage and build each other up. That’s how it’s meant to be in God’s kingdom.

Mountains

It can be a challenge to put a positive spin on those awful moments in life. Our difficulties are as diverse as our personalities, and what seems trivial to you might be huge to someone else. I’ve recently bought a Bible for my Kindle, and I was reading Zechariah 4:6-7. “I am the LORD All-Powerful. So don’t depend on your own power or strength, but on My Spirit. Zerubbabel, that mountain in front of you will be levelled to the ground. Then you will bring out the temple’s most important stone and shout, ‘God has been very kind.’”

We could take that message as being for the man named Zerubbabel or for us today. In our own strength, we tend to dwell on our problems. God’s telling us here that if we depend not on ourselves but on Him, one day those problems will be no more and we’ll be able to boast of God’s kindness to us. Some people are like King David – confident they’ll see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living; others look forward to the fulfilment of that promise in heaven. Either way, it’s good to have a God who keeps His promises.

A Lesson from Louisiana

I don’t often write a blog-post about a blog-post, but I read this and it touched me deeply.

Karina is from Louisiana, where they’ve had the flooding recently. Her home was affected and some furniture lost; her car was damaged, and not only that, her church has multiple campuses, three of which also flooded. Phew! And then she said she was single, with no close family. The enormity of the whole situation really hit me.

I’m privileged to have family nearby. If anything happened to my flat, I’m sure they’d have me to stay in a heartbeat. Karina hasn’t got that, but she has her church, and she has the Lord. Here are some quotes from her post:
“I have experienced the goodness and faithfulness of God unlike ever before”.
“I have felt His presence”.
“I will grieve because my possessions were valuable, but I won’t value them above the Lord”.

I went to church a day or so after reading this. During the worship-time, I could not stop thinking about it. I didn’t feel like singing; sometimes I don’t. That time for me is a time to be close to God, which sometimes means asking Him questions and seeking to get His take on things. I understand we all go through trials, but someone who’s so devoted having to lose so much … I kept wondering why the sovereign God – the One with everything under His control – would allow that to happen, until Jeremiah 29:11 (my favourite verse) came into my head. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I felt God say: “It hasn’t harmed her spirit,” and I realised He was right. She may have lost a lot in the natural, but in spite of that, she’s still able to say that God is good; she’s able to be close to Him, and choose to put Him first in her life. I think Karina’s a pretty special person – a reminder to us all to keep our spirits strong, whatever we might have to go through.

If she can say God is good, so can we.

First Came Rest

God seems to be teaching me about rest just lately. Today my pastor was talking at church about something Jesus said. I’ve just looked this up and it’s not the wording I’m used to, but I like it: “Come to Me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept My teachings and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives” (Matthew 11:28-29). First it struck me that in Jesus’ order of things, resting and being refreshed comes before learning; then I got to thinking it’s always been like that … ever since the beginning.

“By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (Genesis 2:2-3). God didn’t launch straight into giving Adam instructions on how to take care of the garden. First came rest, for God and all of His creation; then came the learning.

If you’re tired, maybe the best thing you can do right now is to put on your slippers and make yourself a hot drink, or turn on the electric blanket and lie down enjoying the warmth. The learning can wait for a little while; just take that time, and let the Lord refresh you from your weariness.

And There’s More: “You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide” Book-Review

I looked forward to reviewing this book because if I had to choose a favourite author, Holley Gerth would be it. A Christian counsellor and life-coach, she’s one of the most encouraging women I know. I’ve never met her in person; only online, but I’d thoroughly recommend her blog and any of her books.

This LifeGrowth Guide was written in response to readers of “You’re Already Amazing” who wanted more resources to help them use the book for group study. Holley does a great job of dividing the book into sections. She’s currently running a book club on her blog, working through the guide with her readers, and videos to accompany each session are available at http://holleygerth.com/amazing/

I think Holley’s tips on how to facilitate are useful to leaders of any small group. However, the outlines for group facilitators are at the back of the book. It might be easier (particularly for readers of the eBook) if the outline for session 1 was with session 1, etc, but that really is just personal preference, and I know in many Bible-studies you’ll find the leaders’ notes at the back. Throughout the guide, Holley refers to the Go Deeper questions in “You’re Already Amazing”. I wish these had been included within the guide as well as in the original book, but she does say a printable version can be downloaded from her website.

I hope this is helpful, and that like me, you’ll benefit from Holley’s writing.