Remain in My Joy

Today’s Bible Journaling is from John 15:11, “I have spoken these things to you, that My joy may remain in you and that your joy may be made full.” (NLT) As I concluded this series on joy, the thought that struck me was, the secret to having joy is to remain in God’s joy and be obedient. How are we to do that? If we read the entire 15th chapter, Jesus starts by talking about remaining in the vine. He is the vine, we are the branches. (John 15:5) We are to get our nourishment from Him, and as we grow in Him, by following His commands, He in turn fill us with joy. We are to remain in His joy, and as we do that, we are full of His joy.

That joy comes by developing a close relationship with Jesus, reading His Word, and being obedient to His commands. As we grow in Him, we produce fruit (Galatians 5:22), the more Spiritual fruit we produce, the more joy. Contentment comes, peace reigns in our hearts and lives, and our outlook on life is one of deep, abiding joy. Jesus promises that if we remain in Him that His joy will overflow in our lives.

Growth comes not only from obedience and a close relationship with God, but also through difficult times that could be characterized as a pruning process. In order for plants and trees to grow properly, they need to go through a pruning so that old, dead parts of the plant are cut away to allow for new growth to come. The same is with our lives as Christians, those who are Christ-followers. Those difficult times we experience are times when the Father cuts away those things in our lives that are hindering our growth process. As much as we don’t want to go through the pruning process, it is a necessary part of growth in a Believer’s life. It is during those times that we find it difficult to exhibit much joy. Pruning is hard, but so necessary!

I can look back on my life and see times when God has done some extensive pruning, and it was not a pleasant experience. But, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because I learned so much, and I grew the most during those times. Sometimes those times are preparation time for what is to come next. We need to be strong for the next level. Pruning also helps make us strong to encounter whatever the next level has to throw at us. We also can take the things we learn from those growth spurts and use them to help someone else who is going through the same thing we did, and thereby we become instruments that God can use to help someone else to grow. There is no greater joy for me than to be used by God in that manner. It makes my heart happy when I see that someone has gained strength through something I shared, and that God has brought them so far, and they grow more in Christ!

This is one area in our lives that we can become intentional in pursuing joy in our lives. There are many ways to be filled with God’s joy. I’ve already mentioned studying His Word and being obedient to His commands. Other ways are singing or playing music as a means to worship and praise Him. For me, this is a really big thing. Music is such an important part of my life. I love nothing more than singing, playing my flute, and playing Christian music on my laptop or radio. Participating in the worship team at my church is where I find myself in a state of peace and contentment, and joy. Also, just being part of my church brings me joy. Being in the company of my fellow Believers in unity is the most awesome experience ever! I’m sure there are many more things that could be included, and I encourage my readers to seek out ways to be filled in God’s joy. You may just find that you are filled with a joy that you have never experienced before in your life.

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A Willing Spirit

Today’s Bible Journaling comes from Psalm 51:12, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” (KJV) As I read this I looked at other translations and found kind of a revelation to me. The Living Bible says, “make me willing to obey You.” That jumped out at me. God’s free Spirit makes us willing to obey Him!

Joy comes from God! When we receive His joy, it makes us willing to be obedient to Him. We are then walking in the pathway He has laid out before us. That pathway may have a few twists and turns, potholes and otherwise, not so comfortable situations, but we know that His way is always the best for us.

To give a little background on this Scripture, Psalm 51 is David’s heartfelt prayer of repentance after his sin with Bathsheba. When you read the entire chapter, you can just feel the despair and broken heartedness of David. Nathan has confronted David with his sin, and now David knows he must ask for forgiveness to be right with God and continue to be a “man after God’s own heart.”

The devotion today points out that it is ok to ask for your joy to be restored. John 16:24 says, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (NIV) It’s God’s desire that we have joy in our hearts despite the circumstances or station we find ourselves in life. He is more than willing to restore joy into our hearts when we ask Him.

Another thing that popped out at me was that when we are obedient, we have joy! We die to our own desires and wants and change our desires for what God wants in our lives. Everything in life traces back to obedience to God’s will. When we are on the right track we have joy, peace, and contentment. We are in a good place with Him at our side.

Do we get ourselves off track and sin? Sure we do! We’re not perfect! We will make mistakes and sometimes become down right rebellious. But the great thing is, God is always there to offer forgiveness, set us on the right track, and gives us a second chance.

We must have a spirit that is willing to ask for forgiveness and endeavor to be obedient to His plan and will for our lives. Sometimes obedience doesn’t come easy, especially if we are stubborn in wanting our own way. Yep, that’s me! Stubborn could be my middle name! The hard part is getting rid of the stubbornness and being pliable in God’s Hands to be molded to what it is He wants us to become.

Another thing I began to think about is that becoming pliable requires us to make an active determination to be obedient and willing to follow God and His ways by getting rid of those things in our lives that is a hindrance to our growth and witness. Words and actions must line up, as well as attitudes. The key for me is, have I allowed Jesus to shine in me so that others see Him, or do they see me in all my sin and stubbornness and disobedience? Does my behavior and attitude show Christ in everything I do and say? When we can say yes to that last question, then we can have the joy and peace that is rightfully ours as children of God.

The more we seek God’s will for our lives and search out His joy, we can know we are walking in obedience and following His pathway for our lives. His plan is always good, and He has a plan for each one of us. (Jeremiah 29:11) Following His plan brings us joy!

A Joyful Heart

I’m beginning a devotional series on having a joyful heart. Yesterday’s Scripture was Psalm 16:11, “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (NASB) Today’s Scripture is II Corinthians 6:10, “As sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.” (NASB) I combined both Scriptures today because the source of joy is from God, and yet, even though we are going through trials, we can still be joyful because that joy comes from Him.

As I was doing both pages, yesterday and today, I couldn’t help but think of situations where I needed God’s joy in my life. Once was when I miscarried the only time I became pregnant, and the other was when my first husband died. Both times I needed God’s joy even though I was in deep pain and sorrow. I could honestly say that God’s joy was in my heart despite the circumstances. To the average person that concept doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. How can you be joyful and be in sorrow at the same time? First, I think we need to look at what we are talking about. Joy is not happiness and happiness is not necessarily joy. Joy is deep in your heart and doesn’t depend on circumstances. Happiness is fleeting. We can be happy in one second and unhappy in the next. We can be joyful even though we are not happy.

Confusing? Yes, it can be. But when we understand that joy doesn’t come from our emotions but from deep inside, whereas happiness is emotion driven, then it isn’t so confusing. Joy comes from God and He places that joy deep inside of us.

When my first husband, Allen, died, I felt a multitude of emotions…grief, relief, joy, exhausted, lost, isolated, not whole…the list went on and on. All of those emotions were piled on me at the same time. I grieved because I was missing my life partner and best friend. Relief, because I was his primary caregiver and it hurt me to see him suffer. Joy, because I knew he was in Heaven with God and was no more in a debilitated condition and suffering. Exhausted, because there was nothing left in me after caring for him for seven years from strokes and epilepsy. Lost and not whole, because a part of me was missing. Isolated, because I felt all alone. Yet I still had a deep joy, knowing God was in control despite my circumstances. I knew He would never leave me, and He would walk with me through this. Was I happy? No, but I still had joy and my faith in God was not shaken.

II Corinthians 6:10 talks about being sorrowful, yet rejoicing, about being poor but making others rich, and having nothing but possessing everything. These things are happening simultaneously. Our circumstances don’t dictate our joyfulness, but they can dictate our happiness. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people who have next to nothing in possessions talk about how contented they are with their lives in spite of the fact that they are poor. They scrimp and save and eke out an existence with little to show for it. Yet, they seem to be the happiest, most joyful people on the planet, and more often than not, they are the biggest givers. They may not have much, but what little they have, they are willing to share with others. Whereas the people with everything financially and materially seem to be the most unhappy people. Living lives of “I have to keep everything to myself” and not willing to really share from the bounty they possess. II Corinthians says that because of joy, even though we have nothing, we possess all things. Only God can do that! Only God can give us that joyful heart that leads to contentment and brings peace into our heart and life.

Contentment Begins with Obedience

This series on contentment has been a real wake up call for me. Today’s verse is Jeremiah 7:23, “But this is what I commanded them saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I commanded you, that it may be well with you.’” As I was working on the devotional part of my journaling, I felt God say, “Contentment begins with Obedience!” Wow, that was definitely an eyeopener. Then I remembered something I’ve carried with me at least for the last 25 years.

I had heard a Christian radio program while I was driving in my car, and the pastor speaking said, “Look at the word ‘obedience’, right in the middle of the word is another word, ‘DIE’. To be obedient means to die to ourselves and our wants and obey God’s will and desires for our lives.” When I heard God say, “Contentment Begins with Obedience!” it was as if I was being disciplined. My discontent was disobedience to Him. My anger and worry are disobedience to Him. Not only am I miserable when I am angry, worried and discontent, I make everyone else around me miserable, and God is not pleased with me. At that point, I am not allowing Him to rule and reign in my life. I am not displaying God-honoring behavior or attitudes. I am not allowing Jesus to shine in my life, and others don’t see Him in me, they see me in all my ugliness of attitude, words and behavior. I had to stop and ask for forgiveness and ask for His help to be obedient in being content and conquering my issues of anger and worry.

As I read the Scripture passage I read a little before and after the focus verse. God is telling Jeremiah what to tell the Israelites. He reminds them that their forefathers coming out of Egypt on the way to the Promised Land were disobedient in their complaining, stubbornness, always looking back to Egypt and walking in their own way instead of listening to God and obeying Him. Their constant rebellion was what inevitably caused a whole generation to be punished by wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, until everyone in that generation had died, not being able to enter the Promised Land.

With disobedience comes consequences, discontentment, and loss of joy. I need to not just say I’m working on my struggles, but actually put my words into action. Each day, every moment, every second, I must be aware of what I say, reign in my emotions, change my thinking, and trust God that even when I am not happy about something, He knows what is best for me, and will work in that situation for my good. It may not be something I want, but it will be for my good.

This past Sunday’s sermon wasn’t really on contentment, but on changing our thinking, and it ties in with what I’ve been studying in this series on contentment. Everything starts in the mind, which affects attitudes, behaviors, speech, and motivations. At the very beginning, I must decide in my mind that I will be obedient, to be content, to not worry, to not become angry at the drop of a hat. Forgiving others for past injustices also go toward being content. Forgiveness is not actually for the other person, it’s for me! It frees me up to be obedient and thereby be content.

This morning I was watching Kathie Lee and Hoda on the Today Show and they were talking about being happy. Kathie Lee is a Christian and she gave her view on happiness, and she was right on the money. She said happiness is not constant, but joy is. We can be happy one minute but then the next minute not be happy. However, joy is constant, and she said her joy comes from Father God. I love how she boldly proclaims her faith. She works for NBC, a network I used to work for a long time ago, and I know what she preaches flies in the face of the network’s viewpoint. I’m surprised they haven’t toned her down, but I’m glad they haven’t. She is an encouragement to those of us who are Believers living in this world of sin and darkness. Contentment also brings joy, or maybe it should be the other way around, joy brings contentment. When we have the joy that Jesus gives, we are content.

I have a lot of work to do to get to where I need to be, but I’m so glad my Heavenly Father is so patient with me. He keeps at me until I get it right. One day I will be able to look back and see how far I’ve come. It’s during times like this that I grow. I am thankful for His love and discipline.

Being Content

In my Bible Journaling this month I’m reading about “Being Content”. This is one of those things I have struggled with my whole life. That, and coupled with being a worrier, and having anger issues, it’s a lot of issues that I need to deal with and get resolved. Today’s verse is Matthew 6:31-32, “Do not worry then, saying, ’What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”

As I said, this is one of the big things I struggle with. Part of it is the old, “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude. The problem is, I was a Jones! So, if everyone is trying to keep up with my family, it’s like there is this thing that says, “You have to keep up appearances for the rest of the world.” The only problem with that is, we weren’t wealthy, didn’t have every latest thing that came along, but we managed. Even though I was reared in a Christian home, it was by no means perfect! I have a lot of issues to weed through from my past. So, in thinking through all of this today, my mind went back to yesterday and the sermon our Pastor delivered. The title of his sermon was, “What Were You Thinking?” He spoke from the Scripture passage, Philippians 4:8-9, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence, and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” It was a tough sermon to hear, because it hit you square in the face. It was one of those kinds of sermons where there wasn’t a peep in the sanctuary because people were deep in thought over what Pastor was saying. Usually, our services are filled with “amen” and “yes”, and periodic applause at something Pastor has said that we agree with. But yesterday, it was like God was saying, “Listen up! I want you to know this, I want you to do this!”

I pondered the sermon for most of yesterday. God was dealing with me. I began to think that maybe this is my time to get this settled, because not only was my study for this month on contentment, but yesterday’s sermon was about where this all starts. In my thoughts! Pastor asked us, “What do you spend your day thinking about?” Wow! It never occurred to me that what I focus on in my thoughts dictates my actions and attitudes. He said that what consumes our thought life will develop our character. Ok, so for me, I guess one of my issues is appearances, or how others perceive me. My hubby has observed that about me. I’m worried about what other people will think if I do something, or how my house will look to other people, whether they will like it, or me, or not. My Dad used to say that I shouldn’t worry about what other people think, even him. I tried all my life as a kid to make my Dad proud of me. Sometimes he would tell me, other times I never was sure. It left me feeling like I wasn’t good enough, that I needed to do something else to gain his approval. I’m sure that is the basis for my worry about how things appear to others. I need to remember that the only person I need to be concerned about what they think of me, is God! My job is to please Him!

The Scripture in Matthew plainly says that we are not to worry! That’s a command, not a suggestion! God already knows what we need, so why are we so consumed by acquiring money, food, clothes, and the things of this world? Part of the issue is what we spend time thinking about. In today’s society, we have television, radio, and advertisements all over telling us that we NEED the latest and greatest whatever it is. We can see and hear these things for so long before it begins to overtake our thoughts. Then we start seeking our WANTS instead of our NEEDS. The news on TV and radio nowadays is filled with negative reports of all kinds of things, and that leads to us worrying about our safety, will something happen to us that will cause irreparable harm? That leads to a lot of “What if’s” that most likely will never happen.

What are we focusing our thoughts upon, the things of this world or God’s Word? Pastor also said that the enemy wants to get our minds away from our focus on God. That means we must be aware of his traps. Trusting God for everything begins with keeping our minds upon Him and His Word. Another thing my Pastor said yesterday was, “The Word of God is a discerner of your thoughts.” God knows what we think about, whether it is good or bad, worth the time to think on or not. Therefore, if we keep our focus on His Word, seeking His opinion rather than others, praying and trusting that He will “work everything for our good” (Romans 8:28) then we have no cause to worry or be discontent with our situation.

In case, my readers think I’m pointing fingers, this is as much a preaching to myself as it is an encouragement for you. For me, this is a long journey, not a sprint, but a marathon. I have a lifetime of issues to resolve. It took a lifetime to develop them and it will take a lifetime to conquer each one of them. I hope this has been an encouragement to my readers, and that you will keep your mind focused on God and trust Him for all of your needs and desires.