“Pure joy is found in a life of growth, not in a life of ease,” writes Douglas D. Webster in Finding Spiritual Direction. Tough words to live by in a world that values comfort above else.
Webster uses a study of the book of James to provide a basis for the essential practices of anyone wanting to provide spiritual direction to others who seek to grow in maturity. He sees spiritual directors as “physicians of the soul” (14), as “parents” (16) and as “farmers who love the land and understand their work.” 171
Webster also talks about prayer, “Prayer sustains the resistance of the soul against an undertow of evil . . . Prayer does not tidy up life and arrange it in labeled folders. It focuses and intensifies life. Prayer orients our thinking, directs our actions and prepares us for God’s work.” 40
So, here is the question: When given an option, do you choose a life of growth or a life of ease? If you choose a life of growth, you should also understand that growth usually requires that we move through resistance as we encounter suffering and hardship. At the end of growth lies joy as Webster says above.
As Christians, most of us understand that joy is more than a feeling and is not necessarily to be equated with a smile on our face! But, what if joy was a place? When people commented on the joy in Damaris Zehner, even though she felt anything but joyful she began to wonder if joy was not more of a place.
“I concluded that joy isn’t a feeling or a thing we have; it’s almost more of a place, one that we’re invited to enter into and abide in. Joy is the keeping of God’s commandments; it is faithfulness in discharging duties. It’s the result of endurance, and also the reason for it.”
Reminds me of a post I made a few weeks back when I suggested that obedience turns pain into joy.
Zehner quotes Hebrews 12:1-2; James 1:1-2 and Psalm 125:5-6 in support of her comments about joy which I appreciate. I think what Zehner is saying is that joy is the place of obedience (my words, not hers). In obedience, we will be content, we will be joyful, we will be in the will of God.
But, what grabbed my attention was Zehner’s allusion to the weight of people’s expectations.
They all wanted to know about my work overseas and my spiritual life. Many of them presumed my spiritual life was triumphant – I was a missionary, after all.
Does anyone have a story or comment out there on the presumption of missionary spirituality? Please share them with us.
Another post on missionary spirituality seems to be in order!
Great post on the comma of grace from Stuff Christians Like that fits well with this post. Luke 22:32, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” As Jonathan says about the Luke 22 , it is a “loud, wild picture of what grace really looks like.” Be sure to read his full post.
Grace is why we should be willing to read and pray Psalm 32!
How right life is when
- my sin
- my iniquity and
- my transgressions
- are forgiven
- covered up
- not counted against me
Acknowledgement of my desperate need for
Pain and suffering when hiding
- my physical body wastes away
- I groan all day long
- God’s hand is heavy on me
- my strength is dried up
Thankfulness for God
- offering prayers
- providing a hiding place
Prayer: Help me not to be stubborn or to stray
Promise—steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD
- Be glad in YHWH
- Rejoice righteous ones
- Shout for joy you upright ones
What would happen if each of us who is a follower of Jesus Christ made a daily decision to rejoice and be glad in God and to say to ourselves and to all who will listen, “Great is the LORD!”?
Even though I started a new Psalm today, I was drawn back to Psalm 40 from last week. Towards the end of the week last week, I discovered the beautiful truth of Psalm 40: 16-17.
“But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
May those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD.”
As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay O my God” ESV
Psalm 40 is a Psalm in which David is expressing his trust in God despite many struggles and much opposition. In verse 16, it appears that he made the following decision, “I am going to rejoice and be glad in you and say Great is the LORD!” And in the Psalm, he states this as an exhortation to those of us who say that we are trusting God.
I find this both a challenge and a liberating truth. My circumstances and struggles may not have changed but since I am seeking God above all else, I can make the decision to to rejoice and be glad in Him! When I focus on enjoying God and taking delight in Him, it is interesting how I seem to have less energy, less attention and less time to spend thinking about my own problems and issues. The struggle may continue but somehow I have changed. And then, as one who loves God’s salvation, I proclaim continually GREAT IS THE LORD. Great is the LORD, Great is the LORD, Great is the LORD.
Here is a challenge. For the next week, let us be intentional by daily (hourly?) stopping to rejoice and be glad in God and to say continually to ourselves and to others, Great is the LORD.
Today, I thought of another practical help–begin giving thanks! There is probably a difference between rejoicing and giving thanks but I think that when I start giving thanks, I start rejoicing and then suddenly I find that I am glad in God. Actually, in our home church last week, we discovered that thanksgiving can also be used as a weapon against the sins of the flesh in Eph 5:1-4. See verse 4 to see why we thought that. You could also see 1 Thess 5:16-18; Phil 1:18-19 and 4:10-13.
Great quote here from CS Lewis seen on ThePoint
“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory, 26)
I don’t know what God has in mind for me but at least he is consistent with his communication. I am just trying to get through this process but maybe there is something more for me.
Yesterday, there was the question from John 1:35ff, “What are you seeking?” Ouch–fame, success, respect, significance–maybe not so good eh? And as I have been focusing on Psalm 128 this week, it is quite clear that as we maintain a fear of God, he delights to bless the work of our hands, it shall go well with you. But, the fear of God comes first, the total surrender of everything before him–including my dissertation?
And then my wife sent me this article from Breakpoint about turning drudergy into worship. Come on! I just read a dissertation today in which the guy said someone told him to “just finish it” but maybe that is not for me?
Catherine Larson writes in a breakpoint article on January 6, 2010
“turn every act, no matter how small, into an opportunity to serve God and worship Him through the work of your hands—no matter how seemingly “secular” the work is that you find yourself called to do. . . there is no task, no matter how seemingly insignificant or rote, that cannot be transformed into worship when the heart is inclined to give that act unto God as a spiritual act of worship.
Okay already but we are talking about something supernatural happening. Hmmm, maybe that is the point?
Got the above title from a post by John Piper called 10 Resolutions for Mental Health, a reflection on Psalm 19. Following are my four favorites:
At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities.
I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.
I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
I am simply overwhelmed this morning by what I read in Psalm 1 this morning. Read the Psalm slowly and with great pleasure–reading in the Hebrew a couple of times and then going to a commentary by Craige. He makes what is for me, a brililliant statement about how Torah (Word of God or instruction of God) is “to be a source of delight.” He says that it is “a delight which is discovered by means of contstant meditation on its meaning.”
In these words, he captures what I have been trying to say and do in relation to the reading of the Word whether you call it formational or spiritual reading. Yes, I want to discover delight as I read and the words fill my intellect, my imaginations. At times, God has granted open doors of delight as I read and I long for others to experience the same.
When I am hoping to discover delight, it is no longer something I should do or must do. As Craige says, we should not think about the blessed or happy life in terms of reward or punishment but as a natural outcome of a way of life. This is not something you have to do. People are tired of being told what they need to do and are longing for examples of people who will show them how to live. Is this not an example of that? Someone asked me why I am always reading so many books and suggested that I just relax, read my Bible and enjoy Jesus. Maybe what I am looking for in these books are models of people who are living live well, who enjoy their relationship with Him who find in His Word and in His person delight?
Do we not naturally move towards that which gives us delight, towards that which makes us happy? Maybe we make this harder than it really needs to be? How do you enjoy anything? Are Christians people who discover delight daily (in the Bible, in life, in one another etc) or are we a bunch of grumpy complaining people? Don’t answer that–rhetorical question!
Another insight–There is an emotional dimension in discovering delight in Torah that I often miss in my own Bible reading.
Obviously, this is not the only thing that I must do in life but if I am missing this–am I not severely limiting my power and my capacity to love and care for others? As I discover delight in Torah, I discover that I am loved and God fills me up.
Just had an interesting conversation with an old friend just as she was about to depart from where I am staying. When she asked me what kind of training my wife and I do, I told her that my area was spiritual formation and/or spiritual direction. “Do you mean discipleship?”, she asked, as in the training the Navs give. How do you answer such a question in a few minutes? This is not the first time I have had this conversation. Here is what I started to say plus, plus.
The assumption for most of us growing up in the evangelical church is that if we just read our Bible and pray every day, we will grow, grow, grow. Right? Well, I think for a lot of people, reading the Bible is just not getting it done in terms of leading to a spiritual intimacy with God. I think that I could summarize what I am trying to do is to walk with people in their journey with God and to help them enjoy their relationship with God.
Perhaps using the metaphor of journey for the spiritual life changes the way we view things. We never arrive–yet we are always arriving? We recognize that we all journey differently and so we should consider personality types as we journey with God. We are on a journey with God but also with other pilgrims. As our life and environment change, we may need to travel differently and growth will not always look the same.
One thing that we always need is input from the Word but the best way to get that will be different for each one of us. I personally love the traditional discipleship model of quiet, reflective reading and study of the Word, combined with Scripture memory and prayer. But, is it possible that may not be the best way for everyone? That is why I tend to avoid the use of “quiet time” or “devotional time” to describe my time alone with God. Perhaps there is an awareness that God is present in all of my life and I am to be aware of his presence and to enjoy it 24/7 not just during an hour in the morning. That is not to say that people ever said that we were not to live our life as an integrated whole under the Lordship of Christ. But, for many of us it just didn’t work out that way.
I suppose the biggest change in my thinking has been in the area of seeking to help people enjoy their relationship with God. Maybe this reflects a narcissistic tendency in me? But, have we not been invited to enjoy (in some way, at some level) the fellowship between Father, Son and Spirit? Perhaps that is why I enjoyed reading The Shack so much. Although flawed from the moment anytime someone tries to depict relationships within the Trinity, I think William Young is onto something as he describes the comfortable and genuine relationships that Mack observes and participates in during the book.
That is not to say that there will always be felt enjoyment or consolations in our enjoyment with God. God may have taught me far more in the times when I only experienced the seeming absence of God or desolations. Sometimes, we the main thing is to keep on the journey when the way around us is dark. Well, many have written on this eloquently and I won’t even attempt to do so here. The point I am trying to make is that we are always on a grace-filled journey with God.
I have learned and grown so much over recent years and am grateful for the many spiritual friends and mentors and yes, spiritual directors that have helped me in my journey with the Lord Jesus. As I try to honestly reflect on what is happening in my ruach journey, may this blog encourage a few others fellow-sojourners!
from Henri Nouwen email newsletter
At first sight, joy seems to be connected with being different. When you receive a compliment or win an award, you experience the joy of not being the same as others. You are faster, smarter, more beautiful, and it is that difference that brings you joy. But such joy is very temporary. True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion, a fellow traveler.
This is the joy of Jesus, who is Emmanuel: God-with-us.
From Adrian van Kaam’s reflections on John 17:13-16 in The Tender Farewell of Jesus
Jesus’ joy is the source of our peace and happiness.
All partial joys will deceive us if we do not subordinate them in the deepest joy that Jesus yearns to share with us., so that we may share it with others.
True joy sets us free. It helps us to let go of illusions and to find equanimity.
Christian joy is as dim as a spent light, it may even be extinguished, if it is not nourished by loving care for others. Care and joy can never be separated. One flows forth from and sustains the other. One cannot last without the other.
Christian joy is kept alive by the words Jesus passed on to us. They are a source of faith, hope, and charity. His joy may be hidden in the recesses of our soul.
The radiation of Jesus’ joy in our heart and mind may grow dim due to the pain of dissatisfaction we feel when the world in which we live opposes the words Jesus passed on to us. In God’s own good time, this suffering may be transformed by grace. Then our joy will emanate from our sharing in Christ’s own passion.
In daily life the joyful Christian tries to strike the happy mean between superficial lightheartedness and rigid seriousness, between the person who presses pain behind a false smile and the one who never laughs or enjoys life.
The joy of Christ has nothing to do with raucous wit or an addiction to fun and loud laughter. Neither does it thrive on heaviness of heart. Jesus’ joy is a gentle delight in the goodness of life as a gift of the Trinity to us and others.
Joy loses its fire when people are tempted by a society that does not care for its own and refuses to live by the words of Jesus.
Christians are called with him to live in this world, to heal its pains, to save souls, to preach the coming of the reign of God, while not being of this world.
It (Jesus’ joy) is the joy we long to experience in the core of our being in spite of the hate we may incur from those who resist your ways. We ought not to expect that fidelity to your ways will gain us admiration in a world where human ambition and earthly aspirations are ever ascending.
I don’t know how I missed this but I did. Perhaps my understanding came this morning out of my reading in Psalm 105, seeing that God “brought his people out of Egypt with joy, his chosen ones with rejoicing” v43 and in v45 the Psalmist wrote, “All this happened so they would follow his principles and his laws.”
“Maybe it came out of reading in Deut 7:6 that Israel was a “holy people who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” Moses goes on to say that they were not chosen to receive his lavish love because of their greatness. “It was simply because the LORD loves you” 7:8 And then, in v11 a command to “obey all these commands, laws, and regulations.”
I know God does not love me any more or less because of my obedience. I am not chosen because of my obedience. I cannot earn his favor because of my obedience. But, this morning, I am aware that my obedience brings him pleasure. Maybe I understood this before but this morning it is like a new light has come. Just as my children’s obedience brings me pleasure, so my obedience brings pleasure to my God. Dare I say intense pleasure? Why? Lots of reasons! He receives joy from my free will choice to obey him–an obedience that is energized and made possible by the superabundant grace of the Spirit. He receives joy because my obedience to his will is the best thing possible for me and He likes that. Somehow, my obedience brings Him glory and I think God has deep pleasure and contentment when He gains more glory–sort of like–that is the true nature of the way life and his creation should be–giving glory to him.
My obedience brings God pleasure–imagine that!!
The second major section of Gary Thomas’ The Beautiful Fight is called New Spirit, New Bodies and in it he discusses the transformation that God does in our eyes, mouth, ears, minds, hands and feet and hearts. I have now read “Eyes that See” and “Mouths that Speak.” If the “words” of email fit under the category of “mouths that speak,” it has not been a good week for me. And I read this chapter last week! Plus, my wife led a Bible study on 1 Thes 5:11 ff on how we are to encourage one another which is a passage that Thomas uses to show “particular uses of the tongue.”
What happened? It is ugly pride raising up its ugly head once again. I have been frustrated in my inability to stay on top of all that I am supposed to be doing. A couple of times this week, I noticed that I was angry and irritable–for no apparent reason. Well, late one day (already a danger signal), I responded to yet another email hoax someone sent me with a harsh, sharp and pride filled email that was sent publicly to all the members of the email group. Basically, I was saying, “how could you be so ignorant? Don’t waste my time.” I later apologized but the damage was done. Why do I keep reverting to this type of behavior?
Thomas writes, “Life changes when we live it in cooperation with God instead of just working for God.” 83 The level of frustration I have been experiencing in my position shows me that I have been doing more of the “working for God” rather than in “cooperation with God.” Thomas writes these powerful words, “Here’s the joy of the God-empowered life: we can cease expending energy trying to be impressive and instead rest in being used.” 85 Although it is not easy to admit that I have not been living a God-empowered life, the fruits are evident. God-empowered lives are not prideful lives because they know it is not about them and that very little of what they offer to people comes from them.
Listen to Thomas again, “It will help you more than you could know to realize how small (though necessary) a part of the process you really are–when indeed you are relying on God.” 84 I think what he is saying is that I still need to prepare, to pray, to listen, to do whatever but compared to what God does in any given situation my part is infinitesimal. Thomas says,
“Here’s the delightful spiritual irony: true biblical humility breeds confidence. Many people consider humility a sign of insecurity, but when we accept the Bible’s reality that God is already acting, already moving, and already directing the affairs of his world, we can rest in his capability, confident that he has made allowances for our own weaknesses, sin, limitations, and lack of gifting.” 85
This helps me to understand the cooperation involved in the God-empowered life and I think will lead to a lot less frustration and much more joy. I still regret that email I sent but I am grateful how God is using my failure to lead to what I hope is a greater level of transformation. To be continued . . .
We have been traveling around Vermont for the past few days and finding a place to sleep as we were getting tired. On Sunday night we ended up at what has to be one of the most scenic lodges in Vermont. Since it is off-season, the lady at the front desk asked me, “I suppose you would like a luxury room with a view of the mountains and lake?” And then, she gave me a price that was half of what had been quoted me earlier, one that we could not refuse. We quickly decided to stay two nights! We are truly relaxing and enjoying ourselves. But . . . it is hard for me to live in the moment. One the way here, I was thinking about getting here rather than enjoying the journey. Once we arrived here, I began thinking about the golf course I played yesterday. Now, that we stayed an extra day, I am thinking about what time we have to check out and the two hour drive and the course that starts tomorrow. And wondering how or when or if we will ever come back here?
When will I ever learn? I did get up this morning before 6 and just sat and enjoyed the sun rising over the mountains. I am going to go sit in the sun now and not accomplish anything! Buchanan asked the following questions the other day in his book, “But do you play enough? Do you risk enough and bask in God’s creation enough and do some things for no other reason than that you’ll be dead soon enough anyhow, so why not live a little now?” 138
Last week, as I was headed to supper with friends, I asked the question, what gives me joy? Here are a few that I came up with on that 10 minute drive
Lunch with my daughter
Quiet evening with my wife
Meditating on the Word
Driving with all the windows down in the car
Being outside on a cool morning about to ride a bike, play tennis or go golfing
A good nights sleep
Seeing that I am being used by God to encourage others
Giving to someone
Small things but life is built upon a series of small events and decisions, is it not?