Christian Living

True Success Includes Peace & Joy

So today I came across this gem of a verse in my reading (not that the Bible isn’t full of great verses–I even love the genealogies because they showcase so clearly that God cares about and treats us as individuals). Romans 14:17-18 says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval” (NIV).

Quick context: Paul is talking about the importance of unity and not causing a weaker brother to stumble. That’s where the eating and drinking comes in: the kingdom of God isn’t about eating/not eating meat sacrificed to idols or drinking/not drinking wine.

Why do I love this verse? Because this is the opposite of what we often get caught up in. Anyone who serves God in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit is pleasing God and receives human approval. Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten focused on crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s, spiritually speaking. In other words, if you focus on the outward expressions, following the rules and such. That’d be my hand you see raised.

I like clear directions. I like to know I’m fulfilling expectations. I like knowing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. So sometimes I get caught up in judging my progress (or lack there of) based on whether things have changed outwardly. Before I became a believer, I read my Bible religiously. It didn’t make a lot of sense and I was afraid I’d go to hell if I missed a day, but I did read it.

But empty actions aren’t the point of Christianity. You can look pristine on the outside but if you don’t have righteousness, peace, and joy, you’re not pleasing God. You’re like the Pharisees in the New Testament who Jesus compared to whitewashed tombs that were beautiful on the outside and unclean on the inside.

It’s easy to judge others based on that “empty actions standard” too.

I also super love that Paul included peace and joy on that list of what the kingdom of God is about. As Christians, I think sometimes we get focused on the righteousness part (which is gifted to us in Jesus anyway) and forget about peace and joy. Especially joy because joy, at least to me, feels pretty optional. Maybe it’s our puritan roots or something, but it definitely feels like a luxury to have joy and maybe just a little bit evil to have zest for life in a broken world. Stop for a minute and imagine what your life would be like if it were characterized by peace and joy.

I don’t know what you thought of but what came to mind for me was less fear, more childlike wonder, more room to just be without having to do, more space for “island time,” less worrying about my issues and other people’s problems…. just lighter.

And that is winsome to people. Peace and joy and righteousness are attractive and win favor. I love that the Bible clearly says “this is how to get men’s approval.” Proverbs 3 has a similar exhortation. We can get caught up in chasing fame and approval. But chasing it by changing ourselves or dressing a certain way or acting a certain way only works for a moment. Peace and joy and righteousness are the long-term solution.

Obviously, that peace and joy part is as impossible for us to muster up on our own as it is for us to muster up some righteousness of our own. It is “in the Holy Spirit.” Getting the peace and joy means surrendering to the Holy Spirit so He can work His fruit in us (Gal. 5:22). I also really like that. When I do remember the importance of peace and joy, I can get caught up in trying to make myself have them. But God says right here that finding my own peace and joy is a dead end. It’s always nice when someone saves you time by telling you when you’re headed the wrong direction ūüôā

So! It’s actually a good thing to long for peace and joy. We should have them if we’re believers–it pleases God. We don’t have to plod through life–we’re allowed to want zest, to really be present. We’re allowed to want to stop worrying or being fearful. It’s our job to cultivate them, day by day growing in surrender, growing in our relationship with God.

Blog_ True Success Includes Joy & Peace

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Christian Living

How to Get More

Who doesn’t want more, right? More peace? More joy? Steadier finances? It sounds like a marketing pitch, doesn’t it? ūüėČ

I’m perpetually reminded how good we’ve got it as Christians. There’s a podcast I listen to regularly where the caster talks about seeking peace. He’s already ruled out Christianity so he spends a fair amount of time looking.

So why don’t we have it? That actually was a question that consumed a good portion of my college years. God says He wants to give us joy and peace, but I felt like I just had stress and survival all the time.

I’ve come to believe what moves us along that spectrum of joy/peace to stress/survival is surrender. See, on our own, we can’t redeem ourselves and we live in a broken world. The results of sin are always miserable–whether it’s our sin or someone else’s. Lifestyle diseases are rampant in our society. People are so busy they don’t have time for relationships with God or with others. But we’re told that we need to do it all on our own. We’re like messy rooms trying to clean ourselves–we don’t even know what clean looks like or feels like, so how are we supposed to get ourselves there?

This morning I was reading back through my journal–the one where I write down what God says to me. I’ve been reading through it daily for almost two years now, reminding myself over and over of what God’s taught me. This quote re-struck me:¬†“The primary reason [God] asks us to surrender everything to Him is to make room to receive what He wants to give. Try as we may, we will never bring anything to God and leave empty-handed unless we forget to take His gifts home. God’s nature is to give.” ~ Beth Moore, Stepping Up: Psalms of Ascent, 169.

God is a God who gives good gifts (James 1:17).

I can’t give myself good gifts, just like I can’t make myself a millionaire. I mean, obviously, I could work hard and do my best to earn that much money, but so many things are outside of my control. The market could crash tomorrow and leave me bankrupt. A war could come to our country and destroy my finances. There are loads of things that could happen that I can’t predict or prepare for.

When we surrender, we leave room for God to give us His best–the best that He says is “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20, NIV). I want that. I want more than whatever my mind can come up with. I know I have limits inherent in my thinking, limits I don’t even know are there. But God doesn’t have those limits.

I’m firmly convinced that the solution to getting more is to give God more. Mindset has so much more to do with reality than we realize. Any area of my life can be transformed simply by surrendering it to God and then letting Him give me more. Any area in your life can be transformed simply by surrendering it to God and then letting Him give you more.

So where are you lacking peace or joy or enough-ness? Have you surrendered it to God? Are you content to stay in that place for the next twenty years or do you want more?

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Choosing Joy

So this week I sat down and actually wrote down what my ideal would look like six months from now. I’m trying to make my goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Sensitive)–although some goals are hard to do that with. “Get Healthy” is pretty nebulous ūüėČ

Life is hard, isn’t it? Trying to figure out what I would like changed and what’s realistic to change–it really brings into focus some of the things I’m tired of in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the things I get to do. I never thought I could ever have a life I love this much, especially with my background, but that doesn’t mean¬†there aren’t hard things.

As I’ve told y’all, I’m working my way back through Beth Moore’s James study. It’s really good, in case you haven’t done it yet–I highly recommend doing it! I think most of us in the church are familiar with James 1:2-4:¬†Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,¬†whenever you face trials of many kinds,¬†because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.¬†Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIV)

The thing that I really love about Beth’s study on this passage¬†is that she talks about the choice we have. Joy isn’t something you feel–it’s something you choose. I’ve talked before about how joy is being present in our moments because we believe there’s something good there. The exercise she has you do is to write down three different things you could do with the trials you’re facing and compare where you’d be in five years if you choose something other than joy (anger, bitterness, apathy, despair, etc., etc.) and then to write down where you’d be in five years if you choose joy.

The crazy thing is that even though it is a lot harder to choose joy in the short-term, you get a lot further in the long run. I had an appointment with my doctor last week¬†that¬†was simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. She told me that she’s seen people work on fixing their nutritional deficiencies and then suddenly heal after years of work. It’s something that I’m working on fixing in my own life, and sometimes, I’m just tired of being sick and tired. I’m worn out with trying to be faithful in things that don’t have immediate results.

When I was doing this lesson, that was the first thing I thought of. So, for instance, if I choose despair with my health problems, I would probably give up. I’d stop doing the things that will help long-term because they’re not helping short-term. My stress levels would go up. I’d probably have fallout in my relationship with God. I’d be less able to take care of my kids and to be a true ally to my husband.

Or I could choose bitterness–after all, a lot of these health problems didn’t start with something I chose. And God allowed them. So, I could get bitter, which would make me more toxic, which would make me less healthy (physically and emotionally). And I’d be back to being a poor mother/wife. Plus, I’d most likely be miserable with my life.

But if I choose joy, right off the bat my toxicity levels will be better, even if nothing else changes. I’ll be able to continue being faithful with my health therapies. I have more emotional margin to handle stress, which in turn creates greater margin in other areas of my life. And long-term, I’ll be growing closer to God–because frankly, I don’t see any other way to choose joy without the power of the Holy Spirit.

Anyway, you get the point. If you have time, consider writing out your own scenarios and how they’d play out. Choosing joy may not be the easy thing, but I want the benefits of having my trials produce perseverance and maturity.

 

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Joy & Presence

Last week was rough. A death in our family. Drama in other parts of our family. Sick kids. A ton of things on my to-do list. It felt overwhelming.

I’ve been thinking about joy a fair amount for the past several weeks. Becoming a person who’s¬†characterized by joy is something that I’ve been praying for for a long, long time. I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, so verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:16 challenge me like nobody’s business.

“Be joyful always.” How are we supposed to accomplish that in a broken world? We’re all inundated with challenges and pains on a daily basis–sometimes a momently basis.

I misread a commentary on this particular verse, and it sparked off a line of thought I’ve never even considered. In the church we talk a lot about joy, but what is despair? I’d argue that despair is characterized by the belief that ____ will never get any better. That belief results in absence. By absence, I mean a lack of trying, a lack of positive attention, and often escapism and/or denial. Growing up in a large family, we all became champions at escapism. We’re all bookaholics, and it wasn’t uncommon to need to physically shake someone in order to get their attention because they were so ensconced in the book reality.

Anyway! I think when you talk to someone who struggles with despair, there are lots of evidences of giving up, as though trying takes far more energy than it’s worth because change is out of reach. I know that’s how it works in my own life. I tend to pretend whatever the problem is doesn’t exist, and if I can’t successfully do that, I throw myself into being “not-there,” whether that’s by obsessing over minutiae I can control like housecleaning or by flat out leaving–getting out of the situation or escaping into literature/movies.

But something I’ve been learning in Tai Chi is how to be fully present in a moment. It’s been a difficult skill to acquire, and I am far from mastering it. Basically, it means that you’re there. Not sending your mind to the future or the past. Not planning what else you might do that day. Your brain is in the moment you’re in, focusing on the thing you’re doing. You’re fully aware of all parts of your body and interacting with the moment using the whole of who you are–physically, emotionally, spiritually. There’s an intensity to putting¬†yourself fully in the moment.

As I was thinking about despair being characterized by absence, I found myself wondering if a big part of joy is simply being present. It kinda reminds me of little kids and the intensity with which they live the things they’ve anticipated. Think about Christmas or birthday presents or a looked-for outing or a treat. If you don’t have those kinds of things from your own childhood, watch your own (or somebody else’s) kids. I have often heard people talk about how a healthy childhood is characterized by joy. I think there’s something to that. Healthy children firmly believe that there is something good coming in each day, so they have no need to run away from the day. On the contrary, they throw themselves into the day with gusto because something awesome will happen at some point, and if they’re not paying attention, they might miss it.

As children of God, we have that same guarantee: something good is going to come today (Rom. 8:28; Matt. 7:7-11). Just let that sink into your soul for a moment.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to remember/believe that. However, if we really revel in the reality of being beloved, we can be present in each moment–throw ourselves into it with gusto, if you will. We can be passionately engaged in this moment even when we’re in pain and life is just plain hard, when there’s relational conflict, when there’s a mountain of dishes or a mile-long to-do list.¬†No matter what horrible situation we’re in the middle of, we can stay present because we know that God is going to do something good and, just like children anticipating a treat, we don’t want to miss it.