Cultivating Joy

Today I’m sharing an article by that was published recently on FaithGateway.

Cultivating Joy

When I was young, I thought that following God and being a Christian would lead to a life that was kind of easy, filled only with happiness and free from pain and sorrow. Silly me. I’m not even sure where I got that idea, except maybe from teachings spouted by TV evangelists who espoused a prosperity “name it and claim it” doctrine that was popular when I first chose to follow Jesus. It tickles the ears, doesn’t it? It’s so appealing, this thought that if you are a true believer you are spared suffering and gifted only with a positive existence.

It is also completely contrary to what the Scriptures teach.

If Jesus was perfected through His suffering, who are we to think we won’t be perfected through the same means? (Hebrews 2:10).

Now, don’t get me wrong, Jesus came that we might have life and life to the full (John 10:10), and it’s the joy of the Lord that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). It’s just that this promised joy and life come to us in the midst of the easy and the hard, the triumphs and the travails.

The key, then, is to intentionally cultivate that joy in our hearts — to choose it — no matter what season we’re in, the easy or the hard.

And life is hard a lot of the time. This world we live in is not Eden. We are not in Heaven. Not yet. But, in the middle of this often difficult journey, God “has taken great measures to preserve our freedom of choice.”1 We have the freedom to choose to grow in joy or to retreat from it.

Said another way, life will inevitably be hard, and as maturing believers with our eyes set on Jesus, we will constantly be presented with opportunities to make choices that will either lead to a deeper joy or not. Here’s what I mean:

It’s hard to stand up against the group when they are going the wrong direction — spiritually or any other way. But it’s also hard on our consciences afterward if we don’t. That Jiminy Cricket won’t be quiet.

It’s hard to be kind to the mean, curmudgeonly neighbor. It’s hard as well to be convicted later of being unloving. It’s hard to not spend the money on the item we so desire.

It’s hard to save money. It’s also hard to be in debt.

It’s hard to have a loving but tough confrontational conversation with a friend. It’s also hard to not have one and then have offense and distance creep into that friendship.

Be Hospitable

Be Hospitable

By Pat Knight

When the apostle Paul’s ship was forced to stop in the port city of Tyre of Macedonia to unload cargo, he found the hospitality in the New Testament church to be overwhelming. The Christian inhabitants gracefully invited Paul and his associates to stay with them. Paul spent quality time preaching, teaching, and encouraging the Christian disciples there. The people’s hospitality was rewarded by the traveler’s friendship and ministry. At the end of the week, in spite of the consistent warning from his friends that danger awaited him, Paul remained focused on his goal, ready once again to resume his journey toward Jerusalem. “‘And now, compelled by the Holy Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me, a task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace’” (Acts 20:22-24)

After ministering to their new friends, when the time arrived for Paul and his associates to sail, the whole town accompanied them to the ship. Envision the men, women, and children praying and weeping as they embraced the apostle and his beloved companions. Tell-tale round depressions clustered together remained, representing knee impressions in the sand made as the people knelt to pray.

Once Paul and his travelers boarded the ship and the crowd dispersed, there were scattered footprints leading from the seashore back up the path into town. Gradually the tide washed away the evidence of love and friendship in the sand, but the visual impressions remained in the minds of Paul’s followers, a memory that would not easily fade.

How often have we been disappointed when our plans to achieve a goal or arrive at a destination have been disrupted? We failed to recognize that with God our journey is as important as the outcome. While we focus our eyes on the destination, God uses each step of the journey to teach us. God doesn’t just plan to meet us at our next stop—He travels every mile alongside us, guiding from within our hearts.

Just as Paul was forced to disembark twice on his trip to Jerusalem prior to arriving in Tyre, God knew of Paul’s agenda on both occasions. He already had blessings planned along Paul’s journey. Is there any reason God would not have similar plans for each of us?

God is frugal of time and talent, wasteful of neither. He guided travelers to hospitable strangers in Tyre, who took them in and provided their needs. The hospitality was rewarded with Paul’s friendship and ministry—the kind that remains to comfort over the years. The travelers nearly forgot about being inconvenienced, for joy superseded their disappointment.

Our inopportune situations may not be as straightforward as what Paul experienced. We may not learn the purpose for an interruption of plans until later, if at all. We are comforted knowing God’s plans for us are perfect. God is faithful and always provides our needs.

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
For we say with confidence,
‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”
(Hebrews 13:5-6).

What an assurance from our loving God who always keeps His promises!

God makes plans for our lives. He perpetually considers our longings and safety. He never disappoints. God never fails to keep His promises nor will He ever desert us. Paul learned that God’s purposes are perfect and His schedules precise. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And, He is worthy of our trust!

A Cracked Pot

A Cracked Pot

By Pat Knight

In God’s Word, our lives are compared to clay pots, both of them fragile. Physically and emotionally we are weak vessels, easily injured. “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21).

The woman was incarcerated in a federal penitentiary where she learned to love her Lord. Though she must serve her sentence for repeated crimes, she clung to God’s promises. She knew she was God’s creation, but she felt like a cracked vessel, flawed and sinful. Eventually she learned that there was a remedy available for the many fissures in her life. She presumed that if she were really made of clay, her cracked and crazed veneer could be repaired with glue, restoring her vessel for use. She believed God would function as her glue, forgive her sins, and repair her broken heart.

Rejoicing in her new-found freedom of healing and forgiveness, she sang praises to her Savior. Imagine being sentenced to a correctional facility and rejoicing for the positive developments in one’s life! She was joyful because her daily life depended on God’s promises. She accepted His unconditional love in exchange for her fragile, crumbling, vessel of clay.

In Macedonia, the apostle Paul intervened to heal a demon-possessed slave girl. No one thanked him for performing the miraculous healing; in doing so he eliminated the ability of the slave owner to profit from fortune-telling. There was such uproar among the town’s people due to this encounter that Paul and Silas were ordered to be beaten. After they were severely flogged, they were thrown into prison. About midnight, exhausted, bleeding, and suffering intense pain, Paul and Silas began praying and singing hymns to God. Nothing could quiet their joyful spirit. Suddenly a violent earthquake shook the very foundations of the prison, opening the doors of the cells and loosening the prisoners’ chains.

God was at work even in the dark, dank dungeon.
As a result of the apostles’ testimony to God’s goodness,
the jailor and his family came to believe in God.
Paul and Silas were released the next morning by government officials.

God delights in mending the little and big breaks in our lives. In the process, He strengthens us beyond what we can imagine. We observe the newness he has created from our previously broken-down lives. Though Paul and Silas were bruised and bleeding, God’s powerful love transformed their attitudes and healed their lacerated skin and bruised muscles resulting from the beatings.

Job sat among the ashes of the local dump heap, scraping his head-to-toe boils with a broken piece of discarded pottery. Before Jesus claimed our damaged lives we were all destined for the trash pile. We had no usefulness or merit. Breaking any of God’s commandments served to further crack our life’s fragile vessel, rendering us ineffective in carrying God’s love and light to others.

When our lives fall apart from multiple sins that weaken the outer veneer and threaten to eviscerate, Jesus is still at work in our hearts. Our ordinary, fragile, clay vessel is elevated in stature by the immeasurable value bestowed by our Savior.

The secular standard for measuring life’s worth is normally judged by the self-defeating attitude of the amount an individual contributes to society. We cannot earn God’s love. It is unchangeable and unconditional. He reaches out to us when we have no more to give; when we are spent and exhausted from our attempts at self-righteous living. God merely calms our efforts, instructing us to trust and depend upon Him as He repairs our broken spirit, damaged hearts, and physical ineptness. “We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Only with the healing and peace of God can we reach our full potential in this world.

Jesus, our Savior, peers directly into our hearts and ascertains our motives. The woman serving her time in prison is aware of a great truth:

God is able to supply all of her needs,
including rehabilitating her life and repairing her fragile vessel.
Would it be so improbable for those of us who are unencumbered
by the stringent demands of prison life,
to share the same hope?

Let us sing and rejoice like Paul and Silas, the courageous and obedient prisoners of centuries ago. Grasp the truth that joy is not dependent upon our circumstances. Joy is an attitude that spontaneously erupts when Jesus resides in our hearts!

Taking a Break

My life these days has been very hectic and busy from too many medical appointments and other commitments. This all adds up to a lot of stress, which affects my health badly and fuels the need for me to take a short break. I hope and pray that I feel refreshed enough so I can get back to my usual Tuesday and Thursday blogging schedule in a couple of weeks. I am and will be praying  my favorite Bible verse for all of you and for me too:

You will keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
—Isaiah 26:3

Redefine Happiness

Redefine Happiness

by Joni Eareckson Tada

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings,
because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope.
—Romans 5:2-4

Some people are never going to be happy.

I’m not being cynical, because the very folks about whom I’m speaking would agree. They would be the first to say that they are in a dead-end marriage, that they see no end to the constant irritation of their supervisor at work, that they will never lose those ugly twenty-five pounds. Life, to them, seems to be a never-ending drudgery of the same, sad routine.

Are you this way? Does happiness, like a butterfly, almost flutter within reach but just when you think you have grasped it… it’s gone? Or perhaps you feel your marriage is okay, and your job is acceptable. Yet you feel as though something’s missing. Perhaps you think this is real happiness.

Well, life is hard. For some, it is downright hard. Unhappiness seems to be here to stay. But it doesn’t have to be this way, because the answer is not to get rid of unhappiness but to find a new definition for it.

My friend Elisabeth Elliot has suggested that we redefine happiness as duty and honor, sacrifice and faithfulness, commitment and service. Happiness is fleeting and elusive, but joy is an overflow of the perseverance and hope that comes from demonstrating faithful sacrifice and committed service.

Lord of Joy, will You help me redefine happiness in my life? You promise joy in the midst of our suffering, so please let me know Your joy today as I persevere in faithful service and as I demonstrate true commitment in my tasks. Give me Your smile, let me feel Your peace dancing in my heart. That, for me, will be true joy.


Taken from Diamonds in the Dust. Copyright © 1993 by Joni Eareckson Tada. Published in Print by Zondervan, Grand Rapids.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version.

Through All The Seasons. . . God Is Loving and Powerful

Today I’m sharing an article by Dr. David Jeremiah that was published recently on FaithGateway.

Through All the Seasons…
God is Loving and Powerful

By Dr. David Jeremiah

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 — Why has this passage endured the ages as one of the oldest philosophical poems in our literary canon? It’s certainly among the most pensive passages of God’s Word, a beautiful meditation that casts a near-hypnotic spell over readers of any generation.

The author was the wisest and wealthiest man who ever lived, and this book is a chronicle of his lifelong quest for true happiness and joy. Solomon tried wealth, wisdom, work, and wild living. At the end of his wide-ranging experiments, he concluded that everything was an empty exercise in vanity. It was like trying to capture the wind in his hands.

As we come to the third chapter, we find Solomon facing an even bigger challenge, a “problem with God.”

I know all about the “problem with God.”

I would not have chosen cancer as a path to spiritual growth, nor would I wish such fear and pain on anyone. On the other hand, I do not see my illness as a random event, some miscellaneous accident of health. And I do not believe there was a moment when God was absent from the physical, emotional, and spiritual crisis I endured.

In fact, I found Him everywhere during that time. I found Him as never before. I glimpsed His face among the doctors and nurses who cared for me so skillfully. I saw Him there in shining power among the family of my church, and intimately among the family circle of my wife and children. He met me in the private chapel of my soul, where with each passing day I felt deeper in His grace and comfort. I found my Lord more present and more powerful.

Knowing there must be pain and suffering for us all, I dearly wish everyone could travel the road I did. I wish every human soul could see the face of God in the fear and turmoil. 

So many walk a very different path; they experience only His absence.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, when his own three-year-old son contracted a rare disease that took his life at a young age, penned his conclusions about God and suffering in order to provide answers to others in similar circumstances.

Kushner’s conclusion was a popularization of an ancient theological conundrum:

How can God be both perfectly good and perfectly powerful? The suffering in the world suggests that if He is God, He is not good; or that if He is good, He is not God. In other words, there must be something lacking in either His love or His strength, or He would cure every little pain.

Rabbi Kushner worked through the old enigma. He concluded that God is all-loving but not all-powerful. He cares deeply about the people He created, but after creating the world He backed away and allowed it to run without His interference.

Solomon had a different view entirely. He concludes that God is sovereign and in control, regardless of the imponderables that remain. Solomon sees God as being present with us but not helpful enough. The king wants to know why God does not improve the standard of life, do something about the aging process, show more favoritism to His children, and perhaps discontinue the program of human pain.

In his poem, there are fourteen negative statements and fourteen positive ones, and they fall into three separate categories. The first describes the influence of time on our bodies, the second focuses on our souls, and the last deals with our spirits.

And Solomon’s main thought? Well, it doesn’t take a Hebrew scholar to notice that the word time occurs twenty-nine times in these verses.

Time and Your Physical Life

To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, And a time to die;

A time to plant,

And a time to pluck what is planted;

A time to kill,

And a time to heal;

A time to break down,

And a time to build up.

Solomon begins his contemplation with a sobering observation: birth and death both have their appointed times.

When my grandson, Ryland, was born, I flew to Baltimore for the event. As I peered through the nursery window at this beautiful new citizen of the world, it struck me that only a corridor away, some other citizen was being dispatched. Some family had gathered for the agony of farewell. It is not a lengthy walk between the nursery and the intensive care unit. We spend our own time making that trek between entrance and exit, womb and tomb.

Meanwhile, there is a time to plant and a time to harvest. Solomon refers to the food supply because he knows that God sets the boundaries of the seasons. God has built certain rhythms into His world. The steady repetition of the seasons provides comfort and a workable cadence to life.

We are a bit discomforted to read that there is a time to kill as well as a time to heal. Yet our bodies are in the process of dying every moment. Scientists tell us that every seven years we replenish all the cells within our bodies. There is an ongoing maintenance department in the human machine that is constantly changing out the old for the new. And it is governed by time.

Cancer cells, infection cells, or simply worn-out cells must be killed — so even killing has its time, and we are grateful. There must be a time to kill so we might also have a time to heal.

And what of “a time to break down, and a time to build up”? We build up in our early years, and we start breaking down as we get older — painful but true. How old is old? I was enjoying a birthday when David Todd, my six-year-old grandson, crunched the numbers on my age. He said, “If Poppy was a dog’s age, he’d be dead!” He was right.

There is a time for breaking down, but God is there. He is as powerful as He is loving, and you have the opportunity to experience His power all the more effectively and vividly when you turn to Him in the breakdowns of life.

Read the rest here.