Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Are You Choosing Joy?

In an earlier post, I compared our hearts to teacups. If we so choose, our hearts can be receptacles for the Lord's joy. The key word here is "choose." When James admonished his brothers and sisters in Christ to "consider it pure joy" when they faced trials (1:2), he pointed out that it would require deliberate, purposeful action on their part.

In his book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Francis Chan writes the following:

"We tend to think of joy as something that ebbs and flows depending on life's circumstances. But we don't just lose joy, as though one day we have it and the next it's gone, oh darn. Joy is something that we have to choose and then work for. Like the ability to run for an hour, it doesn't come automatically. It needs cultivation.

When life gets painful or won't go as we hoped, it's okay if a little of our joy seeps away. The Bible teaches that true joy is formed in the midst of the difficult seasons of life.

A person who is obsessed with Jesus is more concerned with his or her character than comfort. Obsessed people know that true joy doesn't depend on circumstances or environment; it is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God (James 1:2-4)."

There are countless numbers of people on our planet who are facing major trials right now. But, they are not countless to God. He sees each one of them. And He sees you. There are many people who are facing the ongoing effects of natural disasters: death, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, sickness and disease, just to name a few. In comparison, my trials are minor. Perhaps you can say that your trials are minor in comparison, as well. And maybe you cannot say that. But regardless, Jesus wants to be your joy. He wants you to find strength in His joy (Neh. 8:10). He wants to be your everything, your heart's desire.

Choose Jesus today. Choose His joy. And find your strength.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Running for the Joy of the Lord

I've always been intrigued by the Apostle Paul's comparing the Christian walk to an athlete preparing for and running a race. I've been running for several years, but now that I'm finally serious about it, I think I have a good grasp on what Paul was talking about.

Running requires discipline, sacrifice, purpose, focus, perseverance, and determination. And the Christian walk is much the same. But, I'll save all that for another post. Something else is on my mind this morning, and I think I'll run with it instead. Ha, ha.

Every runner has bad days. We don't have as much energy or stamina as we usually do, we become injured, or we finish a race later than we had wanted to finish. I had just such a day two Saturdays ago. I was running with my training group and was struggling to keep pace. I kept falling further and further behind. I battled my negative thoughts the entire time: "Just give up. You're not good enough to run with them. You'll never be fast enough to keep up with their pace." And it didn't stop there. I struggled through every run for the next week. I allowed my poor performance on Saturday to hang over me like a rain cloud for the next six days. By the time the next Saturday came, I didn't want to go meet my training group. I knew I would fail again. I wouldn't be able to keep up with their pace. But, despite my thoughts of quitting, running wouldn't let go of me (as has happened many times in the past). I decided I owed it to myself, and to my precious husband who had paid for my training program, to follow through on my commitment to the program. So, I went. I ended up having one of the best runs of my entire life! It was hard, but is was worth it. I ran at the front of my group, becoming one of the pacesetters for the day. That sense of accomplishment and victory has stayed with me throughout this week. My runs have still been hard, but it's been easier to silence the negative voices in my mind.

We've all had bad days spiritually speaking. And some of those days turn into seasons. We lose our temper toward our spouse or kids (or both!), we slack off at work, or we don't feel like going to church or reading our Bibles or praying. We start to believe our negative thoughts: "You're a poor example of Christ. You're not good enough as a witness. You'll never get this Christian walk right." Over time, our believing those negative thoughts can lead us to give up or at least want to give up. But, here's the thrilling part: God won't let go of us! When we are faithless, he is still faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). He has loved us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). Do the elements of God's character mean that we won't have bad days? Of course not. But because of His unending faithfulness and everlasting love, we can keep running the race. And we can run with the intent to win! We can experience victory on a daily basis!

Wherever you are with Christ today, whether on a mountain top or in a valley, I want to encourage you to run and to run well. A day will come when all our races will be over. I want to finish strong. I want Jesus to say to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant...Enter into the joy of your Lord" (Matt. 25:21). Now, that's a joy worth the running! And what a finisher's medal we will have to present to our Lord (2 Tim. 4:8)!