Joy Transcends our Other Emotions

oh_happy_dayContinued from here.

Zach Williams’ new song, Old Church Choir, has a great line about being joyful when you face problems in your life:

When the valleys that I wander turn to mountains that I can’t climb, You are with me, never leave me. There ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy.”

The key to our joy is God’s presence in our lives. Just as God is love, He is also joy. Because the Holy Spirit lives inside of you, you have 24/7 access to joy no matter what is going on in your life.

That’s not to say that you will always be happy. Happiness is circumstantial, but joy is a fruit of the Spirit. As long as God is with you (which is always), you have access to joy, even when your circumstances are difficult and even when your heart breaks.

While we cannot experience happiness and sadness at the same time (beyond the tension of bittersweet), we can experience joy at the same time as sadness or even grief. That was my experience while my son was in the hospital for his back surgery. As I stated in this blog entry, that experience was very stormy, but it was never dark. That’s the best way I know how to describe the experience of joy transcending pain and other difficult circumstances.

That season of my son recovering from major back surgery was one of the most challenging times of my life. Nevertheless, I experienced joy transcending my physical and emotional exhaustion, and that kept me going. It gave me strength when I would have otherwise felt weak. I was surprisingly grateful throughout a time that I could have been very negative (and probably would have been if this had happened a few years earlier).

The best way I have found to tap into the joy of the LORD while dealing with challenging circumstances is to praise and worship Him. This takes your focus off yourself & your problems and, instead, directs your focus onto God, the source of our joy. Rocking out to Zach Williams’ Old Church Choir is a good way to get started.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running through musical notes under the words, “Oh Happy Day.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

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The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength

car_dogOne of my favorite passages of scripture comes from the Book of Nehemiah:

This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” ~ Neh. 8:10

I used to transpose the words joy and strength, believing that the strength of the Lord is our joy, but that’s not what the verse says. It says that “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” When we are joyful, the joy actually strengthens us!

This topic has been on my mind since I heard Zach Williams’ new song, Old Church Choir. Check out the video here and try not to start dancing around the room while you listen to it! I look like a cross between all three women in the video whenever I hear that song. I’m sure several people have been quite amused at me dancing around in my car while waiting for the light to turn green. Thankfully, only God sees me dancing around my bedroom to this song!

Look at the faces of the people in the video and see the strength. Instead of having a sour face while driving the carpool, typing on a computer at work, or doing the dishes, those women are overflowing with joy. There’s no way to hide their light under a bushel!

I spent too many years of my life as a sourpuss. I was always either complaining or worrying about something, for reasons I mostly don’t even remember now. How differently might I have faced my life challenges if I had found my strength in the joy of the LORD! I believe this is why Paul tells us to rejoice always. When I am joyful, my thoughts are on God rather than on my problems, and God’s joy strengthens me.

You might be wondering how you can possible “rejoice always” when you are dealing with big problems. I’ll discuss that topic in my next blog entry.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace driving a car with her dog by her side. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Not Responsible for the Outcome

goalsContinued from here.

A big lesson that God has been teaching me is that I am responsible for obedience while He is responsible for the outcome. This means that I cannot take credit when whatever I do is wildly successful, nor should I beat myself up if I don’t see any harvest from my labors. The outcome of whatever God leads me to do is 100% under His control.

This is not an easy concept for me to process. As a recovering control freak, I am very attuned to the ways in which my actions result in particular outcomes. I am a planner by nature. I like to know what the goal is and then come up with a plan to meet that goal. I am very outcome-oriented by nature. So, when God tells me to do something, regardless of the outcome, I’m being led outside of my comfort zone.

I wonder if one reason God has me investing lots of time and energy into projects that, at least for now, have not reaped many dividends is to teach me faith. He also might be teaching me humility so that if/when He changes the outcome, I’ll know that He caused those results rather than me.

One lesson I have been learning over the last few years is that people love a hero. They see successes in someone’s life and assume that success came because of that person’s efforts and talents. However, God is the hero, not me, so perhaps keeping me unsuccessful (by the world’s standards) at this time is one way to ensure that He will get the glory whenever He brings in the harvest.

God has brought about several successes in my personal life over the past few years, which I have previously blogged about. This includes enabling me to forgive my child abusers, healing my marriage, and healing my eating disorder. People will sometimes comment upon what a “good person” I am, and I am always quick to respond with, “I am not a good person; I have a good God.” I know that I am not responsible for the positive outcomes in my personal life – that’s all God.

So, perhaps He is doing the same thing with my ministry aspirations. Perhaps He is making sure I trust Him with the outcome so that I always know that He … and not my own efforts … is responsible for whatever success He brings in the future. In the meantime, I’ll obediently follow His lead and resist the temptation to judge the outcome. That’s not in my job description – it’s all up to God.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace writing “#Goals.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Am I on the Right Path?

i_dont_knowContinued from here.

A delay in the harvest can cause us to question whether we are even doing God’s will or whether we misunderstood God’s direction for us. When we aren’t seeing results from our labors, we can easily assume that we must be on the wrong path. However, many people in the Bible did not see immediate fruits for their labors. Abraham, Moses, Noah, and David are examples of people who had a wait a long time before they saw a payoff.

We also cannot assume that things getting worse instead of better is a sign that we are on the wrong path. For example, Nehemiah dealt with strong opposition throughout the entire project of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. Paul also indicated the we can face opposition even when the direction from God is clear:

But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” ~ 1 Cor. 16:8-9

When I don’t see results, I sometimes question whether I am “hearing” correctly from God. I have noticed that as I partake in the path that God has led me on, I feel more alive. It’s like my battery has been plugged in – I can feel energy flowing through me. As I work on the task, I feel energized rather than drained, even when I am not seeing fruits for my labors.

The converse is also true. When I’m continuing along a path that God is leading me away from … or whenever I walk on a path that He has not called me to …. I won’t feel energized. Instead, I’ll feel drained.

Learning how to discern God’s leading can be challenging at times, so spend time in prayer asking God for wisdom and discernment about where He is calling you to serve Him. Sometimes His calling is only for a season, and as He is drawing you away from that path, you’ll find that you are no longer energized and have lost your passion. Meanwhile, another direction will seem to call to you. Sometimes, it’s a direction that has never appealed to you in the past. When that happens, I know that God is working in me because I feel a passion for a direction that has never appealed to me in my natural state. I actually find those paths easier to follow because I know only divine intervention would make them look appealing to me.

As you grow closer to God, your interests will better align with His, and you will find yourself being drawn in directions you never imagined would interest you. Keep praying and trusting God enough to keep moving forward. Follow wherever He leads, and you’ll be amazed by the journey that God has planned for you.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace scratching her head and saying, “I don’t know.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Persevering through the Deserts

never_give_upOne of the life lessons I have learned is to persevere through the desert seasons. When we go through seasons in which we aren’t seeing the fruits of our labors, we can be tempted to give up … and that’s exactly what the Enemy wants us to do! God promises that we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up, but the temptation to give up can be strong when we aren’t seeing any positive results for our efforts.

I have been in a long season of planting seeds without seeing much of a harvest. I used to write a blog on a different topic (under a different pen name) that was successful. I believed this was my “calling,” but God had other plans. I found that I gradually lost interest in the blog and grew to realize this was because God was redirecting my focus elsewhere.

I went through a season of “in between,” where I felt led away from the successful blog, but there was nothing replacing it, either. About a year later, God placed heavily on my heart to write a book entitled God’s Way Actually Works, and I did. That book took over a year to write, but no agents expressed interested in it. God then placed heavily on my heart to write a second book entitled God’s Healing Actually Works, which is a 40-day devotional that walks the reader through the process of cooperating with God toward healing from any emotional stronghold. No agents expressed interested in publishing that book, either.

Throughout the time that I was writing both books, I was also working a full-time job, so I didn’t exactly have loads of free time to write them … and yet nobody is reading them. My husband encouraged me to start a new blog in conjunction with the books, but I kept sensing a “no” from God until December 2016. And then, out of the blue, I got a huge “do it NOW!”

My former blog had thousands of readers, so it’s been humbling to start anew under a different pen name and begin the process again. At this point, I have invested ~ three years of energy into writing Christian living books and blogs without seeing much of a harvest, but I won’t give up. God has a purpose and a plan that is good, and this season of planting will one day reap a harvest if I don’t give up.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a sign that says, “I give up” with a “don’t” symbol over it. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Applying Critical Thinking to your Faith

goalContinued from here.

As I wrap up this series on tough questions, I encourage you not to be afraid to ask God your own tough questions. I did not receive a quick answer to any of these questions that I asked. Some took years of wrestling before I received an answer. At the end of that period, I found more than an answer – I found a deeper relationship with God!

The Bible tells us that we will find God when we seek Him with all our hearts. As we wrestle with the tough questions, search for answers in His Word, and spend time with God in prayer over them, we are seeking so much more than answers – we are seeking God!

I teach a college-level critical thinking class and encourage my students to apply critical thinking to their faith, regardless of whichever faith they have (or none at all). This surprises many students because there’s a pervasive belief that if we apply critical thinking to a religious faith, we’ll see that the religion is a bunch of bunk. So, we must choose between being rational or having faith.

My experience has been just the opposite! During my 11-year period of rejecting God, I applied critical thinking to every aspect of the Christian faith, which is how I arrived at many of the answers I have shared in this series. My belief then – which continues today – is that a faith (or God) that cannot withstand scrutiny is not worth believing in. If God is who He says He is, then my questioning should consistently result in truth – and it has! My faith is very strong today because of that season of questioning and the answers I received.

Don’t take my word for. Experience this for yourself! What are the hard questions that stand in the way of embracing a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God? Ask HIM! Search the Bible for answers. Pray. Meditate on what you find. Consider the questions from different perspectives, including whether you are even asking the right question! Sometimes our questions are, by nature, self-focused, so they need to be redefined to broaden our perspective before those questions can be answered.

If you will do this, then as you seek your answers, you will be seeking God. And God has promised that when you seek Him, you will find Him if you seek Him with your whole heart. So, don’t do this halfway. If you really want the answers, then put forth the effort to seek them, and don’t rest until you have them. At the end of journey, you’ll find more than your answers – you’ll find God!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace kicking a soccer ball into the net: “Goal!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

How Strong Do I Really Need to Be?

workin_itContinued from here.

As I have shared previously, I’ve been through some really tough situations – child abuse, my father’s sudden death when I was 16, infertility, the adoption process, and parenting a child with special needs. To say I have lived a difficult life is an understatement. I have lost count of the number of times people have said to me, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” My response was always, “How strong do I really need to be?”

It turns out that neither of those quotes are from the Bible. There’s nothing in the Bible indicating that God’s goal in allowing large problems in our lives is to build our strength, nor does the Bible say that God stops the waters once we have reached the point that our strength will give out.

Think about it: Jesus was crucified. David fought Goliath. Daniel spent the night in the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace. These were all situations that went well beyond their strength. None of them got through those situations because they were strong. Instead, they got through them because they had a big God.

I have grown to learn that God isn’t interested in building my strength. Instead, He is interested in building my dependency upon Him. That’s why Jesus said we are the branches that are attached to the vine (Jesus) and can do nothing without him. God doesn’t allow mammoth problems in my life to build my strength. He allows them to build my faith, which is worth more than gold.

I’m still learning to accept trials, and I’ve got a ways to go before I’ll greet trials with joy (pure or otherwise). However, I am learning that dependency on God is the key to surviving the trials. I’ll tell God that I have put all of my eggs in His basket, so either He comes through, or I’ll fall. There is no third option.

When you face circumstances that are beyond your strength, remember that the key to surviving them is dependency upon God. Lean on Him, and trust that He will get you through this. God will work even this situation for good. Focus on loving God and doing His will. He will take care of the rest.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running on a treadmill while holding dumbbells over the words, “Workin’ it.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]