The first time I went away for a weeklong girls’ trip, my eyes opened to a whole new way of exploring and experiencing a new place. We moved at our own pace without children dictating the stops or menu choices, ordering local fare that excited our taste buds with flavors of rich southern goodness. We moseyed through art museums, traipsed through old towns, and rambled down beaches full of sea oats and sandpipers.
By the time I left Emerald Isle, North Carolina, I’d encountered so much new that I have since traveled with a greater desire to experience as much of the smells, tastes, and sounds as I can of each destination I visit. I’m even trying to explore my new city of residence with a similar determination.
On this Journey of Joy, each smultrostalle takes us deeper and wider than we’ve been before. To experience God’s true joy, we must be willing to try the new things He puts before us, squeezing past the discomfort and doubt in order to step forward with a faith that He leads us well. Trust, surrender, obedience — ideas that have woven themselves into this journey each week — pivot us toward all the joy God has for us. We just have to be willing to try all the new along the way.
Smelling the New
Smells can be the first indicator that we’re not home anymore:
As soon as I step out of the car in Colorado, I smell that wild, mountain sage.
At the beach, I breathe in the salty air and that pungent mix of damp earth and decaying sea life that are somehow beautiful and inviting.
When we explore the Old City of Jerusalem, the scents of spices and leather and roasting meat mingle, pulling me into the city’s everyday life.
The sense of smell strengthens our sense of place and showers us with powerful associations, like how the smell of certain foods elicits thoughts and feelings of home and love and joy. So, it’s no wonder when Paul encourages us to be imitators of Jesus, living our lives in love, that he describes those loving actions as fragrant offerings and sacrifices (Ephesians 5:1-2). And, he depicts our going out into the world to share Jesus as the “spreading of the fragrance of knowing Him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). To live from love, to share the knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior are to delight God greatly — like a pleasing aroma.
So as we encounter each new experience in life, let’s not neglect our noses! We can breathe in every scent, allowing it to build memories and connect us with the people and place of our new destination. Similarly, we can breathe in the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to awaken us to all the new experiences God has for us. And, remember, that we can be a pleasing fragrance to God each time we are obedient to Him.
Tasting the New
I perused the menu at the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant perched atop the dock where boats rolled in with each day’s catch. The mental debate happening in my mind inhibited me from deciding what to order — play it safe and order the fried catfish because I knew I liked it? Or try something new and take a chance? I took a deep breath and ordered.
I stared at the steaming bowl of shrimp and grits in front of me so afraid I’d regret choosing my friends’ recommendation. Grits sounded, well, gritty. But not wanting to disappoint my friends, I dipped my spoon in for a taste. First my eyes closed and rolled back. Then I’m pretty sure a moan escaped my throat. When I opened my eyes, my friends teased that they knew I’d love it. I laughed and ate till I nearly burst.
That night a new understanding of exploring local cuisine awoke within me. I realized that to travel is to taste. Each destination holds its own flavors, and I allowed my experiences that week to change the way I approach traveling. I resolved to taste my way through each new place.
A year later, I found myself in Israel with a similar decision — order the chicken that’s familiar or the falafel that was foreign. My brief hesitation allowed me the chance to recall my recent revelation. I ordered the falafel. Now everytime I’m in a Mediterranean restaurant, I enjoy tasting each chef’s version of the famous fried dish, and I think of Israel.
Experiencing the tastes of a new destination helps us open ourselves up to that place’s uniquenesses and nuances. While seeing the sights helps us grasp some of the beauty and history of a new city, tasting its foods invites us into a deeper, fuller experience of the people, their traditions, and their ways. In a similar way, God’s love can fill our hearts so that we seek to draw closer to Him and experience more of Him. It’s why David, in Psalm 34:8, urges us to taste and see that the Lord is good. His figurative language invites us to discover more of who God is, surrender to His ways, and enjoy His nearness.
On the chance that my descriptions fail to elicit a deeper reality for you, imagine your favorite sweet treat. I’m currently thinking of some chocolate I tasted in Louisville recently. Stepping into the candy shop filled my olfactory senses with delight. Seeing the round balls of deliciousness also brought some happy anticipation. But it wasn’t until I bit into it, letting the smooth blend of flavors melt in my mouth, that I fully experienced that piece of chocolate.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good” is our invitation to experience God most fully.
Hearing the New
Another way of engaging more fully in a new destination is to listen to its sounds. On Emerald Isle, I woke up to the sounds of waves crashing on the shore and gulls crying their good morning. In Bethlehem, each morning I awakened to a foreign melody paired with a half-sung chant, beckoning people to prayer. Sounds remind me I’m somewhere new, a place to discover and explore.
Jesus taught that His people would know His voice and so follow Him, just as a sheep knows his shepherd’s voice and follows (John 10:27). In our search for joy, sounds can either inhibit our ability to hear God’s voice or enhance it. Take time to evaluate what sounds you’re listening to. The pings of your phone’s latest notifications? The voice of someone who says you’re not worthy or able? The constant stream of noise flowing from all your devices? These are the inhibitors of hearing our Shepherd’s voice.
As Elijah learned in 1 Kings 19, God’s voice isn’t loud. It comes in a gentle whisper. So, to hear our Father’s voice, we must quiet the other sounds, lean in, and listen.
It occurs to me that often in my prayer time I fail to hear God’s voice because of my own voice. If I don’t cease my lists of needs or the pleas for help, I’ll miss getting to hear what He wants to say. I have to choose to silence all the voices and noises — in my head and in the room — so that I have the best posture for hearing what Jesus has to say.
And, then, when we do hear from God, we have to trust it’s His voice. His words come from a place of truth that His Word supports. His words come from a place of love, and they’re meant to encourage or convict (not condemn). His words come from a place of wisdom that are meant to teach and guide — like the time I heard that gentle voice interrupting my laments one night about how “this was not the plan.” God most tenderly spoke two words that caused me to stop crying and start listening, “Whose plans?”
When I heard those words, I knew they were not my own. I knew the Father was reminding me of my own tendency to fix and plan and take control. I knew He was guiding me toward a deeper trust that His plans are best. I heard His words, and I discovered a new layer of His love for me.
Not Senses for Senses Sake
To explore a new place with our noses, mouths, and ears is to relish in it. But I can smell the sage and taste the falafel and hear the waves without making the association to the place or the people because I’m living distracted, perhaps focused on the past or looking ahead to the future. Our senses can run neutrally in the background, offering input that’s easily missed if we’re not paying attention. Slowing down enough to fully engage in the moment, allowing that input to be logged in our brains, opens opportunities for joy. That’s why every morning while at Emerald Isle I opened my window then crawled back in bed to listen. I wanted to soak in the sounds of the beach while I could. And this not-much-of-a-morning-girl girl smiled wide with every crash of a wave.
Paul alluded to this truth in his letter to the Romans. While his context for this statement differed from ours today, a similar conclusion can be drawn:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.Romans 14:17, NIV
The experiences of our faith can’t just be about rules or pleasure. To limit them like that is to miss the point. Hearing this same verse in The Message version might be helpful:
God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy.Romans 14:17, MSG
Being a child of God, invited into His presence, is to experience His righteousness, peace, and JOY! So, yes! We want to take in our surroundings, allowing our senses to build memories and experience pleasure, but we also want to be sure to take the same intentionality into our relationship with Jesus. If we step into each moment fully aware of Him, we will experience more and more of who He is, including His joy.
To experience God more fully, builds our trust in Him. The better we know Him, the more easily we surrender control and obey His ways.
Wholly Experiencing the Holy
Our intentional efforts to experience God more completely only happens when we are willing to employ new practices. Just as it would be a huge miss to eat McDonalds when the falafel stand is across the street in Nazareth, it would be our loss if we kept trying to gain any sort of peace or joy from God through the same, fruitless routines we already keep. Logic would say if we want something new, we’re going to have to do something new.
In your journal this week, ask the Holy Spirit to help you define what it is you seek. Assuming that might include joy, try to be specific about why joy. Then make a list of the spiritual practices you currently employ to achieve what it is you want, being as honest as possible with yourself — keeping it a judgement free zone. Finally, ask the Spirit to lead you over the next week to a new spiritual practice you can make part of your daily routine.
If prayer is a practice you want to engage more intentionally, I’d recommend finding a source to help guide your prayers so that your prayers expand beyond your (our) usual lists of wants and needs. Then be sure to pause long enough to give God a chance to speak into your spirit. The Lectio 365 app is a great resource, as are any of Stormie Omartian’s books on prayer.
Fasting is another practice you can use to focus more fully on God when, normally, you’d be focused on food. I know there are always a lot of questions about fasting, so here’s a resource to start the process of understanding it, and Seedbed invites everyone to be part of their weekly community fast.
Journaling is a practice we’ve been breaking into during our Journey of Joy because writing down our experiences gives us a log of all we’re learning, and it helps us process and hear from God. If journaling in a blank book sounds intimidating, try a journal full of prompts and structure. I’ve discovered such journals at Well Watered Women.
If we’ll pick one new practice to engage consistently over the next few months with the intention of experiencing God in new ways, we’ll become more aware of His presence, plans, and person. I pray we’ll guard against the temptations to talk ourselves out of trying the new experiences or giving up because they seem odd or senseless or fruitless — because trusting God’s path means moving forward in the new experiences despite how we feel or what we see. Like the smells, tastes, and sounds awaiting us at each destination, God has much for us to experience. As we wholly surrender to all the expressions of holy He invites us into, we’ll discover depths of joy we didn’t know existed.
Let’s close this week’s post with a Lori Hetteen poem, whose words give life to so much we’ve been discovering about joy:
God is setting our lives right and completing them with JOY! Amen!
- I discovered Lori Hetteen on Instagram, bought her book, and generally enjoy her whimsical and witty way of pouring truth into my life. If you want to read more by Lori, you can find her on Etsy.
- Our Journey of Joy playlist follows this journey. I hope it continues to pour truth and joy into your life!
- This week’s journaling prompt is a challenge to take us beyond this series! Engage in new practices in order to discover new depths of holiness and joy. Also, don’t forget our daily practice of writing three things we’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices. Comment below.
- Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
- Last week’s travel word was perengrinate, Latin meaning to travel or wander from place to place.
- The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is now shipping, and the price has dropped! The Joyful Life* description of the summer edition sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “We’ll be challenged to reexamine present circumstances and redefine the rhythms of our days in light of unseen goodness even when what is before us may appear anything but good. We’ll be encouraged to trust the Almighty in all things—resting wholeheartedly in His perfect character and loving plan.”
*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.
All photos this week are by me 🙂