Journey of Joy: Week Fourteen — Learning a New Culture

Surrounded by people chanting prayers in a city that was ancient yet new to me, everything felt a bit surreal. But when I saw a young Jewish couple wearing their traditional clothes in the middle of Old Jerusalem while pushing a very typical twenty-first century stroller, a light bulb went on. I grasped the realness of what I was seeing. This was no Disney rendition. This was their life — a blend of old and new, traditional practice and modern convenience. The sonder struck me profoundly.

What I experienced that day reflects the collision of my ethnocentric assumptions with the reality of a different culture. Like most humans, I have assumed all people live and think as I do — mostly because I don’t know otherwise. But not being aware of a culture’s practices, way of thinking, and even their language becomes a barrier to my understanding, my compassion, and my ability to adapt and grow. 

Friends, we have been on this Journey of Joy for a lot of weeks now. If we’re to be shaped by what we’ve learned, we need to build a healthy culture within ourselves, letting go of assumptions, habits, and practices that don’t serve us well. If we’re to live lives full of joy, we’ll need to cultivate a culture in our hearts and minds that creates fertile soil for the Fruit of the Spirit to flourish within us.

Sowing and Weeding

I absolutely love all the agricultural analogies Jesus used as He taught new ideas to a community steeped in old tradition. So, we’ll borrow from the best today, and run with the plant metaphor.

Our hearts and minds are like soil. The plants and fruit that grow sprout from seeds that get planted. If we sow seeds of jealousy, fear, shame, anger, or bitterness, guess what kind of fruit grows. Hint: it’s not peace or joy. Even if we don’t intentionally plant seeds, whatever we focus our attention on sows its own seeds in our hearts and minds inadvertently — sexy images, comparison, discouragement, moral corruption, divisive language, and hatred multiply in untended soil — like weeds.

The good news is the opposite is true. If we sow love, peace, and kindness in our hearts, the fruit reflects the seeds. If we fill our minds with images of harmony, healthy relationships, Godly truths, loving acceptance, and values of God’s kingdom, seeds germinate in our soil to become the good and holy fruit we desire.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

The particular fruit we’ve sought on this journey has been joy, and it won’t grow in soil roiling with negativity and cynicism. Joy needs soil abundant in God’s goodness, so we need to weed our gardens to create healthy environments.

It starts with taking time to study the culture we’ve built within ourselves. There’s nothing like our thoughts to reveal the health or unhealth of our minds, so we need to pay attention to what and how we think. In her book, Get Out of Your Head, Jennie Allen teaches: “our thoughts dictate our beliefs, which dictate our actions, which form our habits, which compose the sum of our lives. As we think, so we live” (page 220).  For our entire lives we’ve been sowing seeds that spread untruth like a virus in our minds. But we can weed those lies and assumptions out of our gardens to make room for the holier thoughts and truths to take root. 

Science proves we can. Our brains are full of neural pathways, some shallow and moldable and some grooves dug deep from a lifetime of toxic thoughts. In both cases, God is mighty to save. In both cases He’s mighty to heal.”

Get Out of Your Head, page 34, emphasis mine

Scripture says we can. By the renewing of our minds and by taking captive every thought. Hear both of those references in “different” versions to get beyond the rote and recognizable, to go deeper with the truths offered:  

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Romans 12:2, NLT

“We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”

2 Corinthians 10:5-6, MSG

We can bring science and our Savior into the process of weeding the gardens of our minds because we’ve been given the tools to do so. 

I keep reading how naming what we fear or feel helps the healing, so let’s take time now to name the thoughts that need to be weeded. As in right now. In your journal, start a list of toxic thoughts or lies that tend to cycle on repeat in your brain. Name them. See them on paper. Then ask God to help you find truths to replace the toxic thoughts . Let the weeding begin!

Tending the Garden

If you’ve ever tried to plant anything in the ground, you know that weeds are persistent. You pull ten one day and ten more pop up the next. It’s constant — as will be the weeding of our minds. Lest we get discouraged, there’s hope! Our brains can change! Science backs up the fact that we can create new neural pathways with new thoughts (see Get Out of Your Head, pages 207-209). Unlike that garden in your yard, your mind won’t keep producing the same volume of weeds once you’ve begun nourishing the seeds (aka: neural pathways) you’ve planted and watered consistently. We can create new mind habits with fewer weeds!

I’ve watched my husband nurture his herb garden this spring. Every other day he waters those plants. And every so often he feeds them extra nutrients and prunes stems that hurt more than help the plant. These herbs are the very definition of flourishing!

Our hearts and minds are no different. Left untended, desirable plants wither, weeds take over, and holy seeds fail to sprout, so once we have sown seeds of joy, let’s not neglect them. Our hearts and minds need the dailiness of truth — God’s Word. They need the attention of the Father as we draw closer to Him in relationship and prayer. The habits and practices we implement keep the soil of our minds fertile with the Living Water and Bread of Life.

In fact, the more we tend the garden of our hearts and minds, the healthier we’ll be, both in thought and in emotion. As we think, so we feel and live. 

Credits for this poem range from Dr. Seuss to William Wadsworth. We’re grateful to whoever penned it!

Transformation

I once watched my mother-in-law tackle her overgrown, neglected backyard. She yanked weeds taller than my three year old. She tossed rocks. She added fresh, nutrient-filled soil. Then she planted seeds.

The next time I visited, her yard had transformed! No longer a jungle of junk or a bare strip of dirt, her backyard flourished with life and fruit. The tomatoes and lemons and other delectable delights seemed to multiply before my eyes. That transformation took work, effort, and intentional care, but the result flooded her yard and kitchen with fruit. If we’ve given this journey any attention, a similar change is taking place within us. 

We began this journey with exhaustion, anxiety, and despair, but we had hope. With Jesus, our hope helped us step into the adventure of discovering joy — not just for the moment, but for life. What we’ve been experiencing is the transformation of sanctification, which is a big word for making something holy. 

Before you dismiss the possibility that you can be made holy, remember that we don’t achieve holiness on our own but through the sacrifice of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is THE journey of believers. Everyday we’re meant to be learning from Jesus so we can be more like Him. And, as we do, the Holy Spirit grows within us FRUIT: love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Nine character traits of the very Person we seek to emulate. All of which can be ours, for our good and for the blessing of others. 

Maybe this list of the Fruit of the Spirit sparks no curiosity because of its familiarity or no excitement because they seem impossible to possess, so I’d love to offer the same passage from The Message, today’s word of joy:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

Galatians 5:22, MSG

I’d love for you to go back and reread each phrase, looking for the fruit it describes. Affection of others = love. Exuberance about life = joy. And so on. Do you find all nine? In your journal, take some time to write out new revelations you have after reading this passage in The Message. What new understandings do you come away with?

Sharing the Fruit

I just love that JOY is one of the Fruit of the Spirit because it implies every believer is meant to have it. These nine fruit are intended for us to enjoy while we’re here on earth. God wants us to find joy and keep it. Jesus exuded it. So can we. 

[Side note: If you have a difficult time picturing “joyful Jesus,” I highly recommend the series about Jesus and His disciples called The Chosen. It’s a crowd-funded show that is well-written and performed. And of all the things I love about it, I think what moves me most is seeing Jesus so full of all the fruit we’ve been looking at today, including joy!!! You can learn more and download the app here.]

The beauty of the Fruit of the Spirit is two-fold. As we become more like Christ on this journey of sanctification, we embody each fruit for ourselves and others. Like love — we embrace Christ’s love for us and exude it for others. Like peace — we permeate Christ’s peace and pass it on to others. Like joy — we become Christ’s joy and bestow it on others. Our very essence takes on that of Christ’s and in turn blesses other people.

Photo by Fahd Khan on Unsplash

The soil we’ve sustained, the seeds we’ve sown, the roots we’ve patiently given space and time to deepen, and the plants we’ve protected have produced fruit! And, in God’s economy, there’s always plenty to share.

Creating the Culture

Just as we’d want to pay attention to, appreciate, and affirm the culture of the people and places we visit, we need to do the same within ourselves. 

Creating a Christ-like culture in our hearts and minds requires that we first pay attention to our thought patterns and habits, to what we consistently expose ourselves, and to whom we heed. If God’s Word, truth, and presence are not first and foremost on those lists, then we know what changes need to be made. To renew our minds in Christ requires effort and intentionality, perseverance and patience. 

Creating a Christ-like culture in our hearts and minds requires that we appreciate the One we ascribe to emulate. We appreciate the fact that divine Jesus lived a life fully human, with all its temptations and tragedies. We appreciate the reality that Jesus chose to leave His throne and descend to earth in order to offer Himself as the atoning sacrifice for us. We appreciate the way He lived out each of the characteristics we desire, including joy. And all that appreciation humbles us and grows in us greater desire to please Him and be like Him.

Creating a Christ-like culture in our hearts and minds requires that we affirm the culture Christ established — one of grace and truth, love and justice, kindness and goodness. We’ll feel the tension of such all-encompassing ways of living because the world is just the opposite — polarizing and divisive. We’ll wrestle with how to live in the complexities of Christian gentleness that is both strong and loving. We’ll discover that peace and joy can reign in our hearts even when the world offers neither and life is hard. 

Because when we allow ourselves to become tilled, planted, nurtured, pruned, and harvested by the Gardner Himself, the fruit is beyond anything we can ask or imagine.

Wherever you find yourself today — whatever place or season or circumstance — surrender yourself to the way of the seed. It’s what Jesus and Paul meant when they talked about dying to self. We lay down our own ambitions and hopes and plans, allowing them to blow away in the wind like chaff, so that we become fertile ground for God’s great planting. 

Here’s to cultivating our inner culture!

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • I’ve read Get Out of Your Head all the way through twice, and picking it up again this week makes me realize how much I need to read it again. Jennie Allen vulnerably shares about her own battle with toxic thoughts and beautifully marries science and Scripture with experience to offer us tools for a better thought life. Really. This is one you want to read. And share. Get it here.*
  • 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 two-fold — list the thought patterns you have that need to be weeded, and respond to the Galatians 5:22 passage from the Message version with new insights about the Fruit of the Spirit. 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. Please leave a comment.
  • Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was smultrostalle, Swedish for a special place discovered, treasured, returned to for solace and relaxation; a personal idyll free from stress and sadness.
  • I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check out The Joyful Life* yet, but just this week they sent out their monthly newsletter, and I just loved it. I signed up for free on their website. Funny thing — the founder and editor of the Joyful Life Company, Sandi Warner, mentioned The Chosen in her “Joy in the Daily” post. I can’t pass up sharing it with you: “[The Chosen] is one of the most impacting things I have ever seen in my life. My husband and I are pretty Biblically literate—so the liberties they take with some of the storylines are obvious to us‚ but by and large, it has increased in GREAT measure my love for The Gospel and has drawn me into the culture of Christ’s life in a way that nothing else has. It is beautifully done and the characters are phenomenally developed (Matthew is just amazing!). And as we binge watched the first season and caught up to the current releases of season two, we have all left every episode in pure awe of Jesus.” Trust me, you want to watch it. Here. BTW, Matthew is phenomenal. Truly. But I still love Peter most. 😉 Well, after Jesus, of course.

*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

The featured photo was taken by me in 2014 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Journey of Joy: Week Thirteen — Experiencing the New

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!

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • 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 🙂

Journey of Joy: Week Twelve — Seeing the Sights

Stomachs growling, our group of four left the airport late at night to find a restaurant in a city we didn’t know, and did we ever find the right one! The Agave and Rye turned out to be full of surprises — its artsy views, its heated back patio, and its delicious food. But nothing held more surprise than Kingsley, our server. Bubbly and beautiful, the New Zealand native sat several times with us to chat. First about our food choices. Then about how she landed in Louisville. And, finally, about her dreams of going to New York. 

That meal, those conversations with our new friend set the tone for the rest of our vacation. Every time we sat down to eat, we made it a point to get to know our server. At each tour, we did our best to engage with our guide. And it changed our trip. The sights we set out to see became as much about getting to know the people who lived there as getting to know the area.

The stories we heard and the hearts that poured out surprised and blessed us beyond what we could’ve imagined. The craziest part of all of it — we didn’t start out with this plan. It happened so naturally with Kingsley that we instinctively became more intentional with our future interactions, and our eyes were opened. I suspect we glimpsed a little of what God sees everyday. Talk about sightseeing!

Seeing As God Sees

We, too, have much to see on this Journey of Joy. In fact, as we perengrinate along the roads of life, we will come across places that need to be explored, even excavated, to find joy. Sometimes these places are planned stops where we highly anticipate joy. Other sights come along unexpectedly, taking us by surprise. But, whether joy is expected or not, each location holds joy. We just need to see as God sees and look for it.

One way to find joy at each of the sights in life is to fully engage while there. We can look people in the eyes, fully seeing them rather than staring at our phones or feet. We can talk with the person in our path, asking about their day, their life. We can ask God to give us eyes to see the way He does, to make us brave enough to speak up and listen well.

One of the women we met in Louisville was Day. Born and raised in Louisville, she overflowed with southern charm. Each time she stopped by our table, one of us asked her a question, and she was quick to reply, often elaborating. When she delivered our breakfast, she opened up about what a hard year it had been in Louisville, getting honest and real. We just listened. 

By the end of our meal, her tone shifted. Where her brows once furrowed, they lifted as she told us about her new home in a safer area and how much she loved the people she worked with, even speaking the words, “It’s gonna get better.” Her resilience and grace moved each of us deeply. Her story opened our eyes and hearts — so much so that my friend asked how we could pray for her. And Day reached for his hand to join in our prayer. 

After breakfast, we left our table full of notes and blessings to our new friend, Day, but we were the ones who stepped out into our day full of God’s joy.

Digging for Joy

Another way to unearth joy at each sight along our journey is to look beyond the varnish of life to see what lies beneath the surface. It’s too easy to gaze upon an old home and only see the chipping paint and sagging roof, but if we get past the cosmetic to visualize its true beauty, we will be gifted with the joy of discovering its rich history and the unimaginable stories of the people who lived lifetimes ago. 

Similarly, with each season of life, we can bore beneath the grief, the pain, or the regret to find what God has waiting for us. In my current season of solitude, of beginning the hard work of becoming a writer, and of learning to parent adult children, I’m being taught how to get beyond the disappointments and frustrations. Some days my digging looks more like scooping sand with a spoon. Other days, I bring out the backhoe. But no matter what I’m digging with, I try to get beneath all the feelings to look for God’s joy.

Some days I find joy in the simple sound of birds chirping at our feeder or flowers blooming in the pots my husband planted. Other days I’m giddy for the warm sunshine. But there are days I need to dig deeper, so I call a friend or reach out to my parents because I need real interaction with real people. Some days I’ll pull out a stack of note cards and write to people I know who are grieving or celebrating. Then there are moments I turn everything off and just sit with the Lord. I’ll even talk out loud with Him about everything I’m thinking and feeling, remembering to praise and thank Him. And, every time, joy arises.  

On the chance this sounds too simplistic or impossible for where you find yourself today, I humbly challenge you to give some of this a try. Unearthing joy can be hard work, but it is not impossible. 

“For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place. Ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.”

1 Chronicles 16:26-28

As I read this verse, I begin to understand why I find such joy most days in the smallest of things — Juncos chasing each other with a mad whirl of chirps and sunbeams breaking through gray clouds — because the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him. And when I seek joy in the people and plants and paintings and pieces of music around me, I find joy because God made it all! His very essence holds joy, so it only makes sense that His creation carries joy, too.

Mud Pies

Don’t get me wrong, digging often gets dirty. On those days when I am struggling with my sorrows or tempted to give in to panic, the depths of mud I have to slog through are messy. But worth it. CS Lewis warns us, however, not to settle for making mud pies when true joy is to be had. 

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.” 

CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Lewis sets up quite the contrast: God’s promises versus our desires. Reread his words and hear God’s voice as He makes you a promise. In case that is hard for you to imagine, here are a few promises to embrace as your own:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Psalm 32:8

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9

These are promises spoken into being by the Promise Keeper. Actions made possible by the Way Maker. Paths revealed by the Light of the World. Yet, as Lewis explains, too often what we desire pales in comparison to what God offers. Too often we settle for less.

Like a child who wants to go on making mud pies because she can’t imagine a trip to the beach. 

Friends, let’s dig for joy at every sight we pass on this journey of life! There is so much more for us than scrolling social media robotically, watching TV numbly, or looking out our windows wistfully. We don’t need to settle for a moment of fleeting happiness when God is trying to hand us a lifetime of joy. His joy. True joy.

Tools for the Digging

Our journals become mighty excavation tools, revealing nuggets of God’s truth, uncovering troves of hidden motives, and bringing to the surface broken pieces of our lives that need to be restored. I pray that you continue to use it consistently as part of your faith journey. In your journal today, take some time to ask God to show you what your mud pies are. Where do you settle instead of embracing all God has for you?

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

I journaled my own response to these questions back in January, and my eyes opened to the truth that my desires are too weak. I settle for worrying my prayers instead of speaking them with faith and thanksgiving. I settle for what I can see instead of allowing God to dream bigger dreams within me. And, because I desire so much for my adult sons, I too often neglect my own desires. 

I’ve been working to stop settling for mud pies and to start looking for God, asking Him to awaken my heart to His desires for me. Since praying those prayers, this blog series on joy has emerged, which is no coincidence. Writing these posts has been opening me up to God’s desires for me. It’s giving me new perspectives on how to live my life, for God, in the world. God’s desires for us are deep, indeed!

Stop Settling

Instead of settling for mud pies, let’s set out from this moment forward to journey through life with intention. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give us eyes to see all the sights around us so we can see as He sees, allowing God to surprise us with what and who comes along our paths. 

Emily P Freeman challenges you to “…take some time to look out the window. Pay attention to what’s happening around you and, in turn, within you” (The Next Right Thing, 233).

Her wisdom is appropriate as we set out to see the sights — we’ll miss half the surprises if we don’t also look within ourselves at each point because God will put places and people and bits of creation in front of us that are meant to do something within us. 

This journey we’re on is one of transformation. Nothing will bring true joy like allowing God to use what we see to focus the eyes of our hearts. Broken places will be healed. Dreams ignited. Hopes raised. Grief comforted. Doubts assailed. Fear defeated. Shame atoned. Regret redeemed. Joy released!

One of God’s biggest surprises of our Louisville trip happened as we sat eating pizza at a local hang out one afternoon when I noticed a woman madly waving in my direction. I quickly convinced myself she was flagging down a friend who must have been standing behind me. But when she didn’t quit, I glanced over at my friend, and we wondered aloud if she was waving at us.

When I looked back, I realized it was Kingsley!! I squealed her name as if she were a long lost friend, and before I could think what to do next she was at our table, offering hugs to each of us. Obviously, she’d been as moved as we were by our dinner at “her place.” And, she jumped at the chance to spread a little more joy with uninhibited goodwill and grace. 

Settling for anything less than God’s true joy means missing out on the very thing He desires for us. It’s my prayer for each of us that as we move into the world, or even look out our windows, we’ll see each opportunity God offers for our joy. And, like Kingsley, we’ll not be able to contain ourselves when we find it — we’ll spread that joy to all who let us!

Grateful for God’s surprises, Shelley

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist follows this journey. Ellie Holcomb’s song “The Broken Beautiful” captures so much of this particular post with lyrics like,

You say that You’ll turn my weeping into dancing
Remove my sadness & cover me with joy
You say your scars are the evidence of healing
That You can make the broken beautiful

  • This week’s journaling prompt might sound deceptively simple, but I pray you’ll give it some real thought — what are the mud pies that you settle for? 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 coddiwomple, English slang meaning to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination, and probably the most fun of our travel words to say out loud. I want to adopt it into my everyday vocabulary: “I’m just gonna coddiwomple on up the road.”
  • The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is open for pre-orders at The Joyful Life.* The write-up of the magazine sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “The summer print publication of The Joyful Life Magazine will invite our souls into genuine rest as we quiet our hearts and homes before the Lord, content in His sovereignty. 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.”
  • Finally, I mentioned Emily P Freeman’s book, The Next Right Thing.* I just keep coming back to it.

*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured photo by Peter Kasprzyk on Unsplash.

Journey of Joy: Week Eleven — Destination

When my husband and I are wheels down in Italy for our someday-dream-trip, we will have finally arrived at our destination. And not. Because if we only ever stayed at the airport, we would not have had much of a vacation. Think of all the places we’d want to go while in Italy — Tuscany, Rome, Naples, the Amalfi Coast. Think of all the sites we’d want to see — the Colosseum, vineyards, villages, beaches. 

Hearing the captain say over the plane’s intercom, “We have landed in Italy,” certainly denotes destination arrival, but the adventure itself has only begun. 

The same is true of joy. We’ve spent weeks researching and doing deep dives in our hearts and minds. We’ve committed hours to reading and writing down all our experiences and revelations. We’ve traveled a long way, but to say we’ve arrived cuts the trip short. Yes, we’re discovering joy but there’s more yet to uncover. And, as we learned last week, this excursion was never really about the destination but the journey.

Continuing our Journey of Joy

We’re stepping off the plane into the great adventure of learning how to journey this life with joy. Just as we might coddiwomple through the streets of Florence, we’re going to take our time as we take-in all that joy has to teach us. And, we will heed Nehemiah’s advice as we set out to explore our destination:

“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’”

Nehemiah 8:10

Nehemiah, governor of the returned exiles to Jerusalem, extolled the people to celebrate even as they wept over how they’d grieved God. Their repentance was appropriate, but excessive mourning can become a hindrance to the joy of experiencing God’s redemption, which is why Nehemiah instructed the people to celebrate.

The Matthew Henry Commentary on this passage helps us clarify: “Even sorrow for sin must not hinder our joy in God.” I invite you to read that sentence again. Like the Israelites, we can grieve over our sin so much that the sorrow shadows what God has for us — joy. We can be tempted to believe that what we’ve done is too much or too great to be forgiven. We can become so consumed by grief that we can feel guilty when joy comes along. And these responses to our sins and sorrows are not what God wants for us. Instead, God offers us His joy for all kinds of sadness, and we’re meant to receive it. 

Photo from ElizabethGeorge.com

Joy Our Strength

If you’ve listened at all to our Journey of Joy playlist, you’ve heard several songs claim Nehemiah’s credo — the joy of the LORD is your strength. I admit I’ve listened to our playlist so many times that even as I write that verse, I hear Audrey Assad singing it in my head. I also confess that when we began this adventure of ours, I didn’t fully understand her lyrics or Nehemiah’s tenet.

I have wanted to know — how is God’s joy our strength? Looking back over what we’ve learned recently about joy, truths accumulate to help understanding dawn on us and in us:

  • Joy transcends earthly emotion — we feel joy, yet it’s beyond a feeling. 
  • Joy is not dependent on our circumstances.
  • Joy becomes an action when we choose to rejoice in Jesus, no matter how we feel.
  • Joy is much more likely to be our reality when we become present in the moment.
  • Joy is found in God’s presence.

Upon such recollection, our evidence helps us deduce that joy is profoundly more than any state of mind we can recall. Add to that the impactful verse we studied earlier — Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him — plus Nehemiah’s exhortation to set aside grieving for rejoicing, and the power of joy emerges

It’s how Jesus could withstand belittling, torture, and death on a cross — He could look ahead to the joy of defeating death, to the joy of redeeming mankind.

It’s how Paul could bear shackles, shipwrecks, and stonings — he could see ahead to the joy of the church finding its footing and moving forcefully into the future.

It’s how Nehemiah could confidently tell his followers to lay down their sorrow and celebrate — he knew that God’s joy would help them rise above their shame and sadness.

Just as joy empowers, it also strengthens. 

This is revelatory for me. I’ve never stopped long enough to understand how God’s joy could be my strength. For too long I’ve believed that joy was only a feeling that happened when things were going well. What a gift to arrive at our destination to realize that joy is so much more than I could have imagined. But my comprehension feels fragile — like I’m getting it, but my grasp of this joy-as-my-strength could crush under the weight of fear, shame, or confusion at any moment.

Let’s bolster our understanding of joy as our strength.

God As Our Joy

One way to deepen our discernment of God as our source of joy is to look back at our Nehemiah passage. The joy of the Lord is a phrase that presupposes God possesses joy. Therefore, to know joy we must know God. As we consistently talk with God, read His Word, and sing His praises, we are setting ourselves up for finding joy because as we draw closer to God, the more His joy becomes our joy.

Another way to get our understanding of joy’s power to stick with us is to recognize that joy isn’t just for our pleasure. While Jesus promised joy to His disciples and God takes pleasure in our pleasure, that’s not the end of the story. Our second word of joy today sheds light:

Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
    Praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:4-5, NLT
Photo from Abide.co

This Psalm echoes the theme of Nehemiah’s urging — let go of sorrow. There’s joy to be had! And, as familiar as this passage is, we miss a big chunk of the message when we stop at verse five. If we read the rest of the Psalm, we see there’s more to learn about joy:

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
    You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

Psalm 30:11-12, NLT

God clothes us in joy so that we can sing His praises! The joy of the Lord takes away our sorrow, not just for our sakes but for His glory.

I recently watched a teaching video by Angie Smith in which she echoed this same joy-truth:

“When we talk about joy, it’s easy to talk about it in reference to ourselves as if it’s a gift, a thing we want. Ultimately, the goal of joy is that it doesn’t end when we feel the joy itself. Rather, the full expression of joy is when we realize…the most beautiful thing we can do with it is return it to its rightful owner in praise! …When we praise God, giving Him back the joy — that’s the fullest expression of joy.”

Angie Smith, If:Lead 2020

Angie has suffered much in her life, yet she exudes this joy she speaks of. These aren’t empty platitudes for her but truths she has discovered and lived out. God’s joy strengthens.  And, her belief that praising God is the fullest expression of joy folds nicely into our lesson last week about rejoicing — the idea of praising God no matter how we feel. 

God has been teaching me this exact lesson lately. In the last nine months, I have lived more secluded and in more silence than ever before. The solitude has done much good for my relationship with God, but there are days that grief swallows my hope and joy. Honestly, I’ve first had to learn how to allow the grief to happen as I sort out all my feelings of loss after our major move, yet I’m also discovering that grief could be my only response to life if I let it. So, I’ve been applying what I’ve been writing here. I praise God. No matter how I feel, I praise Him when I pray. I praise and worship Him as I sing along with powerful songs. I praise Him at the end of each day as I thank Him for at least three things I’m grateful for. 

And let me just tell you, the craziest thing is happening — the joy of the Lord is strengthening me. Seriously, I am stronger today than I was last week. I even feel more joy today than I did last month. So I’ll keep praising — even on days when I don’t feel like it. Especially on days when waves of grief try to take me under because as I praise the Lord, His joy pours all over me, and I feel stronger.

Praise, Songs, and Journals

There are so many great songs on our playlist, and I have them playing in the background as I write this post. A minute ago, as I was struggling to write about how God’s joy strengthens us, Matt Maher’s song, “Alive and Breathing,” came on. Instead of pressing through my paragraph, I paused. I pulled up the lyrics on Google, and started the song over. As I read the words, their truth resonated like never before. 

What I hadn’t realized before, rang true today. This song not only echoes Psalm 30’s mantra but captures the heart of Nehemiah’s story. I encourage you to pull up the lyrics and listen along as you read so you can feel its impact. For now, we can look at the chorus:

Joy still comes in the morning
Hope still walks with the hurting
If you’re still alive and breathing
Praise the Lord
Don’t stop dancing and dreaming
There’s still Good News worth repeating
So lift your head and keep singing
Praise the Lord

Matt Maher, “Alive and Breathing”

The upbeat song encourages joy. Its lyrics resound with God’s truths as they differentiate our assumptions from God’s actualities, all the while inviting us into God’s joy. 

Perhaps as we ponder our purpose here at our destination, we’ll recognize the rightful response to joy — praise! And, as we move into life with all we’ve been learning, we just might see praise as a way of life. Whether we feel joy or seek it, we can always praise the One in whom joy resides.

In your journal this week, I encourage you to go back over all your lists of gratitude. Notice what has caught your eye over the last few weeks — where have you seen God at work? When have you paused long enough to see something or someone to be grateful for? Write about that for a bit, asking the Holy Spirit to do some revealing.

Then, turn on “I Love You Lord” from our playlist and let it wash over you. As feelings and words rush to your heart and mind, write a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Pour out to your Father all that has stirred your heart. Allow yourself to feel that YOU are a joy to God. Hear your voice among those singing, “take joy my King in what You hear. May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.” Oh, my soul — rejoice!

While we’re on the subject of joy and journals, it’d be awesome if you kept up this practice of journaling long after this particular journey is over. Maybe look at it as your Joy Journal, a place to continue listing your “gratitudes,” documenting all your joys, and writing out your praises!

Destination Desires

So, we’ve landed. We’ve deboarded and collected all our luggage. We’re ready to hail a cab and head out for our grand tour where we’ll see all the sights and encounter new experiences, discovering new ways to stimulate our senses. We’ll learn a new culture and discover ways to take joy with us as we go. 

Goodness, we’ve come a long way! It’s good to celebrate all we’ve learned and even revel in joy’s transforming power. Yet, even as we’ve arrived at our appointed destination, let’s not give up searching for more joy-lessons. Let’s carry trust with us into all the places God has for us to experience, keeping our hands open to His ways, His timing, and even His joy. Let’s praise Him — for His joy will be our strength!

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • This week’s journaling prompt asks us look back over our gratitude lists for some reflection time. But be sure to keep up with your daily practice of writing three things you’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices, so comment below. What do you think of keeping a Joy Journal?
  • Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was vacilando, a Spanish verb that means the act of wandering when the experience of travel is more important than reaching the a destination.
  • The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is open for pre-orders. The write-up of the magazine sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “The summer print publication of The Joyful Life Magazine will invite our souls into genuine rest as we quiet our hearts and homes before the Lord, content in His sovereignty. 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.”
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify follows this journey. I chose these songs months ago, so it’s incredible to me how their meanings become more and more relevant the longer we journey. How have the songs impacted you?

*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured photo by Ken Yam on Unsplash

Journey of Joy: Week Ten — Delays, Detours, and Disappointments

It rained the whole week. Here we’d planned a much-needed getaway to our favorite city on the South Carolina coast, and instead of warm, life-giving sunshine, we had to splash our way through town with umbrellas and jackets. This wasn’t what I’d wanted.

The temptation to pout and give in to disappointment-induced-grouchiness, nearly overtook us. But then we peered out the window and saw the beauty before us. Despite the gray clouds and blustery wind, we bundled up and set out to adventure through a city full of antiquity and amusement. 

And we had the best time! 

The wintry weather may not have eased up, but we found that we could slow down — and enjoy it. What began as a low-blow became a blessing. What started off as a disappointment opened doors of delight we would never have discovered. 

Blown Plans

Be ready — it’s going to happen. In travels and in life, we will inevitably encounter setbacks and upsets. The question before us this week is how do we deal with delays, detours, and disappointments and not give in to the desire to pack things in and head home?

First, it is wise to remember the previous lesson of holding plans loosely. No matter how prepared we are, no matter how detailed our itinerary, the uncontrollable happens. Flight times change. Hotels overbook. Tours cancel. In life, the unexpected rips away all the hopes and dreams we’d clutched to our chests. Marriages end. Cancer wins. Money runs out. The changes and challenges threaten to ruin every prospect of joy. 

“As we make plans, fill out lists, and do the things that need doing, may we remember still to remain open to surprise. Instead of insisting on clear plans, may we be willing to settle in and take the next right step even though it may lead someplace we didn’t quite pack for.”

Next Right Thing, p.232

Emily P Freeman’s idea of remaining open to surprises challenges our hopes and plans. Her notion of taking the next right step even if it leads somewhere we didn’t expect (or pack for!) reminds us what little we control — except our responses. So, today let’s focus on the best responses in the inconvenient delays, the unexpected detours, and the painful disappointments. 

Learning and Lessons

One response is to look for lessons in the lay-overs, for meanings in the hard moments. Sometimes God allows the letdowns and setbacks because He has something deeper for us to discover, spiritual work He wants to cultivate in our hearts and souls, but that doesn’t happen as we fret and flail, frustrated by the detours of life. 

Admittedly, sometimes those lessons don’t come to light till we get a little distance from the deeper losses, but in many situations we can shift our responses in the moment to look for God’s purposes. Let’s not miss the transformation that takes place when we set ourselves aside for the greater good of the journey, of God’s deeper work. Sometimes what looks like a delay is part of God’s perfect timing. Or what appears as a disappointment is actually a divine appointment.

Rejoice as a Response

Habakkuk, a prophet in the Old Testament, lived in the days of Judah’s exile in Babylon — the darkest of days — and he demonstrated our next healthy response:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV

Habakkuk’s list of all the losses the people of God endured isn’t just about food for the moment but also sustenance for the future because each crop and flock were sources of income. I look at a catalog of casualties like this one and can’t help but think of Job. EVERYTHING is lost. Everything. Panic rises. Despair settles in. The future seems bleak and hopeless. 

Photo by Anqi Lu on Unsplash

This is how the people of Judah would have felt — all of them — because they’d lost everything in the exile. Yet, what does Habakkuk say in light of all this destitution? I will rejoice in the LORD

In the midst of such loss, Habakkuk’s declaration is hard to fathom. But in case we doubt, he reiterates, I will be joyful in God my Savior. This intentional decision teaches us much about the reaction of rejoicing. 

Back in January I journaled about this very passage. My response was raw and rough but real:

“We’re meant to praise Him–to ascribe to Him all the glory and honor He is due. Despite how we feel. Despite how we feel, He is still God. He’s still on His throne. He still has all the power and is still in control. He is still worthy of praise, glory, honor, and worship. Even when we are so broken and scared and lost that we don’t think we can lift our heads, much less praise. Rejoice. Rejoice? Rejoicing sounds like joy, like laughter and happiness and feeling good, excited, even celebratory. So, maybe my understanding of rejoicing needs to shift. Not so much about victory and celebration but more about adoration. More about getting on my knees and declaring to God just how great He is.”

My journal entry 1/25/21

As I’ve been discovering, Habakkuk’s intentional decision to rejoice can be ours. His extreme example of exile shows us there is nothing we can face that is worse. No loss. No delay. No detour. No disappointment is larger than losing everything. He models for us a response that is holy and healthy. And, Habakkuk is not our only example.

The Mystery of Rejoicing

Philippians 3:1, a simple call from Paul to his brothers and sisters in Philippi to rejoice in the Lord, further demonstrates the rejoice response. Like Habakkuk, Paul found himself in dismal conditions — locked in a pit of a Roman prison. Yet throughout his letter to the Philippians, he exuded joy over and over. Paul encouraged his readers to do the same, despite the challenging circumstances they found themselves in. 

If Paul, Habakkuk, and the Philippians found themselves in the midst of wrenching delays, detours, and disappointments, we cannot imagine them feeling very happy or glad. Yet they rejoiced. Do you see that this kind of rejoicing is not a response to blessings or bounty? Do you feel the significance of understanding why they would choose to rejoice in such circumstances? 

JD Walt can help us. In a recent Daily Text post, he unpacked this Philippians 3:1 verse by defining the joy Paul embodied. This paragraph is what I call a JD’ism — brilliantly complicated. Admirably convoluted. Yet packed with truth that will help us untangle this mystery of rejoicing:

“Joy is supernatural. It is a wellness that transcends health, a state of being that eclipses emotion, and an inner realism that overwhelms apparent reality. Though it transcends the ephemeral notion of earthly emotion, we might think of joy as the primary emotion of the realm of eternal reality. Joy is that deep inner conviction that though things are not right, everything is going to be alright.”

The Daily Text, May 2, 2021

JD urges us to see joy as a state of being that eclipses emotion — as transcending our understanding of emotion. To eclipse or transcend is to surpass or rise above. While I may feel something when joy is happening within me, that feeling is beyond any sort of earthly, “normal” emotion. 

So, if it’s not an earthly emotion, what is joy? JD suggests it could be the primary emotion of eternity, the realm where we will live in the presence of God forever. Joy. An emotion yet not exactly. A feeling yet so much more. That about clears it up. 😉

Logic says if joy transcends emotion, then so would the action of rejoicing. Paul and Habakkuk didn’t rejoice because of how they felt. Instead, they chose rejoicing as their response because of who God is. No matter what we face, God is bigger still. No matter how we feel in the midst of all the hard moments, we can transcend all of it by an obedient act of rejoicing. 

Andrew Peterson’s lyrics capture this choice in one of the songs on our Journey of Joy playlist:  

And when the peace turns to danger
The nights are longer than days
And every friend has a stranger’s face
Then deep within the dungeon cell
You have to make a choice
Rejoice

“Rejoice”

In all the delays, detours, and disappointments, we have a choice — react out of raw emotion or rejoice in the Lord who transcends it.

Habakkuk Again

Habakkuk’s resolution to rejoice caused a shift in me. In fact, that shift continues to change me as we trek along this Journey of Joy. I started this jaunt of ours believing I couldn’t choose joy — I think because I still had joy in the category of earthly emotion. But what I’ve been seeing in the Pauls and Habakkuks of Scripture is their willingness to trust God and choose joy. So, joy is chooseable.

Last month I picked up a book I’d heard about called Fight Back with Joy by Margaret Feinberg. This book is so much more than a memoir, but it does capture Margaret’s journey with breast cancer and her decision to fight all the awful moments of that season with joy. 

As God does, He put Habakkuk back in my path via Margaret. She did her own unpacking of the same passage, and ended with this thought:

“Habakkuk’s rejoicing does not center on circumstances; it’s founded on God’s intent and ability to save. Rejoicing is not a prescription as much as a gateway to possibility.”

Fight Back with Joy, page 102

Because I’d been wrestling with the why of Habakkuk’s choice to rejoice, Margaret’s statement jumped out at me — rejoicing comes out of our understanding of God’s intent and ability to save. Margaret, like so many before her, discovered that to find joy, she must trust God. And that requires getting to know God well. When we know that God is good and that He is always for our good, our trust in Him grows. We trust His intent even when the worst happens. We trust He is able to save even if it looks differently than we planned.

When our faith is anchored in God, we begin to understand that rejoicing isn’t some slap-happy, fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of hoorah. And, as Margaret shared, rejoicing isn’t a prescription — something we do to make everything better. Rather, rejoicing happens because of who God is. And, rejoicing opens doors to things like joyful hope. 

Friends, we may not be able to conjure emotions but we can choose to rejoice. Because of God.

Joy in the Journal

Looking back to a past journal entry and seeing what I had written was a gift. There was so much I hadn’t remembered. There was so much truth I needed to see again — from my own pen, no less! So, I hope you will do yourself a huge favor and journal today.

  1. I’d love to start by issuing you the same challenge JD did earlier this year: go through Habakkuk 3:17-19 one phrase at a time and write about what it means to you. While those opening lines drive home just how desolate things were in exile, I found I had my own memories and connections to each fruit and animal that impacted my deeper understanding. I bet you do too.
  1. After you unpack the Habakkuk passage, spend some time writing down your response to the idea of rejoicing in the midst of the delays, detours, and disappointments.  

It’s All About the Journey

Friends, we’ve been traveling together for quite some time, and it’s taken a lot of self-control not to say this till now — it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey. Next week we will talk more about the destination, so it’s good to recognize now that joy is not the destination. Joy is the journey

Rather than letting the delays, detours, and disappointments of life become obstacles to our joy, we are learning to look for God and see how the unanticipated are actually part of the journey — because to vacilando is to travel with the understanding that our experiences are more important than the destination. So, instead of being derailed by the unexpected, we can choose to rejoice in our God because He is good and holy. He is sovereign and trustworthy. He’s the One — the only one — who will ALWAYS be there no. matter. what. And we rejoice!

I don’t know about you, but the word JOY jumps out at me everywhere I go. In a tiny town not too far from us, I found the cutest journal with the word JOY on it. Scrolling through my social media, I notice t-shirts with all sorts of sayings about JOY. Then strolling through a consignment mall with my hubby one stormy Saturday, I saw this:

Photo of art by WhimsEchols as seen at The Painted Tree

And Larry knew before I said a word — I needed a picture. I needed a minute to take-in the gift that this was to me. So he gave me space to do both, and now I finally get to share it with you! (PS–I bought the magnet and it hangs on my fridge so I see it everyday!)

Find joy in the journey, friends!

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist follows this journey. I mentioned Andrew Peterson’s song, “Rejoice” in today’s post. It’s the second song in the list, right after our opener by Ellie Holcomb, called “Constellations” — talk about a raw cry to God. Ellie captures the essence of what the hard things in life can make us feel — namely, alone. I thought this song represents where we often find ourselves in our journey of life. And our response to those hard places? Rejoice.
    • Another song I can recommend comes from a brand new album from some amazing women called Faithful. The song is called…ready for it…”The Detour.” I’ve literally been listening to the album all week on replay. I could hardly believe the timeliness of that particular song.
  • This week’s journaling prompt is worth the effort. Allow yourself the physical and spiritual space to process each phrase of the Habakkuk passage, and see where it takes you! 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 soli vagrant, Latin for wandering alone. Something we never are because of our constant Travel Companion.
  • The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is open for pre-orders at The Joyful Life.* The write-up of the magazine sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “The summer print publication of The Joyful Life Magazine will invite our souls into genuine rest as we quiet our hearts and homes before the Lord, content in His sovereignty. 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.”
  • Finally, I mentioned Margaret Feinberg’s book, Fight Back with Joy.* She does a great job of weaving in her experiences, the lessons she learned along the way, and practical ways she sought to bring joy to others when she was at her lowest.

*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash.

Journey of Joy: Week Nine — Meeting People

In the weeks leading up to my second trip to the Holy Land, I had several people encourage me to focus not only on the dead stones, all the holy sites, but to look upon the living stones, the people who live there, as well. Knowing this trip would be different than my first because we would spend a lot of time in Bethlehem with people who needed our help and our love, I prayed for eyes to see and courage to talk with the living stones I met.

It ended up being much easier than I’d expected. Whether our group spent our evenings at Manger Square sipping mint lemonade and talking with shopkeepers or touring various ministry sites throughout the city, I encountered people who were more than eager to share their stories.

My eyes and heart opened wider with each startling and courageous story. My safe, suburban-America bubble burst as I saw with my own eyes the plight of a people so different from me. Years later, I continue to pray for my response to what I witnessed and heard, but mostly I pray for my friends an ocean away.

The Joy of People

That trip changed the way I travel. Even when I vacation for pleasure now, my eyes are drawn to the people around me. I more freely engage people in conversation even if I’m a bit nervous to do so, and I’ve been so blessed when I have. In fact, I can say when I’ve been brave to talk with people, my joy increases exponentially compared to those moments when I’m focused on myself.

Paul knew that kind of joy, as we can see in our word of joy this week, which is from Paul to the church of Thessalonica in Greece:

Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us. After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy.

2 Thessalonians 2:17-20, NLT

The people bring Paul joy! Not what job they hold. Not what great sermons they give. Not their biology or ideology. Just them, the people. Paul’s love for these people oozes all over the page. 

Jesus explained this kind of love to His disciples:

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:9-13, NLT

Jesus’ kind of love — the kind He commands and gives — is sacrificial, selfless, and without exception. Yet we often fail to love each other in such a way because we create our own criteria for who we “follow,” who we “like,” and who we love. We easily justify who not to love because they don’t think, act, look, or believe the way we do. 

But that’s not what Jesus envisioned for His people, as we can hear in this incredible prayer for His disciples:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”

John 17:20-23, NLT

One thing that I greatly value in this passage is Jesus’ qualifier — this mandate wasn’t just for the great twelve, but for all who will ever believe in Jesus. That’s us! We cannot exclude ourselves from these teachings of Jesus. We’re meant to love one another to the point of being one in Christ.

Yet, in a culture where so much of our identity is derived from what we do, who we spend time with, and which “camp” we prefer, it’s difficult for us to wrap our minds around the kind of love Jesus prescribes. Our culture is often at odds with what Jesus and Paul desired for the church. 

And, just in case we think these commands are only for loving other Christians, Jesus defined this love He preached — love God, love your neighbor — with a parable about a Samaritan who stopped and showed love to a hated enemy. 

Paul tells us that what brings him the most joy are people and their love for one another. Jesus teaches that our joy will be made complete when we follow His commands to love one another and prays that our love will keep us unified. To live by these biblical, gospel teachings means we cannot pick and choose who to love. We aren’t meant to soli vagrant because we’re at our best when we unite with our brothers and sisters so that together we can love all the people around us.

Friends, whether we’ve realized it before or not, people are the point

Love Limited

Here’s what I didn’t say about that trip to the Holy Land — the people we hung out with were Palestinian. And I didn’t say that up front because saying the word “Palestinian” is immediately polarizing. Everyone has an opinion, an assumption, or a “side.” But, I’m not on a side. I’m for Jesus. I’m for His love. I’m for people — people on both sides of the wall (and ocean and aisle and fill-in-the-blank).

But because of the politically charged environment we live in, I’ve not spoken up much for the people I met. I’ve let fear limit my love for them.

So today’s post is a step in the direction toward love. As I sit here in my comfy chair on a rainy day in small town Texas, I’m choosing to put myself out there and share my story, knowing some will disagree. But if I’m going to live rooted in God’s love, then I must choose to be uprooted out of fear.

[I’m not actually going to write much about my trip to Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Hebron in this post. But if you’re interested, I did a blog series after the trip. The series starts with this one.]

The living stones I met behind the walls evoked in me a range of emotions that both overwhelmed and ignited me. Their resilience in the middle of unthinkable oppression moved me. Their hope in Jesus inspired me. Their desperate pleas for help continue to haunt me. And the remarkable work of a small army of passionate believers made me want to stand alongside them, helping however I am able.

Because people are the point.

On This Journey

As we seek joy on this journey of ours, we’re learning there’s more to joy than a feeling based on the moment. We’re discovering that joy is often the result of choices we make, and today the choice we’re given to love one another converges with the joy we desire. Joy doesn’t happens without effort. One the most difficult things we’ll ever do is lay down our pride, our belief that we’re right, in order to choose love. 

I like how Aimee Walker pulls all this together:  

“When Jesus taught the disciples that a life of obedient surrender is key to a life of joy, He then commanded them to love one another as He had loved them, reminding them and us that the greatest expression of love is to lay down our life for our friends. Jesus loves us with a sacrificial self-denying love and He not only invites us to love like Him, He commands it. As we allow the Holy Spirit to minister the love and grace of Jesus to us, we will not only learn how to love those around us, we will overflow with what we have received. And then we, like Paul, will know the joy of making Christ known through our love for one another.”

Count It All Joy, 28

So, on this Journey of Joy, we’ll want to ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to all the ways we live without love. We’ll need the Holy Spirit’s teaching to help us live counter-culturally. We’ll need the Holy Spirit’s love to overflow in us so it can splash onto the people we’re called to love.

Simple Noticing

While sometimes the command to love others requires a lot from us, other times loving someone simply requires us to notice them. We want to apply what we learned last week about being present in the moment to today’s lesson about meeting people — if we put down our phones, maps, TV remotes, lists, and plans long enough to look up, we’ll see right into the eyes of the people we’ll meet along the way. 

Think of all the trips we take and how many opportunities we have to meet people:

A trip to the grocery store 
A trip across town
A trip down the road
A trip to the local food pantry
A trip to the doctor
A trip to the area crisis center
A trip across the state or river or ocean

Jesus will always be at work around us, putting people in our path so we can offer His love and grace and hope. But before we can give any of that, we must first notice them. Then we have to take a step toward them, without condescension or arrogance or even reluctance, and extend a hand of fellowship — because people are the point.

Shaped by People 

Here’s a bonus for you today — not only will your love for others bless them and bring you joy, but you will be shaped by your encounters with them.

One of the mothers I got to meet in Bethlehem told story after story of the challenges of living behind a wall. With every story, the woman’s arms would churn in tight, circular movements to demonstrate how hard they pushed and pushed to live their lives each day. At every turn, they’d meet intentional road blocks, thrown in their paths of getting water, finding jobs, keeping their house, traveling — anywhere. All of it seems so unfair, but the story that still pulls hardest on my heart is the risk she took with her own life to get her dying daughter to a better hospital on the other side of the wall. 

Her stories have shaped me. I now live with a greater awareness everyday of all I take for granted. I can hop in my car any time of any day and drive anywhere I want to go. I have access to medicine and fresh food and water — everyday. I can travel to other countries without fear that I’ll not be allowed back into my home country. I live with more gratitude for what I have, and I have a deeper desire to serve others.

Your turn: In your journal, read back over today’s passages of Scripture to find a word or phrase that stands out to you. Take a few minutes to write about what you think that word or phrase can teach you about love, unity, or joy. How does it challenge you? How does it encourage you?

Then, take some time to think about the people in your life: 

  • Who is difficult to love? How can you show love to them — without trying to convince or guilt them — yet still hold to boundaries that keep you safe? 
  • What are some beliefs or opinions you hold about a person or group of people that might need to shift from antagonistic to grace-filled — which doesn’t mean having to agree with them, just offering Jesus’ brand of love and kindness?
  • Finally, think of one person who has shaped your life for the better. How did you meet that person? How have you been shaped by them?

These are not simple questions that can necessarily be answered in one journal entry, but they can be great first steps toward living as one who loves her neighbor as Jesus loves her. 

Entering In

When we invited the people of Bethlehem to share their stories with us, they did so with great joy — not because their stories were happy ones but because we asked. They could tell we genuinely wanted to hear about their lives. Our interactions taught me that most people want to be seen and heard. They also taught me that the joy from such encounters outweighs the risk.

As Paul has demonstrated, people will be our greatest joy, so let’s be sure to look up and lock eyes with them as we meet. Our experiences with them will stretch us and bless them. Their stories will reshape the way we’ve thought and perceived, and the love we offer will begin to break down all sorts of walls that we’ve erected for all sorts of reasons. As the walls come down, we’ll be more able to live in that holy unity God so greatly desires for us. And our joy will overflow.

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • Today I mentioned the study, Counting It All Joy.* The Joyful Life* offers Bible studies in print or as a digital download. I chose digital and paid $10 for instant access to this study on joy. It’s worth checking out! In general, The Joyful Life is worth looking into. Their spring issue of the magazine recently released — called, Create* — it will inspire you to make heartfelt connections with your family and friends as well as practical changes in your home that will make 2021 a year of great joy!
  • My second trip to the Holy Land really was extra special because of the people I met. I tried to capture our experiences and reactions to all we heard and saw on that trip. I’d love for you to read about it. Here’s the first of the series.
  • This week’s journaling prompt asks us to dig a little deeper into our motives and biases, namely in the way we look at and respond to people. I pray this exercise will challenge each of us to lay down anything that separates us from each other and see that Jesus binds us all together. 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, so 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 trouvaille, which is very French, meaning something lovely discovered by chance.
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify follows this journey — music is an incredible conduit for entering into God’s presence. I’d love to hear what songs have moved or challenged you.

*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured image by me! 🙂

Journey of Joy: Week Eight — Stops Along the Way

In our 30 years of marriage, my husband, Larry, has preferred to be the driver on vacations because, in his own words, “I want to get there.” He was not implying that if I drove we’d get lost and never get there but that I’d drive slower. And he wanted to get there.

Now that we’ve hit the empty nest stage of life, much has changed, including Larry’s internal impetus to get everywhere as fast as possible. In fact, I take the wheel on our day trips around Dallas most weekends, and, what’s even more exciting, we’ll stop any time something catches our fancy. These unexpected stops have brought us joy we hadn’t gone looking for — maybe because we made space for joy to happen.

Photo by Darwin Vegher on Unsplash

A Journey of Joy

My friends, we have stepped through a significant threshold. We are no longer preparing ourselves for adventure because our Journey of Joy has begun in earnest. We are present-tense, happening-here-and-now traveling. 

In our travels, it’s good to remember that this is a journey OF joy. We’ve already been learning that joy isn’t a one-and-done discovery — it’s something we seek intentionally and something we can have along the way. Just as Larry and I are figuring out in our weekend jaunts, it’s good for us to become less focused on the destination and more open to what each moment of the journey has to offer. Our awareness of what steals joy and gives joy will be key.

The way of joy is presence — God’s and ours. Let’s take last week’s lesson with us so we’ll remember that joy is first and foremost found in God’s presence. God also blesses us with joy as we journey, so if we’ll look, listen, and lean-in to whatever God has for us, being as present in the moment as possible, we might find ourselves grateful for the stops along the way.

When Plans Can Be Joy-Robbers

Whether it’s our incessant need for efficiency or our driven tendency to refuse changes to the itinerary, our preset plans and mindsets can dominate our decisions, causing us to miss moments God intended for our good, for our joy. 

If you haven’t picked up on this planner personality trait of mine yet, I’ll just come clean and admit I like plans. A big surprise on this Journey of Joy for me has not been so much how fear in general can steal my joy but how my tight grip on set plans reveals my fear of losing control. On the surface, it’s easy to agree and say, I have control issues. But what I wasn’t prepared for on this journey was the revelation of how many different ways I can shift into planner overdrive as a coping mechanism, as a means of avoiding hard things — like feelings.

When I worked on staff at our church, I coped with the chaos of ministry by creating plans. I’d outline in great detail all the ideas, supplies, or roles that were needed. Many times, my lists were well received, even appreciated. But there were times that my plans came out of a subconscious need for control when the situation I lived in was out of control. In those instances, I clung to my outlines with ferocity. Panic would creep in if I thought they wouldn’t be accepted or if I felt they were being challenged. I lost all sense of collaboration and flexibility because of my underlying fear of losing control of the situation or my emotions. 

Photo by Felipe Furtado on Unsplash

I’ve responded similarly in nearly every season of stress. Whether with a spiraling relationship, a life-changing move, or a modification to an itinerary, my response has been a tight-fisted grasp on plans. 

What I’m not saying is that planning is bad because it is often good and necessary. Without a game plan, it’s hard to win the game. Without a strategic plan, it’s difficult to get people organized and moving in the right direction. 

But. Sometimes. Plans own us. Sometimes, plans keep us from taking stops along the way.

I’m curious where you stand. If you’re a planner, do you relate? If you’re not much of a planner, how does making unplanned stops make you feel? I ask because it occurs to me, not everyone will react negatively to spontaneity.

I do suspect, however, that most of us do live distracted most of the time. 

Distractions As Thieves of Joy

Phones buzz. Kids holler. Ovens beep. TVs blare. So much demands our attention. How much life do we miss when our eyes fail to take in what’s around us because they’re focused on all the distractions?

Traveling in the backseat of our family’s car as a girl, I almost always had my nose in a book because it helped pass the time. My boys were the same way — passengers focused on the movie or phone or game in front of them as we rolled along the highways. My inner child understood their desire to distract themselves till we arrived, but the adult in me urged them to look out the window to notice the mountains, the trees, the ocean, the people. But instead of eager attenders, I mostly got distracted grunts and shrugs.

On this journey and in life, we will miss so much of what God has for us if we keep living distracted. That adage, “stop and smell the roses,” became a famous saying because of its truth. Friends, if we don’t pull over for a few stops along the way, we’re going to miss great chances for joy.

Changing from Reactors to Observers

When plans go bust or people move slowly, we often overreact. We might pout, yell, withdraw, or passive aggressively insist that everything’s fine. Whatever our reaction, the people around us can see, perhaps more clearly than we, that things are not fine.

I’m learning that it’s best to go into every trip — and life — with a clear understanding that there will always be unplanned stops, which helps me set my expectations appropriately and hold my plans loosely. I also want to be aware of how I react when plans change. Our word of joy this week can help us figure out how to overcome our overreactions.

My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties, see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can!

James 1:2, The Passion Translation

Most of us are more familiar with the NIV version, consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds. As I read both translations, I become aware of the connection between trials and joy — and it’s hard to imagine being able to have joy in trials. But. Let’s try to imagine.

Picture yourself heading out on vacation. Car’s loaded. Snacks are handy. Goody bag with your new book or puzzle is at your feet. You’re mentally ready to arrive at to the beach by 5pm so you can get dinner started before everyone else arrives. Joy anticipation is high.

This scenario doesn’t feel like a trial so far, but the minute the person driving decides to take an unplanned detour, your angst rises. You pause and breathe — one stop won’t hurt anything.

Back on the road you come upon an accident. The traffic is at a standstill but your heart is racing. Anger rises as you look at the clock and think of all that needs to get done. To make things worse, someone in the backseat suggests playing a game to pass the time. A game. Of all things. You “politely” decline.

By the time the road is cleared, you’ve created a new plan based on the new schedule, and you feel better about things — just about the time the other backseat passenger says they feel sick. And you yell at them to get over it.

Now this has become a difficult situation. Not only have you lost your joy but you’ve caused everyone else in the car to lose theirs. This is when James’ advice looks like pure wisdom. If only you hadn’t overreacted to all the other stops along the way, you might not have lost your temper. You might have had compassion for the one who got sick. You might have had joy.

Lysa TerKeust has been known to say that our emotions should be our indicators, not our dictators. That means at the first sign of agitation, rather than letting feelings dictate our reactions, we look to our feelings as indicators — of habitual patterns that need to change, of thoughts that need redirecting. When we make adjustments to the underlying causes of our overreactions, we become better able to take James’ advice of seeing the trial as an opportunity to experience joy.

Friends, we seek joy. We don’t give in to the joy robber. We look to the Joy Giver. 

All the Thanks

When we look a bit deeper at our word of joy this week, we see there’s the inference of an ongoing difficulty, a season of trials that threatens faith in God: 

…when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties, see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can!

James 1:2, The Passion Translation

While a lot of our difficulties result from our own decisions and reactions, some of life’s hardest trials are completely out of our control — illness, death, weather, and people’s choices, to name a few. James is telling us that even in these hardest seasons we’re meant to look for joy. 

Seeking joy in the middle of tragedy is about as hard as giving praise and thanks in the middle of it, yet Paul exhorts us to do so as we saw recently in Philippians 4. Here’s the same passage in The Passion. See what common elements you notice in comparison to our James verse:

Be cheerful with joyous celebration in every season of life. Let your joy overflow! And let gentleness be seen in every relationship, for our Lord is ever near. Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. 

Philippians 4:4-6, The Passion Translation

Do you see it? Look for joy in EVERY season — planned or unplanned, happy or tragic. This verse reminds us that we’re to rejoice because His nearness changes the situation. God is with us through all the hard things, so we rejoice! And all that praising of the One True God helps us choose, and even feel, gratitude.

Friends, our reactions to all the “stops along the way” of life either dictate a spiral further down the Path of No Joy or indicate a way forward on the Path Full of Joy. In each challenging moment, we get to choose our reaction — we have the choice of which path to take. With the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, with intentional pausing and praying, we CAN choose the Path Full of Joy. And, as Paul points out, gratitude is part of the process.

Gratitude Is Attentive

In his book, Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning helps us pull all this together when he says “gratitude is attentive” (31). In your journal, describe what that means to you. How is gratitude attentive? Listing real life examples may help you see how gratitude emerges from an attentive awareness.

Stops along the way give us the chance to be attentive. And if we’re looking for God in those moments, gratitude seeps into our hearts. Brennan helps us visualize this::

“To be aware and alert to the presence of God manifested in a piece of music heard on the car radio, a daffodil, a kiss, an encouraging word from a friend, a thunderstorm, a newborn baby, a sunrise or sunset, a rainbow, or the magnificent lines on the face of an old lobster fisherman requires an inner freedom from self, created through prayer. Gratefulness is born of a prayerfulness that helps us notice the…marvels of God.”

Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 32

When we can free ourselves from distractions, including our own habits of busyness and control, to embrace the present moment and notice the marvels of God, we’ll feel grateful. These trouvailles become conduits for joy. Joy is found in the present moment, which is how Jesus can tell us to stop worrying about tomorrow — because He is enough for the moment (Matthew 6:34). And, noticing the marvels of God elicits gratitude, which is how Paul can tell us to give thanks in everything — because in the present moment it’s possible to be grateful no matter our circumstances (Philippians 4:6). 

Just as Paul exhorts us to be saturated in prayer, Brennan encourages prayerfulness because living surrendered to God and His plans makes our overall attitude more prayerful. When we die to self and seek God’s presence, we enter His love, His peace, and His joy. Gratitude becomes our new response, and joy isn’t far behind.

For the rest of our journey, I’d love for us to implement a practice of gratitude: 

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

In your journal each night before you go to sleep, list three things from your day you’re grateful for. This gratitude practice will help you stay in the present moment — it’ll help you look for what God is trying to show you, and it’ll open you to His joy.

We’re learning on this Journey of Joy that in seeking God’s presence, we become present to everything each moment affords. Our prayerful hearts show us when we need to let go of plans, distractions, and reactions so we can embrace each stop along the way, giving space for gratitude — and joy — to happen.

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • Don’t forget you can check out The Joyful Life* website. This ministry offers studies, solid devotional books, and most uniquely, a quarterly magazine — all with the focus of JOY!
  • This week’s journaling prompt about gratitude being attentive will help personalize this part of the journey. And, our daily practice of writing three things we’re grateful for will train us to be present to each moment. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices, so 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 a crazy one — resfeber, Swedish for the restless race of a traveler’s heart before the journey begins — when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together.
  • I mentioned Brennan Manning’s book in today’s post. Ruthless Trust* pretty much rocked my world. I suspect it will be a book I’ll pick up to reread many times in my life. Specific to this week’s topic: Chapter 2 is called “The Way of Gratefulness,” and offers so much insight into this idea of godly gratitude, and Chapter 11 is called “The Geography of Nowhere.” It packs a punch about living in the present moment. So. Good.
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify follows this journey — music is an incredible conduit for entering into God’s presence. I’d love to hear what songs have moved or challenged you.

*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured image by Adam Bouse on Unsplash

Journey of Joy: Week Seven — Departure!

Departure — a travel word if there ever was one. One of the few times we hear the use of departure is when we’re at the airport, train station, or bus stop, staring hopefully at a board that lists the status of all the departures

Departures can be grand. I’m an 80s kid, so “Love Boat” comes to mind — a big cruise ship docked at the pier, streamers falling, the deep blast of the ship’s horn resounding the departure while all those on the ship wave madly from their railings to all those on the pier who wave a bit less gladly to those leaving them behind.

Departures can be sad. I’ll never forget the grief and panic I felt as my mom picked up her suitcase and headed out to her car, leaving me with a brand new baby to care for by myself. I think I cried for days. There was also the time my son’s best friend and his family moved away. My three year old would stand at the furthest corner of our property hollering Mitchell’s name as loud as he could, as if Mitchell would hear and come running out to play. 

Departures can be scary. There comes the day when we leave home — car packed to the hilt with everything we’ve ever owned. Eyes wide with equal parts excitement and fear because the reality of our future without parents spells freedom and homesickness. 

But. Today, the departure that has been held before us for weeks as a beacon to behold has finally arrived. This is a departure full of hope. We’ve prepared. We’ve prayed. We’ve even packed. So, let’s get a little excited! It’s time to depart!!

A Time to Remember

As the confetti flutters to the ground and the ship pushes out to sea, the reality of our choices that have led to this moment causes us to pause. Before we give in to doubt, we remember that for this Journey of Joy we did not pack fear. Nor did we bring along shame or regret. We certainly left behind discouragement and disappointment. 

We intentionally didn’t bring them aboard, so let’s vow to one another that anytime one of these entanglers tries to come aboard, we name them for what they are and kick them off.

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com

Let’s also remember that we have packed faith and hope. We’ve tucked trust into all the spaces of our suitcase and wedged wisdom into our carry-on. In our back pocket we’ve placed our want-to, and in our purses we’ve stuffed all the practices we’ll need to keep us in God’s presence. And, because we know it holds all good truth, we’ve grabbed the Guide Book. 

We remember to hold this path we’re on loosely, releasing the firm grip that squeezes life out of the best of plans. We walk in surrender to all that God has for us, putting faith in His wisdom, laying down our own insecure need for control. 

Out of habit we reach for the detailed plan, only to remember that this trip is different. On this journey, we’re trusting God to point the way, and we’ll faithfully follow the arrows He gives. A niggle of worry tries to break our excitement as we think about past adventures that have ended poorly. Past disappointments are already trying to swamp us. But we remember — God is our guide. He is trustworthy and good. So we step out of the shade into the sun, full of hope for the joy He brings.

We smile because we remember — we’re on a Journey of Joy.

Holy Expectations

Imagining ourselves on the deck of a great ship helps us see how similar our reality is on this day of departure. Energy and emotion peak, bringing about a resfeber that reverberates in our entire being — all the anxiety of what’s to come collides with the anticipation of what God holds for us. 

With all those emotions swirling, we need to breathe deeply and seek God, acknowledging it’s good to have all that excitement. We want our anticipation to build because there’s fun to be had in our imaginings of joy. What we don’t need to do, however, is allow that exhilaration to push us ahead of God. 

Wisdom tells us that God has plans for us. The prophet Jeremiah spoke into the mess that was the exile of Israel to offer a now-familiar affirmation,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Wisdom tells us that God goes before us. Just as God’s presence was seen tangibly in the cloud and fire going before the Israelites, Isaiah reminded those in exile of God’s faithfulness to continue leading the way:

“For the Lord will go before you, And the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”

Isaiah 52:12

Wisdom tells us to have holy expectations of God — that He has plans for us and will go before us. That those plans will be for our good and that He’ll be faithful to continue giving us those arrows. But wisdom also reminds us that all we seek, all we desire happens when we draw near to God. Hear today’s word of joy:

“You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

Acts 2:28

Peter, the disciple who’d failed miserably the night of Jesus’ arrest, forgiven and filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke these words on the day of Pentecost — bold words of truth that moved three thousand to believe Jesus as Messiah. Words inspired by the Spirit, words once spoken by prophets and kings (as seen in Psalm 16).  

Words we need today.

Peter affirms what we’ve already been learning — God makes known the paths we are to take. One day at a time, with just enough light to illuminate the next step, the One who is the Light reveals where we are to go. 

Peter also teaches a vital truth about joy in his inspired address — joy is found in God’s presence.

So, as we embark on this Journey of Joy, we need to learn the lesson of departure: we take no steps till we have first stepped into God’s presence. For not only will we discover what we desire most, but we’ll also find ourselves wrapped in His perfect love. We’ll find balance in the tension of living in the excitement of what God is doing while not running ahead of Him in our enthusiasm. 

Put all that together, and we bask in holy expectation. 

Joy — and Peace — in His Presence

Paul reiterates what Peter preached in that first sermon of the early church,

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:4-7

From a man locked in a prison comes the call to rejoice! Not some of the time, but always. Have you ever stopped to think that rejoicing is the action of joy? Paul wants believers to grasp the truth that God’s joy is ours no matter the circumstance. Somehow, in the mystery of all that is our Father is the holy ability to find joy — and to rejoice — always. 

In The Joyful Life’s study called Counting It All Joy,* author Aimee Walker unpacks these verses in Philippians 4 to remind us, “Joy was not meant to come and go based on circumstances. It was not meant to be snatched away from us. It was intended to be a constant companion, bringing strength to the journey” (64).

In our moment of departure, our hope of finding joy is high. Perhaps we even feel joyful. But, what happens when we don’t feel it? How do we rejoice then? Paul tells us in that tiny, nearly missable statement, THE LORD IS NEAR.

Paul’s prayer for God’s persecuted people to be gentle, non-anxious, prayerful, and grateful is an encouragement — the joy and peace they seek comes because the Lord is near. Just as the Psalmist and Peter declared, it is in God’s presence that true joy is found.

Aimee says it this way, “When we live aware that God is not distant, but Emmanuel, God with us, worry is replaced by peace. Why? Because His presence dispels fear. Because in His presence is fullness of joy” (64). 

For the past year I’ve been exploring this practice of entering God’s presence — what it looks like, how it feels, even how to get there more consistently — because I have moments in prayer when I feel His presence. And, sometimes my surrender seems fuller, deeper, and I’ll sense a weight press against me — a wonderful sensation of heaviness that awakens me to a deeper awareness of God’s presence. I’ve researched what that weightiness could be and have found written descriptions from believers who call it the weight of glory — in those moments, I have no fear. Instead, I have an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. I share this without fully understanding it. Yet, I hope it encourages you to really seek God’s presence — to sit in it, rest in it, receive from it. Even when you don’t feel anything, keep seeking Him.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

These prayer practices are newer for me, but I specifically turned to them after a New Room Conference I attended where I witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit in ways I’d never seen before. People joyfully embraced and shared their gifts of prayer and prophecy, teaching and wisdom without fear and without apology. With great generosity.

Amazed by it all, I found my experience had opened a hunger in me for more of God, specifically for more of the Holy Spirit. All that seeking has led to this Journey of Joy. Realizing and admitting I’d grown weary and even complacent in my spiritual life, I have set out to find this holy joy God promises.

As we’ve been exploring together, we’ve uncovered many truths, and today’s revelation is probably the most important — the fullness of joy is found in God’s presence. I love how Charles Spurgeon says it,

“The Lord Jesus is a deep sea of joy. My soul shall dive therein, shall be swallowed up in the delights of His society.”

as quoted in Counting It All Joy, 47

Friends, we dive into Jesus’ deep sea of joy, getting swallowed up in the delight of being with Him. So beautiful. So inviting. This is what we want.

Entering God’s Presence

All the things we’ve packed help us enter the presence of God — trust, hope, our want-to, His Word. But, it’s taking all that into the spiritual practices of prayer, stillness, silence, meditation, and worship so that the barriers within us break down and doors open wide to all things holy. 

In your Journal, write down one verse from today’s study that speaks to you most or piques your curiosity. Once you’ve written it, reread it. Then say it aloud. Then sit with it in the stillness and silence, giving the Spirit space to speak. Feel yourself release the tight grip with which you hold assumptions and fears and the desire to control. Ask God to draw near. Seek to be in His presence. Be still and know…

After a few minutes, write about your experience — even if you saw or felt nothing. Writing often opens a door for the Spirit to speak in ways we wouldn’t otherwise hear. Be sure to offer a prayer of thanks to God for His nearness, to Jesus for making a way. And, don’t give up! Entering God’s presence takes practice.

Music and Movement

Eloquent words and deep truths woven together on page or in song move me. As you are aware, I’ve created a playlist for our Journey of Joy that attempts to capture the movements of this expedition. In the music there are moments of sharing and releasing, of stumbling and recovering, of discouragement and discovery — the lyrics and melodies move us along the way.

I’ve added two songs this week because of the way they speak to the truths of our departure — we head out with the holy expectation that God goes before us and that it’s in His presence we find joy. 

“The Fullness of Joy” by Caroline Cobb is based on Psalm 16. It’s the fourth song on our playlist, a position of both surrender and inspiration. Sit in the sung truths of God’s place.

“No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus” by Steffany Gretzinger pours out as if Steffany is speaking to God. It’s fifth in our playlist because we’re moving into a deeper understanding that going into God’s presence is stepping willfully into His love. And, there, He becomes our joy.

Friends, this departure marks a new beginning — a new way of seeing and seeking joy. Don’t wait any longer to go to God and find the joy He has for you. Meditate on His Word. Let the music stir you. Allow the Spirit to move in you and through you. 

In joy and with hope, hold onto holy expectation as we step into the movement of this Journey of Joy. We’ll have plenty of stops along the way to continue what we’ve begun.

So ready for all God has for us, Shelley

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  • Today I mentioned the study, Counting It All Joy.* While The Joyful Life* offers Bible studies in print or as a digital download, I chose digital and paid $10 for instant access to this study on joy. It’s worth checking out! In general, The Joyful Life is worth looking into. Their spring quarter magazine recently released — called, Create.*
  • Take time to process this week’s journal exercise — seek God’s presence and write about your experience!
  • Be brave and let us know how you’re feeling as we depart for joy! (in the comments below)
  • Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post!. It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was peripatetic, a fun word for someone who likes to travel!
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify follows this journey. I’d love to hear what you think of the two new songs added this week. How is music helping you enter God’s presence?

*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

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Journey of Joy: Week Six — It’s Time to Pack!

My heart pounded louder with each list that came around. Our leaders’ hope to prepare us for our upcoming trip to the Holy Land only caused my anxiety to rise because each list revealed what I didn’t have for the ten day excursion. 

My reality? I had no idea how to prepare for such an extensive trip. I took a long, deep breath.

My friend, and experienced world traveler, must have heard my sigh because she reached over and scribbled a little note, “I will help you.” I nearly cried. She saw the need of this pathetic peripatetic and reached out in compassion.

Over the next weeks, she helped me consolidate the lists, collect all the supplies, and even plan how to pack. But, as I laid out my clothes and shoes, as well as all the medicines, electrical converters, and sun hats, I couldn’t figure out how to get it all packed in my allotted bags. 

What had begun as an exercise of preparation turned into a practice of priorities. I could only pack what was absolutely necessary, so little by little, I purged. Then put all the pieces in the suitcase like a puzzle. In the end, I was packed and ready.

This is exactly where we find ourselves on our Journey of Joy — we’ve spent weeks preparing for this adventure, and now it’s time to pack!

How to Pack for Joy

If we look back over our weeks of preparing, we’ll discover we’ve been creating a packing list of all the things we’ll need for the rest of our journey:

First, we need to pack HOPE — for any adventure, hope is a must-have, but especially so for this one. Our “power word” for the trip encourages us:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

God is our source of hope, Jesus is the reason we hope, and the Holy Spirit offers us power to hope. What a beautiful portrait of the Trinity’s offering to us. The hope they give is not wishful thinking — it’s hope anchored in the reality of God’s love for us.

Photo by chris liu on Unsplash

Second, we should pack TRUST — as we’ve already discovered, trust is a necessity. To know God fully is to love Him. And to love Him is to trust Him. We believe His faithfulness, His genuine desire for a relationship with us, and that He only wants what is good for us. Out of all that believing rises up a trust in God, a trust that opens doors for joy.

Third, we’ll pack WISDOM, which we obtain from our Guide Book and from travelers who’ve gone before us. Wisdom goes beyond mere knowledge — it is actually knowledge applied. In the practice of reading and meditating on Scripture, our understanding of who God is gives us wisdom. We also get to see how believers who’ve been living out their faith have walked in His wisdom. 

Fourth, all of these require a life-essential — the BIBLE. We’ve been pouring over passages throughout our preparations, and while we are memorizing a few, we don’t want to be without His Word. As we learned last week, we need to abide in His Word, so pack that Guide Book!

Fifth, we need to pack our WANT-TO. Before we ever set out on this journey, we dug into our desires to establish a will for finding joy. And, while our departure is oh-so close, there will still be obstacles and delays on this journey, so let’s make sure our want-to doesn’t get left behind. 

Sixth — it’d be nice if we could pack some maps, but what we’ve learned is that charting a course for this trip looks more like following arrows. So, while we may not be packing a literal plan, we can throw in our PATH — all those rhythms, routines, and practices that are needed for a life of growth in Christ. 

One of those practices is giving God space to do His work. And as we’ll discover in our time together today, this space makes room for the stillness and silence we need to hear from God and to discern our priorities.

So, we have our packing list. There’s no magic formula for achieving joy, but if we carry these items with us, we’re headed into life with what we need to find joy. 

Space, Silence, Stillness

Just as I had that, “It’s not all gonna fit,” realization when I packed for my big trip, we’ll each look at everything we try to bring with us on this journey and see it’s just too much.

In order to create the space we’ll need for spiritual journeys such as this one, we’ll have to declutter our soul — an idea Emily P Freeman uses for the process of becoming a “soul minimalist.” She elaborates:

“…when our souls are filled with clutter, what is meant to be complex and awe-inspiring can become complicated and exhausting. …Becoming a soul minimalist does not mean that you should hold on to nothing but rather that nothing should have a hold on you.” 

Next Right Thing, Kindle edition page 26

Packing is an exercise in sorting through the clutter to get to what matters. So it is for our souls. We have to clean out all the distractions and deterrents to our soul-growth. 

The first step in decluttering our souls is to BE STILL. 

Probably the most well-known verse about this idea is Psalm 41:10:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Be still is a command that comes from the Hebrew word, rapha, meaning to be weak, to let go, to release — as in, “cause yourself to let go” or surrender. On his website, John Parsons explains that know actually gets the emphasis in this verse, implying “we are to surrender in order to know that God is in control.”

According to this verse, we are meant to let go of our desire to control in order to know that God is in control, but we can also be still literally — because to do all that surrendering, we’re going to have to slow down.

The American culture is fast-paced and competitive. It’s loud and full of distractions, so it will be hard to break old habits if we aren’t intentional to create new ones that help make space in our souls. Sitting in some silence and stillness are key:

“Silence and stillness are how I sift through the day’s input. The silence serves as a colander, helping me discern what I need to hold on to and allowing what I don’t need to fall gently away, making space…to hear the voice of God” (Next Right Thing, 27).

I love how Emily’s view fits so perfectly with our command to be still and know — space, silence, and stillness help us discern what we need to hold on to and allow what we don’t need to fall away. Silence as a colander gives me a visual of how these work to clear away the clutter.

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Stillness and silence are practices we employ to create the internal space we need for God to do His work. But, we must also make space in our lives for them.

It may seem impractical or even impossible to find space in your current life situation, but Emily has a few suggestions:

“Silence may be more accessible than you think. Begin to notice the naturally silent spaces in your days—the first light of morning, your office space when you arrive early, the walk to the mailbox, your apartment before your roommate gets home from work, the drive to the grocery store. Rather than filling these times with sound, or holding on to the soul clutter by rehearsing past conversations or future possibilities, decide instead to let yourself be quiet inside the silence and see if your friend Jesus has anything to say.”

The Next Right Thing, 30

We have silent spaces in our day — the trick is capitalizing on them. We have habits of filling those natural silences with sound, so take out the ear buds, turn off the TV, and set down the phone. This is decluttering. This is making space. Allow the silence to fill your stillness so you can sit with Jesus and hear from Him.

More Decluttering

Do you get the feeling there is more clutter in our lives than just the tangible? When Emily mentioned that we can hold on to soul clutter by rehearsing past conversations or future possibilities, all kinds of whistles went off.

I’ve spent the better part of 18 years learning how to take control of my thoughts, and I’ve learned there are three basic ways our thoughts tend to travel:

  • We might fixate on the past, regretting all the “if only’s.” 
  • We might get stuck in the present, stewing on the “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” 
  • Or, we might fret about the future, worrying about all the “what if’s.” 

Whichever we tend toward, we get sucked into the dark hole of thoughts that play on repeat and steal our joy!

As a natural “what if’er,” my mind can clutter quickly with conversation rehearsals. If I don’t stop those thoughts, I’ll spiral further until my emotions have taken over, causing my stomach to hurt and a headache to throb. 

This is soul clutter. There’s no creating space for God when my mind whirls out of control. There’s no silence, not when my thoughts are screaming!

So, I’ve had to learn how to create silence by stopping my vicious thought cycles. I’ve identified triggers that send me in a spiral and specific thoughts that launch me into never ending rehearsals. These are my red flags. When the flag waves red, I know to stop where I am and speak truth over my thoughts — truths of Scripture I’ve memorized, like God hasn’t given me a spirit of fear or God is for me not against me or God goes before me to make a way. 

When I choose my thoughts, I can create silence. When I choose my responses to life’s challenges, I can step into stillness. When I choose truth over what isn’t real or right, I can make space for God to speak over me and into me.

This is soul decluttering.

It’ll look different for each of us. But I hope this gives you ideas of what might be cluttering your soul. This week’s journal exercise is to sit with God — in stillness and silence — and ask Him to reveal to you what clutters your soul. Maybe it’s your thought life. Or perhaps it’s a habit or an addiction. It could even be fear or shame or sin. Identifying, or what Emily calls naming, is a huge first step toward release and wholeness. 

Once you’ve named what’s cluttering your soul, journal a letter to God, asking Him to lead you in the way of releasing it all to Him. We can each surrender the things that have a hold of us because we trust God and we know He is able. 

This will be a process. Naming it is one step in that process. So, as we put these spiritual practices into our life rhythms, it’s also important to build in some accountability and support, which requires asking someone to come alongside us in this decluttering.

I’m praying for each of us — that God would meet us in the spaces we create to speak into our souls, that in the silence He’ll guide us in the ways we should go, and that in our stillness, He’ll provide all we need.

We’re Packed!

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

We know that to prepare for a trip requires the process of prioritizing what stays and what goes. So, as we step out on this next leg of the journey, we’ll discover we’re less encumbered yet prepared for what is to come.

Our word of joy this week will sound familiar. It turns out Jesus said this three times to his disciples in the Book of John — I think that means it’s important and we should take note:

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

John 15:11

All that abiding we learned about last week — well, this verse comes directly on the heels of that teaching. He’s telling us that when we make space for Him in our lives, we’re better able to abide in Him and, ultimately, to find joy in Him. 

This joy we’re seeking — it’s here. It’s ours for the taking. But it requires us to lay down all that distracts and has a hold of us. Then, we have space for Jesus and His joy.

Let’s close with Emily’s prayer:

We confess we live distracted lives, and our insides often shake with constant activity. We have grown accustomed to ignoring our low-grade anxiety, thinking that it’s just a normal part of an active life. This might be typical, and it might be common. But let it not be normal. Instead of trying to figure out how to calm the chaos and hustle around us, we rejoice with confidence that we don’t have to figure our way back to the light and easy way of Jesus, because you have already made your way to us. We have your Spirit living within us, which means there’s hope for us after all. You invite us into each moment to simply do the next right thing in love.

Next Right Thing, 29-30

So ready to make that space for God to settle in, Shelley

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  • Don’t forget you can check out The Joyful Life* website. This ministry offers studies, solid devotional books, and most uniquely, a quarterly magazine — all with the focus of JOY!
  • Take time to process this week’s journaling prompts within the post.
  • Let us know how you experience the decluttering of your soul in the comments below.
  • Have some fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post!. It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was vagary, Latin for a wandering journey.
  • I mentioned Emily P Freeman’s book, The Next Right Thing* in today’s post. Emily’s books flow like poetry for the soul. This one in particular equips us in decision-making, specifically, and for spiritual journeys in general.
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify follows this journey — it starts with us admitting and announcing where are. Then the songs shift to this idea of rejoicing in God even when we don’t have all our answers yet. I hope these songs help you declutter your soul before God.

*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

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Journey of Joy: Week Five — The Waiting and Anticipating

A quick glance at the calendar tells me the trip we booked months ago is only six weeks away. My insides do that little fillip while my thoughts scamper, adding to my mental to do lists. But more than anything — after a year of sitting in the house — I just can’t wait!

Yet, wait I must.

Despite my desire to depart today, I have to have patience, allowing my mind and emotions to grow into a healthier way of waiting — and it starts with anticipation. 

Natures Teaches Us

Jesus often spoke in metaphors to teach deeper lessons — like a seed falling from the stalk of wheat to its death as a comparison to His own life. His agrarian audience would’ve known that once the dead seed was buried beneath the soil, it would awaken — roots stretching to the depths. Eventually stems, leaves, and more seeds would grow.

The life cycle of a plant gives us a great visual of what waiting can look like. Above ground, as the seed sits snug in the soil below, our eyes see nothing happening. In life, it’s tempting to believe we’re wasting time when we have to wait, but we can learn from the seed. We can wait with anticipation of what’s to come!

We’ve been on this Journey of Joy for weeks, and you might be wondering where the heck the joy is already! Are you feeling yourself getting impatient for joy? Are you vexed because you didn’t sign up for this vagary?

Don’t give up! Nature reminds us that waiting is part of the process of finding the true joy Jesus offers us.

What Scripture Shows Us

Years ago when I was newer to my faith journey and hadn’t yet acquired Scripture-finding skills, I woke up one morning floundering with impatience and fear as a deadline loomed. I needed answers, soon! Of course, there were still days till I had to make my decision, but my anxiety demanded certainty. 

Wanting to walk by faith, however, I sat on the couch with my Bible, opened to a random spot, and started reading, anticipating an answer from God. I just knew He would speak through His Word to give me a yes or a no.

What I got was WAIT. Seriously, I’d opened to Psalms and read verse after verse of messages like these:

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:14

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…

Psalm 37:7

Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.

Psalm 38:15

I got the message. I waited.

The day before the deadline, my answer came via a phone call. I had my yes. Because I had chosen to believe God instead of trying to force the issue myself, the path was made clear in His time. My feeble attempt to figure out which way to go by flipping to a verse led me to what I needed more than an answer — trust.

Trust. There’s that word again! Maybe this should’ve been called the Journey of Trust — haha. 

Fittingly, our word of joy this week wields this theme of trust. Hear Peter speak to believers about Jesus:

“You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”

1 Peter 1:8-9, NLT

We don’t typically observe what’s occurring in the spiritual realm, yet we choose to have faith in the unseen. So, even though we might not be aware of what good occurs in waiting, like the hidden seed, we can trust God is at work.

I notice Peter says we’ll have joy in all that faith-waiting because of our trust in Jesus. Friends, we are trusting Jesus more and more on this journey, so let’s rejoice in that!

Waiting and Anticipating

Like an actual vacation, this Journey of Joy will bring out the antsiness of anticipation. We’re going to feel the woe of waiting. But, as we’re discovering today, the waiting and anticipating don’t have to be negative. In fact, they can be fruitful.

Last spring, as we planted tiny green plants, my taste buds tingled at the thought of the tasty red tomatoes to come. What a great picture of anticipation — the excitement for something that’s to come. 

Photo by Davor Denkovski on Unsplash

Just as I anticipated the tomatoes, we can get excited about the joy that’s to come. We want it now. But, instead, we can lean into the work that needs to be done while we wait.

Henri Nouwen believed that when we wait with anticipation, fully expecting that something is happening in the wait, our waiting becomes active: 

“Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it. If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait.”

I love that — if we’ll believe while we wait that something has already begun to happen, the way we wait will change. Anticipating God’s work changes how we wait.

Active Waiting

Emily P Freeman, in her book, A Million Little Things, devotes an entire chapter to the idea of “Wait.” She addresses the deeper spiritual work that waiting gives room for:

“…waiting can grow us, shape us from the inside out for sacred work. This is a kind of work that happens only in the secret place of abiding in the presence of Christ…”

page 146

The key word in Emily’s advice is abiding. The Gospel of John captures Jesus teaching on this idea:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5, ESV

Using another agricultural analogy, Jesus draws a picture for His audience to help them (and us) grasp the kind of relationship He desires for us — a relationship that is healthy and fruitful, like a grapevine. 

A branch abides in the vine — it’s connected to it, gets its nutrients from it, and is held securely by it. While the branch depends on the vine, the vine requires nothing from the branch — it is self-sustaining yet life-giving.

Jesus is the vine — He’s fully independent yet He offers Himself to us, the branches, for life. And, just as the branch that separates from the vine, we begin to wither spiritually when we cease abiding in Jesus. 

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

So, how do we abide?

Emily encourages us to “move toward God” in our waiting because it’s when we slow down and put our eyes on Him that we open ourselves up to what He has for us (see page 147). It happens when we sit in the pause to grasp the purpose.

As we pause to listen, Jesus gives us a great place to find the purpose we seek:

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you….” 

John 15:7

We need to let His words abide in us. Namely, everything He has said and taught are relevant to our lives and growth as believers. Last week we focused on finding verses that speak truth to our life’s circumstances, writing them down, and memorizing them. 

All that time we spend in Scripture looking for the words we need, all the effort we give in writing them down and putting them to memory — that is allowing God’s Word to abide in us. So, keep up that practice. Everyday, make time to stay connected to Jesus through His Word.

Jesus continues:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

John 15:9-10

He says it simply — abide in my love. I try to imagine what it looks like to abide in someone’s love, and I think of my husband. In all our 30 years of marriage, I’ve had to train my brain to focus on the love he has for me, not doubting it or questioning it or hiding from it. I’ve learned to lean into his love, accept it, relish it, and share in it. And I’m better for it — our relationship is better for it. But, it takes intentionality to remain in love. It’s very easy to let life and thoughts and temptations move us out of love. 

The same goes for our relationship with Jesus. We are to soak in His love, not distrust it or dispute it or discard it. To accept His love on a daily basis, and to offer ours, is to abide in Jesus, and He offers a special way to abide in His love — keep God’s commandments. When we obey all God asks of us and calls us to, we are showing our love for Him, and that’s a deep abiding indeed.

In your journal, spend some time in God’s Word that speaks to what you need most — love, affirmation, forgiveness, hope, joy — and actively wait in it. Allow the words to seep into your soul. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak through them. Align your heart and mind with their truth.

Here’s a verse that spoke to me this week — maybe because it connects trust to joy, maybe because it paints a picture of abiding in Jesus:

“You are my God;
have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.”

Psalm 86:2b-4, NLT

This practice of active waiting will be strengthened by our abiding. Nature teaches us much about these practices of waiting and abiding. The branch abides in the vine so that it can have life and produce fruit. The seed waits in the soil for life to happen so that it can grow strong and tall in the sun.

Process these questions in your journal: What are you waiting for? What lesson can you take from the seed about waiting and trusting? How will abiding in Jesus help you grow stronger and wait better?

Like Easter

When this post publishes, it’s Easter Sunday! This year I focused much of my attention on each of the three days of Holy Week that led up to Easter and gave myself space to imagine and feel all the hard moments Jesus experienced.

Thanks to Pete Greig and his book, God on Mute, I have a much greater appreciation for Holy Saturday, specifically. If there was ever a day of waiting, this was it. Jesus lay in the tomb on the Sabbath, and nothing appeared to be happening. 

Reeling in shock and grief, the disciples doubled over in doubts about the man they’d believed to be Messiah. Peter was one of those disciples — the one who had denied Jesus three times on Thursday. The one who spoke the words we already looked at today. 

So, how did Peter get from the place of failing faith to one who spoke with such confidence? He waited. Luckily, they all waited.

Because on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead.

And everything changed.

Holy Week teaches us that waiting is active. Just because we can’t see what God is doing, doesn’t mean He’s not up to something. Emily encourages us, “Jesus waited till day three to resurrect. Don’t lose hope on day two” (155). God’s at work! Don’t give up! Instead, draw near to Him and anticipate all the ways He’ll make the most of your wait. 

And, as you wait, rejoice! Jesus lives! 

So ready to abide in His love as I wait for joy, Shelley

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  • Don’t forget you can check out The Joyful Life* website. This ministry offers studies, solid devotional books, and most uniquely, a quarterly magazine — all with the focus of JOY!
  • Take time to process this week’s journaling prompts within the post.
  • Let us know what verses help you abide in Jesus in the comments below.
  • Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post!. It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was sojourn, a Latin or Old French word for a period of time when you stay in a place as a traveler or guest.
  • I mentioned books in today’s post. They’ve both added to my own growth and understanding this year. You can learn more or purchase them here:
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify follows this journey — it starts with us admitting and announcing where are. Then the songs shift to this idea of rejoicing in God even when we don’t have all our answers yet. I hope these songs speak over your souls with truth and hope.

*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured image by Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash