"Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God." - Corrie Ten Boom

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Serious Business of Joy

"JOY is the serious business of heaven." - C. S. Lewis
I do believe he was right.
I was recently approached by a group asking that I teach on the subject of joy, whether I could explain why I "always seem happy"... and "Why in the world I say God is so nice to me." This is an attempt to respond.
Before you are tricked into believing that I think I have something noble or wise to say... or that I am never upset, I'll go ahead and burst that bubble for you. That's not true.
There are also other flaws I own that can certainly contribute to a goofy grin at the most inappropriate of moments. These things may include a freakishly short attention span, the occasional lack of understanding (or willingness to understand) the gravity of a situation, or yes, it may be to some extent a learned way of life. But for the most part it is a choice that is worked hard for.
I do not however believe that we need to be taught how to be happy, or how we can know that God is nice.
We can. And He is. Both have been proven for centuries.
The lesson should perhaps rather be a reminder in opening our eyes,
and in learning how to focus.
The choice for joy requires focus, determination, and practice. I have fought to learn the meaning of "taking your thoughts captive"... and have never found another pursuit more "worth it."
"...since what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." Romans 1:19-20
There is information given. There is also afforded opportunity to choose how to handle that information. It is that choice which will dictate whether or not you live a life of joy.
It is not often within our right or ability to change a circumstance. It is always however, within our right and ability to asses the situation, dig our feet in, and look forward with thanksgiving to the One who has promised to lead us through. It is always within our right and our responsibility to bring our circumstance under submission to the Lord of circumstance. It is always within our right and responsibility to decide whether we are worshipers of the Lord, or the circumstance (*Those who worship the created things rather than the creator...)
I believe that true joy is natural overflow to the decision to celebrate redemption because joy is a direct result of the character of the Redeemer.
I love things like music, art, and photography. I see them as a method to accept from God's hand a gift He has given, and to receive it with gratitude as something of value. It is worth practicing, it is worth celebrating, it is worth remembering, it is worth working for, it is worth enjoying.
I make no claims to be a photographer. (*Pausing to say she hates it when I link or praise her and that makes me giggle. And so I link. :) But I am so deeply fascinated by the fact that we can only capture images given by the Creator. I believe that the best photographers have the greatest appreciation for their subjects. The greatest art is a picture of something God has actually made. Those who capture it best are those who care most about knowing the personalities and stories of those having their pictures taken, and respond accordingly. I love that the gift of music is given by Him, and we can choose to practice it and enjoy it only because it was given.
It is a celebration.
I blog because I do not want to forget what God has done in our family. I want to celebrate it somehow.
I have been convicted and learning to blog even uncomfortable things, because I believe it is an act of worship, and allows the Redeemer to do what He does. When I have written things I didn't want to, God has opened doors for me to share more about what He's done. This amazes me. And it is never my story that is of interest, it is the God who is the hero of my love story. My writing about anything is mere acceptance and acknowledgement that we do have a story to tell of a God, far greater than the aged box of religion. We have a Redeemer for today.... and sometimes we forget just where to look for Him. So please share what you know about Him. I want to know Him more!
Philemon 6 says "you should be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of the hope you profess."
Isn't that awesome? The more you share, yes the more others will know, but at the same time the more you will understand.
It's undeniable that sharing requires deeper thought, greater accountability, and certainly a fuller awareness of the story that you have to tell. And it is thrilling.
The more you sing a song the more you know the words. The more you laugh the better you feel, The more you take pictures, the more you will appreciate the lines of the faces smiling back at you. And most of all, the more time you invest in prayer and study of Jesus, the more you will recognize His handiwork, see His sense of humor, be aware of His voice and His presence, and the more stories you will have to tell of the miracles He will do when you worship Him as Lord of the circumstance, rather than worshiping your circumstance.
[Insert Random Thought Here:]Voltaire said "I have decided to be happy... because it is so good for my health."
Whatever floats your boat Voltaire.
Under no circumstances do I mean to imply that there is not a time and place for sadness and for tears. In fact I have come to believe that sometimes it takes more strength to acknowledge something and to be sad about it than it does to move on and pretend it didn't happen. Jesus cried. He created tears as an outlet. We cannot love the way He wants us to without making the heart vulnerable to breaking. Anything to do with love, joy, and passion can open you up to great risk and great fear because you cannot ignore your emotions in these matters, or the intensity of hurt. He made us unable to go without sleep, in order to acknowledge our weakness and need for rest. Our tears can be rest from what our hands cannot fix or are unable to hold. They are an acknowledgement that we need the Lord of the circumstance, and that we need to be held by Him. They cannot however be a way of life, but a channel to surrender those things to the hands that are big enough to handle all things. Joy does not always mean happiness. It means assurance of safety hope, even when we are sad.

I have made two mistakes in particular lately, and each led to discouragement and dead ends. The first was to get so busy doing God's job, I didn't take time to do mine. I wanted so badly to please Him and felt that I should go about it by making sure I'd be able to provide, making sure I was doing a good job at work, making sure that I could give my children the best future possible, never saying no to any opportunity. Yes God wants me to work for all of these things. But ONLY under submission to the knowledge that HE IS GOD. Feet on the water, eyes on the Savior. The truth is, I needed a little sleep, to let my house get messy and build a fort in the backyard, and even to say no to some worthy projects in order to allow time to play with my children instead. I was trying to work in partnership and dare I say equality with God rather than as His servant, and as His child. I needed to trust every step to Him, and live in JOY that He is able to lead us forward! The second mistake was to live my life to give others joy (aka to keep them happy). The bottom line is, we are to live IN the joy of following a Savior every step of the way.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before Him endured the cross... Hebrews 12:1-2a
I challenge you today to keep your feet firmly in the place God has you. It is so true as I was recently reminded (thanks Nathaniel!) that "it is possible for Christians to be so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good." Don't leave your circumstances and don't leave thankfulness. Rather, surround your circumstances with thankfulness. You might not immediately find happiness and laughter, but you will most certainly be reminded of joy. Enjoy creation today. Enjoy your family. Don't just say you do it, do with the physical response of one who worships a redeemer.
Feet on the ground, eyes on the Savior... and that's how we walk on the water.
Joy is the serious business of heaven because it is the outcome of redemption. Joy itself is not something we create, it is something we accept, that we rejoice in, and that we enjoy. Joy is the direct result of what the character of God is. Joy is not something we can reproduce, imitate, and recreate. It is what we will experience as we get to know the One who made it, and gives it. And that is why we can rejoice always, "and again I say, rejoice!"
"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE."
G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy)


Terrie said...

Well...there you go again, Mary! Love this! Thanks so much for sharing your heart with such clarity and openess! God is using you continually to bless me.

Beth Simmons said...

Wow! Thanks for taking the time to write this for all of us. Thanks for sharing your heart and teaching us through it.

Naomi said...

I guess God is trying to beat this over my head this summer. I am in a women's Bible study this summer and we are talking about our "thought closets" which is basically what we think and meditate on. I am learning about filling my mind with the truths of God from his word rather than what the world teaches or what I think up; about taking my thoughts captive. "Ps 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight. O Lord my rock and redeemer." It reminds me of a song that I learned when I was little, "Input, Output, what goes in, is what comes out..." I'll have to find that song for my kids because it has always stuck with me. Thanks for always being a blessing to me.