The Joy of Knowing

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Sometimes I’m not sure if I should write. I hesitate. My pen freezes and confidence wanes. “Who do you think you are?” I tell myself. I’m not a “spiritual giant” and have only 31 years of life experience. Not much. What could I possibly have to say? I’m a stay at home mom, picking up toys, giving piggyback rides, and feeding my people who live here.

It isn’t flashy or Instagram worthy. I’m not Ann Voskamp or John Piper or Beth Moore. But you know who I am? A daughter of the King. Not only that but loved and chosen.

When I am still and allow this truth to sink in, my spirit cannot even handle all the emotions. It’s like fireworks inside, feeling as if my heart just might actually burst. As His children God calls us to go and be a witness to the things He has done.

“Come and see what God has done, how awesome His works in man’s behalf!” (Psalm 66:5)

This calling is for every believer not just the ones with a big platform. Our identity is not wrapped up in how many “Likes” we get on social media. In fact in many ways that can chain us back to our flesh. We’re free, you and I, no longer bound to comparison or insecurity. We still do it, but it isn’t what Jesus intended. He has better things in store for His own.

When we rest in the knowledge of His grace toward us and have faith that we belong to God, the fruit of our lives will tell us who we are. So, who do you think you are? I know to whom I belong. I can speak and write and live with every confidence because my life has the ability to honor the Father when His Name is made famous.

You have a part too. All of God’s children play a role in adorning the Gospel. Wherever you live in the world is exactly the place you need to be, speaking the name of Jesus. The gifts He has given you also serve a purpose to showcase His love for others and His glory. Go and live and be whom the Lord purposes you to be with the joy of knowing you belong and you have a place here.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Layered Joy

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Right now I’m going through a Lent study with She Reads Truth to help my heart grasp a better understanding into the deep wonder of Jesus’ life, crucifixion, and resurrection. I’m wanting a solid gratitude for what my Savior has done and His immense love for me. To know Him and be known by Him is my heart’s desire.

The Lent devotional is packed with Scripture each day to meditate on. Sprinkled throughout are recipes, of all things, and hymns. I came across Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy, and the third verse is what struck me most:

“Come ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall,

If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.”

Sometimes I catch myself striving to “be good” outwardly, while the sin of self-reliance spreads like a cancer. When I find that I am secretly still trying to earn my salvation by doing good works, my heart needs an about-face. Doing good things alone are most definitely not wrong but when my motivation becomes fear of losing my salvation, trying to climb God’s ladder of approval, or dare I say it, win the praise of man? I just need to stop.

I do this with joy too. When I base my joy on the superficial, trying to control the circumstances and create a harmonious atmosphere, sooner or later the rug gets pulled out from under me as I’m snapped back into reality. This is because I’ve skewed the meaning of what real joy is. Deep-seated joy is two-fold: everlasting joy and sanctifying joy.

King David wrote in the Psalms, “in Your Presence there is fullness of joy”, which means joy is placed within every believer because His Spirit dwells in us and we are forever in His Presence. We are gifted with God Himself in everlasting joy. That is imperishable, something we will carry with us into eternity.

 

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Sanctifying joy is the work of the Spirit in me. It doesn’t come naturally. I tend to have a deep feely, introspective, serious business face most days. Sometimes it is easier to say, “the sky is falling!” than to just sit and enjoy the sunset. But you know what? I can still pursue joy even with my kind of personality because God has given us the oil of joy – Himself.

Through reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts devotional I am training my heart to have eyes of joy. Looking for the everyday graces all around me even when it’s hard. Then I can return thanks to the Maker of those wonderful ways He has chosen to show His love to me that day- big and small. It is a practiced discipline of regarding the ordinary through the lens of thanksgiving. All circumstances (depression, sickness, infertility, a difficult job, a scary life transition, sleepless nights, an autistic child) are lovingly placed before us so that we can train ourselves to seek the Lord, trust Him, and pray like crazy.

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And those sanctifying moments to choose joy instead of sorrow? That seems like pie in the sky talk but it doesn’t have to be. When the job interview bombs, the washing machine breaks, or a loved one dies, real life happens that can rock us to the core. You know what else it can do for us? One of the most gracious things possible – an opportunity to humble us once more proving that we were never in control of anything. And if I can still give thanks to a very good God in humility even when I don’t have all the puzzle pieces figured out – there lies an opportunity to grab hold of pure, unadulterated joy. It is when you and I come low that the Lord raises us up in grace.

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Sometimes my heart resembles the Grand Canyon and joy is a tiny almost invisible stream at the bottom. It is in those moments where I gently remind myself that I must decrease as He increases in my life. Less of April, and more of Jesus. Ann compares running water to our spiritual state, noting:

“Down, always down, water runs, always looking for yet lower and lower places to flow. I watch water run and think spiritual water must flow like this … always seeking the lowest places […] I must go lower. I tell myself this, watching water run. That whenever I am parched and dry, I must go lower with the water and I must kneel low in thanks.

The river of joy flows down to the lowest places.

And here on my knees I can see.”*

Grace upon grace,

April

Go Deeper: Psalm 16:11; Psalm 40

*Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts devotional p. 109

 

 

 

Celebrate Joy (a prayer)

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Thank You, Father for the gift of this day. 

Slow down mindfully no matter what the schedule holds.

Outside may be a fury of deadlines, errands, and appointments,

breaking up squabbles made by little hands and voices –

but the inside knowing that life is short, not an emergency.

 

The hurry up, keep up pace in our fast streaming culture is not something my soul can or should keep in step with.

You, Lord, are to be celebrated in joy not just at Christmas or Easter but everyday.

Each day is a gift because You are the present.

All of the other small, but beautiful things coming from Your Hand are only stocking stuffers.

You are the Best Gift under the tree, on the Tree. I will celebrate You on this ordinary Monday with the joy and wonder of Christmas Day.

vision of joy

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The two blind men wanted their sight, Bartimaeus and an unnamed man. Don’t we all want to see? Need to? In blindness we run after gods made out of stone, not even thinking about the God Man who became flesh like us. Jesus restored their sight that day. He gave them the gift of human sight, but more importantly, faith sight. It isn’t until Jesus touches our eyes that we are healed too. Our soul eyes need to be opened before we realize the need for a Savior.

“I once was blind, but now I see” as the old hymn goes. Even with the gift of sight I sometimes decide to take off those glasses. Because at least for now while I reside on earth in my flesh, my glasses serve as a tool for better vision. I think those should be included in the spiritual armor of God. I need reminding to keep them on so I don’t wander off blindly, hands outstretched, searching, grasping air. Because when I remember to put my glasses on and gaze into the Word of God, I see with intention. I go joy hunting and His Word gives me breath and life. I learn. I learn over and over again to follow Him through the valley and peaks of life.

We follow Jesus until our dying breath living out His will, in His strength. And after death we still live in His presence forever and ever- Joy made flesh and sight and solid. What a sweet healing for our eyes, for our souls. What restoration. How vital to really, clearly see in 20/20 spiritual vision, crystal clear in heaven.

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These two men knew the power of Christ. Not only that, they understood His divine identity before they could even see. God was working on their spiritual eyes before He healed the physical. Because eyes to see the mystery of Christ is more critical than the ability to see anything this world has to offer. They followed Him with joy after Jesus healed them because they knew. The blind men had faith in His uncontainable power, His compassion for those without sight to see Saving Grace.

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To see God fully is what I long for, I want to see His face by settling into the joy of the Lord. The Spirit acts as the eyes of my heart. Tear down the walls I put up and give me grace to see in spiritual technicolor. That is the true reality, the one in which I cannot yet grasp vividly.

What I live in now is smoke and mirrors, which will soon burn away and shrivel up. It isn’t really real. I can touch it, see, taste, hear, and smell the good gifts but something greater, more real than where I am now, awaits.

Thank You El Roi for the glimpses of the far better and not yet. Thank You for loving us so fully and completely.

Thank You, Father that You are “the God who sees”. We desire to be seen, noticed, cared for, understood. You tell us to “cast all our cares on You” – help me to see as You see things, with holy eyes.

If I learn to see the everyday graces, to trust You in everything, I just might find myself surprised by joy. Looking for grace upon grace today.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Go Deeper: Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43

The Overflow of Joy

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What is the joy you long for? Do you recognize it when it’s staring you in the face? A recent sermon helped me to see that we all have our brokenness. That is really the only thing we have to offer God. He takes it, gently picking up the pieces cradling our very hearts close to His. Some of the pieces we smashed, other pieces were destroyed by another or many.

You ever pay attention to the verses in Scripture that list our deadness and hopelessness, and then the words come, like a rushing waterfall quenching our dry, parched souls – “BUT GOD”! It’s there in black and white, the turning point in the whole redemption Story. He has not left us to ourselves. The Lord really does save the day and He really does ride in on a great white horse fighting for His Beloved, the Church, you. I know this because as I read the pages in Ephesians the words leap out, asking me to take notice of the treasure of joy right in front of me.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved –“ (2:4-5 ESV)

The sermon I heard acknowledged that every person has hurts, struggles, or sicknesses to battle. Sometimes in the fog it is hard to see anything else especially in the thick of it. And then words of hope ring out: “But God…” The pastor who spoke that day told us of our need for Him. He presented Christ as desirable and lovely. He pulled back the curtain and helped me see King Jesus in all His Glory, Beauty, and Majesty.

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You see, for the believer there is always hope no matter how dark the night of the soul gets. From our living hope springs an unexplainable joy – sometimes quiet you barely know its there. If you sit still long enough you’ll hear the whisper of Him who knit you together in your mother’s womb, “I love you. I have loved you with an everlasting love. You are my joy. Trust me and let Me be your Joy.

Deep joy is steady. Its believing when believing doesn’t make sense. When you keep the faith others take notice and that joy you’ve been wondering about? Surrender. Wait. Rest. Things of this importance take a lifetime to cultivate and recognize. And when you finally see your own joy come to life again, give thanks. Keep seeking Christ the King. Before you know it, that wellspring of joy will bubble right over and splash the feet of everyone around you.

Grace upon grace,

April

Personal prayer

Beloved. Is that what You call me?

I’m known as one who is loved by the

Great God of heaven and earth, Who orchestrates

the cosmos, setting the stars in their proper place,

causing the rise and set of the sun,

and yet You have placed Your salvation,

Your deep affection on me?

I am overwhelmed. Help my

disbelief. Let me see it as true.

Help my heart accept this ocean

of love that tempts to consume

my soul as I long for it to.

I need You. I need Jesus my

Savior. Engulf me in the tide of

Your grace. Let my deep-seated joy

overflow because You are the

fountain from which it comes.

 

 

 

what children’s songs can teach us about joy

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Let me first apologize for the overuse of children’s songs as references on this little blog. I tend to listen to or sing a lot of little people tunes right now because that’s our jam and the season of life I’m in. A lot of these songs I teach Jesse are the ones I was taught growing up in church. They may be simple songs, but a lot of them are more profound than I first realized. Oh, and they are short so my brain can retain and retrieve as needed (bonus).

‘Trust and Obey’ is one I like because of the sing song rhyming melody. It goes: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey” (emphasis mine). I’m learning through songs like this that trust and obedience to the Lord are essential for sustainable joy. Do I really trust Him the way I say I do? Oh to have the faith of a child. My son just assumes I’ll take care of him (which I will) because he trusts me. He doesn’t ever worry or wring his hands or live in fear – he simply trusts.

Is it really that easy? I think grown-ups have a few hurdles to overcome because if you have lived in this world long enough you’ve been burned once or twice, experiencing disappointment and sadness. We become jaded because the world is not as it should be. Sinful people living in a world with sinful people sometimes results in distrust and heartache. But our God is not flawed like we are.

He is perfect in every way: reliable, faithful, all wise, loving and true. He calls me to love and obey Him. So why are these the things Jesus places importance on? His own words found in the Book of John are, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11 NIV).

            Christ commands us to love and obey Him because Jesus is the very best for us. It is to glorify Himself and for our own good. So when you and I live our lives learning to trust God, walking in obedience with our every day we start to see God at work in His faithfulness. Love begins to bloom and stretch out. Obedience develops into a pattern and we see that when we follow what is right and good our joy is solid.

When I go back to Scripture I re-learn what alone satisfies my soul. It is nothing this world has to offer. So when Jesse recognizes the ‘Trust and Obey’ song that comes on in the car I’ll keep singing it for him. Control creates stress, which kills joy. Simple trust and obedience in Jesus is the heart message I want him to capture. It’s what this grown-up needs too.

Prayer to trust and obey :

I am loved immeasurably by Christ my Lord.

Help me to cleave to, trust in, rely on and have faith in You Mighty King!

If my deepest joy comes from a deep trust of You then fix my eyes on You alone in the good and bad.

I will keep my hands open, palms up in continual trust of my Savior because I love You.

Amen.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Joy Word

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Jesse has this Veggie Tales book about having a thankful heart. It even has a song to go along with it (yes, a song). A few months ago all he wanted to do was press that song button on the book over and over and over. He would ask for the “happy” book, signing “happy” and point to the bookshelf. As much as I dislike the squeaky, cartoon voices in the song, I can’t help but pay close attention to the words: “Because a thankful heart is a happy heart. I’m glad for what I have that’s an easy way to start…”. The Lord knows I need this reminder just as much as Jesse, probably more. In fact I’m sure of it. It dawned on me after hearing the “Happy” song for many, many nights in a row that this is where joy is born. Gratitude for our daily blessings creates a joyful space in our spirit. This joy expands the more we fix our eyes on His gifts to us.

I picked a OneWord365 for this year to explore more and delve into the meaning making it my banner for 2016. My word is Joy. Not only do I want this for myself but for others to grasp too. It’s not as elusive as you think.

In Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts devotional she talks about finding that joy. She recalls the night before Jesus was crucified He had Passover with His disciples. The Bible says He “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19 NIV). The fact that Jesus knew He was hours away from facing a horrific death and still He gave thanks to the Lord and shared this sacred meal with His followers who would soon desert Him astounds me. There are no words in human language to adequately comprehend the depth of Jesus’ love.

The phrase “he gave thanks” translates to “eucharisteo”. The root word of eucharisteo is “charis” which means, “grace”. If we go deeper than that we find that the Greek word “chara” means, joy! Ann says, “Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo—the table of thanksgiving” (p.27). She just blew my mind. For months I have been sensing this connection but couldn’t find the words. I don’t have knowledge of Greek either, so that helped.

Joy. It’s uncovered through the art of gratitude. At the back of Voskamp’s devotional she leaves room for you to write out 1,000 gifts. Literally name and count the ways the Lord loves you. This is part of my joy journey – counting His blessings, big and small. I do a few each day. It helps me notice things more, to slow down and be on the lookout for God’s grace all around.

I plan to write a few posts on what joy is and what it looks like for us. I hope you come with me. As the world outside seems to crumble under the heavy weight of godlessness and sorrow lets find a space in our souls to be refreshed. I think the older I get the harder it is to see joy, let alone maintain it. Even in seasons of unrelenting hardship it is possible. Those who choose joy in those moments will be the strongest.

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God has prepared us for this. We were made for joy with Him forevermore. We can start practicing to live in joy today. Maybe it’s hard for you also. I’m preaching to myself just as much as I want this for you too. This is about finding joy in the ordinary, everyday mundane and recovering lost beauty and a worshipful heart.

Gifts that you wouldn’t necessarily think as gifts can be. For me, Jesse’s disabilities are a kind of gift. He still carries a sense of wonder over the ordinary, because his learning of the outside world is just now emerging. I get to see the world through him with fresh eyes. His infectious laughter gets Jason and me every time. We just look at each other and grin thankful we get to be Jesse’s parents. The obstacles of not yet having more children have also been a gift of leaning close to the Lord, trusting Him even when I don’t understand.

Our sense of beauty, innocence and joy was stolen in the Garden of Eden from the very first sin. We need to remember what it looks like and claim His goodness again. I don’t want to live the one life I have with cynicism and joylessness. That is a wasted life.

If “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10 NIV) then we need to know what that means. While you scour the food crusted pots at the sink, while you dig in the dirt planting the tulip bulb to blossom come spring, while you rock your little one to sleep quietly humming a lullaby- joy is there. It’s in the cracks of life, springing up from the ground. It is not a naïve “Pollyanna” attitude, although that term (and movie) does get a bad wrap. It’s a knowing. It is recognizing the source of Life, the Giver of the gifts. Understanding how much we are loved immeasurably through the Greatest Sacrifice in the history of mankind? Let your Joy start there.

 

Grace upon grace,

April