Advent Day 19: I Choose Joy

I just love this song! I have never heard a song that better depicts God’s joy. When the choir shouts “Joy” I always get goosebumps.

I also love that this song doesn’t sugar coat things. It’s not saying that when things are going great we should have joy. It talks about the stress of life, the horrible stories on the news, and walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I think we can all relate to that first line “Lately, I’ve been reading, watching the nightly news. Don’t seem to find the rhythm, just wanna sing the blues.” It seems like 90% of the news stories are always bad. Just spending an hour watching the news can leave you depressed and deflated.

Just like love, joy is a choice. It’s not something that we’re asked only to do when things are going well and we’re happy. It’s something that should always be a part of our life. (Joy is something that I personally really struggle with, so I’m talking to myself here). “Joy is an emotion that’s acquired by the anticipation, acquisition or even the expectation of something great or wonderful” (Wellman, 2015). And if we are having trouble being joyful, we should turn to God for it, just like the songwriter did here.

Nehemiah 8:10 says “Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The people had just been read God’s law and were weeping because they felt so convicted of all of the things that they had done wrong. But Nehemiah was basically saying, “Don’t worry about your past. It’s in the past. Enjoy life right now and serve God in your life right now.” God forgives us of anything that we have done wrong in the past, so don’t let anything in your past dictate whether you are able to have joy right now.

If the joy of the Lord is our strength, then when we are not joyful, we must be weak. That makes sense, because I feel like my faith is pretty weak when I’m feeling depressed. If joy is our strength, then we should put it on like armor and wear it wherever we go so that we are ready when we are attacked by the enemy.

So how do we put on joy? First, we have to let go of our worries and give them up to God (Philippians 4:6-7). Then we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. Even on the cross, Jesus was able to look past his physical circumstances to the joy of overcoming death and having us join him in eternity. I would say that the cross is the worst physical and emotional circumstance that anyone could possibly be in, so if Jesus was able to hold on to joy despite that, then we should be able to as well.

Joy and happiness are not the same thing and we don’t have to be happy all the time. Obviously, Jesus was not happy on the cross. In Ecclesiastes 3, the bible says that there is a time for everything, including a time to weep and a time to mourn. So if you are weeping and mourning, don’t feel bad. You don’t have to be happy. But still hold on to your joy.

Galatians 5:22 says that joy is a fruit of the spirit, so it comes from the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, it comes from knowing that God loves us and is there for us. If we want more joy, we need to turn to the Holy Spirit to receive it. Romans 15:13 says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him…” Joy is something that we receive as a gift from God and we get more of it by drawing closer to him. One thing that really helps me receive more joy is praising God. Even if life is going really badly and I am stressed to the max, if I turn on a worship song and just start praising, I start to feel better and my joy starts to return. I’m not necessarily happy after, but I have a peace and a knowledge that God is going to be there for me and help me through these temporary circumstances that I’m going through. I actually have a specific playlist of worship songs that I turn to when I’m worried. Maybe you could add “I Choose Joy” to yours?

Reference:

Wellman, J. (2015). What is the biblical definition of joy? How does the bible define joy? Christian Crier. Retreived from https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/05/21/what-is-the-biblical-definition-of-joy-how-does-the-bible-define-joy/

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Advent Day 18: Free Therapy

Think of almost anything you need, and chances are the phrase “There’s an app for that” would apply.  Everything we need to manage our lives are a click away…food delivery, transportation, appointment trackers, budget spreadsheets, meditation, and now therapy.  Where someone could only make appointments for face-to-face, now there are multiple apps where one can call, email, text, or even video chat with their therapist.

24 hour therapy from the comfort of your home just a click away…If only there was a quality free version ! Oh wait, there is !

Isaiah 9:6 (an Old Testament prophecy about the coming of Jesus as Messiah) says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Not just any counselor is available to us – but a wonderful one.  The best there is.  And yes, I realize it’s someone we cannot physically see or audibly hear most of the time.  But I do believe He’s here with us and always imparting wisdom/counsel to us through the Bible, other people, nature, etc.  I think the “trick” is to take time everyday to spend with God reading His Word, listening to worship music, maybe going for walks and contemplating creation, etc. The Bible also says “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

If you would like to talk to God but don’t know where to start…start simple with an invitation for Him to join you as you pray.  Then start with gratitude.  Pray for others, but don’t forget to pray for yourself.  Don’t be afraid to be honest with Him.  Share you fears, concerns things that make you angry.  He is not surprised by any of it anyway.  Last, but not lease, take time to listen to God.  You might want to say something to Him such as, “God, what do you want me to know about (you, this situation), etc??  I encourage you to journal what you hear.

You’ll be tempted to doubt that God speaks to you, but I encourage you to keep seeking, and then spending time with other praying Christians who can help encourage you on what God is saying.

Free therapy?  Sign me up please!!

(PS: I’m in no way minimizing professional therapy/counseling.  If you need it, get it!  I believe God gives wisdom to others such as therapy that can be very beneficial and life-giving.  No shame at all!  Not many people know this, but I tried counseling recently for stress/anxiety once I realized my insurance covered all but a co-pay. =)  Went a few times and just couldn’t commit schedule wise.  Plus I don’t think she was the best fit for me BUT I completely support therapy.  Long rant over.)         -Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advent Day 17: Just Too Blessed

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.”

-John 1:16

A few years ago I was stuck in a job that I really struggled with and did not like. I would work all day and then bring more work home with me. When winter came, seasonal depression set in and many days it was hard for me just to get out of bed in the morning. During that time, I was always stressed and it was really difficult for me to see all of the blessings around me. It seemed like everything was going wrong, when really there were so many things going right.

Every once in a while it is good to take a step back and remind yourself of how blessed you really are. For example, how many times have you googled something in the past week? Did you know that as of 2017, over half of the world’s population still did not have internet access (Downs, 2017)? I feel like I couldn’t live one day without the internet!

Do you have money in the bank? As of 2015, 10% of the world’s population was in extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 per day (The World Bank, 2018).

Have you gone more than a day without food in the past year? Depending on what website you look at, between 9 million and 36 million people die of hunger each year. Having a full stomach, or at least not an empty one, is quite a blessing.

Were you able to drink clean water today? As of 2017, 3 in 10 people worldwide still did not have access to clean drinking water (WHO, 2017).

I did not put those facts in there to make you feel bad (although they are quite startling). I put them in there to remind you that no matter how bad life gets, you are still very blessed. Even if I lived in a third world country and did not have access to any of those things, I would still be blessed because I know that I have an eternity in heaven to look forward to. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that, but that doesn’t make it any less true. We are all so so blessed to have a God who loves us enough to come to Earth and die for us so that we can spend eternity with him. In the future, instead of focusing so much on the bad things in life, I will try to focus more on the many blessings that God has put in my life. Will you?

References:

Downs, R. (2017). UN: Majority of world’s population lacks internet access. UPI. Retrieved from https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2017/09/18/UN-Majority-of-worlds-population-lacks-internet-access/6571505782626/.

The World Bank (2018). Nearly half the world lives on less than $5.50 a day. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2018/10/17/nearly-half-the-world-lives-on-less-than-550-a-day.

World Health Organization (2017). 2.1 billion people lack safe drinking water at home, more than twice as many lack safe sanitation. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/12-07-2017-2-1-billion-people-lack-safe-drinking-water-at-home-more-than-twice-as-many-lack-safe-sanitation.

Advent Day 16: Missing the Surprise

If  you haven’t seen the animated Disney movie “Tangled” you really should.  In the meantime, please note: spoiler alert ahead (but very small one).  I promise it won’t ruin the movie for you.  I also won’t likely be offered a job writing movie summaries. But back to the point.

In Tangled, a princess named Rapunzel is kidnapped as a baby and raised by an evil women who pretends to be her mother – all so the old women can remain young and beautiful through the magical healing powers of Rapunzel’s hair.  Rapunzel is trapped in a tower with a view of the land she was born in.  Every eve on Rapunzel’s birthday, her parents and the townspeople all light paper lanterns in her memory.  Rapunzel admires the paper lanterns from afar, without realizing that the light display she so enjoys is in her honor.  Still, part of what causes her to be brave enough to escape happens on her 18th birthday when she wants to go see the light display for herself.

Through no fault of her own, Rapunzel was essentially missing her own surprise party.  She had no idea that she was a Princess, let alone that something so beautiful, so magical, could be for her alone.  She was living her life trapped,  Stuck in a world where her greatest desire was just out of reach.

Do you ever feel like Rapunzel?  I do, so stinkin all the time.  I’m just being real here.  But, I forget that God, my Father and King, is putting on big, beautiful light shows all around me to show me I’m special, I’m his, He loves me, and cares about what brings me passion.  He cries with me, He laughs with me.

Could you take a moment right now to pause and consider ways in which God is trying to surprise you with His love?  It could be a sunrise or sunset, an encouragement from someone you love, a quiet bath, any number of things.  If you’re unsure, ask God to reveal His love to you and be open to hearing.  If I know God’s heart – He would simply be delighted to show you.

In conclusion — please enjoy this song from Tangled.  When Rapunzel sings the beginning verse, I picture you and I seeing God for the first time and seeing the light.  When Flynn Rider sings “All at once, everything looks different now that I see you” I picture Jesus on the cross, tears of pain but also joy, looking down at you and me with the most sacrificial love, realizing all His pain and humiliation was worth it for you and me.

I See the Light – Tangled

but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 9:24

Advent Day 15: Joyful

Do you have anyone in your life that you would describe as joyful? Someone who is always smiling and their laughter is contagious? Someone who lights up the room when they walk into it? Someone who always gives you a hug and makes you feel welcome, even if you don’t know them that well?

I love people like that! They are such a blessing to be around and for me, they define what Joy is. Joy is happy, but it goes beyond happy. It’s radiant and beautiful and contagious.

When the angels came to the shepherds in the fields to tell them about Jesus, it said “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
-Luke 2:10 NIV

Imagine the joy that the shepherds felt at meeting the baby who was the savior, whom angels had told them about! They were from humble backgrounds and probably would never normally be able to meet a King, much less the King of Kings! It would have been like meeting your favorite celebrity, only better. The Bible says

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
-Luke 2:20 NIV

The shepherds’ response to their joy was to praise God. When we experience joys in our lives, like going to a wedding or getting a promotion or just hanging out with the most joyful person in our lives, our response should be the same. Every good gift comes from above and we are right to, like the shepherds, be joyful and praise God for it. And of course the greatest gift of all is Jesus, who is the good news that we can always be joyful about.

Advent Day 14: Light Bright

There is this hospital nearby -where every night in December -the public is encouraged to line up outside the hospital and shine flashlights towards the children’s ward as the children shine flashlights back.  It’s a fun activity for children who may feel isolated being in a hospital around the holidays. It’s something so simple but brings such delight to children.

How often do we ignore doing the “basic” things that bring joy to ourselves and others ? Can you think of anything that you can do to brighten someone’s life around you? Is there something you enjoy doing that you haven’t taken the time for lately? I encourage you to find ways to shine a light this season and beyond.

Matthew 5: 14-16 (msg version)

““Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:14-16‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Notice the last part “You’ll prompt people to open up with God” My desire is to shine a light if generously and  kindness in hopes of brightening someone’s day and pointing them to Jesus.

Wont you shine your light as well? And please let me know if you’d like to learn more about what it means to know Jesus.

 

Advent Day 13: Don’t Give Up on Love

When my husband and I were dating, we went to a Christian concert by Sanctus Real. One of their songs “Don’t Give Up on Love” really stuck out to me that night. Before singing, the lead singer came out and spoke for a little bit about the high divorce rate and the fact that he sees so many people around him just giving up. When they started singing, the lyrics to the song were right on target with what he said. You can listen to it in the video below.

According to the American Psychological Association, 40-50% of married couples in the United States divorce (APA, 2018). I’ve experienced this in my own life with a close family member getting divorced, saying “I never really loved him.” This surprised me, because it definitely looked like she did at the wedding. But I guess I have to agree with her because if that’s the reason she’s getting divorced, then she never really knew what love was to begin with.

You see, something my husband and I learned well before we ever got married is that love is not what most people today see it as. It is not about emotions or pleasure. It’s not a feeling. Love is a choice. 1 Corinthians 13 is often recited at weddings and explains what love is well.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres...” -1 Corinthians 13:4-7

When Jesus looked at the broken and hurting in this world, he chose to love them. Others chose to look away or pass them by, but Jesus chose to love them and heal them. He also chose to love sinners, people that the religious leaders of his day would not even associate with. And when it came to the end of his ministry, Jesus chose to love us, to sacrifice himself for us. That is what love is all about: caring for someone else over yourself. Jesus put us first before his own life when he died on the cross. If he chose to do that for us, how can we not choose to love those around us?

I am not just talking about spouses, but all of our relationships with others. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor and goes on to clarify that everyone in this world with us is our neighbor. Are we patient with others? Do we put them first, or are we self-seeking? Do we always persevere in loving them, even when it is difficult?

I do realize that some relationships are unhealthy and that some people are better loved and prayed for from a distance. All divorce has negative consequences, but some divorce is allowed by God in the bible, especially in cases of infidelity. Even Joseph, a righteous man, was planning to divorce Mary quietly when he found out that she was pregnant with Jesus (Matthew 1:19). But if everyone who got married was truly loving with the love described in the bible, I believe that there would be no more divorce. So much pain and suffering is caused by people seeking their own happiness over that of others. How much better would this world be if everyone put the others first and loved the way that Jesus loved?

During this advent season, consider the description of love in Corinthians and how well your relationships match up. Pick one area of love that you would like to work on. Our love may not be perfect until we reach heaven, but we can still strive to follow after Jesus in the way that we love those around us.

 

American Psychological Association (2018). Marriage and divorce. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/