Thursday, January 18, 2018

Embracing Joy

"Don't be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!" - Nehemiah 8:10

Don't let my smile fool you; I am not a naturally happy person.

Neither a sunny optimist nor a depressed pessimist, I am a realist. Unfortunately, reality doesn't often match up with my highest hopes and dreams. And knowing that fact, as evidenced too many times in my life, makes it hard for me to stay up in the clouds of excitement for very long.

When I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I was relieved to hear that my case was considered mild. After reading up on my disease, however, I quickly learned that it was a progressive disease and couldn't help but begin thinking about "what ifs." What if it gets worse? What if the medicines make me sick or cause me to lose my hair? What if they don't work at all? What if, what if, what if.

It is no wonder that Philippians 4:6 became my favorite Bible verse very early on...by the age of about nine, actually. "Do not worry about anything..." it begins. Yeah right, said Little Miss Worry Wart. "Instead pray about everything." Okay, I will try that, I thought. And so I did.

It didn't take long in my early Christian life to figure out that without prayer - letting go and letting God - I was pretty much sunk. There were so many things I couldn't control, and all the worrying in the world wasn't going to change a thing. And yet, many years later, I still struggle with the same question of how to put on a happy face while being absolutely clueless about how things will work out. I want to believe for the best, but it is still difficult sometimes.

Being in my 50's with several chronic illnesses does not help things. Last year, I planned a fabulous Spring Break trip with my daughter for her 13th birthday, and ended up spending half of it screaming in pain with daily migraines.

This year, my husband and I are planning to go to the Grand Canyon. Lately, however, I have been noticing some all-too-familiar pain in my hands and feet that I know is due to my RA. Every day, I go to the gym or walk in my neighborhood, gearing up for the canyon hike I have always dreamed of. But for every time I come back exhilarated, there is another time I return exhausted from what seems like a relatively minimal amount of exercise. So if you ask me if I am looking forward to my trip, I will smile and tell you I am, but in the back of my mind, there is a teeny voice reminding me that it might not go the way we have it planned.

So what do we do when chronic illness keeps us from feeling our best, or when it seems to take on a life of its own, preventing us from being able to plan out our happy ever afters? For me, there is only one answer:

When we cannot find joy within ourselves, we must seek out
and embrace the joy of the Lord.

The Bible makes it pretty clear that we can't rely on our circumstances for our happiness. Heck, there is an entire book dedicated to the struggles of Job, a man who lost everything he had in this world! And yet, there he is as an example of someone who never lost faith and continued to praise God anyway.

I don't know about you, but just telling me to "trust God" doesn't do much for me. "HOW do I do that?" I immediately want to ask. Thankfully, the Bible spells it out.

Joy of the Lord Lesson #1: When life gets overwhelming, spend time with Jesus.

Ever heard the story of Mary and Martha? You can find it in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, but here are the Cliff notes: When Jesus went to dinner at these sisters' home, Martha spent her time running around, worrying about every detail, while Mary sat contentedly at Jesus' feet.

I have yet to find any day that didn't get better after spending time in God's Word and in prayer. It's as simple as that. Whether it's something in Scripture that instructs or comforts me, or the peace that comes over me when I'm in communion with the Holy Spirit, my joy is increased immeasurably by the presence of the Lord.

Joy of the Lord Lesson #2: Take life one day at a time.

When I spend time focused on the future, my list of "what ifs" goes way up. I can usually handle whatever comes my way today, however. That's why Jesus tells us, in Matthew 6:34, not to worry about tomorrow "for tomorrow will care for itself." Taking life one day at a time is the only way to not fret about the future. I can find a little joy every day.

Joy of the Lord Lesson #3: Trust in God's good plan.

One of the best gifts I have ever received from a friend was a Bible verse - Jeremiah 29.11. "For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." We can't control the future, but God can, and having the reassurance that He is looking out for our welfare certainly allays my fears. I can look forward to the days ahead with joy, and not dread.

Joy of the Lord Lesson #4: Live in an attitude of gratitude.

Something I am fond of saying quite often, in the midst of misfortune, is "it could always be worse." Pity parties aren't pretty, and when I am tempted to start one for myself, all I have to do is turn on the news to realize that many people are in much more dire circumstances than myself. In order to experience the true joy of the Lord, however, I have to take it to the next level.

It isn't enough to just be grateful that I don't have it as bad as some others. I have to look at all the blessings I have received from God's hands! Psalm 126:3 says "The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy." Joy comes from looking at our lives through the lens of gratitude. When we see how much we have been given - even if just food to eat and clothes to wear - it is easy to see just how much God cares for us. There is evidence that even when life doesn't work out the way we want, we often get what we need. Recognizing that fact is key to experiencing the joy of the Lord. We can praise Him every day!

Today, I can be honest in saying I am not a naturally happy person. It is not in my human nature to smile during trials and be optimistic about the future. But I have found that when I stay close to Jesus, live one day at a time, trust in His plan, and live with gratitude for all He has done and continues to do in my life, I can experience joy - the joy of the Lord - in any circumstance. And if you choose to do the same, so can you!

Peace, joy and love to you today -

Linda

Embracing Joy originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins. Click here for more posts. Get even more encouragement by following me on Facebook. 

Many of Spring Sight's posts can also be found each week on Crystal Storms' Thoughtful Thursday,  Kelly Balarie's #RaRaLinkUp, Holly Barrett's Testimony Tuesday, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, and Woman to Woman's Word Filled Wednesday. I also link up often with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Dawn at Journeys in Grace, as well as with Lori Schumaker.

4 comments:

  1. Linda, this is my first visit to your blog -- so nice to meet you and to find your words. I smiled at your "realist" label, because I claim the same for myself, always in a battle against pessimism!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Michele! I am a fan of your writing. :-) It's nice to know I'm not alone in my desire to look at life through Jesus-tinted glasses! Wishing you many warm blessings from icy Houston!

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  2. I have a lesson 4 - laugh a lot

    As I read the scriptures Jesus was a funny guy. It is the best way I can understand his ongoing verbal gymnastics with the authorities. I read it as good nature fun to people who were way to serious.

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    1. You're right, Rick! When we learn to laugh in the face of our circumstances, laugh at ourselves, and even laugh with Jesus, that is one way to find the joy of the Lord! Thanks for sharing. :-)

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