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(Reblogged from May 30, 2013)

 

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I placed my Diet Coke on a nearby table and settled into one of the front porch rockers. The book I had brought with me remained closed on my lap. Instead of reading, I gazed at tall pines, listened to birds chirping good-night to each other, and breathed in cool mountain air.

What a stark contrast to home, I thought. My husband, two sons, and I had escaped the oppressive summer heat of our Florida home, and were vacationing in a North Carolina rental cabin.

Not long after settling, I noticed an enormous Luna moth perched on the porch railing. He appeared to be sleeping soundly. His shapely sea-foam wings stretched out primly, in a perfect display of shimmering symmetry. Not even an antenna moved.

 

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In the sweet idleness of that moment, I had time to wonder:

When do you suppose moths wake up? Is it at dusk, or does it have to be completely dark? And what will be the first part to move? Will his wings flutter a bit in warm-up? Or will those long antennae flicker, checking his surroundings before he ventures into the night?

My knowledge of Luna moths was sorely lacking.

I made strong attempts to read my book, but kept distracting myself for updates on that moth–especially as the sun dipped lower in the sky and shadows deepened.

Eric, our older son, came out on the porch. He stood with hands in pockets, watching the sunset. “What’s up, Mom?”

“This is going to sound silly,” I began, “but see that moth over there? I’ve gotten curious about when they wake up. Is it at dusk or only when it’s completely dark? And as if that isn’t enough, I’m wondering what part of him will wake up first. Do you suppose it will be his antennae that move first, or maybe his wings?”

Eric chuckled slightly—not sarcastically, but in good humor that once again his mother’s curiosity was taking an interesting turn. I thought he’d turn and go back inside the cabin. To my delightful surprise, he chose to sit in the rocker next to me.

 

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Together we kept vigil over that moth as the sunlight diminished to an apricot glow on the horizon, and the landscape turned dark gray. Still that moth did not move. And soon we were enveloped by the night.

Suddenly, with barely a testing of his wings, the majestic moth was off the railing and fluttering away. Eric and I barely had time to say, “Oh! There he goes!” before the moth disappeared into the darkness.

We sat quietly for a few moments longer, listening to the crickets chirping cheerfully. With a contented sigh I reveled in the moment: the cool, peaceful surroundings and my satisfied curiosity. Most of all I savored that Eric had chosen to share with me this rather inconsequential moment.

 

I am new to shooting at night but one of the things I loved about shooting at night in the forest is how camp fires light up the trees. The orange glow on these trees is from a camp fire about 200 meters away.

Just a few years earlier, if I had asked Eric to sit with me and watch a moth, he would have said, “BOR-ING!” and loped off to other pursuits. But that year he was twenty-four. We were starting to relate to one another differently, share more common interests, and communicate on a similar level. Eric was still my son, but he was also becoming a friend.

‘Reminds me a bit of what our Heavenly Father offers. As we mature in him, our relationship grows into a loving, familial friendship, characterized by common interests and heart-to-heart communication. But such a relationship develops only as we spend time with him and his word.

Those who say, “Time with God is BOR-ING!” and lope off to other pursuits are missing out.

On what, you ask?

• The joy of His presence (Psalm 16:11)
• The goodness he bestows (Psalm 31:19)
• His strength (Psalm 138:2-3)
• Rest, in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1)
• Perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *      *     *     *

Such precious gifts, Father: joy, goodness, strength, rest, and peace. I praise you with all my heart for being a God who pursues a warm, loving relationship with his children. May I seek your face in return. Always.

 

(Photo credits:  www.wallpaperfo.com; http://www.corlinanature.com; http://www.dcr.virginia.gov; James Wheeler.)

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One custom of our church community includes the babies and toddlers. Toward the end of the worship service, many parents collect their little ones and bring them to the sanctuary for the closing praise songs.

When our two-year old granddaughter, Elena, arrives, she starts out in Mommy’s arms, then clambers to Daddy, then over to Papa (my husband, Steve), and finally to Nana—that’s me.

Last Sunday she was particularly affectionate—arms around my neck, head nestled on my shoulder. Every now and then she’d lift her head to give me a kiss on the cheek.   I held her close and kissed her silken hair.

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(Who could resist snuggling with this?!)

 

Please understand: Elena is a typical toddler. She knows what she wants and when she wants it (usually NOW!). Her expressive cries can be quite vociferous.   But those traits of stubbornness and impatience—seen in most toddlers–don’t diminish my love for her. Not a bit.

I reveled in that moment of tenderness at church, while swaying to the music and singing of our love for God. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself as the child, held in the close embrace of my Father, who lovingly forgives my sins and casts them as far as the east is from the west.

What an astounding privilege he grants us—to participate in close, familial communion with him, the King of the Universe!

Day in and day out our glorious and powerful God draws near to us:

 

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  • Through creation. Just this morning, he draped pink cloud-ribbons across a crystalline sky, turning our minds to him and his infinite genius. Almighty God orchestrates every intricate aspect of life on our planet, yet we can know him as our gracious and compassionate Father.
  • Through his Word. Just this week I had occasion to study the word, abide, found in John 14:6. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (KJV). First I looked up the word in the dictionary, and discovered abide means much more than just being with someone. Abide also includes persevering under (!) and tolerating (!), in addition to remaining in one place, to continue or endure.   I had to smile at the tongue-in-cheek humor. And I prayed, “Oh, Lord, thank you for loving me that much!
  • Through people. A young woman at our new church has been enthusiastically friendly.   And though I’ve told her I appreciate her kindness, I doubt she can fully understand how her interest, hugs, and effervescence have ministered to me. God draws near with his joy each time we meet.
  • Through circumstances.  Hugs and kisses from a toddler are just one precious example that makes me mindful of God’s love for me.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Oh, Father, I shake my head in wonder to think

You long for us to be your familial friends.

I praise you for your abundant, gracious love,

Motivating you to reveal yourself

Through creation,

People, circumstances,

Your word, and more.

In fact, you are intimately involved

In every moment of our lives.

Thank you for blessing us

With your abiding presence,

Even though it requires of you

Great tolerance and perseverance!

We cling to you, our Source of

Strength, wisdom, and provision.

You are with us and in us,

Always drawing us closer to you.

Thank you for never giving up

And never letting go.

 

(2 Corinthians 6:16, 18; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 19:1-4;

Matthew 5:14, 16; Psalm 92:4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17;

Psalm 139:1-5; Zephaniah 3:17; James 1:17;

Isaiah 41:10; 1 Corinthians 3:16; James 4:8;

Philippians 1:6; John 10:28.)

(Photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg, and http://www.wallpaperup.com.)

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(“There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God.”

–Brother Lawrence)

“That does sound wonderful,” a young mother says, “but Brother Lawrence was a monk, working in the garden or kitchen all day. He could pray as he went about his chores. I work in a noisy office and then deal with three noisy kids when I get home. How can I experience continuous communion with God?”

Her dilemma is all too familiar, even for someone like me who’s retired!

So I began a list of possibilities to help me live in more continuous communion with God. Perhaps an idea or two will appeal to you.

  1. Begin the day with God–even as I get out of bed.  “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” the psalmist urged (118:24).  OK, what can I rejoice in and be grateful to God for, as I anticipate the day?

 

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  1. Wear a reminder-bracelet—even a paper one! Write a scripture on it (such as Isaiah 26:3), or an encouraging statement, such as: “He is beneath me as my foundation, He is beside me as my friend, He is within me as my life” (Barbara Johnson, Women of Faith speaker).
  1. Copy a meaningful scripture on a 3 x 5 card. Post it on the inside of a kitchen cabinet door, the visor of the car, or the inside of a closet. Move it around every few days so the element of surprise serves to grab my attention.
  1. Sing to God (while driving quiet streets or doing noisy chores!)
  1. Keep my blessings journal more faithfully. (Even though I established the habit years ago, I still allow some precious gifts to go unrecorded. More attentiveness will add more joy to my days.)
  1. Get outside. Find at least one marvelous gift in creation, and praise God for his genius.

 

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  1. Follow this advice from Barbara Johnson (mentioned above): While using a household product, see if the name or its attributes remind me of God and my relationship with him. One example: Fresh Start laundry detergent. While loading the washer I can pray, “Thank you, Father, that every day is a fresh start with you. Your mercies are new every morning.”  (Interested in more products and their implications?  Click on “A.M. Attitude Adjustment.”)
  1. Post a verse on the bathroom mirror. Work at memorizing it.
  1. Each time I sip my coffee or tea, I can also “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) by savoring the blessings of the moment.  Thankfulness opens my heart to his presence and my mind to his thoughts.**

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  1. End the day with God, recalling his blessings or reciting his scripture.

 

Now if you’re like me, a bracelet on the wrist or a 3 x 5 on a cabinet door soon become such common sights, I barely notice them anymore. Perhaps if I rotate through some of the suggestions, they’ll retain their impact.

Sunday might be the day for an outdoor respite.  Monday might be Bracelet Day; Tuesday could be Taste-and-See Day.

You get the idea.

Bottom line: I want my mouth filled with God’s praise; I want to declare his splendor all day long, simply because he is worthy of praise (Psalm 71:8; 1 Chronicles 16:24-25).

But how glorious is this:  our all-gracious God chooses to bless us when we seek to bless him—blessings such as:

 

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So…

“…For a short time, fly from your business;

hide yourself for a moment from your turbulent thoughts.

Break off now your troublesome cares, and think less of your laborious occupations.

Make a little time for God, and rest for a while in Him.

Enter into the chamber of your mind,

shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek Him, and,

when you have shut the door, seek Him.

Speak now, O my whole heart, speak now to God:

‘I seek Thy face; Thy face, Lord, do I desire.'”

– Anselm (1033-1109, Archbishop of Canterbury, caring pastor, author)

   *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What strategies help you to enjoy continuous communion with God?  Please share in the Comments section below!

**based on a statement by Sarah Young, Jesus Calling,p. 343

(Art & photo credits:  www.azquotes.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.guilford.ces.ncsu.edu; http://www.zazzle.co.uk; http://www.ourdailyblossom.com.)

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Online dating services have proved: you don’t have to see a person to fall in love. Through heart-to-heart sharing over the internet, couples become acquainted with the likes and dislikes of each other, their opinions on a number of issues, and what brings them satisfaction in life. The format provides the opportunity to “see” who another person is before finding out what he/she looks like.  (I understand one site requires five contacts back and forth before names are exchanged–much less photos.)

It’s possible that couples in online relationships grow to know one another better than couples who meet face-to-face, because they communicate more and at a deeper level. (Assuming they’re being honest, of course.)

Similarly, we can grow to know and love God through heart-to-heart sharing, even though we can’t see him.

For our part, we “give God [our] whispering thoughts” (Max Lucado).   Such moments happen when:

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(The view from our deck, a couple of Sundays ago)

  • Our attention is drawn to sunbeams on mist-draped foliage, and we turn the observation into praise for God’s creative power.
  • Someone grabs us in an exuberant hug, and we thank God for family and friends who provide encouragement and support.
  • An unpleasant task is finished, and we praise him for the fortitude to see it through.
  • Humor comes into our lives and we laugh in response, but also in appreciation to the God of all joy.
  • We light evening candles that remind us the Light of the world is with us in our homes.

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There is no sweeter manner of living in the world

than continuous communion with God.

–Brother Lawrence (1611-1691)

 

But one-sided communication doesn’t build a relationship. Listening for God’s words and watching for his works are essential. How do we do that? God rarely speaks audibly or shows himself physically. No one has seen his face (Exodus 33:20).

However, God does reveal his heart to us in a number of ways through:

  1. The Bible. No surprise there. Its pages offer a lifetime of new discoveries about who our God is and how he works in our lives. Especially through the gospels, God speaks to us directly through his Son. We hear God’s wisdom in Jesus’ words; we see God’s love in his actions (Hebrews 1:2-3).
  1. Other reading. Although Christian writers undoubtedly provide personal impressions from God, he sometimes speaks through secular works. Such moments often catch me off guard.

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Recently I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones (1986). Among the many worthy morsels I wrote down, she said, “We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us.”

O God, I thought. That’s describes YOU! You see more of my real self than anyone, yet you still accept me, even love me. How astounding that you, a perfect God, would envelop me in absolute love–in spite of all my flaws. 

  1. People.  What a heart-lift others provide with their encouraging words, warm smiles, or comforting hugs–especially when we realize such good and perfect gifts come from God himself (James 1:17).
  1. Creation.  John Calvin once described the world of nature as God’s glorious theater. As we take note of his infinite genius on display, we learn of his ingenuity, attention-to-detail, and ability to bring together disparate parts into harmonious habitats.   Our hearts fill with wonder.

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  1. Music.  Sometimes I can almost feel God’s warm touch on my shoulder as he speaks comfort, strength, and joy through the power of song. (See “The Power of Song” for more on this subject.)

Notice: when God communicates with us, there’s a heart-reaction.  We experience a quickening in our spirits as we recognize his truth, sense his loving attention, receive the guidance and empowerment we need, or know without a doubt he’s with us, and has everything under control.

So!

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“Keep your eyes open for God,

watch for his works;

be alert for signs of his presence.”

–Psalm 105:4 (MSG)

What a glorious way to live!

(Photo credits:  www.believe.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.youtube.org; http://www.amazon.com; http://www.pixiflore.com; http://www.believe.com.)

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Most Sunday mornings, I have no trouble engaging in worship. Between the lyrics of the songs, scripture-readings, and the leader’s comments, I’m quickly transported into God’s presence and worshiping with gladness (Psalm 100:2). Sometimes my heart soars to the very gates of heaven and the joy overflows as tears.

But not always. There are other times when my heart seems numb, for no apparent reason. Why is that, and should I be concerned?

Perhaps. If I’ve allowed unconfessed sin to fester, then my connection to God will be negatively impacted.

But what if I have addressed my shortcomings with God, and still feel disconnected? What then?

I need to remember the following:

  • Worship is sometimes an act of the will. “Put your hope in God,” the psalmist said, “for I will yet praise him” (Psalm 42:5). Worship wasn’t meant to be reserved only for moments of elation; it’s a choice. Job is a perfect example. After he was stripped of everything—cattle, flocks, servants, even his children—Job worshiped (Job 1:20). That astounds me.

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  • God isn’t as concerned about our feelings during worship as he is about our sincerity (John 4:24). We can earnestly worship even if spiritual bliss eludes us.
  • God hasn’t promised we’ll always feel his presence. Sometimes he intentionally hides his face (Isaiah 45:15). It’s part of our maturation process that he occasionally allows a bit of distance between him and us.

I remember the first day of kindergarten. My mother dropped me off in front of the school, and told me to go inside to the classroom we had visited.

I would have much preferred if she had walked with me and made sure all was well before leaving me to fend for myself. What if I couldn’t find the right classroom, or the teacher wasn’t there?

But allowing me this bit of separation was part of my maturing process. I needed to learn I could trust Mom’s instructions—even when she wasn’t in sight. (Lest you think my parents were negligent, kindergarten was just inside the school door, to the left!)

In review:

  1. Sometimes worship is an act of the will.
  2. Sincerity is more important than feelings.
  3. Sometimes God distances himself a bit to grow our trust.

But would we be wrong to do what we can to forge a stronger connection to God, and, as a result, engage our emotions more fully?

I don’t think so.

David offers several examples in the psalms, when he expressed his honest feelings of abandonment, depression, dejection and more. He did not end his honest proclamations on a negative note, but concluded with expressions of praise and assurance, which surely impacted his emotions. (See Psalm 77:1-15 for one example).*

 

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We can foster a stronger connection to God, and augment our worship with:

  • Gratitude – Even on our way to church, we can thank him for creation and his many blessings. Gratitude turns our gaze toward heaven.
  • Meditative Prayer – Before the service begins, praise God for his attributes, demonstrated day by day the previous week. Meditation ushers us into the presence of God.
  • Focus – Stay attentive to the words of the music, the scripture, the prayer. Fight against wandering thoughts. “If worship is mindless, it is meaningless” (Rick Warren).
  • Visualization – Imagine God on his throne, radiant with light, majestic and glorious, raised up in the sanctuary. See our resplendent God who is highly worthy of our full attention!

 

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As our spirits become engaged in these ways, the emotions of awestruck wonder, unspeakable joy, and overwhelming love will undoubtedly follow!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What do you do that helps to connect you with God during worship? Share with us in the Comment section below!

*(No doubt these psalms were not written during Sabbath worship. Surely David worshiped God every day, to his benefit and for God’s pleasure. But that’s a topic for another post!)

(Art & photo credits:  www.ohbejoyfulchurch.org; http://www.bibleencyclopedia.com; http://www.banah.org; http://www.godthetruth.ws.)

 

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No, that’s not a typo in the title; I intentionally chose rust. However, that parody on an old hymn actually did result from a typo years ago.

Steve was just a few months into his first pastorate in St. Petersburg, FL. The mean age of the congregation was somewhere in the 70s. When the church secretary typed the opening hymn title for one Sunday’s bulletin, ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, she accidentally omitted the “T” in trust.

But there was a whole lot of truth in that typo-title. Many saints of that congregation could testify, even into old age: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust” (Psalm 40:4).

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And just what might those blessings be? A few possibilities quickly come to mind. When we put our trust in God, we enjoy:

  • Peace of mind (Isaiah 26:3-4)
  • Guidance (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • Help (Isaiah 41:10)
  • Strength (Isaiah 12:2)

But there are many more blessings that come to those who trust in God—some of which are quite surprising. The following is undoubtedly just a partial list:

Intimacy with God–not just acquaintance. The more we exercise trust, the more we recognize his involvement in our lives. With David, we can affirm: “All those who know your mercy, Lord, will count on you for help. For you have never yet forsaken those who trust in you” (Psalm 9:10).

Hope. Praise God for his hope that fills us with all joy and peace as we trust in him (Romans 15:13)! I can’t imagine going to bed at night without hope for tomorrow—much less for eternity.

Joyful Expectation and Quiet Confidence. Our lives are in the hands of an absolutely perfect, all-powerful, loving God. We can count on him to see us through every situation. So with great delight we can say, “I don’t know what God’s up to, but I know it has to be good!”

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Life above the Fray. Like Paul, we can learn to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:12), knowing that God will give us the strength to endure (v. 13). A heart full of trust has no room for worry or stress. (Remind me of that when the challenges pile up, will you?)

Adventure. Think of the adrenalin rush these Bible heroes must have experienced, as they placed their trust in God:

  • Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho—with trumpets and loud shouts!
  • Elijah praying for fire to consume a drenched offering to God, in front of 450 prophets of Baal
  • Nehemiah watching the walls of Jerusalem reconstructed, after the Israelites had been held in Babylonian captivity for seventy years

Are we going to sit on the sidelines of life and miss the miracles, because we’re afraid to trust? Perish the thought!

Influence. The Light of Jesus shines most brightly through those who demonstrate trust in the midst of dark circumstances. People remember those saints who maintain a positive, faith-focused outlook in spite of trials.

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For all these reasons and more, it is indeed sweet to (t)rust in Jesus–to rest secure in the loving, everlasting arms of our Heavenly Father.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *   *     *     *   *

I praise you, Lord, with all my heart,

for being a trustworthy God who never fails his children.

How glorious to know

I can trust in your unfailing love!

(Psalm 9:1; 13:5; 52:8)

Photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.pixgood.com; http://www.masterfile.com.)

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Whether I heard it or read it, I don’t remember. But the words caught me by surprise, and I jotted them down:

“What was uppermost in Jesus’ mind as Good Friday approached?

“Joy.”

Do you find that surprising, too?

Yet at least three times on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus spoke about joy (John 15:11; 16:22, 24; 17:13)–a most unusual topic and completely unnatural.  Who thinks about joy when they know that catastrophe is about to strike?

Jesus, that’s who.

Within the next twenty-four hours he would face excruciating pain, total abandonment by his Father, and the most horrific death ever devised.

But his concern was for his disciples, not himself.  Jesus wanted them to remember the important principles of love, obedience, and joy–an empowering joy that no one could take away from them.

Perhaps you remember the scene. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their last Passover supper together. After the meal, he taught his final lesson.

The first mention of joy came near the end of his teaching about the vine and the branches:

“I have told you this

so that my joy may be in you

and that your joy may be complete”

(John 15:11).

The word, “this,” refers to the ways Jesus had just mentioned that will contribute to joy:

1.  Live close to him and produce much good in and through your life (vs.4-8).

2.  Live in obedience to Jesus and experience the warmth, peace, and care of His love (vs. 9-10).

 Note that Jesus wanted his joy to be in the hearts of his disciples. What characterized his joy, compared to that of others?

  1. Strong awareness of the Father’s love for him, and his own love for the Father (vs. 9-10).
  1. Absolute surrender and self-sacrifice of himself to his Father, and the joy of doing what his father had sent him to do. Even during his great travail in the Garden of Gethsemane, his one desire was to do his Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

Jesus’ joy coexisted with the profound sorrow of his impending suffering, because he was already well-acquainted with the satisfaction and fulfillment of obedience.

  1. The understanding that joy deferred to the future is anticipatory joy in the present. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

And finally, Jesus told his disciples that he desired complete joy for them. What does complete joy look like? It is:

  • Not so much an emotion as it is a conviction (Keith Krell, “Moment by Moment,” http://www.bible.org).
  • Inner contentment, resulting from continually cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus.
  • Constant, not dependent on circumstances.
  • Enduring, day after day. Indestructible.
  • Perfect—the perfect, joy-filled fulfillment of the destiny for which God created you, even when a portion of that destiny is suffering.

I’m thinking of the martyrs–Stephen, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, William Tyndale, John Wycliffe and countless others who demonstrated complete joy even as they died in anguish.

Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Smyrna for many years, refused to revile Jesus. For that he was burned at the stake.

But before the flames rose up, Polycarp prayed:

“O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of thyself…I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and to rise again unto life everlasting…”

Such devotion, courage, and supernatural strength are impossible to fathom apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Can you hear the grace in Polycarp’s voice as he blessed God for the privilege of dying a martyr?

That is complete joy, only experienced by those who trust in Jesus implicitly.

Complete joy that Jesus purchased for us at Calvary.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

We marvel, Heavenly Father, in the extreme paradox that is the cross. Out of the evil unleashed upon your Son comes your holy, righteous goodness–upon us. Out of the horror of the crucifixion that Jesus endured comes inexpressible and glorious joy, to those who put their faith in him–not a temporary feeling of elation, but deep, abiding, abundant joy. 

All praise to you, our loving, gracious God!       

(Acts 3:13-16, 1 Peter 1:8, John 6:47, John 10:10)

 

(Photo credit:  www.rejesus.co.uk.)

 

 

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