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Archive for the ‘Joy’ Category

 

“Stand with me and sing!” invites the enthusiastic worship leader on the church platform, while guitars begin an upbeat tune and drums rap out a foot-tapping rhythm.

Around me people sway a bit to the music, some raise their hands, others worship with eyes closed.

And though I, too, sway and raise my hands, I have to admit my heart’s not in it. For some reason, lyrics that have brought me to joyful tears on other occasions are not penetrating today.

My spirit seems paralyzed—no feeling whatsoever. Efforts to engage—focusing on the words and imagining my Heavenly Father on his throne, listening with parental pleasure—don’t seem to help.

What’s wrong with me? I wonder.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the same numbness in corporate worship, maybe during personal quiet time or at prayer. And like me, you’ve felt certain that something must be wrong.

 

 

Granted, we worship God to honor him. Our end goal is not to rustle up feel-good endorphins for us.

But, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever. How is that even possible when we come down with a case of the spiritual blahs?

Actually, days and even seasons of spiritual dryness are a normal part of our faith-walk, experienced by almost every Christian at one time or another. And there is comfort in that, knowing we’re not alone.

Theologian Sam Storms offers us further encouragement:

 

“God is glorified by your longing for the joy to be found in him,

even if you are not yet experiencing it” (1).

 

But are there strategies we can implement to jump-start our hearts into exuberant responsiveness?

As a matter of fact, yes.

 

 

We can: 

1. Be honest with God.

King David certainly was. “I spread out my hands to you;” he cried. “My soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (143:6).

Yet in spite of his emotional tailspin, David writes, “I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul (v. 8).

 

 

David provides a worthy example to follow: acknowledge the truth; affirm our trust, and seek God’s guidance.

 

2. Rehearse what we know about God’s character, his promises. 

Our minds are renewable resources (Romans 12:2). We can turn our thoughts away from the numbness we’re experiencing at the moment, and focus on what is lovely and true, excellent and praiseworthy about our God.

Sometimes such thought processes are all that’s necessary to bring us out of the doldrums (Psalm 92:4).

 

 

3. Persevere in spite of our emotions.

Keep showing up in God’s presence whether we feel like it or not.

Our emotions must not be allowed to control actions. In fact, God especially appreciates a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15), which surely includes offering him our worship when the fervency just isn’t there.

 

 

4. Anticipate.

Worship with an outlook on the future (Psalm 42:1-2). We can look forward to the day when our hearts will overflow again with ecstatic praise—even to the point of joyful tears.

 

5. Pray. 

Perhaps something like this: 

“Father in heaven, flood the dry places of my soul with your presence; lift the gray clouds that conceal you. Within my spirit I want to feel the warmth of your radiant Light, be wrapped in your unfailing love, and fly with you on the wings of the dawn!

In trusting expectancy I wait for you, O Lord. I know you will answer.”

 

 

(Isaiah 44:3; Psalm 4:6, 32:10, 139:9, 38:15)

 

What helps you beat the spiritual blahs?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

Note:

(1) https://www.crosswalk.com/church/worship/how-can-i-worship-when-i-feel-nothing.html

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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That’s what we can expect when we choose to live God’s way: supreme blessedness.  Jesus made that clear in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  You’ll remember he began with eight statements of blessing called beatitudes.

One example:

 

 

In other words, profound joy comes to those who humbly depend on God, as they avail themselves of his heavenly kingdom-benefits.

Of course, there are many other attitudes and actions he rewards, in addition to those eight Jesus named.

Below are listed several means to blessedness that have come to my attention over the years. Perhaps you’ve experienced them too:

 

Blessed are the risk-takers, for they shall sail on winds of faith.

 

 

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for” (Grace Murray Hopper).

 

Think of Abraham.

 

“By faith Abraham…obeyed and went,

even though he did not know where he was going.”

–Hebrews 11:8

 

We too have to be willing to travel blind toward undisclosed destinations. Otherwise we’ll never experience the thrill of God’s power taking us to ports we’ve never dreamed of.

The way ahead is always hidden, sometimes causing uncertainty.  But!  We know the One who’s leading. Uncertainty does not have to cancel out confidence.

 

Blessed are those who seek God’s desires, for they shall know delight and fulfillment.

Somehow we think the pursuit of our own desires will bring satisfaction.  But haven’t we seen enough of the rich and powerful crash and burn in despair?  “Everything [is] meaningless; a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

How much better off we are to pray along with the psalmist:

 

 

It is in the practice of obedience we learn its precious worth.

 

Blessed are the encouragers for they shall be encouraged.

Such an interesting phenomenon: make the effort to lift someone else’s spirit, and you find your own spirit uplifted.  Actually, wise King Solomon recorded this be-attitude long ago:

 

 

Guaranteed double pleasure.  How’s that for supreme blessing?

 

Blessed are the sifters of thoughts, for they enjoy golden contemplations.

If we’re not careful, our minds can easily gravitate toward dross thoughts–the negative, unwholesome, and ugly.  It takes effort to seek out the gold: the honorable, lovely, and commendable. But true contentment awaits those who do.

 

 

Blessed are the focused for they shall not spread themselves too thin.

Our bodies were made for a rhythm of rest—7 to 8 hours out of every 24. Short-changing sleep actually lowers our productivity and endangers our health (1).

That’s why:

 

 

We just can’t do it all, much as we’d like to. Priorities and parameters must be set. That means, saying no to some good things may be the best choice.  We must give others permission to do the same also.

 

Blessed are those who pay attention to the ordinary, for they discover the extraordinary.

For example:

  • Icicle sentries in winter, clinging to the seat of a deck chair

 

 

  • Wildflowers in springtime, cupping tiny pink and yellow stars

 

 

  • Sunbeams on a summer morning, filtering into the glen

 

 

  • God’s artistry (and penchant for color!) splashed on autumn leaves

 

 

Each eye-catching display is a precious love-gift from our Heavenly Father. And around us are countless more, waiting to be discovered, savored, and praised.

 

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;

his greatness no one can fathom.”

–Psalm 145:3

 

And there you have six more beatitudes–examples of God’s supreme blessedness lavished upon us–when we choose to live by his wise and loving ways.

 

 

What be-attitude would you add?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

Note:

1) https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/tired-at-work#1 and https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20170209/skimp-on-sleep-and-you-just-may-wind-up-sick#1

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.libreshot.com; Nancy Ruegg (3); http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.canva.com.)

 

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(Cincinnati Music Hall)

 

Recently my daughter-in-love and granddaughter invited me to accompany them to “Sing Hallelujah, Cincinnati!”–an event at our city music hall.

Vocal groups and instrumentalists from the metropolitan area participated, presenting music around the theme, “Hallelujah.” The experience turned out to be much more than I expected.

First, a brass band came marching in from the back, playing a jazz rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”–New Orleans style. By the time they exited out a side door at the front, we weren’t just applauding, we were smiling.

The genial atmosphere created by Cincy Brass was further enhanced by the relaxed and friendly master of ceremonies, Mr. Dilworth. In his opening remarks, he explained the meaning of hallelujah: to express joy and to praise God. And that’s exactly what we did for the next hour or so.

 

 

First, Mr. Dilworth taught the audience a hallelujah song, one segment at a time. Then he challenged us with a descant part. The final effort combining tune and harmony turned out quite pleasing. We applauded again, for Mr. Dilworth’s talented direction and our surprisingly good performance. Now we were smiling even more broadly.

Perhaps Mr. Dilworth knows the research: “Singing corporately produces a chemical change in our bodies that contributes to a sense of bonding” (1).

For the rest of the evening, one choir and ensemble after another wowed us with a broad range of music, including classical, traditional, ethnic (Ukrainian and African), gospel, spiritual, bluegrass, and jazz.

 

 

What made the occasion distinctive, however, was the racial mix among performers and audience members. And as the evening unfolded, the music became a catalyst for unity among us—in spite of various ethnic groups and a wide variety of musical genre.

Even though all of the pieces sung and played could not possibly be everyone’s favored styles, the entire audience clapped (Some even gave a shout now and then!) in enthusiastic appreciation for all participants.

We were bonded together in a unity of gratitude.

Also among us flourished the unity of contentment. For one hour we sat companionably immersed in the mutual pleasure of music.  Any rough edges of tension that might cause strain in other circumstances were smoothed over on this occasion–by the hallelujahs of praise.

Finally, there was the unity of joy—evident in the continuous smiles and occasional laughter.

And where there is joy there is the presence of God (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

It’s probable not all participants and attendees were Christians. Most of the groups who performed would be categorized as secular.

But for this one evening, whether folks knew it or not, we drew close to God through grateful, contented, and joyful praise.   And as a glorious byproduct, found ourselves drawn closer to one another.

 

 

Note:

(1) Bob Kauflin (member of GLAD vocal band for thirty years), https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/words-of-wonder-what-happens-when-we-sing

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.jba.af.mil (Jordyn Fetter); http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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Our son was telling me about the church he and his wife attended at the time.

“You should hear this mother and daughter play their violins together.  The girl is only ten or eleven, but she’s good. I think the mom is teaching her.”

Several months later, I happened to be visiting when the mother and daughter were scheduled to play.  My heart was filled with delicious anticipation that Sunday morning as they approached the piano with their violins.

Soon soft, mellow notes of melody and harmony resonated through the broad, high-ceilinged sanctuary.  My son had not been exaggerating. They were both gifted violinists.

 

 

I had to hold back the tears.

Yes, the sweet music touched my spirit. However, my response arose from more than that.

The music was greatly enhanced by the mystical bond between mother and daughter.

One evidence of that bond was the subtle means by which the two remained in sync. The mother would nod her head or sway slightly as she directed the music.

However, the girl didn’t actually watch. Just every now and then she would make eye contact over her violin–and smile at her mother with angelic innocence, tenderness, and purity.

Her eyes seemed to say, “I love doing this with you.”  Mother smiled her love and pleasure in return.

In fact, the very atmosphere seemed to be permeated with love during those moments. But the affection of parent and child was only a part.

The Spirit of God and his love flowed in wondrous waves through the music and that mother and daughter. God’s love—the width, length, height, and depth that Paul spoke of– filled every nook of that sanctuary.

 

 

Surely I was not the only one who felt wrapped in God’s warm embrace during those moments.

And to be loved by God is no small matter.

He is the Master of the universe and the King of glory. Angels sing his praises continually. And yet he delights in us, who reverence him and put our hope in his unfailing love (Psalm 147:11).

 

 

Isn’t that knowledge alone enough to astound the intellect and overwhelm the heart with joy?

The only possible response is worship, from a heart overflowing with gratitude. An overflow that often becomes tears, as praise intertwines with the invisible but palpable touch of God.

And I can almost hear him say, “I love doing this with you.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

When has the overflow of love for God and gratitude to him brought you to tears?  Please share your story in the Comment section below!

 

(Revised and reblogged from August 11, 2014.  Photo credits:  www.visualphotos.com, http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com.)

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“The first day of spring is one thing,

the first spring day is another.

The difference between them is sometimes a month.”

–Henry Van Dyke

 

Van Dyke’s observation is surely proving true this year for those of us in the Midwest. Since the first day of spring March 20, we’ve enjoyed only a day or two of shirt-sleeve weather. Cold, unremitting rain and even snow dustings have occurred more often.

 

(Photo taken April 2)

 

But we know the warm euphoria of spring will eventually arrive; it always does.

 

“No winter lasts forever;

No spring ever skips its turn.”

–Hal Borland

 

And when warm sunshine spangles the sky once again, God’s springtime handiwork will proclaim his glory—from deep in the soil where tree roots awaken, to high on the mountains where overflowing streams roil.

 

 

We can join in creation’s celebration, singing our praise to the Maker of Spring:

 

O God of Defined Order,

You appointed four seasons to circle the year,

Each with its own purpose and characteristics—

Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn—

Inevitably and always in that order.

We praise you for your dependable constancy.

 

 

O God of Gracious Restoration,

You created foliage that returns to life each spring.

New grass suddenly appears, verdant and fresh,

Bush and shrub become draped in pale green lace,

And tree buds finally release their tiny leaf curls.

We praise you for your attentive sovereignty over all things.

 

 

O God of Inventive Design,

From winter’s death you ordained delicate blossoms

To emerge with varicolored vivacity–

Royal crocus, golden daffodils,

Blushing hyacinths, and flame red tulips.

We praise you for your infinite creativity.

 

 

O God of Marvelous Wonders,

You direct springtime rains to wash over the landscape

And replenish the earth.

Leaves sparkle, petals gleam,

And crystal jewels cling to slender limbs.

We praise you for your beauty-yielding renewal.

 

 

O God of Exuberant Transformation,

Songbirds, breezes, and gurgling brooks

Chorus together in euphoric strain,

Because you are the only One who can

Turn harsh winter into jubilant spring,

And we praise you for your miracle-working magnificence.

 

 

You are the Almighty God of invigoration.

And we celebrate you, the Gracious Giver of springtime joy!

 

 

_____________________________

 

P.S Most of you know that Steve was diagnosed with liver cancer at the end of March. Radiation therapy beginning in early May will be the first line of defense, with a liver transplant expected in the fall.

Meanwhile, we praise God for his peace, presence, and intervention.  One example of the latter: it just so happens (!) my nephew’s girlfriend is a profusionist.  That’s the person who runs the heart-lung machine to keep a patient alive during transplants and certain surgeries.  She sent an email full of helpful information and uplifting encouragement.  Bottom line:  there is every reason to expect Steve to fully recover!

Thank you VERY much for your prayers on Steve’s behalf.  God IS working!

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.fickr.com (2).

 

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Wouldn’t that be nice—a deep sea of joy—for the days when the washer breaks down in the middle of a load, a tire goes flat on the way to an important meeting, and a jar of spaghetti sauce slips out of hand, splattering bright red ooze and shards of glass over much of the kitchen.

Yup. That’s what we need: a deep sea of joy. We could jump right in and be swallowed up in delightful mirth while everything else conspires to dump us into despair.

But according to that wise preacher of long ago, Charles Spurgeon, that’s exactly what we do have:

 

 

“Our God is a deep sea of joy.

My soul will dive therein

And be swallowed up

In the delights of his companionship.” *

 

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Such sweet relief. But how do we do that? How do we delight in the companionship of an invisible God?

Actually, the relationships we enjoy with our (visible) loved ones give us many cues.

 

 

For example, just last weekend we enjoyed three days at Red River Gorge, Kentucky, with our older son and his family. You might recall Eric and Hilja (Hill-ya) have two little girls, ages four and four months. Needless to say our activities at the gorge were limited. No zip-lining, horseback riding, or long treks through the forest. Not this trip.

But we still took great pleasure in interesting conversations on the deck (especially in the evening after the girls were asleep), a short, scenic woodland hike, superb dinners prepared by Eric, reminiscings through some family history, frequent laughter**, and simply basking in the joy of being together.

God offers us similar joys as we delight in him:

 

  • Conversation—in the form of “simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment” (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, 55).

 

  • Common interests, such as impacting the lives of others–opportunities to participate side by side with God in his work (John 15:5).

 

 

  • The splendor of creation–all the more magnificent as we revel in his artistry and genius (Psalm 33:6-9).

 

  • Celebration of who our God is and what he does (Psalm 145:7, 92:4).

 

  • Humorous moments–created by God just like everything else, so that with Sarah each of us can say, “God has brought me laughter” (Genesis 21:6).

 

  • His ever-present, ever-attentive companionship–itself a source of lavish joy (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

Oh, but there are still more ways to delight in God as we…

Trust.

Consistent contentment is possible as we affirm, “He is faithful in all he does” (Psalm 33:4).

Thank.

Honoring God with our gratitude is uplifting to us and pleasing to him (Philippians 4:6-7; Psalm 69:30-31).

Praise and sing.

If God delights in us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17), how much more should we delight in him with an expressive, lyrical heart?

 

 

Charles Spurgeon was right:

 

Our God offers a deep sea of joy–

if only we dive into his delights

frequently,

all day long.

 

 

*from Morning by Morning by Charles Spurgeon, updated by Whitaker House, 1984.

 

**Maybe it was only funny to us, but I have to share what four-year old Elena said after her first fishing excursion. She’d been warned to stay out of the greenery along the side of the road in case of poison ivy. Upon returning to the cabin she announced, “I stayed out of the weeds so I won’t get poisonitis.”

 

(Art & photo credits: http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpictures.com; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.uk.pinterest.com (2); http://www.pixabay.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?  The answer is, 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 unexpected topic and completely unnatural.  Who thinks about joy when they know 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 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 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, 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)

 

 

(Reblogged from April 7, 2015.  The Ruegg family has gathered this week for an overdue reunion.  Art & photo credits:  www.rejesus.co.uk; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.heartlight.org.)

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