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Posts Tagged ‘Joy’

You probably know it, have even memorized it:

Such a statement begs the question: how does joy—of all things–translate into strength? Wouldn’t it be faith in the Lord that makes us strong? Turns out joy is an important facet of faith.

That phrase “of the Lord” holds the key. When we delight in the Author of joy–who he is and what he does–that’s when our spirits begin to grow strong.

To foster that kind of joy and delight:

Express Gratitude

Tonia Peckover wrote, “The feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving” [1].

Research has proven that keeping a gratitude journal works well to develop our appreciation muscles [2]. Just a few lines per day can get joy percolating in our spirits.

Another strategy: turn mindless tasks like folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, etc. into moments of thanksgiving. Go through the alphabet, perhaps, and thank God for one blessing for each letter.

You might begin with AFFECTION among family and friends, BEDTIME and that first BLISSFUL moment on the pillow after a challenging day, COFFEE—the most delectable flavor to start the morning.

For an extra challenge, you might focus on who God is. He’s ACTIVE in our lives, BENEVOLENT to us, COMPASSIONATE, and DELIGHTFUL—you get the idea. (For a sample of such an alphabet, see “God’s Goodness from A to Z,” a post from 2018.)

Meditate on God’s Word

Here’s another joy-inducing, writing-exercise:

In a journal or on a piece of paper, write your reason(s) for being distressed. Then conduct a scripture search (Online resources abound!) for specific promises and encouraging passages that address your concern.  

Praise God for each one as you copy it on the page. Express expectancy for the day when each promise is fulfilled, and feel radiant joy rise in your spirit as you do.

Martin Luther advised:

It stands to reason that something much smaller, our hearts, will also change when we pick up our pens.

That’s happened for me; the same will hold true for you.

Follow God’s Ways

Countless people through the ages have thought that following their own way—striving for success, accumulating wealth, and participating in self-pleasing pursuits—would bring them joy. But such quests never deliver, because that’s not where joy is found.

Joy is found in obedience to God’s ways [3]. He made us; he knows what’s best for us. Of course, we know that. So why do many of us balk at what will bring maximum blessing?!

Anything God commands of us is so that our joy may be full.

Beth Moore [4]

Note that glorious word, full–as in brimming and bursting at the seams.

And what does fullness of joy include? Beauty and bounty.

Beautiful encounters. Beautiful endeavors. Beautiful moments.

Bountiful blessing. Bountiful fruit. Bountiful satisfaction [5].

When we yield in obedience to God’s voice,

he yields a harvest greater than we can imagine.

Denise J. Hughes [6]

And so, joy becomes strength when we delight in who God is and what God does.

Joy becomes strength as we blissfully trust in the truth of his Word.

And joy becomes strength when we gladly follow his instructions.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Lord God, I do want to experience your joy in my life, to delight in you so my spirit might grow stronger. Help me to make choices throughout each day that usher me into your fullness of joy!

(Psalm 112:1; 16:11)


[1] Quoted by Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts, 176.

[2] https://cct.biola.edu/thanks-science-gratitude/

[3] John 15:9-11

[4] Values for Life, 169

[5] Ephesians 3:20; 2 Corinthians 9:8 

[6] Deeper Waters, 149

Art & photo credits: http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxhere.com (2); http://www.canva.com (3).

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Thomas Jefferson gave us this bit of wisdom:

 https://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/brevity.html

Note how the following authors demonstrate this most valuable of all talents:

  • “It is good people who make good places.”—Anna Sewell, Black Beauty
  • “Trials come to prove and improve us.”—St. Augustine
  • “Change always comes bearing gifts.”—Price Pritchett

Conciseness contributes to effectiveness, agreed?

In Romans 15:13, the Apostle Paul wrote a magnificent but concise blessing for the Christians in Rome. He brought together five key concepts of our faith—hope, joy, peace, trust, and power—in just thirty words or so, depending on the translation:

Whole books have been written to expound on each concept. But since this is a blog post, not a treatise, I’ll try to keep it short—and concise!

HOPE

Our Christian hope is not wishful thinking; it is confident reliance on the sacred certainties of our Heavenly Father.

Paul calls him our God of hope because of his glorious attributes manifested in our lives—his omnipotent power, gracious mercy, continual patience, lavish kindness, and absolute reliability—to name a few.

And with statements of faith we can bolster our hope—statements such as these:

  • “God is kind and good, wise and powerful. All his attributes are always at work for my benefit.”
  • “God is accomplishing purpose in these circumstances, just as he always does.”
  • “He will bring me through this situation, and I’ll be a better person for it.”

JOY

Joy is not the absence of all misery and the presence of every whim; joy is found in the presence of God.

Sound silly? Talk to an old saint who has walked with Jesus many years—who’s felt the Lord’s presence surrounding him, heard God’s whispers in his heart, and experienced his guidance and provision again and again. 

This saint will tell you: the pleasures of this life don’t begin to compare to the soul-delight of intimacy with God.

PEACE

Peace is not found in circumstances; it’s found in a Person, the Prince of Peace. The better we know him, the better we know peace.

Tension decreases as we affirm:

  • He is completely trustworthy.
  • He knows everything; he’s in control of everything.
  • He takes pleasure in blessing us with all that we need.
  • He is with us to comfort, strengthen, and encourage.
  • Even in the midst of difficulty, we can experience his peace. In fact, it’s a promise.

TRUST

It’s God’s part to work all things for good; it’s our part to trust.

The question becomes, What can I do to grow in trust?

The answer: express gratitude. “The foremost quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness”[1]

So thank God, even in the midst of frustration, disappointment, heartache, and pain. “There’s a good God leading, working all things into good. It is safe to trust”[2]!

POWER

The power to thrive does not come from within ourselves; it comes from the power of the Holy Spirit.

Do circumstances appear impossible to rectify? Think on the power of God. He scatters the stars in space. He breathes life into every creature. He provides everything necessary to sustain our little planet.

It’s that kind of absolute, unlimited power that will see each of us through every crisis until we’re home with him.

And so, in one concise verse Paul majestically highlights five pillars of the abundant life.

When we embrace the hope, joy, and peace that God offers, when we trust in him with expectancy and resolve, when we pray for his power to be released in and through us, our lives and outlook will become radiant and alive[3]!

Doesn’t that sound like a glorious way to live?

Scriptures for further reflection:

Hope–Psalm 145:8-9; Daniel 2:20; John 5:17; Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28; James 1:2-4

Joy–Psalm 16:11; Psalm 71:5-8

Peace–Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 John 3:20b; Jeremiah 31:3; Philippians 4:19; Deuteronomy 31:8; Isaiah 40:29-31; Philippians 4:6-7

Trust–Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 9:10; 28:7; 112:7; Colossians 2:7; Psalm 110:4-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7

Power of the Holy Spirit–1 Corinthians 8:6; Psalm 8:3; Job 12:10; Psalm 46:1

Notes


[1] Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 24.

[2] Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts, 155.

[3] The last clause is based on Touchstone’s revised version (1995) of the J. B. Phillips’ translation for Romans 15:13.

Art & photo credits: http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.rawpixel.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com.

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Fitness experts will tell you, strong core muscles of the mid-section greatly enhance your physical well-being, contributing to stability that prevents falls, minimization of strain that causes pain, as well as effective breathing that optimizes oxygen flow.

When core strength is absent, a person is likely to:

  • have difficulty getting up from a chair without leverage
  • struggle to bend down and tie his shoes
  • find himself slouching
  • lose his balance
  • experience back pain

But it’s never too late to reverse such ills. Those same fitness experts recommend exercises: crunches, planks, and bridges—to name a few—although just a brisk walk engages core muscles and contributes to strength.

Of course, even more important than our physical fitness is spiritual strength, which raises a new question:

How strong is your core–of the soul?

Just as we can identify symptoms of physical weakness, we can identify soul-weakness when challenge mires us in such thoughts as: Why me? This is so unfair. If God cared, this wouldn’t be happening.

However, it’s never too late to reverse such ills. Our spiritual Fitness Expert, God himself, has provided exercises to strengthen our souls, including:

Bible Meditation

More than just reading a passage, meditation includes taking to heart God’s Word and responding personally.

For example, how might you respond to Psalm 147:5, “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit?”

Perhaps your response would be similar to my own.

I praise you, O God, for your omnipotent power. Nothing is impossible for you (Luke 18:27)! Just that knowledge alone can settle my anxious heart and foster sweet hope.

I praise you also for your unlimited understanding. You are a God of infinite wisdom and you generously offer to bestow wisdom to me–if I just ask (James 1:5).

Thank you for coming alongside, ever-ready to expend your power and wisdom for my good. You are a gracious God beyond what anyone could hope for!

Such an exercise develops the muscle of faith, contributes to stability of soul, and helps prevent falls into worry and fear.

Positive Prayer

Even the tone of my prayers can impact soul-strength. If I focus on the problem, the emotional pain is likely to remain:

Lord, I don’t know what we’re going to do. I keep trying various scenarios in my mind but there seems no way out of these circumstances. You’ve got to help us, although I don’t see how. What a mess!  

On the other hand, if I focus on God’s attributes at work and his promises that apply, the strain of the situation diminishes:

“I praise and thank you, Father, that I have no reason to fear. You’ve given our family the promise that you’ll fight for us; all we have to do is stand firm and see your salvation (Exodus 14:13-14). YOU are our strength, providing the wherewithal to rectify this situation. YOU are our very present help in this time of trouble (Psalm 46:1).

As positivity is expressed in our prayers, the spiritual muscle of hope develops.

Gratitude & Joy

It stands to reason: if we focus on the problems surrounding us, discouragement will weaken our spirits.

But if we focus on all the good things flowing to us from God’s loving heart, we’ll find plenty to be joyful about. It’s just a matter of engaging our praise and gratitude muscles.

Most sets of the physical exercises I do each morning include twenty repetitions. I wonder if we could name twenty of God’s attributes, providing twenty reasons to be joyful in him?

Skim through the psalms with me, and let’s see what we find:

1. Watchfulness (1:6)

2. Righteousness (5:8)

3. Protection (5:11)

4. Encouragement (10:17)

5. Unfailing love (13:5)

6. Security (16:5)

7. Perfect ways (18:30)

8. Victorious power (20:6)

9. Goodness (25:8)

10. Uprightness (25:8)

11. Faithful ways (25:10)

12. Strength (28:8)

13. Splendorous holiness (29:2)

14. Justice (36:6)

15. Ever-present help (46:1)

16. Guidance (48:14)

17. Great compassion (51:1)

18. Power (62:11)

19. Forgiveness (65:3)

20. Sovereignty (71:16)

We did it—and long before reaching the end of Psalms!

Do you find the strain on your spirit relaxing, just in reviewing his surpassing greatness?  Is renewed strength, stability, hope, and joy flowing into your soul?

Keep up those soul-core exercises!

Photo credits: http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.heartlight.org; pxhere.com.

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Remember Christmas morning as a child—the first glimpse of the enticing packages tucked under the tree?  Did you hop and clap with delight?

Or how about that winning touchdown for your team—in the last few moments of the game with your school’s arch rival? Did you jump up and shout in celebration?

Perhaps a family member or dear friend recently announced glorious news—a baby on the way, better employment obtained, or a clean bill of health finally received.  Did you find yourself dancing for joy?

Over-the-top pleasure and exciting events will do that to us. And although the body may no longer respond with hops, jumps, or dance, our spirits certainly soar in the moment.

photography by Nicole Sánchez : love.nimagens.com

The prophet Habakkuk of Old Testament times wrote about just such a response.  I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased the verse: “I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God” (Habakkuk 3:18 MSG). Sounds like the prophet received the answer to a heartfelt prayer or perhaps a miracle had occurred.

Truth is, Habakkuk’s home city of Jerusalem faced imminent invasion by the brutal Babylonians.  Recent conquests of other kingdoms left no question about the city’s fate.

God had made clear why disaster loomed.  The people of Jerusalem had continually ignored his wise ways and reveled in wickedness. Multiple warnings had been proclaimed and disregarded.

In response God was about to provide a means of saving his people—not from the ruin of their city—but from the ruin of their souls.  He would allow the invasion and a period of captivity in a foreign culture 900 miles away (Isaiah 39:5-8; Jeremiah 25:1-11).

(Isaiah foretold this scene in the latter half of the eighth century BC,
Jeremiah in 605 BC. The invasion took place in 586 BC.)

Habakkuk questioned God’s decision, wondering why he would allow the Babylonians, a people more wicked than the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to “swallow those who are more righteous than they are (Habakkuk 1:13)?”

By the end of his book, however, the prophet’s doubts had turned to faith and he declared—in the face of calamity–“Yet I will celebrate the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (3:18 NIV).

The word rejoice in this verse is ‘alaz’ in the original Hebrew, and means to “spin around for joy.”* Can you imagine? Disaster loomed. All Habakkuk had ever known would be destroyed.  If not killed, he would be forced into captivity in a hostile country.

Yet Habakkuk determined to dance for joy in his spirit—spin cartwheels even.

How does a person acquire such joy? Not by setting her sights on things that make her momentarily happy.  Deep-down dancing joy grows in proportion to our trust in God, and our trust grows in proportion to our knowledge of God—knowledge gained as we spend time in His Word.

We’d also do well to remember the close relationship between joy and gratitude.

As 2022 unfolds, a number of crises threaten—in our cities and states, our country, and around the world.  With Habakkuk of old we have a choice: to sink into despair over the real possibility of disaster, or to rejoice in our God who will enable us to endure whatever we may face (James 1:2-4).

It is our turn to spin for joy–in the God of our salvation!

*Linda Dillow, Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, 202.

Art & photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.love.nimages.com; http://www.maxpixelnet; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

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As you probably know, Dove chocolates come wrapped in foil with uplifting statements written inside. Not long ago I found this one:

“The more you praise and celebrate your life,

the more there is in life to celebrate.”

A positive attitude of praise and celebration, even for the little blessings, does contribute to a sense of well-being. But there’s an important omission in this quote—the cause of all those blessings.  Perhaps the sentiment should read:

“The more you praise and celebrate God in your life,

the more there is in life to celebrate.”

Now a pleasing sentiment has become solid truth, because with God in our lives, joy is our constant companion.

It requires such a small effort, really—to note the supreme pleasures in ordinary events or to choose a positive perspective.

Sometimes joy involves making a magnificent moment . . .

I’d been mall shopping for several hours, scouring the sales racks to no avail. Suddenly I noticed my sweater—one of my favorites–was no longer tied to my purse. 

Not only had I not purchased an addition for my wardrobe that afternoon, I’d subtracted a piece of clothing already owned.

Retracing my steps seemed daunting; I had browsed in so many stores.  Besides, it was time to meet Steve for dinner at one of the mall restaurants.  

After we ordered our meals, I told him what happened. “I’ll check the lost-and-found after we eat,” I said. “By then maybe someone will have found my sweater and turned it in.”

So that’s what we did.  No sweater.

Steve suggested we stop at the stores where I’d shopped as we made our way back to the car.

At the very first store the eyes of the young sales girl lit up when I asked about a lost sweater. “What color was it?” she asked.

“Cranberry red.”

“We did find it! It’s right back here!” she replied while heading to the rear of the store. Sure enough, the young woman returned with my sweater. Someone had even put it on a hanger.

Well! I thanked her and the manager behind the counter, not knowing which had found it and been so thoughtful.

One of them jokingly said something about doing good deeds for chocolate.

As it happened, just two doors down was the Godiva Chocolate Shop. Before leaving the mall, Steve and I popped in, bought two little boxes, and went back to the clothing store.

When those two girls saw the Godiva bag they whooped in surprise and started to laugh. We did too.

“God blessed me through you by returning my sweater; we wanted to bless you,” I told them.

“Oh! That remark about chocolate was just a joke!” the salesgirl cried. “But you have no idea how much I needed this. Today has been especially rough.” She started around the counter with her arms outstretched. “Come here! I need to give you a hug!”  Then she added, “Look!  I’m crying!”

I had tears in my eyes as well.

The level of endorphins in that shop soared so high the lights shone brighter and the atmosphere crackled with joy.  And all because Steve and I magnified the significance of a small moment and celebrated a God-orchestrated event.

Truly, “The more you praise and celebrate God in your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What are you celebrating in life today?  Magnify the moment by sharing your joy in the comments below!

Art & photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com.

(Revised and reblogged from April 23, 2015.)

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The first time I saw the above painting by Richard Schem, Times Square in New York City came to mind. If you’ve ever stood at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue at night, you too may have been overwhelmed by the cacophony of color produced by thousands of neon lights.

But Richard’s painting is titled, “See the World.” That provides a very different perspective.  Now I see the colors of the sea, the brilliant hues of silken saris from India, the verdant hillsides of Ireland, the rich crimson of Chinese lacquer, the terracotta and ochre tones of the Grand Canyon.

 

 

In one painting, he’s captured the glory of color that pervades much of our world.

Of course, Richard Schem isn’t the only artist who sees the world with fresh perspective and provides a delicious moment of discovery for those who pause long enough to experience a work of art, not just view it.

I wonder what would happen if we became artists of our days—pausing long enough to find fresh perspective now and then? Might we make a delicious discovery or two? Might our days explode with colorful moments, like Richard Schem’s canvas?

If that sounds enticing, the next question would be: How do we become artists of the everyday? I’m thinking the following strategies might provide a good place to start.

 

1. Paint the day with positivity.

 

Why let the drab colors of disappointment, difficulty, and frustration shroud the day when we can choose the cheerful hues of optimism, opportunity, and blessing?

 

 

“A joyful heart makes a face cheerful.”

–Proverbs 15:13a

 

Just this morning (It’s Monday as I begin to draft), Steve and I had to go to the hospital for his weekly blood draw. Unfortunately, Mother Nature played an April Fool’s joke during the night: the SUV was covered in frost. Not being quite tall enough for the job, I attacked the ice on the windshield with some difficulty, and was soon huffing and puffing.**

Well, at least this is good exercise, I thought. And listen to the birds, happily trilling and chirping, not the least bit deterred by the chill this morning. My frustration began to subside.

 

2. Weave gratitude from morning till night.

 

(This photo taken last September)

 

Recent threads in my gratitude tapestry include: hot coffee in a thermal mug, sunshine streaming in the windows, a trio of deer feasting on the backyard hillside, candle-lighting time each evening, and a delightful book intertwining mystery and humor.

God’s goodness comes in many colors and textures.

 

3. Mold moments into sanctuaries of joyful worship.

 

 Instead of just waiting for joy to find us, we can create it. Here are a few possibilities:

 

 

  • Celebrate the prize of a smile from each person you meet—especially if you’re the one to smile and say hello first.

 

  • Savor virtual snapshots of delightful observations: a squirrel perched at the very tip of a branch, feather duster clouds sweeping the sky, the dimples on the back of a small child’s hand.

 

  • Find richness in the commonplace: the miracle of crocus blooming through the snow, fire flames leaping on the hearth (never the same way twice), and raindrop jewels glistening on the foliage.

 

 

“For you, O Lord,

have made me glad by your work;

at the works of your hands

I sing for joy.”

–Psalm 92:4 ESV

 

Design to bless others.

Becoming artists of the everyday for our own hearts’ sake is certainly beneficial, but inspiring others to connect with the Master Artist as the result of our optimism, gratitude, and good cheer? Well, that just multiplies the blessing.

How have you painted your day with positivity, woven gratitude into the hours, or molded moments into sanctuaries of joy? Share with us in the Comment section below!

 

______________________________

 

*A phrase borrowed from Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson.

**My thoughtful husband usually takes care of this chore, but he’s recovering from a subdural hematoma as many of you know. Such exertions as frost removal are not allowed for at least three months.

Art & photo credits:  http://www.horchow.com (Richard Schem); http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pexels.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg.

 

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While waiting for the coffee to brew Monday morning, I peeked out the kitchen curtains. To the east, a glowing red band rimmed the horizon. Slightly to the west, a clear, dark sky provided backdrop for a gleaming crescent moon.

 

 

Thank you, Father, I prayed, for prompting me to look out the window just now. Your handiwork never ceases to thrill me.

I wondered what further delights God might present as the day progressed? I decided to begin a list, just for the fun of seeing how many moments I could record. The glowing horizon and bright crescent moon became #1.

#2.  A completed workout.   Thank you, Lord, for helping me eat a live frog–yet again!  (Yes, that’s a perfectly logical prayer for those who know what Mark Twain said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” For me, exercising is about as distasteful as eating a live frog!)

Moments later, as a bowl of oatmeal spun slow circles inside the microwave, I chose to window-gaze again. This time a squirrel caught my attention as he scampered along a treetop branch, then leapt across a wide chasm to the next tree.

 

 

How do squirrels jump like that without falling? Such astounding abilities you’ve given some of your creatures, Lord.  

#3 became:   A gravity-defying squirrel.

#4.   Oatmeal—with cinnamon, berries, walnuts, and milk. Thank you, Father, for the endless combinations of ingredients we can put together to make our taste buds happy! 

#5.   Coffee.  The most exquisite flavor to start the morning.

 

 

I was on a roll now as the praiseworthy moments continued:

#6.   A dropped contact found.

#7.   Sunshine pouring through the windows.

#8.   The drive to our son’s house along the edge of Mount Airy Forest. Spring is in evidence: bright green undergrowth portends the imminent leafing of trees.

 

 

#9.   Clear, rain-washed air–fresh and crisp. Just breathing is a supreme pleasure.

#10. Holding four-year old Elena’s soft little hand as we climb the stairs together.

#11.  Snuggling two-month old Maarit on my shoulder while taking her on another slow, bouncy tour of the living/dining, and kitchen area. Her bright eyes seem to study every object, any sign of movement, every play of light.

#12.  Reveling in Maarit’s smiles, each one a delightful surprise.

#13.  Making her laugh for the first time.

#14.  Watching Elena complete a 48-piece puzzle, with very little help.

#15.  Catching one of Maarit’s smiles on camera–well, almost.

 

 

#16.  Listening to a symphony of birds upon arrival home, as I walked from car to house.

#17.  Soaking up the warmth of sunshine on the deck while reading my Bible and journaling a bit.

#18.  Enjoying a refreshing salad, all the more delicious because Steve made it.

 

 

#19.  Receiving blessing and challenge while reading posts from bloggers I follow.  (See the list in the right column!)

#20. Resting with a pleasurable book.

 

    *    *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

It may not be practical to record such moments every day, but I can see great benefit from keeping a list now and then.

It’s grateful eyes that get to see God’s goodness and glory everywhere–all day long.

 

 

(“It is good to praise the Lord…

…to proclaim your love in the morning

and your faithfulness at night…

…For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord,

I sing for joy at the works of your hands.”

–Psalm 92:1-2, 4)

 

What commonplace moment brings you uncommon joy? Please share in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.farm7.staticflickr.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimediacommons; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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(reblogged from 10-24-13)

“Mail’s here early today!” called Lorna, as she entered the kitchen.

Oh, that was good news. Living far from home in Quito, Ecuador made letters a very precious commodity.

“Terrific!” I responded, and dashed upstairs to get my keys.

Lorna and her husband, Elbert, served as missionaries with HCJB. I was a short-termer, living with them for the four months of my assignment as a preschool and kindergarten teacher.

 

250px-Hcjbquito

 

The compound was only a brief walk from the house. Once there, it was just a matter of unlocking the gate, heading down the main walkway a short distance, up a few steps, and into the post office alcove where all our mailboxes were located.

I jogged the whole way there and back, excited to read my mail. But no sooner did I return home than my head started to pound, nausea engulfed me, and all I wanted to do was lie down. Never mind those coveted letters!

My problem was not a sudden onset of the flu, but mild hypoxia–oxygen deprivation. Quito is located 10,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains.

My experience (as well as those of countless others) proves: we humans require oxygen—lots of it.

Even folks who live near sea level can suffer from lack of oxygen, because they’ve become accustomed to shallow breathing. Their bodies never receive enough oxygenated air, causing them to feel short of breath and anxious.

On the other hand, research has proven that deep breathing helps us manage stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and even spark brain growth. By not taking slow, deep breaths now and again, we deprive ourselves of these benefits.

M-m-m. Reminds me of Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, where King Solomon lamented the results of shallow living: chasing after wealth, accomplishments, and pleasure. In the end, nothing gave him lasting satisfaction and fulfillment.

Shallow living brings on symptoms in the spirit, similar to oxygen deprivation in the mind and body: heartache, fatigue with life, nausea from repetitive, meaningless activity, and shortness of temper.

In contrast to Solomon’s lament in Ecclesiastes is Paul’s praise to God for the power and strength of deep living:

“Oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength” (Ephesians 1:19, MSG)!

Deep living happens when we breathe in God’s strength with a prayer, his wisdom and encouragement with a scripture, his joy with a song.

Deep living happens when we practice his presence as automatically as we breathe.

And how do we do that, “practice his presence?”

By pausing frequently throughout each day, to turn our attention to God.

I might say such things as:

  • Thank You, Lord, for this new day. Work through me to accomplish your purpose.
  • I love you, Heavenly Father. Thank you for filling my heart with peace and joy every time I turn my attention to you.
  • Thank you for your power at work in me as I complete this task.
  • The wonders of your creation–graceful tree branches dancing in the breeze, lyrical songs of the mockingbirds, delicious aromas of pine and orange blossoms–They make my heart sing with praise!
  • Oh, Lord, I shouldn’t have spoken to Mary like that. Forgive me, I pray. Help me to think before I speak. And yes, I will apologize to her.

Refreshing. Energizing. Purifying. Like a deep breath of oxygen.

Shallow breathing causes a lesser quality of life. So does shallow living.

Deep breathing fosters strength of mind and body. Deep living does that and more.

Deep living radically transforms the spirit.

Let’s breathe/live deep!

* * * * * * * * * *

What deep living habits help you practice the presence of God?

(photo credit: http://www.wikipedia.com)

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inspire

Dove chocolates come wrapped in foil on which are printed positive and encouraging statements. Recently I found this one:

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

A positive attitude of praise and celebration, even for the little blessings, does contribute to a sense of well-being.  But there’s an important omission in this quote–the cause of all those blessings.  Perhaps the sentiment might be worded like this:

“The more you praise and celebrate God in your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

Now a pleasing sentiment has become solid truth, because with God in our lives, joy is our constant companion.

“You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord;

I sing for joy at the works of your hands.”

(Psalm 92:4)

 It requires such a small effort, really.

 Sometimes, all we need to do is focus on the pleasure of ordinary events:

  • Water vapor curling up from a cup of coffee
  • Sunbeams finally breaking through, after three days of unrelenting rain
  • The first butterfly of spring dancing among the daffodils

Sometimes all we need to do is change our perspective.  We can choose to:

  • Get depressed over the huge stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen, or reminisce (while we clean!) over the delightful meal just enjoyed with family and friends
  • Grumble that vacation is over, or celebrate that two weeks out-of-town makes even our scuffed-up, well-lived-in home look mighty inviting
  • Sigh with dissatisfaction that personal goals have not yet been reached, or take note of how far we’ve come

Sometimes all we need to do is make a celebration out of a small moment.

I had been shopping at the mall for several hours, scouring the sales racks to no avail. Suddenly I looked down at my purse on which I had draped my light jacket and sweater. The sweater was gone. It was one of my favorites.

So not only did I not purchase an addition for my wardrobe that afternoon, I had subtracted a piece of clothing I already owned.  That sweater had just been dry cleaned, too. “Insult to injury,” as they say.

Retracing my steps seemed pointless; I had been in so many stores.

Not long after realizing my sweater was gone, it was time to meet Steve for dinner at a restaurant attached to the mall.  We ordered our meals, and then I told him what happened.

“I’ll check the mall lost-and-found after we eat,” I said. “By then maybe someone will have found my sweater and turned it in.”

So that’s what we did.

No sweater.

Steve suggested we stop at the stores where I’d shopped, as we made our way back to the car.

At the very first store the eyes of the young sales girl lit up when I asked about a lost sweater. “What color was it?” she asked.

“Red,” I told her.

“We did find it! It’s right back here!” she enthusiastically replied, walking to the back of the store.

Sure enough, there it was. Someone had even put it on a hanger.

Well! I thanked her, and the manager behind the counter, not knowing which of them had found it and been so thoughtful.

One of them jokingly said something about doing good deeds for chocolate.

As it happened, just two doors down was the Godiva Chocolate Shop. Steve and I popped in, bought two little boxes, and went back to the clothing store.

When those two girls saw the Godiva bag they whooped in surprise and delight. Steve and I laughed, too.

“God blessed me through you by returning my sweater; we wanted to bless you,” I said.

“Oh! That remark about chocolate was just a joke!” the salesgirl cried. “But you have no idea how much I needed this. Today has been especially rough.” She started around the counter with her arms outstretched. “Come here! I need to give you a hug!”  Then she added, “Look!  I’m crying!”  I had tears in my eyes as well.

The level of endorphins was so high in that shop the lights shone brighter, the air smelled fresher, and the atmosphere crackled with joy.

And all because we took a small moment and magnified its significance, and we gave God the glory as we celebrated a God-orchestrated event.

Truly, “The more you praise and celebrate God in your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

And God celebrates, too.  After all, he loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), right?  Surely that includes givers of chocolate and hugs.

(Photo credit:  www.inhabityourmoments.com.)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What are you celebrating in life today?  Share your joy in the comments below!

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Jesus-Praying-Last-Supper-570x377

 

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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