On joy

16982653Joy is literally my middle name.

How ironic.

Some days, it seems all I do is grumble or complain. I quarrel and I snap back at the slightest provocation and I can’t control my tone of voice. Quick to anger, quick to speak, but slow to listen.

Sound familiar?

I’ll never forget how one of my friends laughed when someone asked her why she was so happy all the time. “Because I have Jesus in my heart!” she exclaimed, eyes shining. You could see it, too.

But I have Jesus in my heart, too, and last time I checked, “happy all the time” was not a part of my daily experience.It wasn’t until later in my life that I began to see the difference between happiness and joy. It’s a lesson I’m still learning, in fact.

Because “happy” isn’t something you can be all the time–but joy is. Happy is something you feel; joy is something you choose. Happiness is an emotion; joy is an attitude. Happiness is an experience; joy is an outlook. Happiness depends on circumstances; joy exists regardless and in spite of them. Happiness is earth-bound; joy is heaven-found. A lot of lives have taken a turn for the worse because of confusion between the two.

Righto, but that still doesn’t answer the main question: how can I get me some?

As I’ve been writing this, a number of old children’s songs have been running through my head:

“I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart to stay!

Or, how about this one?

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

And then, there’s this one:

The fruit of the Spirit is love-joy-peace, patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness, gentleness and self conro-o-ol! Love-joy-peace, patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness, gentleness and self control!

Oh wait, that’s a Bible verse too, isn’t it? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Joy is the fruit of the Spirit. It is the product of having Jesus dwelling inside you.

*Raises hand* “But wait, Miss Bre, didn’t you just go in a circle? Didn’t you just say that even though you have Jesus in your heart, you don’t always feel joyful?”

*Pats head fondly* Why yes, that’s true, young child. But what I mean is…oh wait. that’s a good point.

Look, here’s the thing. Living life God’s way isn’t easy–otherwise everyone would be doing it, and my friend Amanda who is happy joyful all the time wouldn’t have sparked any comment, ’cause we’d all be walking around turning the other cheek until we were literally spinning in circles. But the product of choosing the narrow gate instead of the broad is this: joy. Love. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Joy.

You ever feel conflicted? Like you want to do what’s right, but you just can’t help yourself? Well, you’re in good company; so did Paul. Romans 7 says, “I do not understand what I do. For I do not do what I want to do, but I do the thing I hate….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” 

(Oh look, I’ve found something in common between me and the greatest missionary of the New Testament! This is a good sign!)

There’s a reason for this. It’s that there’s actually two natures dwelling inside you. A sin nature, born at the Fall, and, if you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the actual Spirit of the living God. And believe it or not, every Christian has exactly the same measure of this Spirit as another. There’s enough to go around. You have it just as much as me or Paul or Corrie ten Boom or the person sitting in the pew beside you. The only difference is how much you choose to listen.

Many people are familiar with the old Native American story about the two wolves in a fight, and the famous saying: “The one who wins is the one you feed.” If we all have the Spirit of God living inside us (something not Abraham nor Moses nor Elijah nor any of the other heroes of the O.T. had access to, by the way) then the determinant of our joy is this: how much we feed it, and how much we choose to listen.

“The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest (John 10:10).” The thief wants to steal, kill, and destroy your joy. Your peace. Your patience. I’m ashamed to say that he often succeeds. He lies and tricks us into chasing happiness instead of joy, and we build up treasures on earth rather than recognizing that this is not our home; we’re only passing through.

So the source of joy? I guess we’re back at the original answer: Jesus. But it doesn’t come from a passive, one-time decision; it comes from a lifestyle where you’re feeding your soul with truth and grace, and choosing to focus on the real thing instead of chasing shadows.

May you be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. May you learn kindness, and patience, and joy.

Blessings!
Bre

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A Real Kind of Faith

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According to the Voice of the Martyrs website, Iraq had 1.5 million Christians in 2003. However, that number is now down to roughly 400,000. In the last 11 years, more than two-thirds of Iraq’s Christians fled, emigrated, or were killed. This is largely due to Islamic military groups like the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Iraq is not alone. Nearly 30 other countries worldwide are religiously “restricted,” meaning that government laws restricting religious freedom lead to Christians being harassed, imprisoned, killed, or deprived of their possessions because of their witness; Christians are also unable to receive Bibles or other Christian literature. In many other places (“hostile” nations), despite government attempts to provide protection for the Christian populations, believers are routinely harassed, beaten, and persecuted by family, friends, neighbors or political groups.

In August of this year, more than 50,000 children and adults were slaughtered in Iraq and Syria because of their faith, and families were/are fleeing from the state into the mountains with nothing. It’s like a second Holocaust. And it’s a scary thought–because it’s real. In fact, it could happen to me. My brother. My sisters. My parents. The people I love, full of vibrant life–a knock on the door and they disappear.

It’s a heavy thought, but one worth considering.

How real is my faith to me? How much am I willing to give up? How serious am I about this?

Christ said that those who lose this life will gain it. He said that the world would hate us because they hated him. He said this world is not our home.

It’s time to believe that. It’s time to start living like that.

This year I’ve realized what the word believe means. It’s not a surface thing. It’s not something you just say when it comes to mind every so often. It’s something that worms its way so much deeper than that, to the very core of who you are. It starts to dwell at the heart of your subconscious, at the root of your soul, and everything you do gets filtered through it without you even realizing it.

It’s also a choice. A choice you have to make, a choice where not choosing is still a choice. You can work to develop it, to shape it, to ingrain it, to internalize it.

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And I believe it. I do. With a conviction that goes deeper than words. I am convinced of a truth that surpasses time and imagination. My God is a God who is real, who is alive, who is in control and at work. Nothing can change it, stop it, block it or twist it.

So I give myself to You. Wholly and completely. Take me, make me, shake me, break me, shape me. I am yours, now and forever. Use me, God. Make me bold for You.

I believe.

–Bre

 

P.S. If you’re interested in supporting the persecuted community, you can check out the Voice of the Martyrs website at persecution.com. You can sign up for their free monthly newsletter, send letters to prisoners and to government officials in other countries, send action packs, help get Bibles into restricted nations, donate financially, and above all, pray. Please, please pray, because prayer has the power to change the world.