Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Count it all Joy...

Joy is a choice.

Long ago someone boldly said to me they believed LOVE was a choice, and i cringed a bit.
His wife had confessed her unfaithfulness in their marriage; even admitting she had been with other men while carrying their unborn child inside her. What a challenging thing for a husband to face.
But his response ---- “love is a choice – and i will not let her choice alter mine --- i choose to love.”

It was such a profound moment. It shifted something important inside of me.

It is true. Completely and unavoidably true. Love is a choice. We choose to love or we choose not to love. It's not their fault if we don't love them, and it's not to their credit if we do. It's all on us, our choice.

The same is true with joy.
Too often we get caught up in the whirl of circumstances and stress, letting them dictate to us how we should feel. And some days can take our breath away --- in not-good-ways.
But, we always hold the key to how we will choose to respond. No one else holds our key.

And i believe God in Heaven smiles with delight and nods His great head when we choose to lift our eyes above the world-mess-stress; choosing to remember we are dearly loved by Him and HE IS THE ONE WHO IS ABOVE ALL THINGS.

He can take what was intended for harm and use it for good.
He holds the earth on its axis and the stars in the universe.
He saves the world through a baby.
He saves our souls through the shed blood of His Son.
Joy immeasurable is ours because He lives, we're saved, we have a home, the King is our Daddy.

Joy is a choice.
We can get distracted and deceived to the point that we even forget it's an option on the buffet He prepares daily for our consumption.
That's the game plan of the enemy --- to keep us from even remembering ---- JOY is an option we can choose anywhere, anytime.

One way to keep our hearts and minds better able to remember what's on the buffet is Philippians 4:8 -- “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable --- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy --- think on such things...”
Then the Word says --- “and the God of peace will be with you...”

Peace and Joy hold hands --- they are tight with one another.

So for JOY to be chosen, we must manage where we allow our thoughts to dwell, we must grab hold of what's good and go with it. There is always a good to grab hold of (we might have to look for it, but there is always a good option)--- joy is a choice.

For me --- i'm actively choosing to set the stage for joy--- for the goodness of the Lord to be seen center stage,
when i :
  • Redirect my thoughts from what has grabbed my attention, and choose to guide my thoughts to where they need to be.
  • Notice the flower, the cloud, feel the wind, hear the bird-song.
  • Light the candle before i pick up His Word in the dark hours of morning.
  • Become captivated by the giggles of a child – thanking God for good people caring for her.
  • Hear my husband's snores as if their reminders that again tonight... he chose me to rest beside.
  • Reframe the actions of the rude driver --- instead choosing to consider they might be rushing to the hospital and need my prayers or they might be rushing to a toilet because they have diarrhea.
  • Lingering long enough to see the kindness between two aged-people holding hands as they walk, smiling as they've chosen to wait for each other.
  • Pushing through doubt, and choosing to memorize the verse that helps us. Letting our mind go to that verse wherever we are, because we're choosing those words instead of...
  • Saying no to the couch/tv/phone/computer and yes to conversation that lets the people around us know --- we see them, we chose them.

The list is infinite. All the ways we can choose specs of JOY instead of robotic responses to life that might very well leave us feeling drained and tired.
Joy has the essence of living intentionally ---- not reacting wearily.

When we take the wrong turn and allow our joy to be connected to another person or place or circumstance, we make it really easy for the enemy of our Lord to pull the rug out from under our feet. Because no person, place, or situation can bear that load. They're not built for that purpose, it's not their responsibility.
When Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross He was breathing out the option of JOY onto any who would be willing to see it, and grab hold. But first we must see HIM. Joy comes from Him.

Ben Carson's mother once told him, given his good mind and good God, that if he (Ben) was not wildly successful it would be all his fault. (paraphrased a bit but that was the charge she gave him)

i have learned and applied this same way of thinking to the “choice for joy”.
Remembering all that has been done for me, and all the options before me, if i do not choose to live-with-joy ------ it will be all my own fault.
There may be days of tears (there will be), but the flowers will still bloom, the stars will still shine.
At the end of the day ----- what i choose ------ is mine.

But what of those who suffer intensely, those trapped in places of horrific pain and injustice. What of the sick who agonize with gripping, shooting, breath-taking pain? Am i supposing that joy could still be a choice for them?
It's in those very arenas that knees begin to tremble and the questions will try and wipe the Holy verses out of our head. The verses that keep the belt of Truth buckled. If those verses can be overwhelmed in the midst of suffering, then, joy can float down the rushing river like a life-boat cut loose from its ship. Those are perilous, ominous waters to be adrift in.

So, let's be brave and look into those places where darkness crashes in and birds might stop singing.
I think of Daniel --- he was a real man ---- he wasn't just a long-ago-character in a story.
He was a stellar person on all sides. Even though he had been kidnapped from his childhood home, he still worked to always do the right thing and press himself to excellence. He worshiped God, served the king, and wisdom was his running-mate.
But there came the day when he found himself in a lions den ---- because he wouldn't succumb to a wrongly placed ruling. Was it possible Daniel allowed joy to stay inside him as he descended those steps into the growling pit?

Or what of the day he watched his three closest friends, those he had been kidnapped with and had served beside for years, being wrongfully thrown into a fiery furnace? Could joy have been present as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped into the flames that incinerated the guards holding the door open for them?

Joy might not always show itself on the outside of a person, but it's the presence of joy on the inside that lends great strength and endurance to our steadfast resolve. Not joy in the wrongful thing that is happening, but a joy that is above the circumstance. A joy that whispers into the marrow of bones ----- God is over this, God is with me, God is not defeated, God IS my good Shepherd, yes, though i'm walking through a dark valley, i will not be afraid, for God is with me, His rod and staff surround me... keeping my eyes fixed on Him, He will finish this in His way.

Joy comes (bubbles up to the outside of us) in the morning after the long night of steadfast trust.

Joy is not the same thing as carefree happiness.

Joy has the aroma of powerful faith.

So yes, Daniel had joy coursing through his veins as he descended into the lions den, because he knew his God was with him. And whatever the outcome, he knew God would be in charge.
The three in the furnace stepped forward bravely, and joy was present in their resolve. Because they knew God was about to be seen by all. At the very least they knew HE was with them.
Imagine the joy that rose to the surface and shined in their faces as they stepped back out of that furnace knowing everyone present had witnessed the greatness of their God. Joy was present.

Betsie is in the middle, Corrie on the left.
Nollie, was also a sister, but was released early on from the concentration camp. 

Betsie, the much loved sister of Corrie Ten Boom, carried a sparkling kind of joy inside her that even though her circumstances were all-wrong, she was all-right on the inside. She died in a concentration camp, her sister witnessed her passing, but for the rest of Corrie's life, she told the stories of joy-found in dark places --- forgiveness-given to the undeserving --- peace in the midst of war.

A dear friend of mine was held as a prisoner of war for many years. He was tortured and starved and faced many horrifying moments. Yet, he was not destroyed because he worked to keep his personal, internal (that place where no guard could reach) focus on the knowing that God was with him, He was not forgotten. His testimony is powerful. (God bless Captain Jerry Coffee and all those who have suffered wrongfully while serving our country.) Was joy with him in those dark cells? He says it was; not on the outside like a bubbling brook, but on the inside like an artesian well of promise.
Joy is available when Jesus is present. Evil can not destroy it, unless we choose to allow it to do so.

Joy is a choice.

Few of us will face days of dark prison cells and concentration camps. Those are places where heroes carry joy and hope ---- and the rest of us watch in awe, inspired. But if joy can walk into a lions den with Daniel, and joy can be the sparkle in a dying woman's eye, the smile on her lips at Ravensbruck concentration camp, then joy is an unstoppable force if we choose to let it live inside us.

Before Betsie died, she whispered to her sister Corrie, “There is no pit so deep, that He [God] is not deeper still.” Those words could only be spoken by a woman who knew what the deep pits looked like, and found “the joy of the Lord is my strength” there.

Joy is a choice. 

Count it all joy... (James 1:2)