Fresh Joy-- I love those words. Fresh--like doughnuts fresh-baked first thing in the morning, after working an all-night shift... [thanks to my son for that word picture]. Or if you prefer, fresh home-baked bread hot from the oven...Fresh! I have found fresh joy repeatedly this week and each time it has come upon me rather unexpectedly. Joy is like that I think--like a butterfly that eludes capture but then when you least expect it may come to light on your shoulder. A curious sparrow came flitting up to me just that way as I was having a quiet sit in the sunshine one day this week. Unexpected. And just as quickly it flitted away when I reacted to it startling me! Joy is not so flighty thankfully but it does take me by surprise sometimes.
OK, so having recognized that the best growth happens in a context of restful faith, (see "Calmed and Quieted"), I set out to rest this week--not to stress about my state (or that of those I feel responsible for)...but to trust that God has it all under control. Nearly fell on my face Day 1...overwhelmed, discouraged by a tutorial on a skill I'm trying to learn. I read too far, too fast and my new-found hope and confidence that 'I can' was quickly eroded. A little pilot project became a daunting thing. I was paralyzed into spending an evening opening and closing instruction books, getting out papers, prototype pictures, paints, putting them away and finally making some messy doodles that confirmed my worst fears: "I can't"... Bedtime found me journaling to myself (This is a writer's form of talking to oneself, only it doesn't make you look as crazy, if 'looks' count!). And the Spirit seemed to blow in gently, thoughts that balanced and stabilized my own. Practical, hopeful ideas. And I fell asleep at peace...
Next morning I was mulling over this process of growth that seems to be a coupling of intentional practices with the provision of Divine interventions. I am, in fact, working my way through two books right now that complement each other on this very topic. Authentic Faith majors on what Thomas terms the 'authentic disciplines'--things God brings into our lives to grow us. And Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice (Willard) puts its focus on the means we can use to make growth intentional. (One day when I have digested both, maybe I'll have more to say on the mysterious 'mechanics' of growth.) But one thing stood out as I considered this-- the necessity of faith as a starting point. When I view myself (or my 'charges') as my responsibility to 'fix' through some application of 'discipline' it takes me right out of that 'calmed and quieted' state. I must do 'something', anything, at least keep anxious watch, sit on the alert growling...And suddenly the focus is all wrong. Who am I watching? Who am I trusting?
One day I sat reading the incident of Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14). He was fine until his focus turned to himself and the impossibility of this thing he was called to do: "Come." Initially He believed and walked on water. Then he looked around in disbelief and started sinking. Jesus' words cut right to my heart: "Why did you doubt?", as though he was waiting for my answer. And I knew. It was, "because I looked at me out here and thought, 'Who am I to be doing this?! What am I doing out here in this?!'"
Who am I? Wrong question. Dangerous focus. Meanwhile, the disciples back in the boat were fixated on Jesus and had quite another reaction. "They worshiped Him", saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." As long as I am self-conscious and feel responsible, there will be no rest, no joy, no faith. (I think one of the greatest joys of heaven will be self-forgetfulness!) But when I look at who He is and trust In Him it's a whole 'nother story: "For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in His holy name." (Ps.33) Quiet joy entered in the knowing.
"Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!" (I Chronicles 16:10)
I was re-reading Abraham's story in Romans 4 and noticed another possible reaction to this looking-at-myself business. It was said of Abraham that "he did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead... " Now remember, he's been waiting for literally YEARS for God to make His promise good and give him a son. But he looks at himself and actually grows stronger in faith. How's that?! It says, "no distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as He gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised." --Rom.4:19,20 Abraham's faith wasn't hindered in considering his own weakness because it only served to highlight the incredibleness of God's promise! Can my weakness do that? Can I consider who I am in all my limitations and let it fuel praise to my amazing God? Yes, I fall short of His glory and yet "I am justified by His grace as a gift...to be received through faith." (Rom.3:23-24) And I am now clothed in His righteousness. "He made Him who knew no sin to be made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (IICor.5:21) I came away from meditating on these things with an old song dancing through my heart, fresh joy springing up. I haven't heard it in YEARS. If you know it sing along:
A Friend I have, called Jesus, Whose love is strong and true,[Now the wind-up for the lilting, joyful chorus...wish you could hear it sung this way...I only managed to find a you-tube piano accompaniment that is rather staid and a little slow. It lacks the lilt of a robust hymn sing, but the words and tune are here. You can sing along and add the 'spark' yourself!
And never fails howe'er tis tried, No matter what I do;
I've sinned against this love of His, But when I knelt to pray,
Confessing all my guilt to Him, The sin-clouds rolled away.
It's just like Jesus to roll the clouds away,Let me give you one more verse:
It's just like Jesus to keep me day by day,
It's just like Jesus all along the way,
It's just like His great love.
Sometimes the clouds of trouble Bedim the sky above,I love that! Fresh joy!
I cannot see my Saviour's face, I doubt His wondrous love;
But He, from Heaven's mercy seat, Beholding my despair,
In pity bursts the clouds between, And shows me He is there.*
Hurrying through my Bible study lesson on contentment another afternoon this week, I turned to Isaiah 29 and found this gem: "The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord." The meek. This is the one that gets in His yoke (as per Matt.11:28-30), watches Jesus demonstrate what Kingdom living is like, and walks confidently with Him while He takes me there . There's joy here as well as rest.
As I sit leafing through the pages of my week I am so impressed at God's quiet interventions--through His Word mostly, bringing to life the thoughts I need to hear, injecting faith and inspiring fresh joy. It's really quite amazing how He walks with us so gently and yet so strongly. It's not the Garden, but it's a foretaste. We live in the presence of a Living God who really and truly wants to live with us, to dwell with us, to be our God and have us as His own precious possessions... I saw this again in His words in Exodus: "I brought them out of Egypt that I might dwell among them." (Ex.29:46) He actually wants to live with us, to walk with us, to talk with us... "In His presence is fullness of joy." I've mostly thought of this as a future reality but really, He is with us now, and as we learn to believe it and walk accordingly there will be fresh joy for the taking!
Care for a slice of bread hot from the oven? Call ahead and we'll share some fresh.
*"It's Just Like His Great Love" --Words by: Edna Worrell, Music by: Clarence Strouse, 19th century.