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fruit of the spirit

No Limits

“My beloved ones, don’t ever limit your joy or fail to rejoice in the wonderful experience of knowing our Lord Jesus!” (Philippians 3:1)

Limitations are good in some circumstances. For example, I limit my number of 72% dark chocolate squares to four per day (don’t judge me). But when it comes to joy, I’ll take all I can get.

Joy is one thing we don’t want to limit. For followers of Jesus, the joy available to us is limitless.

Apathy and distraction continuously tug at us to focus on our lives instead of God. We may think more about our dinner than about our deliverance, more about our hair than our hope.

When we think more about our day-to-day lives than Jesus, we find ourselves feeling happy when things are good, and miserable when things are bad. Friend, that’s not the joy of the Lord. That’s just happiness. Don’t settle for happiness when God offers us joy.

To experience unlimited joy, we must be proactive. We must actively pray and actively focus on the goodness of Jesus. We must not forget that our joy comes from him.

Any of us can become dull to the Lord. If left to our own devices, we all would veer toward spiritual apathy. Joy does not cohabitate with apathy.  Joy requires commitment and action.

Remember, when we maintain joy in the midst of troubles, we shine God’s light into the darkness. For a long time, it seemed that one room in my house was especially dark. I blamed it on the light fixture, but I finally figured out I had turned the dimmer switch way down. The light couldn’t get through. Maybe that’s true in our world today. Perhaps the world isn’t as dark as it looks. Perhaps we’ve allowed our lights to dim.

Our world has a serious joy deficiency. Everywhere we look we see negativity, fear, and darkness. The joy of the Lord is meant to shine brightly into the darkness and show the world what it means to be filled with incredible joy in spite of calamitous troubles. The joy of the Lord shines brightest in the darkest of times.

If we ever wonder what our purpose is, or why we’re on this earth, we can just think of all the people who need some joy, and all the darkness that screams for the light. C. S. Lewis said, “Here is a joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness, but your darkness cannot now infect our light.” The world desperately needs what we carry within us—the unlimited joy and light of a loving God.

Dear God, when I look at the world around me, I wonder if I can make any difference in the darkness. Remind me that I carry your joy and your light within me. Help me be an example of joy in a world filled with despair. I want to show everyone I meet what it means to be filled to overflowing with the joy of the Lord. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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fruit of the spirit

Joy Part 3: Today, Choose Joy

“…Choose today whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15)

It seems our choices have multiplied in recent years.

We used to have one kind of coffee. No latte, frappucino, or cappuccino,—just plain old coffee. And when I was growing up, we had four television channels. Now we have hundreds of networks and tons of ways to stream TV and movies.

So many choices. So many decisions.

Experts estimate the average adult American makes around 35,000 conscious choices every day. Most of them are insignificant, like choosing which shoes to wear. Some of them are momentous and change the course of our lives.

Choosing joy is one of those life-changing choices.

Let’s take a trip back to ancient Israel. Elderly Joshua wanted to address his people one more time. He called them to gather together in Shechem. (The whole story is in Joshua, chapter 24.)

Shechem isn’t just some random place Joshua chose out of a hat. It had significance to the Israelites. Shechem was the site of the first promised-land covenant between God and Abraham. Abraham, obeying God, had left his home, and headed for Canaan. When he reached Shechem, just inside the border of the promised land, Abraham stopped and set up camp.

While in Shechem, God appeared and told Abraham, “I will give this land to your descendants…” (Genesis 12:7). Abraham built an altar to commemorate God’s promise.

Fast forward now to Joshua. He calls the Israelites to gather at Shechem, the place of promise. He wanted the people to choose to serve Jehovah God and turn away from the counterfeit gods of the surrounding nations. What would they choose?

The place of promise was also a place of decision. Joshua asked the people to choose: Jehovah God or a counterfeit?

Just like the Israelites, we’re in a place of promise and a place of decision. God has promised us joy, but we have a decision to make. We can choose fear, anger, jealousy, or other emotions instead of joy. We can choose to try and muster joy with our own strength, through our own willpower. But the so-called joy we manufacture on our own is counterfeit. It won’t spend like the real thing.

Or we can wisely choose the joy of the Lord.

Each morning when we get up, we can choose joy. We can pray each day for a fresh supply of the joy of the Lord. Remember, our words have power, so consider actually saying out loud every day, “Today, with God’s help, I choose joy.”

Kay Warren said, “Joy is… the determined choice to praise God in all things.” God gives us a choice. He offers us his joy, but it’s still our decision whether or not to accept it. Choose wisely. Choose to embrace the joy of the Lord.

Heavenly Father, I know my decisions have consequences. Today, I choose joy. I choose to believe you are involved in the details of my life. I choose to have confidence that, through you, everything is going to be OK. I ask you to fill my life with fresh joy each day. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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fruit of the spirit

Joy Part 2: Quiet Confidence

“Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.” (Psalm 23:6)

So, Cinderella—she had a rough go of it, right? Evil stepmother. Jealous stepsisters. Fun fact: Her original name was Ella, but since she cleaned the cinders out of the fireplace, her stepsisters started calling her Cinderella, and the mean nickname stuck.

Do you know how the story ends? No, not with the Fairy Godmother. No, not with the mice and pumpkin and glass slippers. No, not even with marrying the prince.

We all know how it ends: She lived happily ever after. Just like Snow White, Rapunzel, Ariel, and Sleeping Beauty. Fairy tale authors hand out happily-ever-after endings all over the place.

Y’all, happily ever after isn’t real. But joyfully ever after is a very-real gift from God.

Kay Warren says this about joy: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

It seems that, if joy is an option, it wouldn’t take much to persuade Christians to embrace it. But the truth is, we find it difficult to remain joyful when things aren’t going our way. Could it be that we don’t really believe what we profess? Could it be that deep down we doubt whether God is going to make everything right in the end?

Joy is a supernatural gift from God. It flourishes in a heart confident of God’s intention and power to make all things end up as they should. If we find ourselves daunted and fearful about our circumstances, we may also find our joy diminished.

Do we truly realize what our future holds? According to Psalm 23:6, God’s goodness will be with us every day for all of our years on earth. His kindness will never fail us. We are surrounded by his tender care every minute of our earthly lives. When this life is over, jackpot! We move into heaven, where the splendor is beyond anyone’s ability to imagine.

We may have troubles in this world, but temporary trouble doesn’t change our future. God’s children will ultimately be OK. Believe it.

If you’re having trouble with joy, here’s some practical advice from Psalm 95:1: “Come on, everyone! Let’s sing for joy to the Lord! Let’s shout our loudest praises to our God who saved us!” So many Bible verses associate singing, shouting, and praise with joy. When you’re running short on joy, try shouting a praise at the top of your lungs. Or enthusiastically singing a worship song. Or a roar a heartfelt hallelujah.

Our God is faithful. Our future is amazing, and it’s guaranteed. We have every reason to abound in joy.

Dear God, I want to live “joyfully ever after.” When my world is noisy and confusing, help me rest in your quietness and peace. When I don’t see how things can turn out OK, help me focus on your provision and kindness. Let me shout your praise and sing for joy in the midst of any storm. Fill me with your joy. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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fruit of the spirit

Joy Part 1: Steadfast Assurance

“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:11)

Most people can look back on happy moments in their lives. Yes, I got my dream job! Yes, I’ll totally marry you! Yes, I’m at a luau in Hawaii! When we look back on the highlight reel of our lives, we remember the feelings of bliss and satisfaction, and we associate those feelings with joy.

But what about those other times when our lives fell apart and we were faced with struggle and pain? When we look back on those times, we may remember feeling disappointment, despair, and desperation.

Where is joy in those moments? Is it possible for joy and tears to dwell together? Is it really possible to be joyful in every season of life?

The answer is, yes! We were created by God to be filled with joy at all times. We can be disappointed, in pain, or weeping but still have joy. It’s common and easy for us to confuse happiness with joy. Happiness says something about our circumstances. Joy says something about our faith.

Kay Warren wrote the book, Choose Joy. Here is a quote that gives an interesting and valuable explanation of joy:

“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

Today, let’s talk about the first part of this definition of joy: Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of our lives. “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives” (Psalm 37:23). A “settled assurance” means we made up our mind about it, it’s settled, and nothing will change our mind. In this case, what we’ve settled is that God directs our steps, he has a vision for our lives, and he controls every detail of our lives.

Settled assurance means we trust God regardless of the ups and downs we encounter in life.

St. Theresa of Lisieux is an example of joy and steadfast assurance. She had an encounter with God at age 14 and entered a convent to devote her life to God. She lived each day with unshakable confidence in God’s love and direction. After a long struggle with tuberculosis, she died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24.

In the last month of her life, struggling with disease, she said, “What God chooses for me, that is what pleases me.” She wanted what God wanted for her life. St. Theresa lived with joy because of her settled assurance of God’s control of her life.

Really, how could we ask for anything other than what God chooses for us? Could our feeble human brains construct a life better than the life God plans for us? Of course not!

To live with joy, we must give up control of our lives and offer that control up to our Father who loves us. In the words of Carrie Underwood, we let Jesus take the wheel. We rejoice in his plan, find joy in living out his will for our lives, and fully trust his direction.

God has a perfect plan for our lives, and that plan includes a heart overflowing with joy.

Dear God, I give you glory. I praise you for your love, mercy, and grace. Lord, in the middle of the good, bad, awesome, and overwhelming, let me rest in you. Quiet my doubts. Give me a settled assurance of your goodness, your love, and your involvement in the details of my life. As I delight in your plan, let me experience your joy. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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fruit of the spirit

Joyful Endurance

“We look away from the natural realm and we fasten our gaze onto Jesus…His example is this: Because his heart was focused on the joy of knowing you would be his, he endured the agony of the cross and conquered its humiliation…” (Hebrews 12:2)

Many people in my family are fast and athletic, but not me. I’m slow and uncoordinated. In spite of this, I joined the track team my senior year in high school and ran the two-mile event. I don’t know what it’s like to come in first place to the cheers of adoring fans, but I do know what it means to endure until I finally finished the two-mile course.

Running a two-mile race is hard. Running a marathon is harder. In Hebrews 12:1, life is represented as a marathon. Just like a marathon, life requires endurance.

When we fix our gaze on Jesus, we run our races well. “We look away from the natural realm and we fasten our gaze onto Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1). When we ignore Jesus, our example, and look instead on the circumstances of our lives, we struggle to endure.

Jesus didn’t focus on his circumstances. He endured by focusing on joy. “…Because his heart was focused on the joy of knowing that you would be his, he endured the agony of the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2).

When Jesus was going through the agony of crucifixion, he didn’t focus on the pain. He focused on the joy he would have in the future when his pain secured our redemption. He joyfully endured his painful present because he was confident of his joyful future.

The Greek word for “endured,” in Hebrews 12:2 is, “hupomone.” It doesn’t describe a grim, hopeless, resignation-to-an-unpleasant-situation kind of endurance. On the contrary, it is a picture of triumphant endurance, like a marathon runner who endures while looking forward to victory. Hupomone endurance is a joyful endurance filled with hope.

“So, consider carefully how Jesus faced such intense opposition…so that you won’t become worn down and cave in under life’s pressures. After all, you have not yet reached the point of sweating blood in your opposition to sin” (Hebrews 12:3). We’re told to, “carefully consider,” what Jesus endured. We haven’t endured anything compared to what he went through.

What agony can we endure? Most of what we face in our lives pales when compared to the agony Jesus went through. If he could find joy in the midst of his unimaginable pain, we can certainly find joy in our circumstances.

Joy is continuously available to us. As we steadily fix our eyes on Jesus, we grow in the joyful endurance needed to finish our race in triumph.

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me your joy. Thank you for your example of focusing on joy even in the midst of pain. Help me endure difficulty with hope and joy, knowing it is only for a season. Fill my heart with joy that overflows to the people around me. Use my joy to draw others to you. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Today’s Reading: Hebrews 12:1-4