Ultimate Joy

Archive for December 2009

Enjoying the tropical paradise of a Hawaiian resort during a recent vacation meant visiting a lava koi pond every time my husband, Richard, and I walked from the parking lot to our room.   Whenever anyone would approach its edge, the fish would gracefully race over to them.

The child in me gleefully enjoyed thinking this was their way of saying “hello” back to all who stopped to relish their multihued beauty.  But the adult in me knew that their behavior was based on one thing:  a desire for food.  Even though they were probably only fed once a day, the koi had learned the presence of people meant the possibility of food.

Much like Pavlov’s dogs, they equated people with whatever fine cuisine koi love.  So they quickly left their tranquil exploration of the pond to gather wherever people were standing.  Their zeal was contagious. With a similar eagerness and anticipation, I want to seek the presence of God, creating a wake behind me as I earnestly reach out to my Creator.

But unlike the koi, I want to drop the “What’s in it for me?” attitude.  Instead, I long to reside in the presence of God.  Psalm 32:10 states that “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts Him.” It is true that in the presence of God, I slip the disappointments and stresses of this life, but that is pale in comparison to basking in the priceless abundance of God’s unfailing love.

God loves us so much He leaves plentiful clues teaching us about His character…to give us hope, to reveal His grace and offer deliverance.  Portraits of Him abound – not just brightly colored fish in a tropical pond.  Encountering the presence of God in our daily lives is of singular significance.  It is an awesome, unmistakable experience. Similar to the koi’s hungering for food, my spiritual longing should include the holiness of God.

Often times my life with God does not feel like the feast my koi friends anticipate. That is my failure, not His.  My journey towards God should be one of feast, not famine…secure in the knowledge that “His love reaches to the heavens and his faithfulness to the skies.”  (Psalm 36:5-6)

When my parents purchased the house that was my childhood home, one selling factor was its close proximity to a large city park.  That park became a quiet oasis for me.  I’d walk there during the spring to revel in the first blooms of the season, in the summer to touch the azure sky helped along by the swings, in the fall to watch football games, but winter was always special.  The football field was frozen into an expansive ice skating rink.  I’d spend hours and hours there, forgetting the cold and windchill.  My mother often would have to send my brother or sister to retrieve me for dinner and homework.

So it is probably the most ironic part of my life that, as an adult, I hate winter.  I loathe the cold, the inconvenience of snow and the dark, long days.  While many enjoy the hush of newly fallen snow, I see only the isolation of being forced indoors for many months.

 Human life is made up of bright rays of sunshine followed by stormy rain clouds.  Brightness and gloom, shadows and sunshine.  The warmth of summer followed by the harsh cold of winter.  Living an abundant life means finding joy in both.

During the bitter cold of disappointment, the presence of the Lord is the safest place to be.  Psalm 31:19 says, “How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you.”  It is through worship and adoration that we are drawn into God’s presence. 

The joy of winter is found in God’s abundant reminders of His love.  There is splendor, beauty, majesty and grandeur in these days.  Each unique snowflake is a wonder to behold.  The stillness of the air hovering over the new snowfall whispers God’s love.  The ice crackling underneath our boots carrys the song of the enormous care God has for us.

Winter from God’s perspective means exploring the fun and surprises He puts in the season.  It means seeing the adventure, savoring the moments and gathering the blessings. 

To me, it means reveling in the “wow moments” God brings to my life…even in the dead of winter.

On Saturday, my husband, Richard, and I went to prison! 

Volunteers from my church traveled to the only maximum security prison in Illinois for female youth offenders to share the good news of Christ’s birth.  We met in small groups for conversation with the residents, heard the Christmas story, had lunch and then sang various worship songs and Christmas carols. 

What made the afternoon so special, though, was the music.  This was not your mama’s organ music.  Four members of the church band rocked the place; blew off the doors and the roof would be more exact.  The highlight was when the residents formed a conga line and danced around the auditorium in a spontaneous celebration.

Once again, that proved to me something I’ve known all along – it is impossible to be sad when you are praising God.  For about a half hour during the worship time, the girls forgot where they were, forgot they were alone, forgot they’d spend Christmas separated from their families.  They were girls once more…singing, dancing and enjoying life.

Worshipping God doesn’t mean just singing.  Anything can be an act of worship.  I Corinthians 10:31 tells us “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  This means that our daily grind can be honoring to God!  Our studies, our habits, our interests and our relationships are all able to reflect some aspect of God’s character. 

The afternoon was extremely memorable because for several hours, I was partly responsible for making the invisible God visible in this world.  The girls weren’t the only ones that forgot their sorrows.  I stood in utter joy and amazement as I experienced God’s unrelenting love in those dismal, cold surroundings.

A concern for the glory of God is the ultimate motive for Christian living.  So, the most important question I need to ask myself in any decision is whether it will reflect God’s glory or deflect it.  I need to remind myself daily that all I do is for the glory of God.  And when I weave the concern for the glory of God into the fabric of my life, I experience an eloquent, intimate relationship with Him.  I see God working powerfully and dramatically in my life.  With my eyes focused on the celebration, I can live in an uncompromising bond with the God who saves, restores, comforts, encourages, exalts and blesses.

On December 1, my beloved Rascal dog passed away.  Though her illness was known for months, her death came unexpectedly and suddenly.  That morning, she enjoyed one of her favorite activities, basking in the sun outside our home for almost an hour.  I miss her terribly.

 

Her passing leaves a very raw wound.  As I begin the painful process of mourning my beloved canine friend, I don’t have to do it alone.  Many caring friends have given me the grace to cry, to tell countless Rascal stories, to not be myself for a while, but most importantly, to lean on them a bit more during this season of sorrow.

The Healer of Broken Hearts has never left my side.  The Bible says, “God cares what happens to a tiny sparrow even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail.” (Matthew 10:28, The Message)  Christ, who knows my name, who feels my heartache, who collects my tears in His bottle is my constant companion.

Sorrow is a part of life. Living by faith never exempts me from problems. During the challenges of life, it is a deeply rooted faith that keeps me trusting God even when I don’t understand…when I don’t wish to taste the unpleasantness of life.

I can say I am a joyful person, but if I do not remain faithful to God in the midst of mind-jarring grief, then I’ve missed the integrity of heartbreak – the act of loving and worshiping my God even when I don’t feel like it.  God understands my sorrow. Faithfulness does not mean I must be perpetually happy.  God doesn’t want me to walk around with a plastered, unnatural smile on my face.    Jesus himself wept and understood crushing despair.

Joy in heartbreak is only found by trusting God – by not letting bitterness, resentment or anger harden my heart. He is always at work in my life.  When I feel pain or see my life taking an unexpected turn, I question, “Wait.  What is this?  I don’t know if I agree.”  It is in those tough moments that I must confidently surrender my plans to His – to trust Him when I want to reject what is happening.

God can only give the best to me, because second best is not a part of His nature, His character, or His heart. If I call upon Him to help, He will not let me slip through His hands; if I drink from His fountain I will never taste tainted waters; if I walk in His footsteps, I will never be led into pathways of confusion. 

Rascal was a great dog.  Her loyalty and trust echoed God’s faithfulness to me. Sharing life with her was one small reminder of God’s significant love for me. The sorrow of losing her propels me into the only place I can find comfort – God’s arms.  Running to Him means that I am actually in the highest place I could ever hope to be – allowing God to be the everything that I need.