Ultimate Joy

Archive for March 2013

The symptoms hit me during a Saturday morning meeting. A low grade headache, nausea and muscle aches came on suddenly. All I wanted was the comfort of my bed. It wasn’t the onset of the flu. No, I recognized the symptoms as burnout brought on by a long, busy week. Because of the frequent times I operated outside of my comfort zone that week, my body was simply telling me, “I need some rest.”

Not wanting to give in to my fatigue, I did the next best thing or so I reasoned. When I got home I grabbed a good book and laid down on the couch. My thought was to read a chapter or two, then get up and tackle my list of chores. But you know the story…I got comfortable, warm, contented. Quickly the book was put aside and I took a much needed nap.

When I woke up, my body felt rested; so much so I also didn’t want to get up. I was cozy, relaxed, ready to camp out on the couch for the rest of the evening. Only one problem, though. I had signed up to serve communion that evening at church. That’s when my contentment started speaking to me. “You don’t really have to go. It’s a big church. They don’t need you. They have plenty of volunteers. Someone else will do your work.” I snuggled even further under the blanket lingering longer on the couch.Trays of Bread and Wine for Communion

Yet the Bible is very clear about situations like this. Matthew 5:37 tells us, “Let your ‘yes’ by ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” A war began stirring in my soul. I didn’t want to get up. I simply didn’t want to go to church that evening. I wanted to savor one of the few moments of rest I had that week. “I don’t want to go,” I explained out loud to my dog curled up on the floor at my feet.

But I had given my word.

Reluctantly, I rose from the couch and drove to the service. There I discovered the most interesting dynamic: God didn’t tell us that our word should be our bond to be mean. No, He told us that to safeguard our character. Had I stayed on the couch that evening, I doubt anyone would have noticed. But I would have sold out my reputation, my integrity for a few extra moments on the sofa. In the long run, it just wasn’t worth the price.

After distributing the elements, I returned to my seat and held them preciously in my hands. They offered me redemption of another kind; soul redemption, an eternity with my creator. Having struggled to be there, I saw the sacrament in a new light.

When you say ‘yes’ to God, you become a living, breathing, walking display of His glory. All of us are just one step of obedience away from the next great, godly adventure and the mountaintop moments that follow. Are you willing to abandon what makes you comfortable to embrace what makes you fulfilled? Are you ready to exchange cozy for the confidence He provides?

Not only did God love us enough to die on a cross, He loved us enough to send a roadmap to a more joyful life. All we need to do is let our ‘yes’ by ‘yes.’

The brunch buffet chefs made my choices difficult with such a mouthwatering, marvelous array. Hungry after a two-hour drive, I hustled through the culinary selections looking for something extraordinary amidst all the excellent enticements.

There were eggs and sausages, sandwiches and salads. After surveying the tempting abundance, my childish taste buds decided for me. I’d have my two favorite things – pancakes and pizza – mostly because I could. There aren’t too many brunch buffets that feature both, so this was way too much temptation to overcome.DSCN2427

After I made my way to a table and sat down, I thanked God for the bounty in front of me. Oh sure, this wasn’t an extreme high that I’d remember forever. But my meal, because it was so out of the ordinary, was something I would savor.  Thanking God for the opportunity to step away from an epicurean rut was important. After all, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tell us to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

It seemed so appropriate at the time; I marveled at God’s wisdom in asking us to scatter gratitude throughout our lives.  That’s because He knows gratitude gives birth to joy.

Joy is easy when you are staring at a plate filled with your two most favorite foods. But what about those dreary days when you are in a bad mood? What about those days when you feel so far from God that lifting a prayer of thanks from your lips seems impossible?

That’s precisely when giving thanks becomes paramount. The language of a grateful heart raises our soul from the muck of our intense difficulties or even just past the routine, passionless segments of the ordinary world. Gratitude changes the way we see our circumstances. Thanking God for who He is and for what He’s done changes our point of view despite turbulent events, broken dreams and unfulfilled longings.

When we feel distant from God, gratitude is the way back to Him. When we make the world larger than Him, gratitude returns us to intimacy with the One who made the world.

Even if it is nothing earthshaking, but just pancakes and pizza, realizing what God provides changes your perspective and brightens your day. Acknowledging His presence magnifies Him. Thankfulness makes experiencing God easier in the clutter, rush or disappointment of our days. Giving thanks always makes us better able to see, touch, taste and feel the deep goodness of God.

But most importantly thankfulness makes us hungry for even more of Him.

It wasn’t a flood by any means. But the wetness in the ceiling meant something was happening up there. Richard poked a couple of holes to determine the source of the dripping. Thinking he found the problem and corrected it, he returned to Illinois. It was highly evident the problem was not over when the ceiling leaked for another week. Drip, drip, drip into the bucket below.

The plumber I hired was skillful. However, to fix the leak required cutting a large hole in the ceiling and an even larger in the wall outside the master bath. Normally that type of deconstruction would make me nervous, but I knew it was necessary to eliminate the problem…one that could cause even greater damage down the road.DSCN2432

Everyone has areas in their lives where a little more finishing work is needed. Isaiah 64:8 states, “You are our Father. We are like clay and You are the Potter. Your hands make us all.” Under a potter’s skillful hands, the clay is stretched, molded, pounded and shaped according to the vision of the artist. The same is true of us. We are constantly under construction by our God so we can accomplish His perfect plan.

God desires for us to live out His mind-blowing plan for us. To become all God desires of us, we must remain pliable in his hands – to lay ourselves open to the deep, transforming corrections necessary. If I had tried to fix the house leak on my own, I would have failed miserably. But in the hands of a Master plumber, the leak was repaired quickly and correctly. So it is with God! He wants to create something eternally beautiful with us. He wants to make us more like Jesus. And He can accomplish all this with less pain and damage than we ever could.

The dual problems of trust and pride constantly get in the way. I’m not sure I trust God when His shaping hurts; doubting He can do better than anything I could do. But we all have rough edges that need to be removed. Our lives may be so off track we need to be broken and crushed so the Potter’s hands can begin again. Despite this construction work, there are many times in my life, when I look back and can honestly say, “The beauty God created was worth the pain.”

With no agenda, no preset conditions, total surrender demands placing ourselves in the Potter’s Hands. And like the Master Craftsman He is, the bending, breaking and changing under his hands guides us to a life of worth, meaning and joy.

Directing our own lives and agenda only leads to discontent and frustration. Our souls were made for more, so our hearts cry out, “Is that all there is?” But if we surrender our lives to God, allow His loving hands to shape us, God can relive us of our burden of our anxious striving. The truth is nothing can bring us the peace and joy we’ve been searching for but Him. Are you ready to surrender your broken life into the Potter’s Hands?

Last weekend, I attended a thought-provoking conference. This meant staying overnight, so prior to my departure, I researched accommodations on the Internet. I wanted to go big this weekend, filling it with life and wild joy, so there were two criteria: closeness to the conference site and a place where I could feel pampered. Surprisingly I found a hotel that didn’t break the bank, also!

At the afternoon break, checking into my hotel seemed a good option, so I programmed my GPS and off I went. Handy little devices, these talking wonders…except when they aren’t. Because I am always anxious blindly following their directions, I try to have a vague idea of where my destination is located. I did on this day; still I followed her directions diligently. So imagine my surprise when she led me directly to Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Command Complex.  I kid you not. DSCN2391

Fortunately, the MP at the gate directed me to my nearby hotel. I loved the bright, whimsical décor. What I loved even more was God’s presence in the room. God crafted a meaning to the GPS’ misdirection. He’s always like that, if we listen close enough. With sacred hands, He works behind the scenes weaving pure poetry in the midst of the crush and swirl of life.

The message was clear: “I won’t leave you. I won’t misdirect you. You can trust me and I’ll keep you on the right path. Trust Me, Myra.”

It continually amazes me when God gives us a valuable life lesson in something as simple as a wrong turn. I desired those words right then; craved them in my very soul. My current insecurities had made me vulnerable to my fears.

So God practically screamed into my life: “Exciting things are happening. I’m changing you way down deep.” Despite my doubts and wrong turns, I do feel something new is coming in my life. The problem is I can’t see the path and that’s scary. But with faith, I continue moving forward on His path and my trustworthy God always makes sure there is something solid underneath my footfalls.

That’s what walking by faith is all about…unable to see the destination, inching forward, taking the next step. Even in our lowest, most fragmented moments, when we feel most out of control, God is there.  When we are left wondering, “How will I get from here to there?” God shows up and gives us energy, hope and inspiration.

All we need do is recklessly fall into His arms.