Strive for Joy

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking
but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.””
(“Romans 14:17)


I think that’s become my motto for life right now.  If you’re not familiar with the term, the best definition is “boredom or indifference” and whether or not you ever said, it, as soon as you hear it, you know exactly what it means when you hear it.

Sometimes life is “meh.”  Don’t get me wrong.  My life is anything but boring right now.  Between work, family, and all the kid’s extracurricular activities (church, sports, etc.) I feel like a dog chasing his own tail.

Yet in all the rush, I’ve found that all the meaning, all the joy of life, is somehow gone.

Deep in my heart, I know that life in Christ isn’t supposed to be “meh.”  I know that we have been given new life in Him, and that life is lived before a glorious God in the awesome power of His Holy Spirit.  I know that, in Christ, my life is part of a bigger picture, a grander story, the Divine Drama of redemption, love, and eternal glory.

But it’s too easy, in the midst of the unfolding of that drama, to get distracted.  I get caught up in the scenery, missing the forest for all the trees.  I lose my sense of purpose.  I’m too easily distracted.  I chase the rabbit trails, and pretty soon I find that all the joy of the journey is gone.

I was once warned to be on the watch for “joy-suckers,” those people who would attach themselves to you and rob you of all joy in the Christian walk.  There are some people who aren’t happy unless everyone else is miserable, and their burden is so great that it tends to rob you of your own joy.  Be warned, if you haven’t met them yet, they’re out there.

Still, there are also days when that joy hasn’t so much been sucked out of my life, as much as I’ve lost it myself.  I’ve taken my eyes off of the prize, and can’t remember where to find it.

I want the joy back!  I want to know the richness of a life of faithfulness before a glorious God.  I want to be satisfied in Christ, secure in God’s grace, strengthened by the Holy Spirit.  I long for the fullness of life – not the cheap and tawdry “health, wealth, and prosperity” of the honey-tongued, so-called televangelist – I want that deep and lasting, soul satisfying contentment that only comes from true communion with the Bread of Life.

Realize your life is meant for joy.

Throughout Scripture we see that we were created to know the lasting Joy of God’s presence.  This life wasn’t meant for drudgery and gloominess, with a promise of peace and joy awaiting us in the by and by. No, we were meant to know the joy and gladness of the Lord, even today.

Psalm 118:24 “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Romans 14:17 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

This joy that we long for, ultimately, is the gift of God.  It is a joy that comes from knowing that, by His grace and mercy, we are secure, we are established, and we are growing in love and righteousness by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Gal 5:22).  We were created to know and grow in this lasting joy!

Route out all sin that would  keep you from knowing His joy

If the joy that we long for is from God, then it stands to reason that sin will keep us from knowing His joy.  When we love something more than we love God, when we take our eyes from Him, turning to the left or to the right, when we desire the gifts more than the giver – we will lose sight of His joy.

When the tyranny of the urgent overshadows the importance of the eternal; when life is frenetic, chaotic, undisciplined, and out of control; when all of the passions of the flesh – relationships, status, appearance – take dominance over the Spirit of life, then the joy that we long for will forever be out of our reach.

If you want to know God’s joy, then

 “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self…” Ephesians 4:22–24

“let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”  Hebrews 12:1–2

 Take Care of yourself

I have been reminded recently of the truth that we were created to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Neglecting any of those aspects of life in our discipleship is detrimental to our experience of joy.  If I focus all my energy on keeping my body healthy, but ignore my spiritual health and become lazy in my study of God’s word, then I am not giving all of myself to the Lord.  Neglecting the body is just as much a sin as neglecting the soul.  To strive for the joy of the Lord, take care of yourself.

Exercise, sleep, and eat well – Pretty much self-explanatory.

Manage your Time – Turn off the distractions, delete the games from your phone.  How much time (and money) do we waist on the inconsequential, unimportant things, just to complete then next level of Candy Crush?  There is no lasting joy there.

Read good literature: About God and also about people of God.  Read novels that are uplifting, that compel you to revel in the wonder of God’s world.  Read biographies of people of faith who have also hungered for this joy.

Surround yourself with people who love the Lord and love you.

Worship and Meditate daily on God’s word.

Be patient when it feels as though God is absent

There are times when it feels as though we will never know the Joy of the Lord again.  There are times when God seems distant, as though we’ve done too much, or gone too far.

But the constant reminder of God’s Word is that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ” (Rom 8:39), that we can never go so far as to escape the presence of His Spirit (Psalm 139:7–8), and He is “near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18).

Don’t be “meh.”  Don’t let the clamoring voices of the madding crowd drown out the still small voice of the Lover of your Soul.  Don’t sacrifice lasting joy for momentary pleasures.  Don’t give your heart to anything except that which will truly satisfy.

Strive for joy.  Long for it.  Desire it.  And look to God to satisfy.  “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).


The Tyranny of the Urgent

“Be still and know that I am God”
(Psalm 46:10)

While in seminary, we young, soon-to-be-pastors were warned of the “Tyranny of the Urgent.”  When there is too much to do and not enough time to do it, when we find ourselves constantly moving from one task to the next, a little like standing on an assembly line, with no end in sight. Have you found yourself saying, “I’ll sleep when I die”?  You might have succumbed to the “Tyranny of the Urgent.”

Charles Hummel wrote of this epidemic:

It is not hard work, but doubt and misgiving that produce anxiety as we review a month or a year and become oppressed by the pile of unfinished tasks.  We sense uneasily that we may have failed to do the important.  The winds of other people’s demands have driven us onto a reef of frustration.
We live in constant tension between the urgent and important.  The problem is that the important tasks rarely have to be done today or even this week.  Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait.  But the urgent tasks call for immediate action – endless demands pressure every hour and day.
The momentary appeal of these tasks seems irresistible and important, and they devour our energy.  But in the light of time’s perspective their deceptive prominence fades; with a sense of loss we recall the important tasks pushed aside.  We realize we’ve become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.

I have to confess, I have fallen into this trap.  It probably comes as no surprise to those of you who know me well.  Those here in Cherokee probably just heard a thundering “Well, Duh!” coming from my wife.

A restless, constant, nagging sense of trying to prove myself (not to anyone but myself); a wearying attempt to do everything myself rather than trusting others with important tasks; a never-ending “to do” list; all of this is evidence.  Having a quiet moment of self-reflection (a 30 minute drive without the radio on) was all it really took for this to hit home.

Why has my prayer life suffered lately?  Why have I struggled to find anything to write about in these Mid-Week messages?  Why is my time in the Word become just a matter of reading it so that I can check it off my list of things to do?

Because it has become about accomplishment, about checking off one more thing – not about just being, living, knowing, fellowshipping with my God and Savior.

When I stopped to listen for one moment, Psalm 46 was whispering to me: Ethan, stop, be still, know that I am your God.”

This, I believe is how you break away from the tyranny of the urgent, how you learn to focus on the things that are truly important, and let the seemingly urgent find it’s appropriate place in your life.  Be still, know that God is God.

Here are a couple of things that struck me about that verse:

  • It requires a quieting of the soul
    How often do you quiet yourself?  Turn off the radio, the iPod, the cell phone, the TV, the social media – disconnect yourself from the clamor and chaos around you, quiet your soul.   How much are you missing because you are tuned in to everything else, but you aren’t listening to the Word of God?  There are times, frequently, when we simply need to quiet ourselves before the Lord (Psalm 131).
  • It requires a relinquishing of the assumption of control
    Part of being still and knowing that He is God means letting God be God.  I think one of the reasons we fall into the tyranny of the urgent is because we don’t trust God enough to take care of things, and we, just like Satan, just like Adam and Eve, just like everyone else whose gone before, want to put ourselves in the center of the universe and be the one in charge.
    Part of being still and knowing that He is God means letting God be God.  I think one of the reasons we fall into the tyranny of the urgent is because we don’t trust God enough to take care of things, and we, just like Satan, just like Adam and Eve, just like everyone else whose gone before, want to put ourselves in the center of the universe and be the one in charge.
    YOU ARE NOT GOD, and the sooner you come to terms with that, and give up the illusion that you are in control of things, the sooner you will find peace in your heart.
  • It requires a contentment, a satisfaction in God alone.
    I was listening to a song today (after my 30 minutes of silence) in which the singer repeated several times, “I am satisfied in You.”  It took a while for this to settle in.  I am satisfied.  I am satisfied in God.  I am satisfied.  He has given me everything I need.  I need nothing more than Him.  I don’t need His blessings.  I don’t need His signs.  I have the Lord, and He has my heart.  I am satisfied in Him.

Sometimes we forget to be content in the Lord, to be satisfied in Him.  But when we quiet our souls, when we stop trying to be God, when we give up the frantic scrambling to hold it all together ourselves, then we find the sweet release of God’s satisfying grace that overflows in our lives.

It will take a while for all of this to sink in, for me to get my priorities straightened out.  But I think that just allowing the time to be still, and to let God be God, and to see how He satisfies my every need – I think that’s a start.