joy

How do you ‘Rejoice’ when you are really, really sad?

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While my own life is pretty good at the moment, I know several people who are in very hard circumstances. Are there are also times where things happen in my own life that get me down.

Joy has been a big topic that my friends and I have been talking about lately, and once of us voiced this question the other day: “People tell me all the time to be grateful for [the good things in my life], and I am, but that doesn’t change that right now my life is hard.”

And I totally get it. Often when hard things are happening, people try and tell you to be thankful, trust God, and kind of imply that you can just stop being sad and feel happy again.

But that doesn’t work. Sadness can be a valid emotion. To steal a line from John Green, “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”

But I also know that God tell us to ‘rejoice’ in Him.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Phillipians 4:4-9 NIV

 

So how do you rejoice, while experiencing grief and pain?

I used BibleGateway.com to search for the word ‘rejoice’ in the New Testament. And scanning through the results, I noticed a trend.

Many of the times the word is used, it’s telling people to rejoice because of our hope in an eternity with God.

And I think that’s the balance. It’s possible to feel sad, and yet have thankfulness and hope because of the eternity God has planned for us.

I also asked my friend Daisy  her thoughts on the subject, as her life has been extremely difficult, yet she faces each day with joy.

She said that when she’s struggling for joy, she spends a lot of time reading the Bible – even hours – because, “It reminds me that I am His”.

She also makes a conscious effort to praise Him for the salvation and love that He offers.

What about you? How do you seek joy in the midst of grief? Share your thoughts below!

 

Why did God wait to teach me about joy?

Joy.

What does that word really mean?

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Let’s backtrack. Two weeks ago, I blogged about my first major ‘lightbulb’ moment of this year. To sum it up in three sentences: multiple people I’d looked up to really let a lot of people down. I was mad. God helped me forgive them (a story for another day) and I realized what my life would be like without God—and the amazing difference He makes in it every day.

That’s had multiple effects on me over the past six months.

First, it cleared up that whole lingering doubt that you can read about in last fortnight’s post.

Second, it unlocked a whole area of joy and thankfulness for me.

Every time I get mad, I think of what it would be like, and I’m just so glad that didn’t happen.

When I have a flash of fear that I’ll always be single, or life is stressful, or my book edits seem to be too much for me, I remember what He’s saved me from.

Do I skip around singing about daisies all day long? No. But a sense of profound thankfulness does fill me, because I can clearly see two Jessica’s in my head and I’m just so glad that one of them isn’t me.

The thing is, ever since I was 18, I’d picture my life without God, wondering what it would be like. And it was never a pretty picture.

But that was different to this. I still struggled with joy, trust and doubt.

But in March, where all of a sudden I could imagine ‘alternate universe Jess’, it was so clear, and the gratefulness was immediate. It was like God flicked a switch in my brain.

Why did He take six years to do it?

I have no idea. I don’t think it was because I was doing anything wrong. I have pursued God my entire life.

All I can say is, He decided the timing would be six years. And how can I argue with that?

All I can say is, if you doubt, don’t walk away to figure it out. Keep the conversation with God open. You can be mad, sad, whatever. Just keep searching, keep pursuing, keep talking.

 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Matthew 7:8-9 NIV

I know, sometimes it doesn’t feel like he plans to answer. I waited six years. I’m sure others have waited longer.

But there was encouragement along the way, in those six years. He sustained me. He taught me things. And now I’m getting to use the things I learned in our new church plant.

So my prayer for you today is, no matter how long it’s been, don’t give up on God. He’s not gonna give up on you.

What Does God Think About Fun?

 

Catching some rays at Bondi.

Catching some rays at Bondi.

Did you know that enjoying life can be part of being a good witness for God?

I sure didn’t. If anything, I thought the opposite; that enjoying yourself too much meant you weren’t spending your time and money on more worthy causes.

I was also overly aware of how things in life can go wrong. Even while having regular fun with my family or friends, I would clench up inside and think, “Remember, life won’t always be this good. I will get old, people will die, and things will get tough. Don’t get so used to the good things that you can’t handle the bad.”

Boy, I sound like a bundle of laughs, don’t I?

But I had a lightbulb moment in December as I sat with a friend, discussing whether I should go on a overseas holiday or not.

I expressed a concern that it was a lot of money just to spend on fun. He (a non-Christian) went on to tell me about a family member of his; a religious and very-obligation-driven person. He said he watched the way his family member lived and believed that her ‘religion’ sucked all the joy from her life.

I don’t want to be like that. That is not a good witness.

Since then, I’ve seen and heard little things during my day-to-day life that has reinforced this ‘revolutionary’ thought:

Joyfully embracing God’s gifts on earth brings him glory. Having fun can be part of being a good example of a God-follower. And being a grinch glorifies no-one.

So my one and44020957958040__405x720-ARGB_8888-1545801598 only New Year’s Resolution for 2015 is to live a more joyful life.

I got off to a good start, enjoying a family Christmas at the beach before I travelled to Sydney to spend New Year’s with one of my brothers and some friends. We watched the famous fireworks at Sydney Harbour, tanned on Bondi Beach and ate at Darling Harbour’s Hard Rock Cafe.

Now I’m back at work, enjoying getting back into routine. However, my new routine is going to include a lot less pressure on myself and a little more downtime.

As part of that, I have decided to blog once a fortnight instead of every week. I will still post at the regular time, but it will be every second week starting from today.

I look forward to another year full of growth as we continue our journeys with God.

 

What about you? What did you learn over the holiday period? Share below!

God’s Not Disappointed With Me

Photo by Ramzi Hashisho, sourced from freeimages.com.

Photo by Ramzi Hashisho, sourced from freeimages.com.

Do you know, I felt a little weird writing that title?

That’s how ingrained the thought process is in my head. And up until last week, I didn’t realize it.

Lately I’ve posted about what God’s teaching me in the areas of stressjoy and my theory that just because you feel something, doesn’t mean you have to believe it.

A big part of combating stress and seizing joy has been sniffing out the lies in my head and replacing them with God’s truth.

I already knew there were triggers that made me feel blah. The big ones were:

  • A feeling that God’s given me an amazing life and opportunities and I’m not giving enough back.
  • Stress that I’m making the wrong decision (not wrong as in sinful, just wrong as in ‘this other one would work better’).
  • Worry about money/career/future/house, etc.

The first two things on this list especially contributed to a general feeling that God wasn’t happy with my efforts, but I didn’t know how to fix it. A feeling that He was disappointed.

Since I decided to stop stressing and instead actively pursue joy and peace, I’ve been on the lookout for this yucky feeling. It’s been an eye-opener—not even I realized how often it was getting me down. It was all the time! But I’ve found some important truths to fight it:

  • Yes, God has given me an amazing life. But I have been on the lookout for opportunities to join Him in His work. I’ve been obedient, I’ve been faithful. I’ve taken action when the chance arose. And I’m asking for His help to further improve. The only reason I think I’m not giving enough back, is because I can’t see churches full of people I’ve converted.  But last week I posted about how God doesn’t measure success by numbers. What matters is faithfulness, so if I’m faithful, I’m all good.

You worry every time you must take a turn. You often freeze up and cannot make a decision.

  Yep, that’s totally me. You know what Henry Blackaby was describing here? People who don’t trust God to lead them one step at a time.

  It’s a common pattern throughout the Bible—God often called people to action, but only gave them one piece of the puzzle at a time. If I trust        Him and make sure I’m obedient one day at a time, then each day I know I’m right where He wants me.

  • Worry about the future is basically a lack of trust in God—something I’m very aware of, have posted about before and am dealing with.

And just like that, the foreboding feeling that I’m a disappointment to God is disappearing. It’s being replaced with a desire for more of God, and the knowledge that if I’m listening and obedient one day at a time, I’m okay.

Actually, I’m more than okay. 🙂

Can you relate to my story? How has God addressed your fears or worries? Comment below!

 

 

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Brand New Day!

Welcome to the new and improved site, everybody!

Along with the new-look website, I am making a few changes. I will now post regularly on a Friday, (and occasionally throughout the week), and I will regularly update my ‘recommendations’ page.  Keep an eye out for some great books and websites!

Today I have a guest post up over at Jennifer Slattery’s blog; check it out and join the conversation here.

Jennifer Slattery

Here’s a taster:

“I don’t believe Your timing is right.”

“I don’t believe You can accomplish Your purposes through my life and writing.”

“I don’t think You can reach the hearts that are ready for You.”

“I don’t think You can take care of my financial needs.”

Have you ever caught yourself saying this to God?

Probably not. Few people say these things out loud, or even in their heads. But the other day I realized that I was saying all that to God through my actions….

 

You’ll have to visit Jennifer’s site to see the rest!

I Have Been Missing Out

Do you wait for joy and peace to hit you in the head?

Photo sourced from EveryStockPhoto.com by familymwr, used under licence. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

Photo sourced from EveryStockPhoto.com by familymwr, used under licence. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

I did. And I wish I hadn’t wasted years doing so.

I used to wait around for those feelings to magically appear, slogging through life until they did. When they came, I was happy. When they left, I fretted and stewed until they floated my way again. It never clicked that I could skip the stressing stage and chase after them.

Now I know that I have to ask God to help me change. I have to recognize my worries as a lack of trust in God and decide to put my faith in Him. It’s taking time, but it’s working! I wish I’d done it long ago.

Same with my relationship with God. Sometimes I’d feel really close to Him, but usually I wouldn’t. That didn’t bother me too much; I knew that emotions were fickle and not to be trusted. And it’s not like I paid no attention to God; I’ve always taken Him seriously and had a devotion time pretty much every day. But there would still be times when I coasted along, and times when I really dug in, chasing after God.

I’m lucky to now be part of a group that meets weekly, not for a routine Bible study, but to chase after God. We pray and sing and talk, and while I’ve been doing those things my whole life, there’s something special this time. We’re all meeting together because we want to seek God. We want to drive in closer to Him. We want to chase after Him. And He’s happily letting us catch Him.

Does this mean all things are easy? Most certainly not. We’ve all got stuff going on in our lives. But as I go after God more and more—with my friends and individually—I’m discovering again how I only ever really find myself in Him.

I think often people are afraid they’ll lose their individuality and become another zombie robot Christian, doing only God’s work and none of the things they’re interested in. But in reality, it’s the opposite. I’m only really finding myself, my purpose, my joy, my creativity and my individuality in God. On my own, I’m another zombie robot Millennial, busy with my family and job and hobbies. But the more I get to know God, the more I feel like there’s a whole other dimension out there that I’ve been blind to, and it’s so much more important than the things I’ve been focusing on. Wouldn’t it be sad to get to the end of your life and realise you’ve totally missed the point of it?

I’m starting to think that I need to passionately pursue God, even when I don’t feel passionate about Him. I always thought I was okay because I spent time with Him and obeyed Him. And I was okay—but I wasn’t great. Even though I was chugging along, I wasn’t chasing after more. I never prayed, “God, give me more of you.” But now I see that this Holy Relationship is like a marriage—even the happiest married couples never stop learning about each other. And the further you go, the greater the relationship is.

The leader of the group I attend often starts the meetings off by praying, “God give me more of You. I need more of You.” The first time I heard that I thought, “Huh. I don’t think I’ve said that before.” I was a bit surprised, because I’ve always considered myself quite serious about God.

As I kept coming along to the group (we’re called Project X—check out the website here) I’ve seen this example lived out in the lives of my friends. I’m seeing that I want to chase after God too. I’m not content with what I have of Him; I need more. Even though I already knew my purpose was wrapped up in God, now I’m understanding it. How can we get distracted with the world when, at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter? And yet it happens so easily.

The more I know God, the less willing I am to allow myself to get distracted. I want Him. I need Him. I want to join in His work in the world—I want to be part of the stuff that does matter.

Sometimes a new TV series will come out on DVD or I get good ideas for my book and I’ll be very distracted by the world for a few days… or weeks. But if I pray for God’s help in loving Him, He will come through. He will help me love Him. He’ll help me not get distracted, He’ll remind me to practise discipline, He’ll show me how mind-blowing He is and how meaningless everything else is.

And slowly, inch by inch, I’m transforming.

 

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

James 4:8 NIV

…Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 NIV (emphasis mine)

My Heart is a Big Fat Liar

I suspect my heart is a culprit in the theft of my joy.

shattered heart

A week ago I wrote in my journal that I feel like God’s next lesson for me (in addition to recent lessons on trust) is about joy. More specifically, how to have more of it.

Yesterday morning I woke up after a restful sleep-in; it was the first morning of two days off work. I’d had great fun the night before, yelling at the TV with my housemates (it was a really dramatic episode of Chicago Fire!). But I woke up with guilt weighing me down. It wasn’t sumo wrestler-sized guilt; more like those exercise weights you strap to your ankles. It just made everything a bit harder.

Why? I wasn’t sure. But I felt unproductive, like I’d wasted chances given to me and God was frowning.

It’s not the first time and I know I’m not the only one. About eighteen months ago, I was sitting on a hotel rooftop in Warangal, India, having a devotion time with my seven mission trip teammates. We were all listening as one of us confessed that he’d been feeling distant from God and cynical about his faith for months. The feeling was eating at him, and he didn’t know how to fix it. He was torn apart by fear that this feeling meant something was fundamentally wrong with his relationship with God.

The view from our hotel rooftop in Warangal.

The view from our hotel rooftop in Warangal.

As I listened, I remembered something my Mum once told me during a difficult period of my teenage years: We all have our logic, spirit and emotion. And sometimes Logic and Spirit have to grab Emotion by the arms and drag him along, kicking and screaming. Sometimes, we have to ignore our feelings—our hearts—and go with what we know is the truth.

I’ve also heard of a pastor, who, when someone tells him, “I feel far away from God,” immediately asks, “Are you sleeping, eating and exercising right?” He believes that these are the most common causes for a feeling that God is distant or unhappy.

I don’t want to minimize emotions relating to a tragedy, clinical depression or a spiritual distance caused by sin. Those are real issues, and they need dealing with. What I’m talking about is that vague feeling that God’s looking at me, frowning—and I can’t figure out why.

So today, I’m proposing a new theory: Just because you feel something, doesn’t mean you have to believe it. Even the Bible says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9 NIV)

I think a lot of people—including myself and my teammate—freak out when our emotions tell us that we’ve moved a long way from God. We assume that we are a long way from God and immediately take action to rectify the situation, despairing when nothing changes.

Then one day, the problem is magically gone. Why? It was never there to start with. You probably just had messed-up hormones that week.

Yesterday I woke up and prayed for a while, trying to relieve my heavy feeling. Then I looked back over my week and realized that I’d been working pretty hard. I hadn’t been unproductive. And the feeling that I’d displeased God with my laziness was just…wrong. And with that realization, the feeling evaporated.