The Most Important Decision

In May of 1970, I graduated from college with a degree in Early Childhood Education. My best friend from college, Beverly, and I got teaching jobs in the same school, so we decided to share an apartment. Three months after our graduation, we moved from the homes where each of us grew up to began our new adventure.

From the time I was a small child, I had always been a part of a United Methodist church, so once Bev and I got unpacked and settled in our apartment, one of the first things I did was look for a Methodist church close to where I was living. I found a church nearby, and started attending the next Sunday. I enjoyed the preaching, and I began attending regularly. Over time, my new pastor and his family became dear friends.

Right after Labor Day, Bev and I began our first year as teachers, her teaching second grade and me kindergarten. I quickly decided that I loved teaching and enjoyed the precious children who had been entrusted to my care. Life was good, and the future looked promising.

Beverly and I both completed our first year of teaching, and we renewed our contracts for another year. We enjoyed summer vacation – three months of receiving paychecks and being free to do whatever we wanted with our time – and then it was time to meet our new students and start again. Between my job and my church, I was content.

I had no idea at the time, but things were about to change. Early in 1972, my pastor preached a sermon based on the novel In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon, which follows the lives of several people who decide to walk as Jesus walked. And he challenged anyone willing to join him in a commitment to ask “What would Jesus do?” whenever a decision needed to be made. My heart was really touched by the sermon, and I decided to take the challenge our pastor had given.

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The very next evening, I had a chance to apply what I had learned. I had made plans with my roommate to go to a play, and we had already bought our tickets. Then my pastor called about a special meeting in a church about thirty miles away, and invited me to join his family for the service. I was facing a crossroads and needed to make a decision. I hated to disappoint my roommate, but I also wanted to honor the commitment I had made the day before. The more I prayed, the stronger I believed that I was to go with my pastor and his family to the service. So I apologized to Bev and agreed to accompany my pastor and his family to the special meeting. Looking back over four decades later, I know for certain that I made the right decision, for that night forever changed my life.

Two major milestones in my life began that evening. First, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. While I’d attended church from infancy, I had never made that decision, and don’t even remember being told that I needed to make that decision. So that important evening, I began my life-long walk under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The guest speaker that evening, Dale Chapman, had recently started a Bible college in Oklahoma City. After he preached, he shared about the school. Almost immediately, I began feeling that God was calling me to attend this Bible college. This first major decision as a born-again Christian wasn’t easy, but the more I prayed, the more convinced I became that this was God’s will. So at the end of the school year, I submitted my resignation to the school board and started making plans to move to Oklahoma City.

That fall, I started Bible college, and soon afterwards met my future husband on an outreach that both of us were a part of. Within a few weeks, we began dating. And at the end of the year of Bible college, we were married in Oklahoma City. After our honeymoon, we moved to Houston and began our life as a married couple. The years since then have included many other defining moments, some joyful and some sorrowful, but none were more life-changing than this first one.

Thus, what started as a simple decision to attend a church service instead of a play turned out to be the biggest defining moment of my life. Mitch and I have now been married for almost forty-two years, and that time has been spent following God’s calling in our individual lives and for us as a couple. I can honestly say that I have no regrets for surrendering my life to the Lord Jesus Christ and doing what He was leading me to do on that l Monday night long ago.

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Chronic Illness and Joy

To understand how all the bad things that touch our lives could possibly be a source of joy, we need a basic knowledge of the effect of sin and the curse that resulted from it. The history of mankind can be divided into three time periods:

  1. The time right after creation, before sin entered the picture. God and man lived together in perfect harmony.  God Himself described this time at the end of the six days of creation by saying, “It is all very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
  2. The era we currently live in, when earth is under the curse because of sin, and life includes mourning, pain, illness, and ends in death. When Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, came to earth, lived a sinless life, and then through His death on the cross and resurrection, paid the full penalty for the sins of those who receive Him as Savior and Lord.
  3. The future time, when the present heaven and earth will have been destroyed and redeemed mankind will live with the Lord in the New Jerusalem, in the new heaven and the new earth. Then, those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus, will not only experience freedom from the penalty of sin; they will be freed from the presence of sin. And the curse that accompanies it.  

As it says of this future time in Revelation 21: 3b-4, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

    I look forward to an eternity spent in the presence of God and with sin and its effects wiped away. But that is still future. We still live on an earth that has been corrupted by sin. Until God destroys the present heaven and earth, and we go to live permanently in His presence on the new earth, the presence of sin will continue. And with it, the presence of pain, mourning, disease, and death. Living with chronic illness is just one part of the curse that has personally touched my life.

    The Curse of Chronic Illness: My Story

    At first, it looked like I had minimal lasting damage from the accident in November 1975 that took the life of our firstborn daughter, Teresa. Though I left the hospital using a wheelchair, with my husband’s hard work making a set of parallel bars for me to use to learn to walk again, and then him being the “bad guy” and insisting that I exercise on it several times a day, I was soon walking with crutches. Before long, I was able to walk with a cane and a little later with no assistance.

    But a few years later, I started having problems with arthritis, which my doctor said was “secondary to the accident.” As years have passed, my physical condition has continued to deteriorate, with new diagnoses many years. Then a couple years ago, one doctor’s office suspected that my symptoms were being complicated by neurological issues, and things started moving downhill at double-time.

    Then, in July of last year (2015), my pain management doctor did an injection in my right shoulder to see if it would help the pain in the shoulder and numbness in the fingers of my right hand. But instead of helping, it made my overall condition much worse.  I spent a week in bed to treat a spinal fluid leak. And when I was able to get up, I had severe pain after less than five minutes of standing or walking. The doctors were stumped. They ordered several tests, but even then had no explanation for the sudden change in my condition. I am no longer able to drive or do most of the housework, and trips out of the house usually now require using a wheelchair. 

    As of today, I still have no answers. I now have over twenty-five diagnoses, and since I’m still waiting to learn some of the more recent test results the list could possibly grow even longer.

    Word of the Year Update

    In the midst of all of this, when I was praying last December about picking a word of the year for 2016, God clearly spoke to my heart that my focus for the new year was to be joy. Frankly, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But after walking with God for almost fifty years, I’ve learned that it isn’t wise to fight His leading. So I began studying Scripture and Scripture-based books about joy.  It’s still January, so I have over eleven months left to focus on joy.  But here are just a few of the things God has already taught me:

    • Joy isn’t the same thing as happiness, which comes and goes with changes in circumstances.
    • Joy isn’t affected by our outward circumstances. In fact, difficult circumstances are the ideal soil for learning to “count it all joy” (Philippians 1:2).
    • Joy is closely tied to giving God thanks in all circumstances.
    • Even in our desert situations, God delights to give us His gifts. We need to be sure to look for them.  (God actually began teaching me this last year, during a group study with God-Living Girls, on Rachel Wojo’s book One More Step.)
    • Joy is the inner assurance than everything is going to be alright in the end, because God is in control.
    • Another way to cultivate joy is by praising God for who He is (His character) and what He has done (His works).
    • Counting it all joy – seeing every circumstance we are facing as an ultimate source of joy – is the key to growing to spiritual maturity.


    The natural response to all that I’m facing is fear and anxiety. But those who are in Christ are no longer limited to natural responses. The supernatural God lives in us, and He will work within us if we will allow Him to do so. And one of the primary ways He is working in my life during this season is through a double focus on joy and on my life purpose of writing (through #Write365). Do you think it’s a coincidence that the next study for God-Living Girls, beginning on February 1st, is entitled “Finding Joy & Purpose in Chronic Illness”? I see it as a God-incidence!

    Hope in Christ Alone

    Is it possible to have hope in today’s world? We live in a nation where many people no longer respect righteousness, where Christians are often being maligned and even taken to court for living according to their Christian beliefs. We may be questioning if things are ever going to change for the better.

    The news has been filled with reports of ISIS killing Christians in Iraq and Syria, but they are now spreading to other nations. Even in Houston, Texas where I live, a man associated with ISIS was arrested a couple weeks ago, fortunately before he had a chance to carry out his planned attack on the largest mall in Houston. News like this can cause us to become gripped by fear.

    So, can we have hope in the midst of these circumstances? Yes, it’s possible. But before I explain, let’s look at the meaning of hope.

    What is Hope?

    According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, it is to want something to happen or be true, and to think that it could happen or be true. This worldly understanding of hope is little more than wishful thinking. Worldly hope is uncertain at best.

    Biblical hope is to desire something with confident or certain expectation of it’s fulfillment. And this kind of hope is based on God’s character and His word, not on our wishes.

    Hope as an Anchor for the Soul

     

    One of my favorite Scriptures concerning hope is the first part of Hebrews 6:1, which says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” The hope referred to here is Biblical hope.  As I studied this verse, the first question that came to mind was, “What is the purpose of an anchor?” I learned there are two main purposes.

    On days when the weather is good, the anchor keeps the boat from drifting. For example, if fishermen locate a school of fish, they want their fishing boat to stay where they stopped it.

    In a similar way, we need Biblical hope even on a day when things are running smoothly. God put us on earth to love and serve Him, and to do that we need to avoid drifting from His will. Hebrews 2:1 (NIV) warns us of the danger of drifting. “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”

    But when storms come, especially on the open seas, the anchor serves another purpose. Large ships often have two huge anchors, each weighing several tons, with chains where each link weighs three hundred pounds. From what I read online, the chains may be three times the ocean depth, adding extra weight to moor the ship. This is meant to keep the ship as steady as possible in the storm, stable so that the winds and waves don’t cause it to roll violently and possibly result in damage to the ship or shipping containers breaking free of their lashings. This can be deadly, or it can result in lost cargo. Paul knew what it was like to be in such a storm, and he described it in Acts 27:18 , “We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard.”

    As Christians, we may never face the kind of storm Paul did. But we will face trials of various types. Whether you are dealing with the loss of a child, as we did, or your trial is simply not having the money to pay a bill on time, how you and I respond during times of testing will make a huge difference.  James 1:2 says we are to “consider it all joy.” And if we haven’t learned that hope is an anchor for our souls, joy probably won’t be our response. We may question God’s love and goodness. We might become angry at God. And unbelief can become a stronghold in our lives, totally side-tracking our walk with the Lord. But with hope based on Gods character and His Word, we can avoid this detour.  As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NASB), we can “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

    Types of Biblical Hope

    Because we serve a God who cannot lie (see Hebrews 6:18), we can trust in anything He has said.

    • In situations that cause unrest, we need to place our hope in God. “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” (‭‭Psalm‬ ‭62:5‬ ‭NIV)
    • God’s Word is our primary source of encouragement and hope. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:4‬ ‭NIV)‬
    • We have hope in God’s love, mercy and faithfulness toward us.  The Hebrew word used here (checed) is broader than just mercy or love. It speaks of all aspects of God’s relationship with those who are in covenant with Him. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy and loving-kindness.” (Psalm‬ ‭147:11‬ ‭AMP‬‬)   
    • We have a “living hope” in Christ, through our new birth. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:3‬ ‭NIV)‬‬  
    • We are now waiting for the “blessed hope”, the return of Christ in glory.  “while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” (‭‭Titus‬ ‭2:13‬ ‭NIV)                                                                                        ‬

    These are just a few of the Bible verses that speak of hope, but they give an overview of the subject.  I’d like to close with one of my favorite songs that we sing at church,  In Christ Alone.

    In Christ alone my hope is found
    He is my light, my strength, my song
    This Cornerstone, this solid ground
    Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
    What heights of love, what depths of peace
    When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
    My Comforter, my All in All
    Here in the love of Christ I stand

    In Christ alone, who took on flesh
    Fullness of God in helpless babe
    This gift of love and righteousness
    Scorned by the ones He came to save
    ‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
    The wrath of God was satisfied
    For every sin on Him was laid
    Here in the death of Christ I live

    There in the ground His body lay
    Light of the world by darkness slain
    Then bursting forth in glorious Day
    Up from the grave He rose again
    And as He stands in victory
    Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
    For I am His and He is mine
    Bought with the precious blood of Christ

    No guilt in life, no fear in death
    This is the power of Christ in me
    From life’s first cry to final breath
    Jesus commands my destiny
    No power of hell, no scheme of man
    Can ever pluck me from His hand
    Till He returns or calls me home
    Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

    Songwriters: ANDREW SHAWN CRAIG, DONALD A. KOCH
    © Universal Music Publishing Group
    For non-commercial use only.

    Embracing the Life You’ve Been Given

    Today, I am linking up with Tuesday at Ten, the weekly blog link-up where you have six days to use the prompt word or phrase as a part of your writing. This week’s prompt word is EMBRACE.

    As I was reading my #First5 devotional this morning, God spoke to my heart. The question was: “What harm has the Lord delivered you from?”  Immediately, I saw one of the most difficult events in my life in a different light. In 1976, we were hit by a drunk driver, and our eighteen month old daughter Teresa was killed. This morning God spoke to my heart, “But I spared your life.” Yes He did, but this had never been my focus.

    Since the accident, my life has been different. Not only did we lose our precious daughter, I also left the hospital in a wheelchair. I was later able to use a walker, and for a window of time even to walk without support. But from that time, my life was different. My health began a downward spiral, to the point where I now have over a dozen chronic illnesses that are directly or indirectly related to the accident. This is the life God is asking me to embrace. And since my Word of the Year is joy, to embrace with joy.

    So how is this possible? It requires letting go of the past and turning my focus on the future. Or as Philippians 3:13b-14 says:

    “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” 

    There are some positive things about living with chronic illness. First, I have lots of free time to spend with the Lord. My daily quiet time is one of the delights of my life, as I spend unrushed time in God’s presence, in prayer and God’s Word. This has helped me grow spiritually, as I seek to be more than a hearer – or reader – of Scripture. God’s Word is gradually becoming the guidebook by which I live, as I lean daily on God’s grace. As James 1:22-25 says, this leads to being blessed.

    “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

    And 2 Corinthians 4:16b-18 makes it clear that God values inward renewal above what is going on outwardly. I can identify with Paul’s words in this passage:

    Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

    Yes, outwardly my body seems to be “wasting away.”  My chronic illnesses could be considered “a thorn in the flesh.” Like Paul did concerning his thorn, I have pleaded with the Lord to take this thorn away from me. God’s answer, for now at least, has been similar to His answer to the apostle in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10,

    “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  

    Finally, Scripture makes it clear that life on earth involves warfare and suffering. Jesus has already defeated the enemy,  but the full effects of His victory won’t be experienced until we go to be with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. Therefore, suffering of some type is usually a part of life on this fallen planet. As it says in 1 Peter 5:8-10,

    “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

    Father, I am choosing to embrace the life You have given me with joy. These are just a few of the blessings You have revealed to me in this particular wilderness. So today, I embrace the life You have given me in love, and the writing that is a part of Your purpose for me.  Thank You for opening my eyes to the truth that you spared my life, so that Your purpose for me would be fulfilled. Help me to seek Your will daily, and to walk in the fulness of what You have for me. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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    Making Bible Study a Priority

    We live in a rushed, high input culture, where distractions are non-ending. This is true, whether you are a Mom with young children or a senior adult as I am. To have an effective time of Bible study requires being purposeful.

    Several years ago, I learned this important truth. Since then, Bible study has been a part of my daily schedule. I have a regular place and time for Bible study. For me, the place is my lift chair, mainly because sitting at a desk or table causes pain from my chronic illnesses to be a distraction. You know what place works best for you. The tim is as soon as I finish breakfast. And my Bible, journal, pen, and reading plan are on a shelf next to my chair, ready to use. My iPad is also available since many of the resources I use during my study time are online, but I’ve made a commitment not to be distracted by checking email or social media until my study time is over. Each of us have different distractions to deal with, but the key is finding the time and place where they are minimized.

    Each year, I choose a specific reading plan. In 2015, I used a chronological through the Bible reading plan. This year, I’ve chosen a plan that covers one book at a time, one chapter a day, allowing me to spend more time digging into the chapter. And I’m supplementing this with a Bible study through God-Living Girls, a group of ladies who all suffer with chronic illnesses.

    Now, with the plan ready and supplies waiting, what do I actually do?

    • I start with a brief time of prayer, asking God to speak to me and to open my ears to listen. If I’m aware of any sin that would separate me from God, I confess it before starting.
    • Next, I read the chapter for the day, from start to finish. Sometimes, I use the YouVersion Bible app to listen to the chapter and follow along in the text. This gives me an overview of the material that I’m studying.
    • Then I ask God to show me which verses He wants me to focus on today. I’ve already read the full chapter, so I’m aware of the context of the shorter passage. I also reflect on what the passage meant to the original readers. I take notice of key words in the passage. Often, this step includes studying one or two words in the original language so I fully understand the meaning.
    • Now it’s time to slow down and listen. Usually God has a specific application for me in the passage, but if I rush through this step I might miss it.
    • Finally, I journal about what God is showing me from this passage. This might be a brief as one or two paragraphs, or if God is dealing with a major area of application I’ve sometimes written several pages.
    • After I complete my study of today’s passage, I use an app called Scripture Typer to review verses I’ve been working on memorizing. If God is speaking to me from a specific verse from today’s passage, I might add that to my list of verses. This app not only helps me memorize the verse, but it sets up a regular schedule of reviewing verses so I don’t forget them. Then I close my quiet time with prayer.

    Bible study by itself doesn’t change our lives – we must follow thought with the applications God has shown us. D. L. Moody said, “The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.”  The effectiveness of your Bible study can best be seen by the positive changes in your life.

    Trust In the Lord

    Today, I am linking up with Tuesday at Ten, the weekly blog link-up where you have six days to use the prompt word of phrase as a part of your writing. This week’s prompt word is TRUST.

    Twenty-first birthdays are usually a time for celebration. Our child is now an adult. Our job of training our son or daughter in the fear and admonition of the Lord is basically over. And our young adult is now ready to spread his wings and set out into the future. But with our son David, none of this was true. David would never be ready to live on his own because of his extensive medical needs.

    David had massive infantile spasms as an newborn, resulting in severe brain damage. And his condition had deteriorated to the point where he was now totally dependent upon others to meet all of his needs. He had a long list of medical diagnoses, and was tube fed and bed bound.

    Prior to his twenty-first birthday, David had received services through the Texas Medicaid children’s health program (CCP), and through it he received 112 hours per week of private duty nursing care in our home. But in Texas, Medicaid recipients lose their eligibility for CCP services when they turn twenty-one. His other Medicaid program, Home and Community Services (HCS), had a cost ceiling that would only allow him to receive four and a half hours of nursing services a day. The Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), the regulatory agency over David’s Medicaid programs, decided that the HCS program was no longer a safe placement for David. In essence, the only options they were giving us were to take care of David’s extensive needs (both medical and financial needs) on our own, or put him in a state school.‬

    After talking with David’s neurologist and pulmonologist, and also visiting the state school closest to Houston, we knew this wasn’t an acceptable choice. David’s doctors said that he probably wouldn’t survive six months with the level of care he would receive at the state school, and even the nurses at the state school said they would not be able to meet his needs. Because of my own disabilities, there was no way I could meet David’s needs on my own, and my husband was at work during the daytime hours. So we began sharing our situation with our church and asking for prayer. We were facing an impossible situation, and we desperately needed God to intervene. And I was facing one of the biggest tests of my decision to trust God, not only for salvation but for every detail of my life. I felt overwhelmed, but to the best of my ability tried to hold onto hope that God would move on our behalf.

    According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, trust is “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”  Trust in God is confidence that what the Bible says about God’s character, ability and strength is true. Was God really in control of this situation? Would He be faithful to make a way for us to continue to care for our precious son in our home? Could God really be trusted,  even in this situation?  We chose to believe God was who He said He was and would do exactly what He said He would do, even if at the time I felt like I was shaking in my boots. We committed the entire situation to the Lord in prayer, then asked Him to show us what steps He wanted us to take.

    The first thing I sensed God telling me to do was to send out prayer updates to our friends.  This was before most people were on Facebook, so every couple weeks I send an update by email. Then one day when I was praying, God brought the name “Advocacy Inc.” to mind. We had never used this advocacy agency for people in Texas with disabilities, but I had repeatedly heard about it during the yearly planning meetings while David was in a home bound school program. So I contacted the Houston office of Advocacy, Inc., now called Disability Rights Texas, to see if they would be willing to take David’s case.
    This was the beginning of the solution to our “impossible” situation.  Because of the precedent-setting nature of David’s case, the two head attorneys from the Austin office decided to take our case.  Then through a series of hearings and court filings, we finally had the settlement we needed. David would continue to receive the same essential homecare services that he had received prior to turning twenty-one. As we obeyed the steps God gave us, God had turned around a situation we in our own strength saw no way out of. And in the process, a legal precedent was set that has helped other families in Texas who were facing situations similar to ours.

    David is now thirty-one years old, and we know that this battle was worth the pain involved. We saw that God really could make a way when there didn’t seem to be a way, and our trust in our Lord and Savior grew. We had learned not to lean on our own understanding – which showed us no way out of this situation, submitted to the Lord by taking the steps He led us to take, and watched in amazement as He straightened a path that in my eyes looked impossible before our eyes.

    Word of the Year: Joy

    In December, as I began reflecting on my normal pattern of making a list of New Year’s resolutions, I sensed God showing me there was a better way. I did some research about the effectiveness – or rather ineffectiveness – of making New Year’s resolutions, and I was convinced that choosing  ONE WORD to focus on in 2016 was a wiser choice.

    God spoke to my heart that I needed to focus on inward change and my outward problems would fall in line. That made sense. After prayer and several confirmations, I knew what my Word of the Year for 2016 was to be: JOY.

     

    Well, the new year is now here and I’m doing some reading to better understand what JOY really means. First, joy isn’t the same thing as happiness. When my circumstances are favorable, I’m happy. But happiness is just a feeling. When something hard happens, I’m definitely not happy. 

    On the other hand, Scripture makes it clear that joy isn’t a feeling. In James 1:2, we are told to “count it all joy” when trials come. Other translations say to “consider it all joy.” Count and consider are both words that have to do with the mind, with how we’re thinking.  So joy is a choice we make in our minds, and it is unrelated to what is happening to us. Joy comes from God. Not circumstances. Not pleasure. Not possessions. Not a healthy body. Not positive emotions. Instead, joy is a choice to honor God’s Word in spite of everything that is happening around us.

    To better understand joy, I started reading Choose Joy Because Happiness Isn’t Enough, by Kay Warren, wife of Pastor Rick Warren. In the first chapter of the book, I found one of the best definitions of joy that I’ve ever read. According to Kay Warren, 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 alright,
    • And the determined choice to praise God in every situation.

    While the three points of this definition are all important, I think unfortunately one important point was left out. In my own personal experience, joy usually begins when I make the decision to consciously look for something I can thank God for in the midst of my difficult situation.

    Or as Rachel Wojo says in her book One More Step: Finding Strength When You Feel Like Giving Up,  “No matter your testing or trial, God has gifts for you right where you are. Smack-dab in the middle of your desert…When we find ourselves waiting in the desert, we can unwrap a few gifts to hydrate and nourish us.”

    Gratefulness in the midst of my desert situation has been my most effective entry into joy. During a recent group study of Rachel Wojo’s book, I made a “Gifts in the Desert” jar,  using the below graphic. When I’m feeling discouraged, I usually start by asking God to show me His gift in this wilderness situation. Then, I write it on a strip of paper and add it to my jar.  For example, I might be feeling down because physical pain is keeping me from attending our Sunday morning church service. But I see God’s gift in the situation – our church services are broadcast live via the Internet.  So I record this gift on a slip of paper, put it in my gifts jar, and lean back in my recliner and enjoy watching our church service.

    Yes, God is in control.

    Yes, everything is going to turn out alright, in eternity if not before.

    And yes, I make the choice to praise God in the situation I personally would like to avoid.

    But before I’m ready to acknowledge these truths and take these actions, I usually start with looking for God’s gifts in this place where I’d rather not be.

    This understanding has made a major change in the way I handle difficult circumstances. I encourage you to try it.