Tag Archives: joy

A Path Into God’s Heart (Part 2): Nowhere


This quote from Brennan Manning completely captured my attention a few months ago:

The music of what is happening can be heard only in the present moment, right now, right here. Now/here spells nowhere. To be fully present to whoever or whatever is immediately before us is to pitch a tent in the wilderness of Nowhere. It is an act of radical trust—trust that God can be encountered at no other time and in no other place than the present moment. Being fully present in the now is perhaps the premier skill of the spiritual life.

There is only NOW…real living is about…experiencing who or what is immediately before us…to live in the present moment requires profound trust that the abundant life Jesus promised is experienced only in Nowhere.” —Ruthless Trust , pp. 150-158                                    

These words transformed my outlook on all of life.

I read them when I was sitting in my car in the high school parking lot, waiting for my son. Suddenly, I was no longer “passing the time” until Josh arrived. I closed the book and became fully present to what was happening in that very moment.

Jesus was here with me! In THIS moment!

It was almost as if He had opened the passenger door, slid into the seat, and greeted me  with a dazzling smile. I had a sudden, electric sense of His very Presence, which seemed to fill the car.

Ever since I became a Christian and learned that Jesus’ very Spirit comes to reside within the heart of every believer, I have known intellectually that He is always with me. And yes, there certainly have been times when I have felt His Presence.

Yet, it was as if He invited me to open my eyes to the incredible reality that He can only be experienced and encountered NOW.

The past is over and the future is not yet…I cannot physically live in either place.

This very moment is where time and eternity meet.

The enemy seeks to do all he can to veil this life-changing truth from me.  He wants to keep me imprisoned in regret over the past (“How could you have behaved like that?”)  and stark fear about the future (“You’re going to lose everything.”).

That is NOT living…and he knows that full well. Remember, he seeks only to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). By keeping me from fully experiencing and seeing NOW…he tries to steal my peace, kill my hope, and destroy my intimacy with Jesus.

However, Jesus beckons me into the beautiful NOW—the only place on this earth where He can be encountered in all His fullness!

All of Him is available to all of me in this moment. Such a staggering thought!

Ann Voskamp beautifully writes of this truth: “Joy is always possible. Whenever, meaning—now; wherever, meaning—-here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience.  The joy wonder could be here! Here—in this messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be—unbelievably—possible! The only place we need see before we die in this place is seeing God, here and now.”  (One Thousand Gift, p. 33).             

Joy filled my heart because…I can do now!

Jesus never asks me to try to figure things out on my own. He does not expect me to store up enough faith to make it through a stressful time. Instead, He asks me:

“Do you have faith in Me right now?”

Are you fully alive this moment? Are you tuned in to the music of now?”

Can you believe for this moment that I love you passionately, completely, unconditionally? That right now, I am doing good to you?”

Would you fully embrace the fact that I am right here with you in all My glory and power? “

Yes! I can do that!  And so can you.

Right here in Now/here, you can have a divine celebration, whatever your circumstances. Yes, even the tough ones. When I am caught up in the reality of His Presence, my trials, though still real and painful, cease to be my main focus. They ultimately become the background because Jesus has taken center stage, driving out fear and flooding the dark places with His light.

Ask Him to open your eyes to the fact that He is risen. He is here. His arms are open.

I have never been so alive. My head knowledge about Jesus is now saturating my heart and the result is such joy…His joy…even though my circumstances are still tough.

My senses have been heightened because every moment is blazingly alive with His animated and energizing Presence.

I feel  the warm sun on my skin.

I savor the taste of my food.

I drink in the beauty of His glorious creation.

I laugh deeper and more frequently. I let tears fall.

I lovingly study the faces of my precious loved ones, celebrating the  sheer miracle  and gift that they are.

I acknowledge my emptiness and invite Him to fill those places and make me whole.

I  can embrace the ache of living in a fallen world, rather than surrendering to despair because His Presence comforts and soothes and heals me as He quietly whispers that this is not all there is…the best is yet to come.

I surrender to His ways because He knows what He is doing and He makes all things beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

I treasure all that my days hold…because every single minute, I  am held in His powerful hand and delightfully, I am the focus of His intense love. Always, He is here…in the now…revealing more of Himself to me and I am continually astonished  by His beauty.

He is writing my story…and yours…in the beautiful, sacred moment called now.

Taste and see.…” (Ps. 34:8)

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The Beautiful in the Ugly


The other day, a dear friend and I were having a heart-to-heart talk.

We are both wrestling with the “whys?” as we each endure a long season that can sometimes sap a soul of strength.  Even when one is surrendered to the sometimes- mysterious- but- always- faithful ways of Jesus, there are still times of weariness.

Prior to our conversation, I had been re-reading One Thousand Gifts  by Ann Voskamp. In chapter 7, Ann recounts a day that was marred by anger, sin, and ugliness. She asks, “How do I  fix this?  Them?  Me?”  

In the messy, Jesus whispers, “What do you want?” and in the ugly, I cry, ‘I want to see YOU…

He speaks soft, “Seek My face.”  

So, Ann begins to count her blessings: “Thank You for here and now. Thank You that You don’t leave us in this mess.” 

Then she writes, ” I look for the ugly-beautiful,  count it as grace, transfigure the mess into joy with thanks.” (pp. 125-127).

And a day is transformed as His grace and love liberated a soul from the suffocating shackles of self.

My mind turned to this passage and I felt as if I was being issued a divine invitation. So I suggested that the two of us make that day a quest to find the beautiful in the midst of the ugly.

The risen Jesus is indescribably beautiful (Revelation 1:10-16). Since He is always present, beauty can always be found.

As soon as I hung up the phone, I prayed, “Lord, open my eyes to see the beautiful in this ugly.”

Almost immediately, the  title of an Anne Graham Lotz book popped into my mind: Pursuing More of Jesus.  I found it easily and began to read.

When I got to chapter 3, I knew I had found the main answer to my prayer, as Anne poured out thunderous praise from a heart full of passionate love for her Savior. Here is what she wrote about Jesus:

He is enduringly strong. He is entirely sincere. He is eternally steadfast.

He is immortally gracious. He is imperially powerful. HE is impartially merciful.

He is the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizons of the globe.

He is God’s Son. He is the sinner’s Savior. He is the captive’s ransom.

He is the breath of life. He is the centerpiece of civilization. He stands in the solitude of Himself.

He is august and He is unique. He is unparalleled and He is unprecedented. 

He is undisputed and He is undefiled. He is unsurpassed and He is unshakeable.

He is the lofty idea in philosophy. He is the highest personality in psychology.

He is the supreme subject in literature. He is the unavoidable problem in higher criticism.

He is the fundamental doctrine of theology.

He is the cornerstone, the capstone, and the stumbling stone of all religion.

He is the miracle of the ages.

He is the key to knowledge. He is wellspring of wisdom. He is the foundation of faith.

He is the doorway of deliverance. He is the pathway to peace. He is the roadway of righteousness.

He is the gateway to glory. He is the highway to happiness. His office is manifold and His promise is sure.

His life is matchless and His goodness is limitless. His mercy is enough and His grace is sufficient.

His reign is righteous, His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

He is indestructible. He is indescribable. He is incomprehensible. 

He is invincible. He is irresistible. He is irrefutable.

I can’t get Him out of my mind and I can’t get Him out of my heart.

I can’t outlive Him and I can’t live without Him.

The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him but found they couldn’t stop Him.

Satan tried to tempt Him but found He couldn’t trip Him.

Pilate placed Him on trial but found no fault in Him.

The  Romans crucified Him but  couldn’t take His life. 

Death couldn’t handle Him and the grave couldn’t hold Him.

He is the Lion and He is the Lamb. He is God and He is Man.

He’s the seven-way King:

He is the King of the Jews…that’s a racial King.

He is the King of Israel…That’s a national King.

He is the King of righteousness…that’s a moral King.

He is the King of the ages…That’s an eternal King.

He is the King of heaven…that’s a universal King.

He is the King of glory…that’s a celestial King.

No means of measure can define His limitless love.

No far-seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shore-less supply.

No barrier can hinder Him from pouring out His blessings…

He forgives and He forgets. He creates and He cleanses. He restores and He rebuilds.

He heals and He helps. He reconciles and He redeems. He comforts and He carries. He lifts and He loves.

He is the God of the second chance, the fat chance, the slim chance, the no-chance.

He discharges debtors. He delivers the captives. He defends the feeble. He blesses the young.

He serves the unfortunate. He regards the aged. He rewards the diligent. He beautifies the meek.

He guards the young. He seeks the stray. He finds the lost. He guides the faithful. He rights the wronged.

He avenges the abused. He defends the weak. He comforts the oppressed. He welcomes the prodigal.

He heals the sick. He cleanses the dirty. He beautifies the barren. He restores the failure. He mends the broken.

He blesses the poor. He fills the empty. He clothes the naked. He satisfies the hungry.

He elevates the humble. He forgives the sinner. He raises the dead!

He supplies strength to the weary. He increases power to the faint. He offers escape to the tempted.

He sympathizes with the hurting. He saves the hopeless. He shields the helpless. He sustains the homeless.

He gives purpose to the aimless., reason to the meaningless, fulfillment to the emptiness, light in the darkness, comfort in the loneliness, fruit in the barrenness, future to the hopeless. life to the lifeless! –(pp. 43-50)

When I finished reading that, I felt like time had stopped as I just sat in the glorious Presence of Jesus, soaking in all of His beauty and magnificence.

He is everything.  

He makes all things beautiful and because He lives, He will always transform the ugly into the beautiful if we invite Him into those places.

That moment opened up the floodgates. Everywhere I looked, I saw the gifts Jesus had lovingly placed along my path…right there in the midst of the ugly. Nothing had necessarily changed in my situation, but my perspective had shifted entirely.

Please don’t be afraid to ask Him to do the same for you today. He will be faithful to do it.

By the way, Anne adapted those words from S. M. Lockridge, who originally shared it. Here’s a video of “That’s My King” with the original words spoken by Lockridge. Enjoy and be blessed.

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Sweet Simple Things


“It is the sweet simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”—Laura Ingalls Wilder

Yesterday, I read of a fellow blogger’s death after a long battle with cancer.

I had never read her  blog before, but as I perused what she had left behind, I was touched by her radiant smile, beautiful photography, courageous spirit, and deep love for her family.

She wrote about the immense joy she found in doing the “normal” things that cancer treatment had made impossible: taking a trip to the mall in search of the perfect prom dress for her daughter, making lunch and dinner,  seeing her kids off to school in the morning, doing everyday chores, etc. These simple, day-to-day things that can be a source of complaint for us at times were instead a rich source of  delight and satisfaction for her.

This lady knew well what Ann Voskamp has written: “Everything is a staggering gift.”

I try to remember that every single day.

There is joy to be found everywhere, if we only have eyes to see.

My prayer for today is that God will open my eyes to the fact that my life is bursting with gifts from above…that He will enable me to stay intensely focused on the present moment…that I will treat this day as if it is my last…so that when I go to bed this evening, there will be no regrets, no moments left un-lived or unobserved, no kind or encouraging word unspoken.

Please pray for Sarah’s husband and two daughters as they begin this new and difficult journey without her.

Hug your loved ones tight today  Treasure your moments. And celebrate the sweet simple things.

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Extreme Joy


The Lord your God is living among you; He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your  fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. —Zephaniah 3:17

This verse describes the  heart of Jesus bursting with divine celebration…over you, if you know Him as your Savior.

Of this verse, author Steve Fry explains in his book I Am: The Unveiling of God: “God’s joy knows no bounds…the word ‘joy’ here is a pretty animated word. In the Hebrew, it literally means: to become excited to the point of dancing in a whirlwind…He gets so excited about you and me that He exhibits the kind of joy that can only be captured in the imagery of a whirling dance.”

Does that not take your breath away? To know that you are the recipient of such divine passion and joy?  Jesus is your joy and, you are His joy!

If you are a Christ follower, Jude 1:24 assures us that there is coming a day when Jesus will “present you faultless before the presence of His glory in triumphant joy and exaltation (with unspeakable, ecstatic delight).

When you are finally in the physical presence of Jesus, He will be filled with ecstasy…rapturous delight, overpowering exaltation, intense feeling! Did you know that He longs for that day? In John 17, He expresses His heart to God the Father when He prayed, ” I desire that they…may be with Me where I am, to see My glory.”

In the original language, the word for this type of  joy means: “exceeding joy, exultation, extreme joy…to leap.”

This is joy getting physical. This is the joy that Jesus exhibits over you.

And He wants you to have and experience that very same joy!

Jesus Himself said that it is His desire “that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11). Jesus wants you to be filled to the brim with joy, to be thoroughly permeated and saturated with His very own joy! 

The closer you are to Him, the deeper your joy.

How do you get closer to Him? Read His love letter to you, which is the Bible. The more you know His Word, the easier it will be for you to recognize His Voice.  See His extraordinary artistic creativity in the beauty of the world around you. Observe His attentive care for your physical needs. Revel in the tender  healing touch He brings to your heart as you begin to apply His precious promises to the places that hurt the most. Live in gratitude for all the blessings you have been given, no matter how small.  Listen to the pure joy in the laughter of a child.

This day—and every day—you are invited into the joy of Jesus.

We see this clearly in Zephaniah 3.  In verse 14, we are encouraged to sing aloud and rejoice and exult with all our hearts to our God. Then in v. 17, we see Jesus doing the same over us! It is a beautiful give-and-take…you enjoying Jesus and Jesus enjoying you!   Bliss!

One morning last week, I awoke with worries threatening to overwhelm my mind.  As I opened my Bible for my devotions, I was led to verse after verse about Jesus’ exultant joy over us. Then, I read about that same  joy in the book I am currently reading. And finally, I heard Beth Moore speak about His joy for us as I listened to one of her DVDs. At that point, it finally dawned on me that Jesus was trying to get my attention! He was encouraging me to see past the cares of this world and take a concentrated look into His delightful heart where Peace and Joy reign.

He was inviting me to fully enter into His joy that was mine for the taking.

I accepted…and a day that had begun gray and cloudy became radiant with the bright colors of joy and hope.

And today, He extends that same invitation to you.

Will you accept?

“The threefold joy of the Lord (is): His joy in ransoming us, His joy dwelling within us as our Savior and His joy in possessing us, as His bride and His delight; it is the consciousness of this joy which is our real strength. Our joy in Him may be a flucuating thing; His joy in us knows no change.”–James Hudson Taylor

(If you are interested in checking out the Scripture references where this kind of joy (agalliao) is mentioned, you can find them at the following addresses: Matthew 5:12, Luke 1:47, Luke 10:21, John 5:35, John 8:56, Acts 2:26, Acts 16:34, I Peter 1:6,8, I Peter 4:13, Revelation 19:7)

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Fullness of Joy


You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand, there are pleasures evermore.–Ps. 16:11

One Sunday morning in January 2002, our small group leader posed a challenge to all of us in his class at our church: Ask Jesus to give you a verse for the new year so that by December, you will have lived that verse. The goal was that for the rest of our days, that Scripture would not just be words on a page to us;  but those words would be written forever on our hearts by the nail-scarred hand of our Savior.

That year was absolutely life-changing for me in so many ways. As a result, I have asked Jesus for the same gift every December. I then begin to keep my eyes and ears open and without fail, He begins to give me the same Scripture over and over again from a variety of sources. By December 31st, I have my verse and my theme for the upcoming year.

Imagine my delight when He disclosed the theme for 2009: JOY! My Scripture was Ps. 16:11 and I was ready for  what would surely be an amazing year! And it was.

However, not at all in the ways I had imagined.

I’ll never forget the day I excitedly told Doug that the theme Jesus had given to me for 2009 was joy. Rather than being as thrilled as I was—because he is a very wise man—he looked slightly green around the gills and tried to summon a faint smile. You see, he knew what I was conveniently overlooking: Jesus doesn’t have to teach you about joy when life is rosy.

Suffice it to say, life didn’t stay rosy for long; trials hit and they hit hard. Among other things, my husband’s job was cut and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  That was my invitation from Jesus to go deeper into relationship with Him…to take a journey into a joy that I had never known prior to that season.

Joy is NOT happiness. Happiness is dependent on favorable circumstances. Joy is a supernatural gift from heaven that can blaze strong and shine bright in spite of circumstances. “Joy (can) express itself in laughter and elation, yet it draws from a deep spring that keeps flowing long after the laughter has died and the tears have come.” —Sherwood Wirt.

Jesus is the personification of Joy. He IS joy. He is the Source of Joy.  Hebrews 1:9 boldly declares this about Jesus: “God has anointed You with the oil of exultant joy and gladness above and beyond Your companions.”

In his book, In The Footsteps of Jesus, author Bruce Marchiano writes: “Yes, Jesus smiled; yes, Jesus laughed. Jesus smiled wider and laughed heartier than any human being who has ever walked the planet. He was young. He radiated good cheer. The real Jesus was a man of such merriment, such gladness of heart, such freedom and openness, that He proved irresistable. He became known among Galilee for His genuine strength, the sparkle in His eyes, the spring in His gait, the heartiness in His laugh, the genuineness of His touch, His passion, playfulness, excitement and vitality: His JOY! He made a dazzling display of love. He set hearts on fire. He was an elated, triumphant young man with an incredible quality of life…so different from the solemn religious types He constantly encountered.”

Yet, Jesus Christ suffered more than anyone ever has or will on this planet. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah. 53:3). However, that immense suffering never affected his joy.  That blazing, divine joy remained abundant and overflowing, even as He went to the cross.

As the difficult season unfolded, I clung to Ps. 16:11. It said that He would show me the path of life.  He knows exactly what is on that path and where it leads. Sometimes that path has some painful detours, but my joy need not ever be affected. Why? Because 16:11 tells me that “in His Presence is fullness of joy.”  His Presence never leaves me;  so His joy is always available.

But I have to choose it.

As Henri Nouwen once said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it everyday.”

Choosing joy became my lifeline…especially when fear filled my heart and threatened to overwhelm me. I clung to the promises in God’s Word  with all my strength. I learned to live within today’s parameters and to focus on  my many blessings, rather than what I lacked. I learned to trust my Savior’s inexhaustible provision.  I learned that Jesus is ENOUGH.

Always.

The joy of the Lord truly became my strength…even when the storms grew in frightening intensity. Yet…to my great delight, I found that the joy of Jesus was…and is… always stronger than the storm.

At the end of 2009, my dear friend Penny made me a wonderful gift that I will always treasure:

This is the first thing I see when the day begins. It is a physical reminder of the intangible yet very real gift of joy.

Joy always triumphs.

Blessings,

Susan

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One Thousand Gifts


As much as I love to read (a quick glance at my “Books I Love” page will attest to that! :), there are few books that I would classify as life-changing.

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp definitely qualifies as a life-changer. Ann is a beautiful, lyrical writer; one who paints breathtaking word-pictures across the hearts of her readers.  I did not want the book to end and the minute I read the last word, I turned right back to the first chapter and began reading all over again! Almost every page is highlighted, underlined, and starred. Simply put, this book powerfully stirred my soul and filled me with joy.

One day in  November a  couple of years ago, Ann received an email from a friend, daring her to make a list of one thousand blessings in her life. That simple exercise proved to be a journey into joy for Ann. She discovered that “thanks is what multiplies the joy and makes any life large…God gives the gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.” (pp. 48, 57).

Joy is a huge theme in my life (more on that subject in posts to come) and when I decided to accept the same challenge,  I was delighted to discover  that  immense joy filled my heart as my eyes were truly opened to all the gifts and beauty that surround me daily: a snow-covered backyard bathed in the light of a full moon;  my son playing a piece from “Fiddler on the Roof”; the sound of my daughter laughing with her friends;  the feel of my husband’s strong arms around me at the end of a long day; the smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven; the sun making the white snow glitter like a million diamonds; sharing childhood memories with my brother. To say nothing of eyes that see, legs that walk,  and ears that hear!  Gifts are everywhere!

As Ann so rightly declares: “…the heights of our joy are measured by the depths of our gratitude.” (p.166).

Life is such a precious gift, bestowed upon us by our Creator.

However, we so often take that gift for granted.

We live, but we are not fully alive.

We see, but we do not savor. (When is the last time you truly gazed at the  faces of the ones you love, rather than just taking a passing glance?)

We pass the time (and sometimes even waste it) , but we do not invest it.

We tend to focus on all that is wrong rather than celebrating what is right.

We rush through our moments  rather than treasuring them .

We worry rather than worship.

This day, choose to see–really see– the gifts that surround you, no matter how small. Begin to name them.

Choose gratitude…and you will find joy.

I do not write these words from an ivory tower. Life has been hard these past several months. Fears loom large, tears spill, and there are more questions than answers sometimes.

YETgratitude has a way of redeeming those fearful moments into a celebration of the goodness of my beautiful God in the midst of the pain.

Embark on a treasure hunt through your life. Celebrate the gift of today, right where you are.

This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. — Ps. 118:24

Blessings,

Susan

(You can find Ann Voskamp’s blog at: www.aholyexperience.com and the Amazon link to “One Thousand Gifts” is on my ‘Books I Love’ page).

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