The Detox Diaries: Joy is Strength

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Gentle Reader,

Yesterday I wrote about hands. Today I write about joy.

This is no coincidence.

I cannot tell you off the top of my head what the dictionary definition of the word joy is, and I won’t be looking it up. Instead, I offer up my own definition, one that I cobbled together a few years ago in the midst of a very dark time:

Joy is the ability to look past the darkness and into the Light. Joy searches beyond the moment and looks for Eternity. Joy is the action of shifting our eyes away from the situation and gazing into the face of Christ.

I’m sure that this isn’t precise and it’s probably not 100% theologically accurate, either. But it makes sense to me. The writer of Hebrews seems to have the same stance:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – 12:1-2 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

The joy wasn’t found in the agony of the Cross. The joy was beyond the Cross, in the results found in the aftermath. Jesus looked beyond the excruciating pain of the moment and down the halls of forever, into the face of each person who would choose Him because He chose them. We are His joy.

Joy is anticipation. It is the willingness to endure suffering because of the promise of something greater, something better. It looks for the ways God blesses each day, even the smallest.

That is why joy is strength.

As the Lord works in my life, pruning and shaping so that I might become fruitful and healthy, there is a good deal of pain. Physical pain found in illness. Emotional pain found in the consequences and implications of that illness. Mental pain in grappling with new and changing information.

But I have joy.

For really reals.

There hasn’t been a day in the last month when I haven’t found something to smile about, even if it’s a tiny thing like watching the breeze ripple through the branches of the tree in my front yard. There are reminders all around me of the goodness and faithfulness of God. Every time I want to give up, He plops an “I love you” right into my lap. A word from a friend. A Bible verse or twelve. The sound of the birds chirping in the early morning. The softness of doggy fur. MercyMe’s new album.

Every time I fear being swallowed by the darkness, His light pierces and clears the cloudiness.

This joy? It is a gift.

It is also a choice.

I am a pessimist. Straight up, glass cracked and empty. Given the opportunity, I will find the negative. When this whole detoxing thing started, I knew, without doubt, that I was going to have to force myself to take the opposite tack. Trade in the pessimism for optimism. Not denial, mind you. A correct perspective, rather.

This holy gift of joy isn’t something that God will force me to take, much like anything else He offers. I have to unwrap it. He will take 99.9% of the steps, but requires me to move that final millimeter. He won’t make me search for the better in the beyond. I have to turn my mind to Him and ask for the eyes to do the searching.

Ultimately, joy is all about perspective.

There is no denying pain. We’re idiotic when we do that. To go through the pain with the knowledge that God is there and He is going to make it all good? To look for all the ways in which He smooths the winding, uphill, cliff-hugging path? That’s strength. Weakness gives up. Strength keeps going.

Joy fuels the strength that pushes us one more step. One more day.

My journey to faith. (15)

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.

This post also appeared on the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog on June 24, 2014.

31 Days of Brave: Closing

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Gentle Reader,

How to put a bow on this?

I don’t know when fear became the marker of my life. I don’t know why I chose to buy into those screeching lies. Maybe they were easier to believe than the truth. Maybe I got tired of fighting. I guess the why and the when don’t really matter, difficult as that is for me to type. What matters is that my story doesn’t have to end the way it began.

Neither does yours.

The Enemy wants us to believe that bravery is impossible. The walk with Christ requires courage. We can’t make the choices we need to make, say the things we need to say or believe the things we need to believe without it. Take out courage, take out the person. Satan can’t take our salvation away from us, but he can certainly keep us from walking in victory and freedom.

If we let him.

That, I think, is my big take away. Bravery is all about choice. We forget that we have choices. I’m not usually emotionally demonstrative, but as I’m writing this I’m feeling the lump rise in my throat. The Cross and Resurrection did everything for us, and that everything includes restoring our power to choose. We’re not helpless. We’re not permanently inclined toward selfishness, brutality, fear or whatever else marked us before. Before the forgiveness of the Lord. Before the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

God Himself defines us. And He says that we are brave. He says that we have the power that raised a man from the dead within us (Rom. 8:9-11, Eph. 1:19-20). He says that we are not just conquerors – we are MORE than conquerors (Rom. 8:31-39).

So let’s end with this:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.

One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me;
Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!
Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
Do not hide Your face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not leave me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation.
When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me.

Teach me Your way, O Lord,
And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies.
Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries;
For false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as breathe out violence.
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

– Psalm 27 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

For all of the posts in the 31 Days: Brave series, go here.