"And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
"But I will sing of your strength;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows to me steadfast love."
I came home one afternoon with a car load of kids and a trunk full of bags, feeling rushed, without a good plan for dinner, and weary of the endless mundane. Then I saw this boy-styled bouquet on the kitchen island, a little gift from my little Jacob. The reverse side of the red tag is a "snuggle ticket" for me to turn in at any time. This picture is a good reminder to me tonight that there is so much good right now. The way I see things, and the way I respond, is always a choice.
I've been telling two kids in particular this nearly every hour of every day, but we all need to be reminded. The way we live is a choice, and therefore we choose the consequences for those choices. We either obey the Lord from our hearts, cheerfully, or we do not; in return we either receive blessing, or misery. Obedience comes with a promise: "You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go will with you, and that you may live long…" (Deut. 5:33). On the other hand, sooner or later, sin leads to misery.
This is pretty straight forward, and can be easily made evident in the life of a child. A child who is selfish and unkind, who speaks lies, who grumbles and complains, who cheats, who is disrespectful… this child is miserable. Not only are they miserable, but they want power to make those around them experience their misery. Such a child also needs to be corrected and/or separated, and for a time their misery is further magnified.
So the laws of the world are evident: God made us and we must obey, and for our obedience there is good reward; for disobedience there are sad consequences. Children can be shown that liars cannot be believed or trusted, cheaters are not fun to play with, bad attitudes separate friends, disobedience leads to the removal of privileges, etc. But as I am teaching these children, I also want to encourage and empower them. I tell them about forgiveness, and about restoration and new chances. I tell them about choice. We don't have to live in a way that leads to misery, we can choose obedience and joy.
And so I preach it to myself, and I must practice it too. When (for the 10th time in a day) the same angry, disrespectful, and unpleasant child is yelling out hateful words at me through closed doors, I can still choose joy. When the day's plans are turned upside down, or when people are hungry and there is no magic wand to make dinner appear, or when my life seems insignificant and things are not as I thought… I must choose joy.
I don't have to live at the mercy of my circumstances.
The issue of joy has been on my mind this week. Sometimes I choose well, sometimes I don't. This choosing of joy is an active, conscious, and continuous business. If I let my natural response win, it's a quick downward slide and a hard climb out! So I'm working at it: when the drama from a miserable little person begins, or when the day is just plain blah, I have to choose joy! The others are watching and my attitude is infectious. My response should please the Lord, and it should be instructive to the many eyes watching.
I tell them, "Don't let anyone steal your joy! Don't ever give anyone that power!"
Ultimately, our joy is in the Lord. He will strengthen us and give us a joy that is from Him-- an out-of-this-world kind of joy!
Galatians 5 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, meaning that it is a supernatural work of the Lord in the life of the believer. This is the kind of joy that I want. The scriptures also teach us that we must "work out our salvation" (Phil. 2:12). The fruit of the Spirit don't come without effort on our part. Our sanctification is a joint effort, but really, when you think of it, it is all God. God gives us the grace to desire obedience, He enables obedience, and in His pleasure He lavishes more joy and grace to those who are faithful. On my own, I would not even choose Him, or obedience, or joy.
So I sometimes find myself humming, or singing out loud, words like, "The joy of the Lord is my strength" or Matt Redman's song 10,000 Reasons. In so doing, I am instructing my heart and setting an example. Honestly though, most of the time I am just trying to keep my head above the water line, knowing the dangers of letting myself go under!
"You will make known to me the path of life;
In your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever."
And I pray, "Lord, walk with me! I cannot do this alone!"