Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Joy Formula

I think we miss the significance, the grand design of thanksgiving as a prelude to Christmas each year. God values a thankful heart because it leads to a joy filled life.
Each year near thanksgiving, I tend to grow very reflective. I have much to be grateful for as I stretch from a national day of thanks to a baby in a manger. This time of year highlights many wondrous blessings.
This year my thoughts seem to explore a new theme as I venture ever further into grasping Gods love for me. Appreciation and joy collide in my heart and it becomes clear that thankfulness is only half of the equation. God values a thankful heart because it leads to a joy filled life. I think we miss the significance, the grand design of thanksgiving as a prelude to Christmas each year. In order to experience abiding joy, we must first enter a season of gratitude. When our hearts become thankful, our perspective can change and our eyes can focus outward. Joy colors everything. And gratitude is its catalyst.
1 Thessalonians 5:16 challenges believers with three simple words, "Be joyful always." The first two words don't intimidate me alone. We know as Christ followers we are called to be joyful. It's that little command at the end in the form of "time" that stops us.
Always.
There is really no way around it. That word has one meaning and even then we try to manipulate the definition. I will be joyful...unless. I will be joyful...until. I will be joyful...if. How many times have we put conditions on God's abundant and free joy?
I read a great summary on this verse that said, "Things don't always go well for me. How can I be joyful always? Simple...Joy is more than feeling happy, but instead a deep abiding sense of being in God's grace and purpose. Second, no matter where you are, no matter how hopeless things may seem, your life is bound for glory" (Ware, Phil. Verse of the Day. November 23, 2015).
I love that we discover joy is not always being happy or always getting our way, but something much deeper, much more internally that springs forth on days when everything goes wrong but we know we are still okay. When it doesn't make sense for us to overcome but we do anyway. When we trade fear for peace like a river because we have tasted and seen. When everything around us says it will never happen but we still hope. It's that feeling that despite everything, we know God is there.
My heart was even more attuned to the Holy Spirit's message of joy and thankfulness as I finished reading a novel called Beautiful Star of Bethlehem by Lori Copeland recently. It's a short read about a woman whose life is suddenly changed forever after an airplane accident. It follows her forgetful stream of consciousness year after year due to brain injury and memory loss. Holidays come and go, the days drift from one to the next and Arlene can't remember all the pieces of her present nor fully accept the reality of her future. Despite the sadness one would expect, the story also weaves the unmistakable message of gratitude. I put the book down in awe and looked at my life in such a different light. I thanked God for all that I take for granted, much of it things I never considered before.
After some of Arlene's joy has been restored at a party, she thinks, "I've felt sorry for myself for so long that I neglected to count the good things in life, things that matter. A warm bed. Friends. Food. I'm going to try harder to be happy (Copeland 172). The thing that haunted me the most about this simple statement is how much it isn't just a statement from a broken amnesia patient but an echo of our current generation.
A few pages over, Arlene becomes thoughtful again and notes, "I rarely permit myself to think of my real home. I don't know what's happened to the house; I only know I miss it's welcome feel. Losing my mind is one thing, but losing my universe is another. I accept that I will never again have the luxury of riding in my own car, or have the man at the local grocery cut a prime rib for Jack's and my dinner...why couldn't I be in my home, water my lovely tiger lilies, and feed the redbirds that flock outside my bedroom window.... If I could go home, I'd fill the days with warm sunshine, picnics, Caribbean cruises and gelato. I'm not sure what gelato is, but I hear the nurses talking about the stuff. Salted pretzels. My mouth waters. Salt and pretzel. I'm pretty sure I like both" (Copeland 176-178).
I know on the surface it seems sad but what lessons of thankfulness it teaches. I am encouraged because in what Arlene cannot do, I realize how much I can do. The things she only longs for, I have the capability everyday to do on my own. I must never forget how much of a gift life truly is and how amazing it is to think and do and choose and remember.
Let thankfulness and joy find your heart this season. Be captivated by all the simple things in life, like remembering who you are and having the ability to make your own choices- for things you never realized were a blessing. Let your "heart greatly rejoice and your song praise Him" (Psalm 28:7).
Thank you truly. -Only Hope

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