Friday, August 24, 2007

Finding Joy

I had in mind the thought to wrap up this week with a light-hearted, fun-filled post, with laughs & links and that good Friday BlogFoddery sort of thing. Instead however, there is something much more pressing on my mind that is far more important to address.

Life is filled with all sorts of good things, and all sorts of bad things. As someone who firmly believes in the sovereignty of God in the affairs of men, I know that He Himself orchestrates all of these events for a greater purpose - either for our sanctification or to bless us, and ultimately to glorify His own name. In either case of good or bad, we're supposed to be thankful, full of praise for His providence and guidance, and remain firmly grounded and pressing on.

It doesn't always work that way and it's a whole lot easier said than done, sometimes.

In Psalm 51, we see a deeply repentant prayer and longing. A confession of sinfulness, a profession of faith, and a deep longing for restoring a right fellowship before God. In verse 12 David prays:

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

David pleads with God to not only have the joy of salvation returned to his heart and mind, but to be refreshed and revived and sustained by the abundant grace of God. Immediately what comes to mind as I read this is Isaiah 26:3:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

It should come as no surprise that the word uphold in Psalm 51:12 and the word stayed in Isaiah 26:3 are the very same word in the Hebrew language: camak. This word means to be refreshed or sustained, to be firmly established with the implication that there is one thing holding up something else. In this case, it's the generous grace of God being referred to (in both verses) that is doing the sustaining and establishing. There is however another word in Isaiah 26:3 that I don't want to overlook. So often our English translation of Scripture lacks the punch and the depth of what's really being said, and that is certainly the case here.

The word keep in this verse is the Hebrew word natsar and it means to literally to be guarded, watched over, preserved, guarded from dangers, to be kept close, or to be blockaded in. In other words, you could fairly say that Isaiah 26:3 is saying that those who earnestly and continuously fix their minds on the things of God, the glory of God, the grace and mercy of God, will indeed be revived, refreshed, held up by His grace and literally blockaded in from those things that cause us to lose our focus and bring us harm, and in fact lose the joy of His salvation - if even for a moment of despair, anxiety and hopelessness. Notice this verse does not say "Thou might keep" but "Thou wilt keep". It's not a potential, it's a fact. He will keep you sustained and filled with the joy of His salvation, when you fix your mind on Him.

So then why do we as believers so often become filled with worry, fear, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness and despair? I'm not referring to sadness over painful life events such as the death of loved one or a broken relationship, I believe it's quite normal to grieve in those situations. I'm referring to that sense of being out of control and locked in to those feelings as if there is no way out. Dwelling on anxiety or feeling so despondent that you are nearly paralyzed by that feeling and it clouds your entire existance.

Life is full of stuff that if we let it (and that's key), will take us right to the front door of all those feelings. Marital problems, parental problems, financial issues, illness, problems on the job, trouble at school... and this is just the short list. Any one of these things can trip us up and cause us to dwell on the circumstances of the moment, and lose the joy of His salvation - even if just for a short period of time. Why? Because we're 100% focused on the circumstance and not focused on Him. Did we forget Who it is who is sovereign in the affairs of men? Did we forget that He has allowed this for a greater good that even though we likely cannot begin to see it just now, and we may never see it in this lifetime, that it is for His glory and for our sanctification? Oh yes, we do forget those things, even if just for a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days. And when we do, what is the result? Despair, hopelessness, fear, sadness, sorrow and grief.

I'm not going to pretend that this is an easy thing to overcome. It is certainly not a quick-fix solution to whatever hard things you or I might be going through at this moment, but it is a Biblical solution. When I was first saved and about to lose my first husband to cancer just 16 months later, I had a hard & fast lesson in this very thing. I knew God was in control, I'd read the verses in Job that tell us it's God who appoints our number of days, and I was just so grateful that the healing we all prayed for came in the form of spiritual healing for him even though it wasn't a physical healing. There were a lot of things to be thankful for. Of course it was still deeply painful but it was all by God's design.

The ironic thing is, is that for me, applying this line of thought in the big things (death of a loved one, the excruciating pain of natural childbirth, the extreme and intense stomach cramps I get) is quite easy. These are larger than life things that have simply forced me to my knees and submitted to dwelling on the good things of God. Yet when it comes to smaller things such as financial issues, or disobedient and rebellious kids, I tend to lose that focus and dwell on the circumstances instead. The end result there, even if just for a moment or a day, is the very thing I described above: despair, anxiety, and often times a severe sense of hopelessness.

I know we've all read and heard countless sermons and messages about this very application when it comes to Peter taking his eyes of Jesus and sinking in the water. If you stop and really think about that for a moment, and imagine what must have been going through Peter's mind as he began to sink, you'll no doubt relate to what he was likely feeling, and why. Simply put, as soon as Peter looked away from Jesus and looked at the violent wind, his mind immediately shifted into the fear mode and he started to sink. This is exactly the same thing we do when we look closely at the violent winds in life, and we get the same result Peter did. We sink right down into fear, stress, sadness and even depression. It's good to remember as Matthew 8:26-27 so clearly point out, Who it is in complete control over those winds.

This is something very personal for me, and I know at least a few other folks that also wrestle with this same thing. It's not easy to not look at the violent storm brewing. I think the more we examine why we do that we might find that it comes from the mind of the natural man reverting back to self, and asking rhetorically "how can I fix this, what can I do, how do I get out of this situation?". Well, sometimes God gives us the wisdom and guidance to fix things and make them better, but even then the solution didn't come from within, it came from Him. Truth is, we can't fix anything. We're not in control of circumstances, He is. It's our job to submit to that and praise Him all the way through it.

This is certainly one area of Christian life (for those who wrestle with it) that should have a precedent in our prayer time, each and every day. It definitely has a high ranking in my own.

I would like to conclude with words that are guaranteed to bless your heart above and beyond anything I could ever say, on my own:

Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the name of the LORD; praise him, O ye servants of the LORD. Ye that stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God, Praise the LORD; for the LORD is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant. For the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure. For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places. He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain; he bringeth the wind out of his treasuries.

(Psalm 135:1-7)

Whatever you're dealing with today, let this passage sustain you and keep you focused on Him.