Posts Tagged ‘joy’

Don’t Worry be Happy

Madonna and Child“Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

A few years ago singer-songwriter Bobby McFerrin composed a great little song titled “Don’t worry be happy.” His lyrics advise us:

In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy!

Sounds like some sound advice doesn’t it? However, McFerrin might have better named his tune “Don’t worry be joyful.” Joy and happiness are often used interchangeably, but there is quite a difference in their meanings—especially for Christians.

Happiness is an emotion that arises from external factors, either objects, circumstances or other people. Many people chase after happiness, often taking incredible risks to capture this elusive prey.  From the beginning of time man has sought happiness through a variety of means—romance, travel, adventure, possessions, work, wealth, fame, power, good looks, drugs, sex and countless others—but all fall short.  As King Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes, all these are “vanity.”

Chasing after happiness is like chasing a wave at the beach. You might get your hands around it for a moment, but it eventually slips through your fingers because happiness is fleeting.  Attaining lasting happiness is impossible in a fallen world, where decay, sickness and death visit everyone. Even Jesus is, as Isaiah tells us, a “man of sorrows.” Upon his shoulders God placed the burden of the sins of all mankind.

Joy, on the other hand, comes from within. One characteristic of Christian joy is a growing feeling of confidence in God’s promise that He will never forsake us. For mature Christians, finding joy is possible even during the unhappiest times because as our faith grows we come to understand that God will carry us through every time of tribulation. This is illustrated clearly by Paul and Silas, who we see praying and singing hymns to God in Acts 16, only a short time after they have been beaten and unjustly thrown in prison.

Along with Christian joy comes a sense of contentment. St. Paul describes this in Philippians 4:11-13:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (ESV)

As Christians mature and learn to be content in the various situations they find themselves, their worries will begin to dissipate when they place them in God’s hands. The American poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell said, “Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which will never happen.”

Worry is a waste of time that would be more wisely spent devoted to prayer. The next time you find yourself worrying about something, get on your knees and lift those worries up in prayer. Don’t worry, be joyful!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. —Romans 15-13 (ESV)

Click-to-Listen: “Don’t Worry be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin.

Simply Good News

Jesus on Cross

                                                            For I decided to know nothing among you,                                                                                                                  except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”                                                                                                                                        1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV)

Life is becoming more and more complicated these days.  Wherever one turns he or she is met with new challenges.  Today’s new cars have more gadgets than did many airplanes just a few years ago. Simply watching television can require using several very different remote controls that must be used in a specific sequence to view the media one desires.  So-called smartphones often prove smarter than their users, leaving befuddled owners struggling to figure out how to use all of their phone’s capabilities.

Politics has also grown more complex. Many private interest groups today sponsor advertising in favor of one politician or another. It’s difficult to sort out the source and motivation behind each message and even harder to discern fact from fiction. Attack ads grow more vicious each year.

Even eating has become more challenging for those  concerned about health and fitness. Should you use butter or margarine?  Is coffee good for you or bad?  Is a little red wine really beneficial to your health? How much exercise does one really need?  Is it better to walk or jog? It’s hard to sort through it all.

Unfortunately, complexity has increased in religion as well.  Mainline Christian denominations are being divided by new doctrines and beliefs. Recently the National Cathedral, arguably the foremost Episcopal churches in the United States, hosted a Muslim prayer service.  And don’t even try to sort out what’s going on between Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Middle East! It’s enough to drive one mad.

Fortunately for Christians, St. Paul maintains a simple view of the Gospel. Listening to his words can help us cut through much of the confusion that exists today. In his first letter to the saints in Corinth he writes, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, ESV)

Christ’s crucifixion for our sins and His resurrection from the dead are at the center of the Christian faith.  A highly educated and intelligent man, St. Paul professed a belief in Christ built on faith, not reason. He understood that reason could never lead to a full knowledge of God, because God is too big and too awesome for a simple human mind to fully comprehend. As the psalmist tells us:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, beholding, O Lord, you know it altogether.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.   —Psalm 39:1-6 (ESV)

Popular Christian pastor and author Ray Stedman wrote, “The main thing about being a Christian is to see that “the main thing remains the main thing.’ That is what Paul is saying (in 2 Corinthians 11:2). The ‘main thing’ is that at the heart and center of your life is the ‘simplicity that is in Christ,’ a simple thing. I have noticed over many years of observation that when religion becomes complicated, it is always a sign that it is drifting away from the realities and centralities of faith.”

The good news about Jesus that was preached by His apostles is quite simple: (all  citations taken from the ESV)

Jesus came to save all mankind.  1 Timothy 1:15 – The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… —St. Paul

Jesus is mankind’s only pathway to God .  Acts 4: 11-12 – This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven or given among men by which we must be saved.” —St. Peter

All people are born in a condition of sin, separated from God.  Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” —St. Paul

There is nothing anyone can do on his own to earn God’s salvation.  Romans 3:10-12 – “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  —St. Paul

Christ came so save mankind from sin and death—separation from God. 1 Timothy 1:15 – “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”  —St. Paul

Salvation is a gift freely given to those who put their faith in Christ.  Romans 10:9-10 – “…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. —St. Paul

One needn’t be a Bible scholar to understand the Gospel.  The message is quite simple.  The gift of God’s salvation is free to those who, with faith and repentance, ask to receive it.

“Only through repentance and faith in Christ can anyone be saved. No religious activity will be sufficient, only true faith in Jesus Christ alone.  —Ravi Zacharias                                                                               

 

 

 

One Journey Ends, Another Begins

Man on a JourneyI know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.    —Jeremiah 10:23 (ESV)

I just completed a long journey in my life.  This particular one, an 18-month job search, was extremely wearisome.  In retrospect, however, all of the waiting was worth it.  I have been blessed with a new job that appears to be a nearly perfect match for my skills and desires.

Finding good work in the current economy is challenging, particularly for those of us who are a little gray around the temples. To make my search more difficult, I had decided to take a new direction with my work. It was therefore necessary for me to convince potential employers that my skills accumulated over some 30 years were transferable into the new line of work I was seeking in the nonprofit field.

The long journey was fraught with emotion—anticipation, hope, disappointment, rejection, self-doubt and frustration.  I applied for dozens of jobs, preparing resume after resume and spending hours online completing application after application.  Oh, that businesses would all use the same application process!

In many cases, my applications went unanswered.  For others it was rejection letters or very impersonal emails stating simply, “We have decided to pursue another candidate.”  It was a situation in which I could have easily lost hope, but I found comfort in Saint Paul’s words, from 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  (ESV)

I focused intently on trying to remain faithful, casting worry and doubt aside as I searched for employment. Of course there were lapses along the way.  I had to constantly remind myself that I was working on God’s timeline, not my own.  I found peace in the knowledge that He would provide the right job at the right time.

Sizakele Lugojolo, director of Lutheran Hour Ministries – South Africa has written that the peace of God, “is the peace we experience when we put aside the selfishness and let God be the center. This is the peace we experience when we give God the glory and not take it for our own satisfaction. This is the peace we experience when the will of God prevails, not ours.”

Just as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, during my job search I frequently prayed that God’s will might be done—that I would end up in a place where He could use me as he sees fit.  Many dear friends offered intercessory prayers for me.  I could feel their power; it sustained me from day to day.

Along the way I came to realize that reaching one’s destination is not the prize.   The reward lies in how one handles his present circumstances—getting through each day of the journey.  For my many networking friends who are still searching I have but one piece of advice, “Let go and let God!”   As Saint Paul so eloquently wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.                                                                                                                                                             —Philippians 4: 4-7 (ESV)

With my new job begins a new journey.  Like a good soldier,  I’m calling it my mission. Oddly enough, it entails something I’ve learned a bit about over the past 18 months.  I’ll be helping recently unemployed individuals find a new job. If I can help even one person find employment in less time than it took me, I’ll feel like I’m contributing to a worthy cause.

 Once you have a mission, you can’t go back to having a job.  —Shai Agassi

 

 

 

 

Recalling Some Life Lessons

Traffic Jam

Normal is getting dressed in clothes you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.   ―Ellen Goodman

Time has been called “a great healer” because it helps ease the pain of physical and emotional wounds.  Unfortunately, time also sometimes causes us to forget some of the best lessons life teaches—lessons we ought to have held on to.

Such was the case for a life lesson I recently recalled—something I originally learned while serving as a Civil-Military Operations Officer in southern Somalia some 20 years ago.

In 1993, Somalia was engulfed in civil war, much like today.  One day I visited a refugee camp run by the United Nations. Hundreds of Bantu people were housed there in small, igloo-like huts made from long bent sticks covered with plastic sheeting.

???????????????????????????????

The Bantus were brought to Somalia as slaves in the 19th century and remain so to this day. They are a small people of very different ethnicity and appearance than the Somalis.

The Bantus I saw that day were living in absolute squalor. Yet despite their situation they seemed remarkably happy.  When I asked a UN worker about the reason for the Bantus’ apparent joy, he provided a life lesson.  “These people were once slaves,” he said, “but now they’re free, well fed and together.”  The things they held dearest were freedom, family and a full belly.  They enjoyed all of these in the squalid camp where they were living.

Over the course of my time in Somalia and several other deployments during my Army career, I learned other lessons about how little we humans truly need.  For months at a time I lived with no possessions beyond what would fit in my rucksack and duffel bag.

With no car to wash, no lawn to mow, no gutters to clean, no leaves to rake, no Internet, no TV and no long commute to work, one has freedom to discover the gift of time.  Personal productivity can increase significantly in such situations, as can relaxation and renewal.

My unscientific observations suggest that as possessions increase, freedom decreases. A multitude of possessions tend to chip away at the gift of time. While I am not a practicing minimalist, I do believe it would behoove most Americans to consider reducing their material possessions.  Garages were designed for cars, not unopened moving boxes. The primary purpose of an attic is to allow proper ventilation of a house, not to store a lot of stuff.   According to the Wall Street Journal, only about 20 percent of the clothes in a person’s closet are regularly worn. You get the picture.

Relearning Some Past Life Lessons

After each long military deployment, I returned home with renewed enthusiasm for life and a deeper appreciation for my freedom, family and the many blessings God had given us. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm and appreciation always slowly faded as I became increasingly re-engaged in the daily, mundane distractions of life and work. After awhile, many life lessons just seem to vanish.  Some of us are fortunate enough to be have an opportunity to relearn some of them.

About a year ago, two major changes in my life occurred.  First, my wife and I moved from a house in Johnstown into a condo near Pittsburgh. Then, only four weeks later, I lost my job.

I had wanted more free time and I got it.  Sometimes God has a real sense of humor!

Laughing Jesus

Two of the main reasons we moved into a condo were to reduce our material possessions and to escape the workload that accompanies owning and maintaining a house. We simply wanted more freedom to do the things we enjoy.  Losing my job wasn’t part of the plan.

However, over the course of the past year I’ve relearned some valuable life lessons, ones I should never have forgotten.

First of all, I remembered that I really don’t need a lot to make me happy.  We have a lot less space and a lot fewer possessions than a year ago, but we also have more time and more freedom to enjoy life.  It has been a great tradeoff—so much, in fact, that my wife and I are already discussing another major downsizing.

Living without abundance makes one more aware of God’s daily provisions.  Instead of asking Him for specific blessings, I’ve learned to pray each day that God will provide my family and me just enough to satisfy our needs and that His perfect will may be done in our lives.

During the past year I also remembered how little it takes to make me truly happy.  We have adjusted to living on my military pension, something that seemed nearly impossible a year ago.  I also have remembered that it doesn’t take much more than my freedom, family and a full belly to make me happy–just like the joyful Bantu people I observed in Somalia many years ago,

Well, there is one other thing. The gift of time has allowed me to dig deeper into the Scriptures than ever before, bringing me closer to the only true source of joy. As the Rev. Dr. Sam Storms so clearly explains, “Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God.”

May you find true joy and peace in your pilgrim’s journey!

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.”  —Matthew 6:19-21 (ASV)

Remaining Tenacious in Your Search

???????????????????? 

Today’s circumstances are a part of God’s perfect plan.

I, like so many of my friends and colleagues, am currently seeking gainful employment. Having been at it for several months now, I’ve discovered that job searching is like a roller coaster ride, with many ups and downs.

I really enjoy investigating new jobs and imagining how I might fit in at this or that company.  Job networking and applying for new positions are also sources of encouragement. On the other hand, rejection letters and non-responses to dozens of letters, emails and phone calls are real downers. It’s very easy to become discouraged.

Tenacity is a key ingredient in a successful job search.  The Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers described tenacity like this, “… more than endurance, it is endurance combined with the absolute certainty that what we are looking for is going to transpire.”

A job seeker must have confidence in his or her abilities to perform the job sought. Otherwise, the search is doomed to fail. More importantly, every searcher must have faith that what is happening today is part of God’s perfect plan.     

God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV)  He will not depart from you, not for your sins or any other shortcomings.  Even when you understand this, however, it is still quite easy to allow your thoughts to turn into fear.  At such times, it’s important to realize you’re listening to your own fears, not His promises.

While you might be waiting for God to do something big in your future, like giving you the perfect job you’ve been dreaming of or something else, never lose sight of what He’s doing right now. Whatever your final goal may be, remain spiritually tenacious in your search and seek joy in the present moment. God’s perfect plan for you will not be undone by your present circumstances.  Today’s circumstances are a part of His plan.

Like St. Paul and Silas singing hymns while locked in a jail in Philippi, when we learn to be confident in God’s promises we can glorify him even in the direst of circumstances.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”   —Hebrews 10:23 (NIV)