Category Archives: joy

(becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6, part 5c: a heart that devises wicked schemes

Hearts cascading into each other, gradient

As we discussed in the last post, the problems of an unclean heart are major – and we cannot solve them ourselves.  That doesn’t mean our situation is hopeless, however.  There is one (and only one) cure for unclean hearts: God’s love.  Only God is able to transform our selfish hearts into selfless hearts, hearts filled with love for Him and for others.

This week we’ll look at the effects of that transformation.

Some of the effects of this transformation are visible.  When we have God’s love in our hearts, we can see a difference in the way we treat others:

Through [Jesus] you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  (1 Peter 1:21-23)

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:15-16)

The verses above show that our clean hearts are often evident in our actions.  We obey God’s truth and show active love for others.  We are prepared to talk to others about our faith – but we do so with gentleness and respect.

In the last post, we discussed the close relationship also between the condition of our hearts and our words – but mostly with a focus on the negative.  In contrast, we see the positive aspects of this relationship when we have God’s love in our heart.  When His love is in our hearts, our words reflect that:

I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices (Psalm 16:8-9a)

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.  (Romans 15:5-7)

And, as these verses, suggest, while we are dependent on God’s grace in all of this, He does not intend for either our hearts or our mouths to be passive in this process.  The Bible regularly encourages its readers to actively employ their hearts and mouths – and all they are – in service to God:

Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 5:19b-20)

In fact, the Bible teaches that both our hearts and our mouths play a part in our salvation.  Paul writes (referring to a passage from Deuteronomy),

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  (Romans 10:8-10)

And while (as Paul reminds us elsewhere) salvation is a gift from God that we can never earn, we must decide how to respond to God’s gift.  The response God calls us to begins in our hearts – but it cannot end there.  It isn’t just a feeling we get one day, and it’s not a matter of completing a church ritual.  A true belief will affect the way we live.  (As Paul also said, “‘I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds’” (Acts 26:20).)  A heart that truly accepts the love of God will respond with loving words and actions.

Again, please don’t get caught up in rituals here, which vary from culture to culture.  What matters is that our response to God’s gift of salvation changes us inside AND outside.

And of course, the most important part of having God’s love in our hearts is the effect it has on our relationship with Him.  When we have God’s love in our hearts, we are closer to God:

LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?

He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellowman,
who despises a vile man
but honors those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his oath
even when it hurts,
who lends his money without usury
and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things
will never be shaken.  (Psalm 15)

As the passage above says, we can dwell with God when our hearts are right with Him.  And it is this relationship with God that provides us with assurance of our status as His beloved children:

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.  (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

Furthermore, it is in this loving relationship with God that we find His joy and peace:

Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always.  (1 Chronicles 16:9-11)

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  (John 14:26-27)

Clean hearts – hearts transformed by God’s amazing love – are wonderful things.  However, as the last verse suggests, clean hearts can be hard to maintain.  So many things that can dirty our hearts beg for our attention.  Next week we’ll look at the problems our clean hearts face – and the resources God has provided for us in our struggle to keep our hearts clean.

Next Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes, part 4

Last Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes, part 2

Start of the Series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6

 

Want to read more?

Can your marriage help the next generation?  I think so: why YOUR strong marriage matters to kids that aren’t yours

Is nagging our husbands really a problem?  Why I think it is: How culture is sabotaging our marriages

Feeling overwhelmed by all of your obligations?  Try: the superwoman complex or mary and martha

You know that annoying person you try to avoid?  Yeah, me too….: what to do about annoying people

Ready to ramp up your relationship with God?  Try: Quiet time OR Try: Constant Conversation

Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one

Start of the fully submitted series: (becoming) fully submitted

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(becoming) a role model, part 3

English: Detail - Inosculated (self-grafted) c...

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I’ll start this post with a plea: If you are not in a God-centered marriage, please seek out godly counsel.  Your pastor may be able to recommend for a Christian counselor.  (Some churches, like the one my husband and I attend, will even pay for the first few sessions, if you can’t.)  If you are uncomfortable asking your pastor, Focus on the Family has a list of Christian counselors across the United States.  Obviously, they can’t guarantee the quality of each one, but having a vetted list to start with is a good first step.

And please: Seek out a woman who is in a joyful, God-centered marriage.  Talk to her.  Ask her questions.  Ask for advice.  If this woman is truly in a God-centered marriage, she isn’t going to judge you for struggling.  She knows how hard marriage can be.  And she’ll be thrilled to know that the example her marriage is setting is making a difference.  (But be careful who you turn to for this type of discussion and advice.  Read about potential problems here: (becoming) a godly wife: how to welcome Satan into your marriage.)

That said, the rest of this post is aimed at those of you who are in joyful, God-centered marriages — or hope to be soon (either because you’re engaged or because you’re planning to get counseling to move toward such a marriage).

If you do have a joyful, God-centered marriage, you’ve probably encountered this scenario:  Someone who observes your marriage thinks it’s too good to be true.  Thinks surely your husband must be oppressing and brainwashing you into submission.  Thinks surely there’s a problem that you’re just good at hiding.

The first time I encountered a situation like this, I was devastated.  I wanted our marriage to be a beacon of light for people.  I wanted people to notice our marriage was different and be drawn to God because of it.  I was upset that instead she saw our marriage as something negative.  What I didn’t realize then was that the reason this woman thought my husband must be forcing me into submission — that he was somehow treating me like a second-class citizen — was that she had likely never seen a God-centered marriageOur relationship seemed so foreign to her that she assumed something must be very wrong.  I tried to explain our relationship to her, but I don’t think she believed me.  She probably still doesn’t.

The next time I encountered this, I was more ready for it.  I wasn’t devastated.  I didn’t see it as a failure on my part to give an example of a God-centered marriage to someone.  I saw it for what it was: This dear friend really didn’t believe that a marriage could be that joyful.  I tried to explain things as best I could, but I also realized that this was a long-term mission.  She might not believe me now, but she would (hopefully) be in my life long enough to see that it was true: God is a God of joyful marriages.  (And keep in mind the difference between joy and happiness: Happiness comes and goes with circumstances.  Joy does not.  Joy stays.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit of Christ (Galatians 5:22), and Christ’s joy remains in all circumstances, so long as we remain in Him (John 15:10-12).)

So here is my encouragement to those of you in joyful, Christ-centered marriages: Keep showing your love – God’s love – for one another.  Keep being a shining example that many people find baffling.  Keep giving an answer for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15) and encouraging other women in their own marriages with a positive example and a living testimony to the faithfulness of God.

And please, please, try to reach out to this next generation.  You don’t have to lecture them — trust me, they aren’t big fans of that, in the classroom or in “real” life.  Just be open to conversations.  Ask them questions about themselves (they usually love this topic) and watch where God might take the conversation.  (Remember, of course, to always be praying during these conversations.  I often ask God to help me say all and only what He wants me to.  This prayer tends to keep me out of trouble.)

I am often amazed by what students will reveal to me before they even know me.  On the first day of class, I ask them to spend 10 minutes or so writing about who they are.  A lot of them write about their families.  Most of them tell me if their parents are married or divorced.  Many of them will reveal a great deal of anger at one or both parents for abandoning them.  Many will tell me about how devastated they were when their parents got divorced.  Others will tell me about their girlfriends or boyfriends.  Or financial problems.  And I don’t even know these kids.  This is the first day of class.  These are the things that they think describe who they are.  My point is simply this: Talk to the kids in your life.  You might be surprised how much they’re willing share – and how desperate they are for someone to listen.  Especially someone whose life offers them some hope.

Read part one of this series: (becoming) a role model, part one

Read part two of this series: (becoming) a role model, part two

Want to read more?

 

Start of the wife series: (becoming) a godly wife

Start the fully submitted series: (becoming) fully submitted

Have trouble saying no?  Try: (becoming) a good volunteer: the necessity of “no”

Struggle with worry?  Try: (becoming) less of a worrier

Start of the stewardship series: (becoming) a good steward

Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one

Start of the Proverbs 6 series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6

Start of the Christmas series: (becoming) peaceful

 

(being) joyful!

Baking, cleaning the house, buying presents, wrapping presents, transporting or sending presents, crowds, kids home on break, big gatherings, working, picking Christmas Eve outfits, shopping, working with charities, traveling . . . .

Honestly, it gets to be a lot.  My prayer is that focusing on God in the ways I’ve talked about over the last couple of weeks will bring some sanity and joy to your Christmas season.  (See this post, if you’re not feeling joyful: (becoming) joyful.)

Today, though, I want to talk a little more about joy – and why our joy so important not just for us, but also for those around us.

Even those of us who are very joyful about Christ’s birth, seeing family, buying presents, etc., can find December overwhelming.  I think this overwhelmed feeling is indicative of losing sight of the real point of all of this: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.  –Luke 2:11

This is good news of great joy!  And if we’ve lost the joy, we’ve probably lost sight of this good news.

[An important caveat: As I said in the previous post about joy, I’m not talking here about people who are truly grieving.  I’m not qualified to talk about what it’s like to go through a holiday season after the death of a loved one.  So please know that I’m not saying that if you’re grieving this December, then you’re doing something wrong.  I’m talking more, in this post, about those of us who often go through the typical activities of the season joylessly, without a clear reason and often without understanding why.]

With that caveat in mind, I’ll say it again: Jesus’s birth is good news of great joy!  And if we’ve lost the joy, we’ve probably also lost sight of this good news.

In these moments of feeling overwhelmed, I’ve found it helpful to ask myself a question: In what way is my concern about this thing/situation celebrating the good news of Jesus’s birth?

This is an especially good question for things like deciding what the family will wear for Christmas Eve services.  Is it honoring Jesus for all of us to go with a green color scheme?  Or, instead, is it satisfying some need I have to present my family in a certain way?  I’m not saying dressing up (coordinated or not) for Christmas Eve services is wrong.  (I usually dress up, too.)  I am saying, however, that if it starts to take much time or make me feel overwhelmed or make me less joyful, then I may need to walk away from it.  Jesus will still be born if we wear jeans.

And it’s important to remember that what we’re concerned about regarding Christmas lets other people know what aspect of the season is important to us.

If we make a big fuss about what we wear to Christmas Eve service and get cranky with our families, what message does that give them (and other people) about Jesus’s birth?  Probably that it’s a stuffy formal occasion, that pleasing God involves rules about clothes, and that Jesus’s birth makes people cranky and nervous.

I’d much rather people saw my celebration of Christmas and got the message that Christmas is about thanking God for and celebrating the arrival of the greatest gift of all time, that God cares more about our hearts than our clothes, and that Jesus’s birth makes people joyful!

What is your attitude telling people about Jesus’s birth?        

 

——————————————–

Previous Christmas Post — (becoming) more loving towards that annoying person you try to avoid

Start of the Christmas Series

 

Want to read more?

Want to read about wives?  Wife Series

Want to read about being a Christian?  Fully-submitted Series

Start of the stewardship series: (becoming) a good steward

Start of the role model series: (becoming) a role model, part one

Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one

Start of the Proverbs 6 series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6

Start of the Christmas series: (becoming) peaceful

Are you a worrier?  Try this post: (becoming) less of a worrier

Want to learn more about this blog?  About Page or First Post

(becoming) creative

I thought it would be interesting to share some of our favorite creative aspects of Christmas.  Art projects, traditions, gifts you make, whatever.  How do you express your creative side during the Christmas season.

Personally, I like making Christmas cards.  I usually do this every other year.  I love thinking about what verses I want to incorporate and how I want to make each card stand out.  Here are some pictures from a few years ago and this year:

Some of this year's cards

Inside text

Another one of my favorite creative traditions is making gingerbread houses with my parents and brothers (and all of the family members we’ve added over the years!).  My mom takes on the enormous task of making 12-15 gingerbread houses.  This is a huge undertaking, as those of you who’ve baked that much gingerbread know.  I made the gingerbread one year (only about 6 houses probably, as our family had not expanded too much) when mom had morning sickness and couldn’t do it.  Even 6 houses was a lot of work!

One of the wonderful aspects of this creative activity is that kids of (almost) any age can do it.  If they’re old enough to understand they can’t eat ALL the candy, then they’re old enough to do it.  It’s so neat to see what the little ones come up with.  And it’s been really amazing to watch my little (well, younger – not really “little”) brothers grow up each year.  We started this before my youngest brother was born, so I’ve really gotten to see them go from “kid houses” (you know the ones: adorable, but usually little thought to the design – mostly a lot of their favorite candies stuck to the roof) to “adult houses” (while these vary WIDELY in quality, there’s usually a plan, some thought that goes into the whole design).  It’s always neat to see the year they make that switch from kid to adult in the gingerbread world!

Below are some pictures of the insanity that descends on my parents’ house on gingerbread night. 

Candy Island

Ready for the decorators!

Hard at work 🙂

One of the more talented house decorators....

Various houses

My mom's gingerbread bakery

What happens if you leave your gingerbread house unattended.....

Please share your own pictures or links in the comment section below so we can all share in your creative Christmas experiences – and maybe find a few ideas to incorporate into our own families!

 

Previous Christmas Post: (becoming) ready for a Savior

Start of the Christmas Posts: (becoming) peaceful

Wife Posts: (becoming) a godly wife

Fully-submitted Posts: (becoming) fully submitted

To learn more about this blog, check out the first post or the About page.

(becoming) joyful

We all know that we should be joyful during the Christmas season.

But what if you don’t always feel joyful?

[An important caveat: I’m not talking here about people who are truly grieving.  I’m not qualified to talk about what it’s like to go through a holiday season after the death of a loved one.  So please know that I’m not saying that if you’re grieving this December, then you’re doing something wrong.  I do believe the Scriptures below offer joy (and peace and hope, etc.) even in the worst of circumstances, but I also know that the worst of circumstances can make that joy (etc.) hard to feel at times.  I’m talking more, in this post, about those of us who often go through the typical activities of the season joylessly, without a clear reason and often without understanding why.]

Consider what your Christmas preparations and celebrations are focused on.  We are bombarded from the time Halloween ends until the after-Christmas sales are over with images and commercials and people who try to get our focus off what actually matters.

Think about it: Even something seemingly innocent like Southern Living magazine (which I have a gift subscription to, and which I like) contains an overwhelming array of ways our houses need to be decorated and new foods we should prepare.  After looking at some of the pictures of meticulously decorated dinner tables, our centerpiece of jars and lights might look a little pathetic.  But: Does God want adorable place cards for everyone who comes to your house – or does He want you to be patient and kind and joyful?

And think about what our culture tells us matters in regards to gifts: More!  Bigger!  Newer!  We’re going to look at how to be a good gift-giver on Friday, and I’ll invite you to consider rethinking what constitutes a “good” gift.  I’ll say now that I love gifts.  I like getting them.  I like giving them.  I like picking them out.  I like wrapping them.  I like opening them.  I like watching people open them.  I am in no way anti-gifts.  It’s just that everything has to be put in its proper place – and gifts are one area that causes a lot of unnecessary stress for people.

Re-focusing our preparations and celebrations on what matters can make a big difference in our joy. 

Consider what God says about joy and how we might use His Words of wisdom to feel more joyful:    

Psalm 92:4-5:

4 For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD;
   I sing for joy at the works of your hands.
5 How great are your works, O LORD,
how profound your thoughts!

Consider the work of God’s hands.  Your husband, children, parents, siblings, friends.  They’ve all been crafted by God.  The snow, the birds, the Christmas trees.  All crafted by God.  The lights, the food, the decorations.  All crafted by God.  Whatever parts of Christmas we find joy in can help us find joy in God – because He created everything that brings us joy!

Proverbs 15:23:

23 A man finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word!

We usually think of our words as a way to bring joy (or harm) to others.  In this verse, though, we’re told that words affect the speaker, too.  How might you use your words to lift someone else up AND increase your own joy?  Who in your life could use a timely word?


Jeremiah 15:16

16 When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
O LORD God Almighty.

Here we’re told that joy comes from eating the words of God.  If you haven’t regularly been reading (and digesting) God’s Word, please start.   I know it may not seem like it at first, but God’s Word is an amazing and never-ending source of joy.

Proverbs 19:7-9:

7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.

God’s commands give joy to our hearts.  Which command might He be asking you to pay more attention to?

1 Peter 1:8-9:

8 Though you have not seen [Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

We are filled with joy as we love and believe in Jesus.  As we receive the salvation of our souls, we are filled with joy.  When was the last time you spent some time thinking about what an amazing gift salvation is?  It is the best and most important gift of the season.  Have you shown others how grateful you are for this gift?  Have you shown God?

3 John 1:3-4

3 It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

John is not speaking primarily of biological children here.  He’s talking about people in his spiritual heritage.  He finds joy in seeing others (especially those whom he’s influenced) live out their faith.  Consider who in your life has faith that brings you joy.

Psalm 16:11 (and Acts 2:28):

11 You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Note that these are not necessarily temporal pleasures.  These are eternal pleasures.  They are far better, but they may not look like we expect them to.  When looking for joy, remember to focus on the eternal.  How has God brought you closer to Himself in a way that prepares you to spend eternity with Him?  How has He helped you work on becoming holy, as He is holy?

John 10:10:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Jesus came to give us an abundant life.  If we aren’t living that life, then we’ve allowed something/someone else to steal part of that life from us.  What better time to allow God to take it back than during the celebration of His arrival!

John 4:10, 13-14:

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”  . . .

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinking this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give Him will never thirst.  Indeed, that water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

If you don’t feel joyful, ask God to fill you.  (Remember, joy is a fruit of the Spirit: Galatians 5:22-23.)

Romans 15:13:

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Joy (and peace) come from trusting in God.  Is there something you’re not trusting Him with?  Maybe some part of your holiday preparations or plans?  What worries have you not let go of?  I love this verse because we’re told that so many good things come from trusting in God: joy, peace, hope.  I pray all these things for you for Christmas.

 

 Ultimately, resting in and focusing on God is what restores our joy.  How can God be a more present part of your Christmas preparations and celebrations?  Please share your ideas in the comment section below!

Previous Christmas Post: (becoming) excited for the season

Next Christmas post (on Friday): (becoming) a good gift-giver

To read the fully submitted series, click here: (becoming) fully submitted

To read the wife series, click here:(becoming) a godly wife

To learn more about this blog, check out the About page or the first post.

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