A command to joy

Joy

Sometimes the word of God is so practical. As I am writing this I am about to have a few days of vacation. Over the years I have not been the best at relaxing. It is a discipline that I am learning to get better at recently. There is a time and place for things and relaxing and enjoying is part of our journey with God.

The story of Nehemiah’s command to the people of Israel in chapter 8 of his book might be a little surprising to you. The people have gathered and are listening to the teaching of God’s word. They began to be grieved as they hear what is being taught.

But Nehemiah gives them this command: “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”(Verse 10)

When was the last time you came to the end of church and the pastor told you, “Go and enjoy choice food.” But I am learning that there is a time for enjoyment. Actually we experience joy because God is joyful. Nehemiah is showing them that in experiencing the joy of the Lord they find strength.

This is a theme of the Bible elsewhere as well. Paul encourages people to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) Elsewhere Paul makes it even simpler, “Always be joyful.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) I am not sure it can be plainer than that.

The Westminister Shorter Catachism says that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Now this is not some sort of denial of sad emotions. Jesus even says that, “blessed are those who mourn.” (Matthew 5:4) For me personally and I believe for many in the church today it is an invitation to experience the full range of emotions that God has made us with when we were created.

I am still learning about the practice of this for me but some thoughts to get you started.

  1. Ask God for more joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. We are told that we can ask for more of the Spirit. Ask God to guide you into the full range of emotion that God has given.
  2. Take yourself less serious. There are serious things in life and not serious things in life. I am learning that knowing the difference is a power path to joy.
  3. Laugh. I recently read the Humor of Christ. Although I don’t know that I agree with everything in the book, I love the premise that we miss something of the teaching of Jesus if we don’t realize his humor. Richard Foster says something like, “Holy people are funny people.”
  4. Smile!

The apostle Paul’s ultimate guide to overcoming anxiety. 5 steps to move toward peace.

anxiety

We live in a world that breeds anxiety. Stress, worry and anxiety our words that are as common as the common cold. I am not going to look at the reasons these things are so common but a couple thousand years ago a guy who was a prisoner of the Roman Empire penned some words that gives us a pathway forward.

First a disclaimer. I am not a phycologist nor do I play one on the internet. I am also not taking away from the role and benefit of a competent Christian counselor. There can be great value there. But the apostle Paul gives us a powerful roadmap to peace that overcomes anxiety. These steps can be life changing.

The place that Paul lays out this teaching is among two of the most famous passages in the Bible (Philippians 4:4-9). Until recently I did not notice the promise that connects the two paragraphs and builds us a pathway to walk forward. The promises are amazing: A peace that doesn’t make sense and that is would become like a fortress around your heart and mind. And the steps are so straightforward that anyone can do them.

  1. Bring your concern to God in prayer.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition …present your requests to God.” (v6)

Our beginning step is to pray about everything we are worried or anxious. Rick Warren has said, “If it is big enough to worry about it is big enough to pray about.” Or as Martin Luther said, “Pray and let God worry.” Depending on your level of anxiety you may need to bring it to God in prayer multiple times in the same hour. Mark Batterson puts it this way: “Think of worry as a prayer alarm. Every time it goes off you put it to prayer.” Your prayer life becomes your first step on a pathway to peace.

     2. Cultivate habits of thanksgiving

If you are familiar with the scripture that we are looking at you may have noticed that I skipped over two words in the last step: With thanksgiving. We live in a world that it is easy to lose perspective. Thanksgiving is a powerful way to gain that perspective back again.

In my book Enjoying Prayer I share a simple habit that I use that makes thanksgiving a part of my everyday life. Whether you use that method or some other habit something daily that causes you to think of what you are thankful for can put things you are anxious about back in their right size. Thankfulness reminds us of the activity of God in our lives.

For me the habit of thankfulness helps anchor me to my current day and not borrow worry from tomorrow. As Dale Carnegie challenges in his excellent book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living it is important to live in “day tight compartments.” Or as Jesus challenges us, “Do not worry about tomorrow for today has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

   3. Change the content of your thought life.

Finally, brother and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. (v. 8)

Paul moves on to show that if you are going to experience peace your thought life must follow certain patterns. He is saying that the content of our thought life effects the peace that you experience. The therapy world, when it comes to your thoughts, to Catch your thoughts, then Check your thoughts, and if need be Change/Replace your thoughts. Paul is giving us a filter to sort through our thought life. Two important strategies that are connected with this verse:

  • Cut certain inputs our of your life or at least decrease them

If what we feed our mind impacts us there may be certain things that Paul would encourage you to cut back on or even eliminate from your life. One example would be your news intake. We need to be aware that part of the goal of the news industry is to get you anxious enough in the news to stay engaged so they can sell more advertising. That is just one example that you need to think through from Paul’s perspective.

  • Add certain things to your thought life

Paul gives us a buffet of positive areas to focus our minds. What do you need to add into your life to get thinking the type of thoughts that Paul describes. One obvious but under used source is our Bible. I was interested to see how many of the words Paul encourages people to think about was also used to describe scripture in Psalm 19.

   4. Find encouragement from friends.

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. (v. 9)

This verse could take a lifetime to unpack but it is talking it is about modeling actions. I imagine that when it was first read in the church at Philippi some people turned and looked at the jailor that had experienced Paul’s miraculous release from prison.

The first practice we see from Paul there is that he didn’t let himself get isolated. One preacher said that the jailor’s big mistake was that he put Paul and Silas too close together. Taking a moment to evaluate your relationships could give you wisdom on steps forward to freedom in your anxiety. Who do you need to add to your life?

   5. Change the soundtrack of your life.

Something happened in the jail cell when Paul and Silas began to sing. We see from the playing of David for Saul (1 Samuel 16) and the request of Elisha for music (2 Kings 3) that music can have great power to change our mood and the atmosphere. The helping profession would agree with that teaching. A powerful help to your anxiety levels made be to create a new playlist of worship music.

Which one of these 5 habits could you begin to work on to help you experience a new level of piece that to the world won’t make any sense?

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