Three words

A few days ago I participated in a reflective prayer exercise. One part of the exercise involved reflecting on Colossians 1:9-12.

Many phrases and words in this passage caught my eye and fueled prayer.

But there were three words in particular that just stopped me momentarily before they redirected my prayer in another direction.

Those three words: “giving joyful thanks.”

Prayer for Joy in God

“O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find joy in you;
and if I cannot do so fully in this life,
let me at least make some progress every day,
until at last that knowledge, love and joy comes to me in all their plentitude.

While I am here on earth let me know you fully
let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I my love you fully.

On earth then I shall have great joy in hope,
and in heaven complete joy in the fulfillment of my hope.

O, Lord, through your Son you command us, no, you counsel us to ask,
and you promise that you will hear us so that our joy may be complete.

Give me then what you promise to give through your Truth.

You, O God, are faithful;
grant that I may receive my request, so that my joy may be complete.”

–Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

**This prayer and many others are available in 2000 Years of Prayer, edited by Michael Counsell.

Prayer of Simplicity

“Grant me, O Lord,

to know what I ought to know,

to love what I ought to love,

to praise what delights You most,

to value what is precious in Your sight,

to hate what is offensive to You.

Do not allow me to judge according to the sight of my eyes,

nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men;

but to discern with a true judgment between things visible and spiritual,

and above all, always to inquire what is the good pleasure of Your will.”

–Thomas á Kempis (1379-1471)

**This prayer and many others are recorded in 2000 Years of Prayer, edited by Michael Counsell.

A Reason for the Joy

Psalm 100:3 NIV
“Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”

When reading Psalm 100 this morning, I couldn’t help but notice the psalmist describes worship with words like joy, gladness, thanksgiving, and praise. When I gather for worship, I want to do so with a heart full of joy and gladness. I want to honor God with a thankful heart. I want encourage those in my worship community, teaching them that God is worthy of my praise and that God fuels a joyful spirit in my heart.

Verse three of this Psalm gives me plenty of reasons to be joyful as I worship.

  • The Lord is God.
  • He made us.
  • We are His.
  • We are His people.
  • We are the sheep of His pasture.

Why are Christians so joyful and glad as we worship? It’s all about knowing God and being God’s. The very thought of having a relationship with God leads me to worship God right here and now and fills my heart with anticipation of gathering with my church family Sunday to worship with gladness.

Knowing I am God’s own is all the reason I need to worship with joy!

Worship with Gladness

Psalms 100:1-2 NIV
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.”

As I read this passage the words joy and gladness seem to jump off the page. With beautiful, poetic language, the psalmist links joy and gladness with worship.

These words are linked in the psalm. But are these concepts linked in my life?

As I consider God — God’s glory, God’s power, God’s goodness, God’s holiness — my heart is filled with worship. Just knowing who God is leads me to offer worship.

And as I consider all that God has done, again I am moved to worship. God has so clearly communicated the desire to have a relationship with me — walking with me and talking with me. How can I begin to comprehend the enormity of God’s love? And how many times has God showered me with both mercy and grace?

When I take time to ponder God — who God is and what God has done — the reaction is so genuine. The response is so real. With joy I pour out my songs of praise to the One who is so deserving! With a heart overflowing with gladness I offer God my thanks and worship!

God is worthy!

Praise the name of the Lord!

Joy

A responsive reading including:
Psalms 4:7, 5:11, 9:2, 15:8-9, 19:18, 28:7, 30:11-2, 32:11, 35:9, 40:16, 42:4, 51:12, 63:5, 85:6, 100:1-2, 104:34, 119:14, 119:111

You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

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; my body also will rest secure.

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, “The Lord be exalted!”

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.

I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.

Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.

Cultivating Joy

So often we act as though our joy depends on all the ideal circumstances falling into place for our lives so that we never face stress, pain, suffering, or trials. Instead, our joy should depend on the presence of God which never fluctuates or changes.

Pause for a moment and consider the following words (from World Magazine) spoken by church leader in China:

“Stop praying for persecution in China to end. It is through persecution that the Church has grown. We, in fact, are praying that the American Church might taste the same persecution so revival would come to the American Church like we have seen in China.”

Not only has this church leader seen the blessings come from “less than ideal” circumstances, he is praying for us to suffer, so that we may know the joy of revival.

Perhaps now is a good time to pray a prayer of confession and repentance for our being so quick to let the slightest inconvenience rob us of our joy. And perhaps we should follow that prayer with another – a prayer thanking God for His abiding, unfailing presence.

Psalm 18:2, NLT
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the strength of my salvation, and my stronghold.

Psalm 19:14, NLT
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Sleeping with Bread

Last fall I attended the Youth Specialties conference (a huge gathering of youth ministers) in Nashville with my daughter, Laura. One of the sessions we attended was taught by a man who had been a minister to middle school students for about 20 years. In his presentation he referred to a book called Sleeping with Bread. I have since read this book and I want to share with you just one quick story from that book as we continue cultivating joy in our lives.

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Sleeping with Bread
“During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, ‘Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.’”

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I can hardly imagine the pain and insecurity these orphaned children experienced and I certainly appreciate the efforts of all those who cared for these children. And yet I think of how often we are like those children, clutching on to a loaf of bread for our security. Holding on to something material, something physical, to provide security and joy.

Let’s remember our joy doesn’t come from anything material – whether a loaf of bread or a newer, bigger house or more expensive toys. Our security is rooted in God and His faithful promises. If you are not experiencing joy, perhaps you are holding onto something material instead of God.

I hope you will take time to meditate on this passage I used to conclude the sermon last Sunday —

Hebrews 13:5-6
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”

Joy and Pain

Today I want to encourage you to meditate on one of the teachings I presented in the sermon Sunday which also was discussed in the small groups —

One of the unique aspects of Christian joy is that we can still experience joy in the midst of suffering. Sometimes our greatest joy comes after the most difficult times in our life. For example, the joy of children comes after pregnancy and childbirth. The Bible tells us again and again that following Jesus will bring difficult times, but in the midst of those times we will find true joy.

Reflect on James 1: 2-4
“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Have you ever experienced joy and pain at the same time? Consider how difficult times have led to stronger faith?

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I want to encourage you to pray today – thanking God for the blessings you have received through times of struggle and pain.

Rejoice!

No Matter What

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Joy is effortless when things are going well in your life. Joy just happens when your health is reasonably well, your family is happy, your work situation is conflict-free, and your car is flowing smoothly through the traffic. But what happens when the doctor orders testing, your children are miserable, your boss is unreasonable, or your car is just inching down the road?

Be joyful always.

The prayers go up effortlessly when the blessings are pouring down. The praise comes easy when your portfolio is out-performing the averages, your children are making good grades, friends, and the team, your job review resulted in an unexpected raise, and your struggle with sin seems to be a distant memory. Or maybe the prayers start surging when the blessings seem to dry up. The petitions surge when financial reversal limits you, when your children’s struggles burden you, when your job termination stuns you, or when your heart is grappling with temptation and sin. Some find it easy to pray when things are going well but feel like any life difficulty erects a barrier from God. Others forget God during the good times and turn to Him only when suffering.

Pray continually.

Thanksgiving naturally gushes forth in time of plenty; when at the table spread with turkey and all the trimmings and surrounded by those who are most dear to you. But what when you are enduring one of those end of the month fried bologna meals? What about when you find yourself alone, isolated from all those you love?

Give thanks in all circumstances.

In this passage God reveals His will for our lives. God teaches us the need for consistency in our walk with Him. Wonderful are the days when the joy, the prayer, and the thanksgiving just come naturally. But as you grow in Christ you find just as wonderful the days when the joy, the prayers, and the thanksgiving are experienced and offered right in the face of circumstances that could be used as an excuse for a joyless, prayerless, and thankless life.

“Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 The Message).