Saturday, February 7, 2009

Finding Joy

This post is a talk I gave at my church last month.  I hope it blesses you.

Today’s topic is how to find joy and how to live daily in the freedom of joy.  This is a topic that I have personally struggled with over the years because I have a history of dealing with depression and anxiety.  So you see I feel a little awkward being the one discussing finding joy and living in joy with all of you.  But God has won some amazing victories in me and as one pilgrim to another, I’m excited to share some of my journey with you.  If you have ever struggled with depression, you will know that telling a depressed person to have joy is like telling them to grow another arm.  It seems absolutely impossible and it often makes them mad.  But it’s not, it is slow going and difficult but not impossible to experience joy even in the midst of pain and sorrow.  This does not come easily to me in the slightest and I have had to work strenuously on this and it is still a battle but one that’s getting a little easier every day now that I’ve learned some important things.

Before I get into those things, let me just give you a little background to who I am.  I was born 33 years ago on Jan. 19, 1976. I am the fourth child of my parents but only the third one living.  My sister was born 7 years before me and after her came my brother, Peter, who was born with a hole in his lung and died in infancy.  My parents’ faith was really tested.  They trusted God but had to walk a very sorrowful path alone because their church didn’t know how to sympathize with their grief.  After Peter, my sister was born.  She had some health problems as a child and my Mom didn’t think she wanted to have any more children. 

Like me, my mother also struggles with depression and anxiety and this journey was extremely difficult for her.   It is a generational stronghold that goes far back into her family line.  She married my dad who is the complete opposite of her.  He is as sanguine as the day is long and even today in his 60s he has more energy than I do!  He loved children and wanted more of his own, so after much begging my Mom (in faith) agreed to have one more baby, me.  When I was born, I also had a hole in my lung just like my brother.  But this time I was kept alive through artificial life support for a few weeks.  So once again my parents faced this same difficult situation. When the doctors gave up hope they told my parents to prepare themselves.  So they went home, and as my dad tells it, they wrestled with God for a long time.  They were mad, they cried, but ultimately, they said, “OK, God, we give her to you.  She’s yours.”  They released me to God.  The next morning the doctor called, completely mystified.  He said, “Your daughter started breathing on her own, we took her off life support and the hole in her lung is gone.  We don’t know how this happened, but you can come and take her home.”  My dad calls me his Isaac because after being willing to sacrifice me, God showed mercy and let me live.  I tell you this story because it shapes me in ways I am still learning about.  But one of the ways that I am aware of is that I have such a firm, undeniable faith in God’s sovereignty and I believe it comes from this experience where I paced the gates of heaven and waited with my parents to see what His decision would be.

Now, God made me a certain way as he has made each one of us a certain way.  He chose to make me an artistic person complete with the stereotypical artistic temperament; melancholy, brooding, dramatic, intense, sensitive, emotional, passionate, tender, sympathetic…you get the picture.  Well, with the stronghold of depression being passed on to me from my mother and her family line and having a disposition already prone to depression, you can see how easy it was for Satan to get a foothold in me.  But God was faithful from the beginning.  When I was four years old He called me to be his child and I accepted the invitation with my whole being, I held nothing back.  I remember it clearly and it was genuine even at age four.  So even though depression plagued me from the start, God was my champion and he has always been fighting for me…I look back and see it now.  When I was in high school I remember thanking God many times for saving me as a child because if he hadn’t I’d probably have committed suicide. 

Well, like any normal girl, I often questioned my place in the world.  I always felt so undeserving of God’s gift of life to me, I mean, who was I…nobody! I didn’t deserve to live and my brother die.  I was temperamental, emotionally unstable, moody, impractical, all my talents were pointless and I didn’t have any spiritual gifts (or so I thought).  I wasn’t a great evangelist, I was insecure and introverted…why had he wanted me to live?  And that great deceiver Satan began to sink his claws in deeper and I unwittingly let him.  Depression was never far from me. 

There was something else that contributed to my depression, constant physical pain.  My Mom says that as soon as I could talk I was communicating my pain to her.  God not only gave me a sensitive nature but a sensitive body as well.  Even today there is not a day where I do not experience pain.  This is difficult and Satan is very good at using physical pain to depress us.  I have gone to many many doctors over the last 33 years but the source of my pain and the answer to it has eluded everyone.  I have wrestled with God on this a lot.  He has decided to not heal me as of yet, but one thing I’ve learned from this is that my physical pain keeps me fully dependent on God for His strength. 

Well, I grew up and went off to college deciding to major in music first and later I would pursue art (I hoped).  But God brought across my path an amazing optimist who to my shocking surprise adored me…Mike Best.  Mike was everything I wasn’t…fun, happy, outgoing, confident, secure, lighthearted and cute.  And he really liked me which just stunned me.  He was everything I had ever dreamed of and after dating for 6 months we were engaged and were married 3 months later, I was 20 and he was 24.

Unfortunately adulthood proved to be pretty rough for me.  I had hoped I would outgrow the moody depression junk, that marriage and children would fix all of that.  But the depression continued to be a problem and my physical pain only got worse each year.  Finally, after four babies and the postpartum depression never leaving, I finally got serious about getting some help.  I did some counseling for a year, I went on an antidepressant for about 6 months and then I dramatically changed my diet and through all that God’s spirit really began to teach me in earnest and I was finally able to see though my cloud enough to hear him for the first time.  So here I am, about three years into this and I am a different person.

So how can we find joy in the midst of painful, sorrowful circumstances?  How do we experience the freedom of joy when the accuser is constantly barraging us with fears and doubts and lies?  Does God really expect us to be joyful all the time?  Will he fulfill his promise and give us abundant life?  I believe the answer is yes!  Here is how I have found joy and how I am cultivating a life characterized by joy.

1. REPENT

Joy begins with a repentant heart.  “What do I need to repent of?” you might ask, “I’m suffering, I’m not sinning”.  Well first let me say, repentance is a gift not a punishment.  Whenever we repent we are set free and made new.  Who doesn’t want to be set free and made new?  But we Christians have given repentance such a bad rap saying it’s reserved only for the really bad sins and if you have to repent you must have really messed up and I’m sure God is pretty disappointed in you.  But do you realize that repentance is a gift. Isaiah 30:15 says “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.”   If God has revealed to you that you’re going the wrong way, the best thing to do is say, “Oh thank you for showing me, now I won’t get lost, I can turn around and go the right way, phew.” 

So, if we’re miserable and joyless, what is that we need to repent of?  An ungrateful heart.  I believe that most sin comes from an ungrateful heart.  An ungrateful heart only sees self; it does not see the Father, Jesus or the Spirit.  When we see God we can’t help but be overwhelmed with gratefulness.  Sorrow is real and often cannot be ignored but the discipline of saying thank you changes us and miraculously allows our sorrow to be overshadowed by the glory of God and a grateful heart eases our suffering tremendously.  There is a quote by Elizabeth Elliott that I have had up on my bathroom mirror since I was first married; “We accept and thank God for what is given, not allowing the not given to spoil it”.  What a powerful statement, we thank God for what is given: our health, our church, our children, running water, money for groceries, our husband, etc…not allowing the not given: that other women’s husband, that other person’s spiritual gifts, that other person’s job of finances, that other women’s children, etc. to spoil it.

The very last commandment is to not covet…wanting what you don’t have.  Why do you think it’s the last commandment, I think it’s because God wanted it to be the last thing we remember as we go out into our world.  An ungrateful heart is the primary joy stealer in a Christian’s life.

“O my people, listen as I speak.

      Here are my charges against you, O Israel:

      I am God, your God!

 I have no complaint about your sacrifices

      or the burnt offerings you constantly offer.

 But I do not need the bulls from your barns

      or the goats from your pens.

 For all the animals of the forest are mine,

      and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.

 I know every bird on the mountains,

      and all the animals of the field are mine.

 If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

      for all the world is mine and everything in it.

 Do I eat the meat of bulls?

      Do I drink the blood of goats?

 Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,

      and keep the vows you made to the Most High.

 Then call on me when you are in trouble,

      and I will rescue you,

      and you will give me glory.”

Repent, all of you who forget me,

      or I will tear you apart,

      and no one will help you.

 But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.

      If you keep to my path,

      I will reveal to you the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50:7-15, 22-23 (NLT)

(See also I Thessalonians 5:16-18; Ephesians 5:18b-20; Philippians 4:4-7; I Corinthians 10:10-13)

I think what God wants more than anything is a grateful heart from his children.  This is something we crave from our own children.  Christmas always reveals it to me the most…they’re given so much but they’re not happy because they’re not grateful.  The minute we’re grateful we’re happy.  If we predetermine what we need to make us happy, then we will never be happy because our requirements for happiness are all wrong.  We need to allow God to change our definition of what is good.  Only God knows what we need to make us happy, what we need to do is to practice saying “thank you God, I trust you, I don’t get it but you’re God and I’m not so I will thank you in faith and then let the Sprit change my feelings”.  And when we step out in obedience, our heart follows eventually.

2. REMEMBER

I think the reason we are so often ungrateful and therefore unhappy is because we don’t remember who God is, what he’s done, what he promises, or who we are in him.   We need to remember the truth. 

Philippians 4:8 “Finally brothers, 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.”

Remembering the truth, meditating on it, saying it out loud to ourselves leads us to gratefulness which fills us with joy no matter what our circumstances. This is exactly what the Psalmist does over and over. 

Psalm 42:5 “Why am I discouraged?  Why so sad?  I will put my hope in God!  I will praise him again—my savior and my God!  Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember your kindness.”  He is in true pain and sorrow and has no problem with pouring that out at God’s feet.  This is where most of the Psalms start, in sorrow and despair but they don’t end there.  You can see that in almost all of the Psalms, the writer forces himself to remember and recount what God has done for him or what God has done for others.  He also makes himself meditate on God’s character and power and promises, this leads him to thankfulness.  Our joy can never truly come from our circumstances or from ourselves, it comes from the essence of God and when we remember him, joy is quick to follow. 

Here are some worthy things to remember: 

Ephesians 2:4, 2:19, and 3:12b tell us that while we were sinners, He loved us enough to die for us.  We are no longer strangers, but part of God’s family.  We can come fearlessly into God’s presence, and God promises to give us good things!

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.

      Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.

   I will strengthen you and help you.

      I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)

(See also Psalm 68:19; Matthew 7:11)

You could take a Psalm and personalize it.  This is something I love doing.  Take Psalm 71 for example.  I’m not going to read it to you but I’m going to summarize all the things it says about God here: he is a refuge, savior, protector, welcomer, rescuer, giver of hope, trustworthy, always with us, a helper, righteous, good, mighty, just, powerful, a keeper of promises, he is on our side.  And then practice personalizing it for yourself; For me God is: a listener, kind, an abundant blesser, a friend, good, a powerful rescuer, always right, faithful, dependable, bringer of good news, provider of new mercies.  We have very short, faulty memories, which is why I am so glad we have the Bible because it clears up our foggy minds.  The things the Bible says about God are true whether or not we feel like they are.  It’s important to remember them. And after we’ve repented and spent time remembering we need to respond.

3. RESPOND

Did you know that rejoicing is a choice, not just a feeling?  We can rejoice.  It may feel empty and inauthentic when we first begin but we can train ourselves to be thankful people.  As a mom I often have to tell my kids, “say thank you” whether or not they feel thankful.  In fact, I recently made it a rule in our house that they can’t leave the table until they’ve thanked the person who made the food for this “good meal”.  Do they mean it?  No, but I’m training them and eventually their hearts begin to mean it.  There have been a few times the kids have said with true heartfelt thanks, “thank you Mom for this awesome dinner, I loved it!”  And wow, it’s brought tears to me eyes.  And the only reason they thought to say that at all was because they have been practicing saying thank you even when they didn’t feel like it.  Jesus calls us children, and we really are and many of the ways children learn are exactly how we need to be learning.  Don’t worry about whether your response comes from the pit of your heart right away, do it anyway and let the Spirit worry about directing your heart.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,

      and there are no grapes on the vines;

   even though the olive crop fails,

      and the fields lie empty and barren;

   even though the flocks die in the fields,

      and the cattle barns are empty,

 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!

      I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

                                    Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT)

I have a personal story to share about this concept in my life. Many of you know that our family has been sued.  The lady who bought our house in California is suing us.  I won’t get into the details, but it is difficult, to say the least, to be falsely accused of wrongdoing. And then to put forth lots of money (that we don’t have) to fight this thing.  I wrestle with God about this.  There’s no answer yet.  There have been times when I would weep and say with the psalms, “Vindicate me, God!  Show us your mercy!  Set us free! This is oppressive, my enemies are against me!” And there are times when I think, “This isn’t fair!  Why am I here?”  And God has said to me, “Heidi, say ‘Thank you.’”  To which I reply, “What!?!”  That doesn’t make any sense!  But finally, I say (not with a great attitude, mind you), “Thank You, God, that I’m being sued.  And that I have to pay all this money.”  And amazingly, when I begin to say it out loud, the Lord pours all this truth into me, saying, “If it wasn’t for this, you wouldn’t see My faithfulness.  I have provided for you when you didn’t know if you’d make it.  And the money has just come ‘out of the blue.’  Would that have happened without this lawsuit?  I am going to show you My glory through this.”  And I believe it.  I don’t know how or when, but God will show me His glory and I CAN be thankful!  If it wasn’t for this lawsuit, I wouldn’t be who I am.  I would not be growing the way I am.  And I am really, truly thankful. 

When you find yourself miserable, sorrowful, stripped of all your joy, sit down and ask God to forgive you for not being grateful, then ask him to show you what you can be grateful for, open your Bible to any Psalm just to get the ball rolling and read what it says about God, then begin to thank God out loud for what you’re reading, personalizing it as you go.  If you spend any time in the Psalms you’ll see a pattern.  The writer starts in deep despair, much deeper than I think many of us experience, he does not ignore his pain, it’s very real and he brings it straight to God.  But as he’s weeping and sorrowing, he begins to choose to remember and in the remembering you can see his heart of repentance because he’s turning from self-focus to God-focus and beginning to experience thankfulness.  And at the end of nearly every Psalm, he is responding with praise. 

Hear My Cry          Words and music by Heidi Best

Lord, hear my cry

Lord, don’t be far from me

Do You see me?

I am overwhelmed

Tired and alone

This journey is hard

The waiting is so long

 

Blessed be the Lord because He has hear my cry

My cry

You are my Shield, my pain You will heal

You lift me up

My soul exalts in You, my loving Father

To You, my sovereign Father, I cry

 

Trust feels so hopeless

Faith feels like death sometimes

Please stay with me

I believe You’re good

Yes, I believe You’re near

You’re close to the broken

You save the shipwrecked heart

 

Blessed be the Lord because He has hear my cry

My cry

You are my Shield, my pain You will heal

You lift me up

My soul exalts in You, my loving Father

To You, my sovereign Father, I cry

 

Those who know Your Name

Will put their trust in You

For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you

 

Blessed be the Lord because He has hear my cry

My cry

You are my Shield, my pain You will heal

You lift me up

My soul exalts in You, my loving Father

To You, my sovereign Father, I cry

 © 2008 Punky-Doodle Music


Joy is not putting a Pollyanna sticker on genuine sorrow.  But joy is available to us even in the midst of sorrow.  It’s not too good to be true, it is not impossible to experience a life characterized by joy…it is the right of a follower of Christ.  It is the fruit of the Spirit that has been given to us.  Pain is what is needed to change us because we live in a sinful world.  Thank God for the pain, you can do it.  Satan intended for pain to break us and drive us from God, but God swoops in as our hero and uses pain to heal and shape us.  This ticks Satan off.  Think of the story Sleeping Beauty.  The evil fairy casts a spell to kill the princess, but the good fairies swoop in and use that curse to bring the princess into a deep sleep and then bring her the love of her life after 100 years.  What the wicked fairy intended for evil the good fairies turned into good.  It was painful for the princess, but in the end she was victorious and blessed.  This is what God does.  When we walk though the valleys, we begin to know what true joy is and it is not the fleeting happiness that is dependent on our circumstances…praise God.  Joy begins to breathe into our souls when we repent of our ungratefulness, when we remember truth and when we respond with thankful praise.  If you don’t feel like God cares or wants to bless you, say out loud in faith…”I know you care, I know you desire to bless me and that is where my hope lies” Say with David in Psalm 27:13-14 “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

6 comments:

Joyce said...

That was amazing and written from the true Spirit of God! Thank you for sharing!

thomas'auntie said...

Thank you so much for being so transparent with your own life, I'm only partway through the article, but thank you so much for sharing this with us!
Audra

Karen's Corner said...

Hi Honey - This is so great. I want you to share it with our ladies sometime. I will plan a "Joy" Luncheon and have you come down and speak. We look forward to your visit next month. I won't plan a luncheon for when you are here because I want you to just have a vacation. See you soon.

Love, MOM

acacia1013 said...

I loved what you said. I am going to copy this blog and pull it out again when I am in my next slump. There's so much about you I didn't know, too.

brenda said...

thanks, i needed to hear this today. I am running on borrowed steam trying to get us settled into our new place, take care of my kids and Ry as he heals from surgery and do all the over the top stuff the adoption agency wants us to do to finish our certification. I am feeling tired and yep, ungrateful. New light on this subject is appreciated. I have some talking with God to do.

Katelyn Urban said...

Heidi,
Thank you so much for posting this! It is so random that I stumbled on your page and started reading but it was EXACTLY what I needed right now.

Lots of love,

Kate