One of our sons, Brian, is a high school basketball coach. One year, as his team was threading its way through the Washington State Basketball Tournament, well-meaning folks around town asked, “Are you going to win it all this year?” Both players and coaches felt the pressure, so Brian adopted a mantra: “Play with joy!”
I thought of the apostle Paul’s last words to the elders of Ephesus: “That I may finish my race with joy” (Acts 20:24 nkjv). His aim was to complete the tasks Jesus had given him. I have made these words my mantra and my prayer: “May I run and finish my race with joy.” Or as Brian says, “May I play with joy!” And by the way, Brian’s team did win the state championship that year.
We all have good reasons to get grouchy: world news, everyday stresses, health problems. Nevertheless God can give us a joy that transcends these conditions if we ask Him. We can have what Jesus called, "My joy" (John 15:11).
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit of Jesus (Galatians 5:22). So I must remember each morning to ask Him to help me: "May I play with joy!” Author Richard Foster said, “To pray is to change. This is a great grace. How good of God to provide a path whereby our lives can be taken over by . . . joy.”
I peeked over the grape-stake fence that encloses our backyard. There, I saw folks running, jogging, walking, shuffling around the track that surrounds the park behind our home. I used to do that when I was stronger, I thought. And a wave of dissatisfaction washed over me.
Later, while reading the Scriptures, I came across Isaiah 55:1, “Come, all you who are thirsty,” and I realized again that dissatisfaction (thirst) is the rule, not the exception in this life. Nothing, not even the good things of life can fully satisfy. If I had strong legs like a Sherpa (mountain-climbing guide), there would still be something else that’s wrong that I’d be unhappy about.
Our culture is always telling us in one way or another that something we do, buy, wear, spray on, roll on, or ride in will give us endless pleasure. But that’s a lie. We can’t get complete satisfaction from anything in the here and now, no matter what we do.
Rather, Isaiah invites us to come again and again to God and the Scriptures to hear what He has to say. And what does He say? His love for David of old is “everlasting” and “faithful” (v. 3). And that goes for you and me as well! We can “Come” to Him.
When our grandson Jay was a child his parents gave him a new T-shirt for his birthday. He put it on right away and proudly wore it all day.
When he appeared the next morning in the shirt, his dad asked him, “Jay, does that shirt make you happy?”
“Not as much as yesterday,” Jay replied.
That’s the problem with material acquisition: Even the good things of life cannot give us the deep, lasting happiness we so ardently desire. Though we may have many possessions, we may still be unhappy.
The world offers happiness through material accumulation: new clothes, a new automobile, an update to our phone or watch. But no material acquisition can make us as happy as it did yesterday. That's because we were made for God and nothing less will do.
One day, when Jesus was fasting and faint with hunger, Satan approached Him and tempted Him to satisfy His hunger by creating bread. Jesus countered by quoting the text above: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God ” (Matthew 4:4).
Jesus did not say that we should not live on bread alone. He’s rather stating a fact: We are spiritual beings and thus we cannot exist on material goods alone.
True satisfaction is found in God and His riches.
Winnie the Pooh famously said, "If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
I’ve learned over the years that Winnie might be on to something. When someone won’t listen to you even though following your counsel would be to their advantage, it may be that their reticence is nothing more than a small piece of fluff in their ear. Or there may be another hindrance: Some folks find it hard to listen well because they are broken and discouraged.
Moses said he spoke to the people of Israel but they didn’t listen because their spirits were broken and their lives were hard (Exodus 6:9). The word discouragement in the Hebrew text is literally “short of breath,” the result of their bitter enslavement in Egypt. That being the case, Israel’s reluctance to listen to Moses instruction called for understanding and compassion not censure.
What should we do when others won’t listen? Winnie the Pooh's words enshrine wisdom: “Be patient.” God says, “Love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4); it is willing to wait. He is not finished with that individual. He is working through their sorrow, our love, and our prayers. Perhaps, in His time, He will open their ears to hear. Just be patient.
I have a treasured memory of gatherings with family friends when our boys were small. The adults would talk into the night; our children, weary with play would curl up on a couch or chair and fall asleep.
When it was time to leave, I would gather our boys into my arms, carry them to the car, lay them in the back seat, and take them home. When we arrived I would pick them up again, tuck them into their beds, kiss them goodnight, and turn out the light. In the morning they would awaken—at home.
This has become a rich metaphor for me of the night on which we “sleep in Jesus.” We slumber . . . and awaken in our eternal home, the home that will heal the weariness that has marked our days.
I came across an Old Testament text the other day that surprised me—a closing comment in Deuteronomy: “Moses died there in Moab, as the Lord had said” (34:5). The Hebrew means literally, “Moses died . . . with the mouth of the
Is it asking too much to envision God bending over us on our final night on earth, tucking us in and kissing us goodnight? Then, as John Donne so eloquently put it, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally.”
When I was in college, I worked a summer on a ranch in Colorado. One evening, tired and hungry after a long day of mowing hay, I drove the tractor into the yard. Acting like the hot shot I thought I was, I cranked the steering wheel hard left, stamped on the left brake, and spun the tractor around.
The sickle was down and swept the legs out from under a 500-gallon gasoline tank standing nearby. The tank hit the ground with a resounding boom, the seams split, and all the gasoline spewed out.
The rancher stood nearby surveying the scene.
I got off the tractor, stammered an apology, and—because it was the first thing that popped into my mind—offered to work the rest of the summer without pay.
The old rancher stared at the wreckage for a moment and turned toward the house. “Let’s go have dinner,” he drawled.
A scrap of a story Jesus told passed through my mind—a story about a young man who had done a terrible thing: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you,” he cried. He intended to add, “Make me like one of your hired servants,” but before he could get all the words out of his mouth his father interrupted him. In essence, he said, “Let’s go have dinner” (Luke 15:17–24).
Such is God’s amazing grace.
My father was a good father, and, in most respects, I was a dutiful son. But I allowed my father to starve for the one thing I could have given him: myself.
He was a quiet man; I was equally silent. We often worked for hours side-by-side with scarcely a word passing between us. He never asked; I never told him my deepest desires and dreams, my hopes and fears.
In time I woke up to my reticence. Perhaps the perception came when my first son was born, or when, one by one, my sons went out into the world. Now I wish I had been more of a son to my father.
I think of all the things I could have told him. And all the things he could have told me. At his funeral I stood beside his casket, struggling to understand my emotions. “It’s too late, isn’t it?” my wife said quietly. Exactly.
My comfort lies in the fact that we’ll be able to set things right in heaven, for is that not where every tear will be wiped away? (Revelation 21:4).
For believers in Jesus, death is not the end of affection but the beginning of timeless existence in which there will be no more misunderstandings; relationships will be healed and love will grow forever. There, the hearts of sons will turn to their fathers and the hearts of fathers to their sons (Malachi 4:6
The story is told of a group of salmon fishermen who gathered in a Scottish inn after a long day of fishing. As one was describing a catch to his friends, his arm swept across the table and knocked a glass against the wall, shattering it and leaving a stain on the white plaster surface. The man apologized to the innkeeper and offered to pay for the damage, but there was nothing he could do; the wall was ruined. A man seated nearby said, “Don't worry.” Rising, he took a painting implement from his pocket and began to sketch around the ugly stain. Slowly there emerged the head of a magnificent stag. The man was Sir E. H. Landseer, Scotland's foremost animal artist.
David, Israel’s illustrious king who penned Psalm 51, brought shame on himself and his nation by his sins. He committed adultery with the wife of one of his friends and engineered the death of that friend—both deeds worthy of death. It would seem his life was ruined. But he pleads with God: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (v. 12).
Like David we have shameful acts in the past and the memories that accompany them, recollections that taunt us in the middle of the night. There’s so much we wish we could undo or redo.
There is a grace that not only forgives sin but also uses it to make us better than before. God wastes nothing.
Often we hear that happiness comes from doing things our own way. That, however, is not true. That philosophy leads only to emptiness, anxiety, and heartache.
Poet W. H. Auden observed people as they attempted to find an escape in pleasures. He wrote of such people: "Lost in a haunted wood, / Children afraid of the night / Who have never been happy or good."
The psalmist David sings of the remedy for our fears and unhappiness. “I sought the
We say, "Seeing is believing." That's how we know things in this world. Show me proof and I'll believe it. God puts it the other way around. Believing is seeing. "Taste and then you will see."
Take the Lord at His word. Do the very next thing He is asking you to do and you will see. He will give you grace to do the right thing and more: He will give you Himself—the only source of goodness—and with it, enduring happiness.