Category  |  Fellowship With God

Our Reason for Joy

When the schoolyear began, fourteen-year-old C.J. would hop off the bus every afternoon and dance down his driveway. His mom recorded and shared videos of C.J.’s afterschool boogie time. He danced because he enjoyed life and “making people happy” with every move. One day, two garbage collectors took time out of their busy work schedule to stomp, spin, and sway with the young boy who inspires others to dance with him. This trio demonstrates the power of sincere and infectious joy.

The writer of Psalm 149 describes the original source of enduring and unconditional joy—God. The psalmist encourages God’s people to join together and “sing to the  Lord a new song” (v. 1). He invites Israel to “rejoice in their Maker” and “be glad in their King” (v. 2). He calls us to worship Him with dancing and music (vv. 1–3). Why? Because “the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory” (v. 4).

Our adoring Father created us and sustains the universe. He delights in us just because we are His beloved children. He designed us, knows us, and invites us into a personal relationship with Him. What an honor! Our loving and living God is our reason for everlasting joy. We can rejoice in the gift of His constant presence and be grateful for every day our Maker has given us.

Seeking God

It can be inspiring to watch people’s passion and dedication in pursuing their dreams. A young woman I know recently graduated from college in just three years—a task that took total commitment. A friend wanted a particular car, so he worked diligently baking and selling cakes until he reached his goal. Another person who’s in sales seeks to meet one hundred new people every week.

While it can be good to earnestly seek something of earthly value, there’s a more important kind of seeking that we must consider.

In desperation, struggling in a desert, King David wrote, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you” (Psalm 63:1). As David cried out to Him, God drew close to the weary king. David’s deep spiritual thirst for God (v. 1) could only be satisfied in His presence.

The king remembered meeting with God in His “sanctuary” (v. 2), experiencing His all-conquering love (v. 3), and praising Him day after day—finding true satisfaction in Him that’s not unlike enjoying a full and satisfying meal (vv. 4–5). Even during the night he contemplated God’s greatness, recognizing His help and protection (vv. 6–7).

Today the Holy Spirit convicts us to earnestly seek after God. As we cling to Him, in power and love God holds us up with His strong right hand. By the leading of the Spirit, may we draw close to the Maker of all good things.

Fruit Juice

A thrift-store bargain, the lamp seemed perfect for my home office—the right color, size, and price. Back at home, however, when I plugged in the cord, nothing happened. No light. No power. No juice.

No problem, my husband assured me. “I can fix that. Easy.” As he took the lamp apart, he saw the trouble immediately. The plug wasn’t connected to anything. Without wiring to a source of power, the “perfect” pretty lamp was useless.

The same is true for us. Jesus told His disciples. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” But then he added this reminder. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

This illustration was given in a grape-growing region, so His disciples readily understood it. Grapevines are hardy plants and their branches tolerate vigorous pruning. Cut off from their life source, however, the branches are worthless deadwood. So it is with us.

As we remain in Jesus and let His words dwell in us, we’re wired to our life source—Christ Himself. “This is to my Father’s glory,” said Jesus, “that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (v. 8). Such a fruitful outcome needs daily nourishment, however. Freely, the Lord provides it through His Word and His love. So plug in and let the juice flow!

True, Deep Desire

A mouse with a shrill voice, Reepicheep is perhaps The Chronicles of Narnia’s most valiant character. He charged into battle swinging his tiny sword. He rejected fear as he prodded on the Dawn Treader toward the Island of Darkness. The secret to Reepicheep’s courage? He was deeply connected to his insatiable longing to get to Aslan’s country. “That is my heart’s desire,” he said. Reepicheep knew what he truly wanted, and this desire led him toward his king.

Bartimaeus, a blind man from Jericho, sat in his normal spot jingling his cup for coins when he heard Jesus and the crowd approaching. He yelled out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). The crowd tried to silence him, but Bartimaeus was undeterred.

“Jesus stopped,” Mark says (v. 49). In the midst of the throng, Jesus wanted to hear Bartimaeus. “What do you want?” Jesus asked (v. 51).

The answer seemed obvious; surely Jesus knew. But He seemed to believe there was power in allowing Bartimaeus to express his deep desire. “I want to see,” Bartimaeus said (v. 51). And Jesus sent Bartimaeus home seeing colors, beauty, and the faces of friends for the first time.

Not all desires are met immediately (and desires must be transformed), but what’s essential here is how Bartimaeus knew his desire and took it to Jesus. If we’ll pay attention, we’ll notice that our true desires and longings always lead us to Him.

In the Vine

One spring after a particularly dreary winter during which she helped a family member through a long illness, Emma found encouragement each time she walked past a cherry tree near her home in Cambridge, England. Bursting out at the top of the pink blossoms grew blossoms of white. A clever gardener had grafted into the tree a branch of white flowers. When Emma passed the unusual tree, she thought of Jesus’s words about being the Vine and His followers the branches (John 15:1–8).

By calling Himself the Vine, Jesus was speaking of an image familiar to the Israelites in the Old Testament, for there the vine symbolized God’s people (Psalm 80:8–9; Hosea 10:1). Jesus extended this symbolism to Himself, saying He was the Vine and that His followers were grafted into Him as branches. And as they remained in Him, receiving His nourishment and strength, they would bear fruit (John 15:5).

As Emma supported her family member, she needed the reminder that she was connected to Jesus. Seeing the white flowers among the pink ones gave her a visual prompt of the truth that as she remained in the Vine, she gained nourishment through Him.

When we who follow Jesus embrace the idea of being as close to Him as a branch is to a vine, our faith is strengthened and enriched.

Spiritually Exhausted?

“Emotionally, we’ve sometimes worked a full day in one hour,” Zack Eswine writes in his book The Imperfect Pastor. Although he was referring specifically to the burdens pastors frequently carry, this is true for any of us. Weighty emotions and responsibilities can leave us physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted. And all we want to do is sleep.

In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah found himself in a situation where he was depleted in every way. We read that Queen Jezebel threatened to put him to death (vv. 1–2) after she discovered he had the prophets of Baal killed (see 1 Kings 18:16–40). Elijah was so afraid he ran away and prayed he would die (19:3–4).

In his distress, he lay down. An angel touched him twice and told him to “get up and eat” (vv. 5, 7). After the second time, Elijah was strengthened by the food God provided, and he “traveled forty days and forty nights” until he came to a cave (vv. 8–9). There, the Lord appeared to him and recommissioned him (see vv. 9–18)—and he was spiritually refreshed.

Sometimes we too need to be refreshed in the Lord. This may come in the form of a conversation with another believer, a worship song, or time in prayer and God’s Word.

Feeling exhausted? Give your burdens to the Lord today and be refreshed!

When Sharks Won’t Bite

My children were thrilled, but I felt uneasy. During a family vacation, we visited an aquarium where people were encouraged to pet small sharks kept in a special tank. When I asked the attendant if the creatures ever snapped at fingers in the water, she explained that the sharks had recently been fed and then given extra food. They wouldn’t bite because they weren’t hungry.

What I learned about shark petting makes sense according to a proverb in the Bible: “One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet” (Proverbs 27:7). Hunger—that sense of inner emptiness—can weaken our discernment as we make decisions. It convinces us that it’s okay to settle for anything that fills us up, even if it causes us to take a bite out of someone.

God wants more for us than a life lived at the mercy of our appetites. He wants us to be filled with Christ’s love so that everything we do flows from the peace and stability He provides. The constant awareness that we are unconditionally loved gives us confidence. It enables us to be selective as we consider the “sweet” things in life—achievements, possessions, and relationships.

Only a relationship with Jesus gives true satisfaction. May we grasp His incredible love for us so we can be “filled to the measure [with] all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19) for our sake—and the sake of others.

Finding Treasure

John and Mary were walking their dog on their property when they stumbled on a rusty can partially unearthed by recent rains. They took the can home and opened it, discovering a cache of gold coins over a century old! The couple returned to the spot and located seven more cans containing 1,427 coins in all. Then they protected their treasure by reburying it elsewhere.

The cache of coins (valued at $10 million) is called the Saddle Ridge Hoard, the largest find of its kind in US history. The story is strikingly reminiscent of a parable Jesus told: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Tales of buried treasure have captured imaginations for centuries, though such discoveries rarely happen. But Jesus tells of a treasure accessible to all who confess their sins and receive and follow Him (John 1:12).

We’ll never come to an end of that treasure. As we leave our old lives and pursue God and His purposes, we encounter His worth. Through “the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7), God offers us treasure beyond imagination—new life as His sons and daughters, new purpose on earth, and the incomprehensible joy of eternity with Him.

Not Like Yesterday

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.

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