God’s Joy

What Brings God Joy?

This morning I read something intriguing in “My Utmost for His Highest”, Oswald Chambers daily devotional.  He wrote, “Have we ever let God tell us any of his joys?”

When I read that, I paused, reflected, and asked my Heavenly Father what brought him joy?  What made him happy?  What do I do that brings him joy?  What do I do that makes him happy?  Then I asked, “Please tell me what gives you joy and what makes you happy?  I want to give you joy and make you happy.”

After my morning’s devotional readings were finished, I continued to reflect and wonder if I ever made God happy.  The thoughts continued in the kitchen as I prepared breakfast and later as I sat and enjoyed what God had provided.  The radio was on but I don’t really remember much about what the preacher’s sermon was about.  Oh yes, it was about Daniel faith and trust in God while even in the lion’s den.  Finished with breakfast and the dishes returned to the kitchen, I heard Dr. David Jeremiah on the radio.  He’s been teaching on the book of Revelation for several months.  I haven’t been a devoted listener of his radio program but listened when I could.  I caught enough of the intro to know I wanted to catch this one.  I fetched my bible and eased into my chair.

Dr. Jeremiah is beginning to teach in Chapter 21.  He introduces a new heaven and a new earth.  Then he spends a little time explaining his thoughts about what that might mean.  But then, he moves into the scriptures about the holy city the new Jerusalem.  Excitement grows in his voice as he begins to describe the details of this city as presented in scripture.  As his excitement and wonder grows, so does mine.  I’m following along in scripture and the glory of the size and the wonder beyond wonder of the spectacular beauty and purity stretches the extreme limits of my imagination—much like when I think about the size of the universe or the limitlessness of eternity.  At a point, this kind of thinking about the universe and eternity causes me to shudder and to pull back into my reality.  This was not the case with such thinking about the Holy City—at least not this morning.  I was reveling and basking in the glory and light of my imagination when it happened.

I was caught up into my mind’s eye picture created by the combination of scripture and preacher’s description almost to a point of ecstasy.  That’s when God spoke to my spirit and said, “Preparing this city for my children who love me is what brings me joy!  Knowing you will be here with me makes me happy.  I can hardly wait to see your face when you see this in person!”  Oh, my friend—HEAVEN CAME DOWN AND GLORY FILLED MY SOUL!

Carl Ray, A Simple Christian

Pruning Tomatoes

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”  John 15:1-4 (NLT)

I don’t grow grapes and don’t know much about how they grow.  But, I do know something about tomatoes.  Earlier this spring I planted three Brandywine heritage tomato vines.  I prune my tomato vines.  While small, I prune the vine allowing only three branches to develop.  I tie each of the three branches to a stake of its own.  As a branch grows it produces branches (suckers) of its own that fork off in a new direction.  If allowed to develop, these suckers draw nutrients from the branch resulting in a smaller and less robust branch.  The vine becomes all suckers, producing smaller and smaller tomatoes as the season progresses.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches.  Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.  For apart from me you can do nothing.  Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers.  Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.  But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!  When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples.  This bring great glory to my Father.”  John 15:5-8. (NLT)

I prune all of these suckers while they are young and small maintaining the vine to only three branches.  I throw the suckers on top of my compost heap where they wither and rot.  Pruning the vine in this manner the vine produces an abundance of large delicious tomatoes.

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me.  Remain in my love.  When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments, and remain in his love.  I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy.  Yes, your joy will overflow!”  John 15:9-11 (NLT)

Yesterday, I was pruning my tomato vines.  This morning, these verses remind me why I prune.  They also remind me that my heart’s desire is to be always present with Jesus.  My Heavenly Father has already pruned sin and guilt from me.  I am a branch grafted into Jesus, my vine.  I must always remember to allow the Holy Spirit to prune away everything that remains within and everything that attempts to sprout from within that may keep me from being constantly in the presence of the love of Jesus.  By being in his presence, I receive the nourishment of life from him, abundantly.  In so doing, and being, I receive his joy and my joy will overflow.  Oh, how I want his joy!  With each passing day, remaining in his presence becomes more sustainable.  My joy is increasing.  Every day is not a happy day.  Happiness has its up and downs, its in and outs.  Joy is different.  Joy is peace on an unhappy day.  Joy is a level place during  the ups and downs.  Joy is always present, neither in nor out.

Don’t you want joy?  I know you do.  Don’t you want an abundant life?  I know you do.  Don’t you want to see this abundant life produced in others?  I know you do.  Jesus loves you, my friend, and so do I.  Tell him what you want.  He’s listening.

Infantile Faith

“Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am.”  John 12:26 (NLT)

Selfishness

In one of the first Psychology courses I took in college I learned something exists to an infant only within the realm of their five senses.  In other words, anything that does not trigger their sense of sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell doesn’t exist.  When an infant cries, mom appears.  She exists because I cry.  When mom leaves the room she no longer exists.  I can make her exist again by crying again.

In my effort to always be in the presence of Jesus, I have come to the sad realization I’m a baby.  I ascend to the fact that Jesus exists outside myself but I don’t behave that way.  Throughout my life I’ve cried and he appears.  I call and he answers.  The way I act, he only exists when I want him to.  That is so very wrong.  If I want to mature in Christ I have to turn that around—I answer when he calls.  I exist for him, not him for me.  He leads, I follow.  I don’t take him to Walmart; He takes me.  Jesus doesn’t go to church with me, I go to church with him.  Perhaps this requires a level of surrender I haven’t reached, yet.

Selflessness

In my effort to be in the presence of Jesus, am I beckoning him or am I seeking to follow him?  When I go to my garden, do I say to Jesus, “Let’s go to the garden.”  Or, do I go to the garden when Jesus says, “Let’s go to the garden.”  I have to go to the garden to know the needs of the garden.  Jesus takes me to the garden when the garden needs something.  My struggle has always been between being a “man” and doing all that I can vs. accepting the words of Jesus urging me to trust him as a “child”.

The Lord is My Shepherd

I want to serve Jesus with my whole being.  To do that I must be where he is and not him being where I am.  Today, I begin.

Right Paths

Spring in the West.
Mesquite trees leaf out amidst the junipers.

“He leads me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.”  Psalm 23:3b (NLT)

It isn’t easy to stay in God’s presence.  It’s not easy for me, anyway.  My mind drifts and some time may pass before I even notice it.  I return my thoughts to him only to I’ve drifted away a short time later.  It is getting easier, though.  Do I think it possible?  Oh yes, I do!

Scripture tells me, over and over, he wants us to be friends.  I know he is always with me because scripture also tells me he lives within me.  Recently I spent over 18 hours in the back country with a photographer friend of mine.  I never forgot he was right there with me.  At all times I was aware of his presence.  We talked all day long.  We laughed together.  We drank coffee together.  We ate lunch together.  I was driving so wherever I went he went along.  I never, not once, drove off without him.  Sometimes I waited for him, and sometimes he was waiting for me.  I welcomed and enjoyed his company.  That’s how I want to be with Jesus…everyday, all day.

It isn’t easy, but it is getting easier.  The best part?  There’s such a peace and joy whenever he’s near.

Does He Want To?

Since God can oversee even the tiniest minute comings and goings of a universe so vast I cannot comprehend its size or complexity, he surely must be able to manage the simple details of my life.  The question is does he want to.  Yes, he does!  I’m the problem, though.  Because he gave me free will to choose, it is my choice to run my daily affairs minute by minute, or let him.  I’m choosing to let him.  It isn’t easy but I’m working on it.  It certainly is better and easier the more I am able to maintain him in my mind throughout the day.  Peace and joy are becoming more common every day.

Matthew 6:25-34

In His Presence

In His Presence

I want to be in the presence of Jesus all day long.  He’s just about the only friend I have; He is the only friend I can speak to everyday.  I try to talk to him all day long.  It isn’t difficult to do when I’m home all day; which I usually am.  It’s when I leave the shelter of my house and enter the hustling, bustling world beyond.  It’s really not that difficult then, except when I interact with other people.  Then, it’s like I ignore he’s even there.  I feel bad afterward.  It’s like when you encounter someone you know, unexpectedly and you don’t introduce them to the one who is with you.  Afterwards, when you realize what you’ve done you feel badly.  It’s like that.  I believe it’s possible to maintain your presence with Jesus when in the company of others.  I’m trying and will try harder today.

Carl Ray

April 23, 2018

Monday, April 23, 2018

Last night’s sleep was very good.  I awakened and expressed my gratitude to God for a good night’s rest.  I have a new commitment today.  Today, I’m going to try again to keep God constantly in my thoughts.  I’m struggling with that.  It’s a struggle every day.  There’s a joy in my heart whenever I can for even a few minutes.  Thoughts about other things are intrusive and I soon, very soon, too soon find myself thinking about other things.  More often than not, I’m focused on the task at hand and God has disappeared.  I don’t believe it has to be that way and I’m going to try to bring God into these tasks as an ever present friend.

Bad Days

Bad Days

Sometimes I have bad days.  I bet you do too.  Sunday started off to be bad day.  It began when I woke up.  Usually, the first thing I do when I open my eyes is say, “Thank you, Jesus.”  When I do, I’m thanking him first for waking my up.  I’m thanking him for protecting me through the night.  I’m thanking him for the sleep I got, in spite of the pain in my shoulders.  That’s what my first of the day “Thank You, Jesus”, means.  Sunday morning I didn’t say it with an zip or enthusiasm.  It took some effort.  I recognized that right off so I said to Jesus, “Jesus, I really do mean it even though it doesn’t sound like it”.  When I got out of bed my body didn’t feel like it.  My mind didn’t feel like.  My attitude certainly didn’t feel like it.  I was just going through the motions.  You ever been there?

Church attendance later in the morning became optional.  I was arguing with myself.  “You can stay home and worship God.  You can devote the whole day to that.  It’ll be okay this time.”  “Oh come on.  Suck it up.  You’ll feel better once you get going, get loosened up.  Eat breakfast.  Read the devotionals.  By the time you get to Oswald Chambers if you aren’t revved up by that time, reading “My Utmost for HIs Highest” will certainly get you there.  If not, praying afterward certainly will.  Come on.  Let’s go.”  One by one, I began checking things off the list.

Nothing was working.  Nothing worked.  After all this was done, there was still time to get ready in time to go to church.  I needed to kill some more time.  I had put off doing my exercises, any of them, for several days.  I knew it was a bad thing to do because my shoulders were really hurting more and more every passing day.  Today, I made myself exercise, more to kill time than for the good they would do me.  Okay, so I exercised.  Actually loosening up my shoulders made them feel better.  Okay, there was still enough time, so I said I’d make a final decision after I took a shower.  So, I did.  Slowly, I noticed my will was taking over and I was willing myself to continue.

I took my shower, shaved, brushed my teeth, trimmed my eyebrows, trimmed my toenails.  Yep, I still had time.  I opened the closet door and began collecting my Sunday go-to-meeting clothes.  I finished dressing, collecting my Bible, identifying my offering, checking everything twice and still waited a few minutes before dragging myself out the door.  I still did not have a good attitude and wasn’t looking forward to meeting and greeting anyone.  I wanted to turn around and go back in the house.  I didn’t because my will was in charge now.  Just like the exercises done for the wrong reasons were still good for my shoulders, I knew going to church would be good for my spirit.  I made a commitment to serve Jesus and my will was taking me down that path.

Going Through the Motions

I was pretty much numb driving the familiar streets on the way to church.  My efforts to perk up were not being successful.  I waited at the traffic lights patiently.  I blessed the rude and thoughtless drivers I encountered along the way.  I made all the right turns, even the left turn into the parking lot.  I saw the greeter waiting for me just inside the glass door.  Hmm.  I tried to to put a sincere smile on my face.  I think it fooled him, anyway.  I couldn’t fool myself though.  I could have sat on an empty pew.  Instead I chose a spot next to a young mother holding her infant in her lap.  During the greeting time I left the pew and wandered up and down the aisle, smiling, greeting, and shaking hands.  I sang the songs as best I could.  I bowed my head during the prayers.  I listened to the message delivered my Brother Daniel.  It was a good message.  The service over, I deposited my offering in the box at the back, shook Brother Daniel’s hand, told him it was a good message, and was one of the very first out the door.  But then things began to change.  The gloom was beginning to lift.  My steps became lighter as I crossed the street and entered the parking lot.  By the time I reached FJ, joy had begun to take over.  Sitting in the driver’s seat, seat belt fastened, ready to go, I bowed my head and prayed.  This time I prayed with real gratitude a prayer of thanksgiving; thankfulness for his faithfulness and unfailing love began to flow.  Finishing, I pulled out of the parking lot with a new attitude for the day.  I traveled the same streets. Waited at the same lights.  Encountered even more mindless drivers than before.  This time was different though.  This time I did so with joy in my heart and praise on my lips.  I did devote the rest of the day to worshiping and praising God.  By the time the day ended, I could honestly say it was one of the most joyful days I’d had in quite some time.  When I went to bed that night, I told God how great a day it had been, giving him all the honor and glory.

Joy is a Choice

Perhaps you’ve heard the old cliche spewed out a someone who is in the gloom, “You can get glad in the same shoes you got sad in!”  Or how about this one, “Happiness is a choice.”  Well, they really are true.  But gladness and happiness are related to circumstances that make most people glad and/or happy.  What about those times when the circumstances would make anyone not happy?  What about death of someone dear, fired from your job, rent you can’t pay, not enough food to feed the hungry mouths, severe physical pain?  How about those times.  How can you be happy during those times?  You can’t.  But what you can be is joyful.  You can have joy:  real joy.  You see, joy is not the same as happiness.  Happiness depends on pleasant circumstances.  Joy doesn’t.  In fact joy is more closely related to the unpleasant circumstances in our lives.  Joy comes from a trusting, faithful, loving relationship with God.  It’s based on knowing God has unfailing love for you and has your best interests embedded deeply in his heart’s desire for you.  Read the four short chapters of Philippians.  It’s a letter Paul wrote during a time in his life when he was chained 24/7 to a Roman Praetorian Guard.  Listen to the joy he experienced at this tough time in his life.

I’d like to end this today by sharing a scripture passage that brings me great comfort every day.

Psalm 23 (NLT)

The Lord is my shepherd;

I have all that I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths,

bringing honor to his name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid,

for you are close beside me.

Your rod and you staff

protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me

in the presence of my enemies.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me

all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the Lord

forever.

Real Solutions and the Miracle of Prayer

Winter Scene at Burford Lake
Thin Ice

Real World Solutions

I slept really well last night.  That makes three nights in a row I didn’t toss and turn and wake up a dozen times.  Pain in both shoulders keeps me tossing and turning.  Since I began my Prodigal Son journey back to my Heavenly Father, he has been revealing to me different things I can do to relieve the pain:  sleeping on a different pillow, changing the position of my arms when I turn from side to side, returning to physical therapy exercises to loosen and tone the muscles in my shoulders and shoulder blades, and to take ibuprofen to combat inflammation.  God didn’t reveal these to me all at once.  I sleep on my side which puts a lot of weight and pressure on the bottom shoulder.  He began three months ago by telling me how to position my bottom arm.  The very first night I tried it out I was able to sleep on each side an hour longer than I had been able to do for several months.  The next morning when I realized how much more sleep I had gotten, I couldn’t stop thanking and praising Jesus.  I was so happy!  I thanked him and honored him all day long.

Real Time Prayer

Still, every night I’d wake up with one and sometimes both shoulders hurting really bad.  Some nights tears would flow and I’d question how much longer I could go like this.  Thoughts of a future lasting for years, brought lots of doubts.  I’d cry out to my Abba in Heaven for relief.  Within minutes I’d be asleep, sometimes for hours.  I wouldn’t have another bout of pain that severe for the rest of the night.  In the morning I’d wake up thanking and praising God throughout the day.

Daily Prayers

in my prayers throughout the day, I ask my Father in Heaven for a healing miracle.  But, I also know that this pain is one the primary reasons I began my Prodigal journey.  I’m so afraid if he provided me with a miracle healing of my arthritis, my journey would be interrupted and I’d drift away again.  In truth, I’m willing to live with the pain rather than lose the closeness and joy I’m experiencing in my relationship with the Holy Trinity, right now.  I know this relationship is only going to get better and better.  I tell my Abba the way I feel and that I seek and want only his will be done in my life.

The Miracle of Prayer

I didn’t know then, and don’t know now, what God has planned for the arthritis that is destroying my shoulder joints and is working its destruction on other joints, as well.  What I do know though, is that God has continued to make simple solutions, one at a time, that when I follow them the quality of my sleep, and therefore my rest, improves a little bit more.  He provides the next one only when I have fully incorporated the current on into my nightly routine.  I don’t hear his voice, nor does the revelation come during prayer.  It’s a clear impression that comes to my awareness suddenly and without announcement.  It comes with a certainty that it’s from the Holy Spirit and not of my own inspiration.  The fact of the matter is, I am getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night, which hasn’t happened in well over a year, and with only a couple of interruptions.  Now as far as I’m concerned, communication with, and getting help from, the Creator of all that ever was, is, and ever will be is the miracle of prayer.

Carl Ray