Far More Happiness

A popular quote says people can do what makes them happy OR what glorifies God. This means pleasing God requires a joyless existence serving a selfish demanding task master. While this is true for those living apart from Christ, it is not God’s intention for His born-again children! As one popular song explained, far more life is a great adventure in Christ, a journey more amazing and glorious than our wildest dreams!

Are there times when Christians sin, thinking it will make them happier than actions and attitudes that glorify God? Absolutely! Accepting Christ’s offer to forgive our sins does not guarantee we will never sin. But the Bible describes several important changes that do occur:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you… And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NIV)

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4, NIV)

When we invite Christ into our lives, He makes us a new spiritual creation! Our looks and personalities remain the same. We retain our talents and skills as well as many of our interests. But our desires change from pleasing ourselves to pleasing God. Our motivation changes from making ourselves look good to making God look good. Many things that used to be fun or make us happy now become unpleasant, unfulfilling, or even disgusting. Without Christ, we were seeking significance, acceptance, and belonging, hoping they will fill an internal void. Once Christ fills that void and our foundational needs are met in Him, we discover new desires. We find far more life while using our time, skills, possessions, and money to bless others.

A relationship with Christ not only changes our desires, it also gives us power to change our habits:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV)

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed…You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  (Colossians 3:5-10, NIV)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2, NIV)

Notice we are not instructed to try harder to be good people. God tells us to put off, put on, put to death, rid ourselves, do not, and be because He has given us the power to do those things! Some changes are easy. A friend of mine lost his desire to cuss as soon as he accepted Christ; he did not have to work at cleaning up his language, the curse words were simply gone! But the majority of the time, change takes time and effort. God helps us recognize sinful or unhealthy habits and we have to choose different beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, and actions. One example of this in my own life concerns the music I enjoy. Before I started living for Christ, I loved the feelings stirred up by love songs; even when they made me feel lonely, I was hopeful that someday my “prince” would meet my emotional needs. Over time, I recognized some of those songs tempted me to look to a romantic partner instead of God for significance, acceptance, and belonging. As I explored new recording artists, I found that I preferred those who pointed me to deeper spiritual thoughts, eternal perspectives, and truth about God’s character and love. As my beliefs and thoughts changed, so did my listening habits. Far more life recognizes spiritual transformation is a life-long process that leads to increasing happiness.

This verse outlines three ways God’s followers can make Him happy:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, NIV)

When we embrace far more life and join God in His plans for life, these things make us happy, too. We are happy when we act justly and work toward justice in our society. We are happy when we show mercy and compassion to others. We are happy when we let God be the boss and do what He says is good and right. Injustice, cold-heartedness, and disregard for God and His ways make us sad or unhappy.

When you are following God, you are in sync with His values and desires. Doing what makes you happy brings inner peace and a deeper connection to Him. Far more life is doing what makes you genuinely happy, knowing it is making God happy, too!

Sisters,
Have you believed that only you OR God can be happy? How has that negatively impacted your desire to live for Him?
When you accepted Christ, what void was filled in your heart? How did that change your motivations, desires, and actions?
How has the Spirit empowered you to change? In what area are you currently working to change?
Embrace the fruit of far more life — happiness — as you live for God today!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Life-Changing Words

Our world is desperately seeking answers to the problems we face. Many words are spoken — in our government centers, through media and social media, and in private conversations — that offer ideas and plans for addressing them. The words take on many tones and remind me of a common hymn that describes the content of God’s Word, the Bible: Beautiful words. Wonderful words. Life-giving words. Faith-building words. Loving words. Inviting words. Hope-giving life. Words of good news. Saving words.

Sadly, most individuals and governments have rejected God’s words and are looking for “better” answers. But the Bible is the best place look for answers because most of the problems we face in life and society are spiritual problems. Selfishness, greed, lust, envy, and pride are more than character flaws; they are evidence of spiritual death, separation from God.

When we are engaged in a relationship with God, listening to His words, we have the power to love and value people as He does. Our interactions offer genuine concern, generosity, graciousness, and self-sacrifice. We serve as His representative and bring Him glory by demonstrating how He intended for people to interact with Him, each other, and our planet. Living out His words solves spiritual problems and leads to far more life.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9, NIV)

There is great benefit to remaining faithful to the path God has marked as pure. We see God more clearly when our hearts and minds are not tainted by sin and evil (Matthew 5:8). I think of innocent children who see right and wrong in areas where adults struggle. As we live according to His Word, we experience life as He intended it to be. We avoid many spiritual problems and enjoy far more life.

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:10-11, NIV)

Anyone who watches spy movies knows that written instructions or codes can be damaged, lost, or stolen by the enemy. But what you memorize can be held securely and accessed easily. Similarly, memorizing God’s Word enables us to easily access it and have greater confidence that our decisions are consistent with His desires. We can access far more life easily and often when His words are stored in our mind.

Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. (Psalm 119:12, NIV)

We can take in God’s words with two attitudes: a desire to change them or a desire to be changed by them. When we find ideas in the Bible we dislike, we may want to reinterpret them to fit what makes us comfortable. Or dismiss them as antiquated or irrelevant. But far more life is willing to be changed by God’s Word. It is willing to research and understand what God is saying and the heart behind it. When we do this, we naturally praise Him for His wisdom, insight, and perfect love. We desire to learn more of His words because they become priceless treasures that lead us to far more life.

With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. (Psalm 119:13, NIV)

God’s words are too good to keep to ourselves! As family and friends wrestle with hard life circumstances, God’s words can strengthen and bless them. When we feel stuck, His words to offer a path forward. His words offer hope, peace, enlightenment, correction, and far more life — all the things we need! We should not be surprised when our experiences prove His words are true. Or when we become eager to share what we learn from His with others.

I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. (Psalm 119:14, NIV)

The words of instruction God gives us are priceless treasures. They are the secrets we need to live the best life possible. They enable us to become the best version of ourselves, the most like Him. It is easy to complain about the restrictions He communicates. It is popular to dismiss His standards as outdated or narrow-minded. But deep-seated joy — one evidence of far more life — is found when we live out God’s words.

I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. (Psalm 119:15, NIV)

God’s words can be hard to accept. We may have to think about them a while before we can appreciate them or put them into practice. Sometimes they are surprising and we have to wrestle through questions and doubts. Sometimes they are the opposite of what we want to be true. Sometimes we want proof that they lead to far more life. But I have found that seeking to understand God’s ways eventually leads to accepting them as the best. That should not be a surprise since He is our all-knowing Creator!

I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:16, NIV)

The psalmist does not feel obligated to study God’s words; he delights in them. When we delight in something we are eager to experience more of it. The more we value God’s words, the more we will turn to them for encouragement, wisdom, and perspective. And as we put His words into practice and see the positive effects, we will value them more. As God’s powerful words change our lives, we want to share far more life with others.

Sisters,
What problems are heavy on your heart? Where do you turn for solutions?
Can you recognize the spiritual root of the problems around you?
What value do you place on God’s Word? Does that agree with the value Psalm 119 describes?
Do you more often desire to change or be changed by God’s Word? What barriers do you face to being changed? What increases your willingness to be changed?
Choose a Bible verse to meditate on and memorize so you far more life is hidden in your heart!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso


Enough

Some friends and I are reading through the Old Testament, one chapter a day. We are digesting it slowly to discover the treasure in each chapter. This slow pace allowed me to consider Noah from a new perspective.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Genesis 6:5-8, ESV)

Imagine your immediate family is the only one on earth following God. Everyone else is saying, thinking, and doing what God considers evil. No one cares what God thinks or has any desire to honor Him. The Bible does not record Noah’s thoughts and feelings, but I imagine he felt alone. No one else shared his values and interests. Noah found far more life in following God, even though he followed alone.

Then God comes to Noah and tells him to build a boat. A very big boat: 150 yards (135 meters) long, 25 yards (22.5 meters) wide, and 15 yards (13.5 meters) high. God gave very specific instructions for the design and construction of this boat, as well as who and what would go inside. The Bible does not record Noah’s thoughts or feelings. How would you feel if God told you He was going to “end all flesh” except you and your family (Genesis 6:13, 18; 7:1)? What would you think if God told you He was going to send a male and female of every kind of bird, animal, and “crawling thing of the ground” and it was your job to keep them alive (Genesis 6:20)? What if he told you to take some of “every food that is edible” for your family and the animals into the ark (Genesis 6:21)? I would have asked a LOT of questions! I would have found the task daunting and doubted my ability to complete it. But the Bible simply records:

Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22 ESV)

Noah found far more life in obeying God.

The Bible records that once Noah was in the ark, the “fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened” at the beginning of the 40 days and nights of rain (Genesis 7:11). I am certain the ground beneath the ark shook as it never had before. It probably groaned and roared, creating new and unique sounds. There may have been people banging on the door or trying to claw or climb their way into the ark. Try to imagine yourself inside the ark as all this happens. Perhaps they were on the third deck looking out the window. Perhaps they were huddled in the center, like we would take cover during a tornado or hurricane. The Bible does not record Noah’s actions during that time, but I believe he clung to God and far more life as he faced the unknown.

After the 40 days and nights of rain, the Bible tells us the water prevailed on the earth for 150 days (Genesis 7:17, 24, 8:3). Scripture does not record if Noah knew they would spend over a year in the ark (Genesis 7:11, 8:13-14). Would you have been antsy on day 41, ready to get off the boat? How would you have felt if all you could see out the window for 150 days was water (Genesis 7:18-20)? Would you have worried whether you loaded enough food? I would have!

Eventually the water receded and the ark came to rest on some mountains (Genesis 8:4). But it was still several months before God told them to leave the ark. Would you have feared that God forgot you? How would you have spent that time? Would it have fostered far more life? The Bible does not record Noah’s thoughts or feelings, so we do not know if his faith wavered or remained strong every moment of that year.

Finally God called Noah and his family out of the ark (Genesis 8:15). What is the first thing you would have done when your feet returned to dry ground?

So Noah went out…then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took some of every kind of clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. (Genesis 8:18, 20, NASB)

Noah built an altar and worshiped God. There is no record of God commanding this; I believe it reflected Noah’s heart. This was not a small sacrifice, something Noah did quickly before heading out to explore Earth 2.0. First Noah gathered materials and built an altar. Then he invested time and energy preparing and offering every acceptable animal sacrifice. I believe Noah was expressing his love, gratitude, and reverence for God. As he walked out of the ark into a world that was entirely unfamiliar to him, Noah walked in far more life. He knew he would walk with God each step of the way to repopulate and rebuild the earth.

No human — except possibly Adam and Eve — have witnessed as dramatic a change to the world as Noah and his family did. Everything they had known before was gone. Everything but God. Yet God was enough for Noah and his family. Far more life was enough through the preparation, flood, and aftermath. Far more life is also enough for us through all of life’s changes.

Sisters,
What is the biggest change you have faced in life? How did you react to it?
What would you have thought and felt if you had been with Noah?
Will you trust God through the changes ahead in your life? Is He enough for you?
Thank God for seeing us through it all; thank Him for far more life.
Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Renewed

Some of us begin our spiritual journey searching for relief from pain or difficult circumstances. Others are looking for direction or meaning in life. These can be powerful motivators to explore new options and initiate change, to find a different and better path. They may lead us to a personal relationship with Christ, even if that was not where we expected our journey to lead. For a while, that new relationship brings new awareness, positive change, and motivation to begin or continue doing what is good and right. We experience far more life than we have experienced before!

But we cannot sustain Christian growth for an extended time with personal fulfillment as our motivation. If we want far more life to last a lifetime, our motivation must become our love for God. As our relationship with Him matures, our perspective on Him naturally changes. We grow to see Him less as Santa Claus or a cosmic vending machine — someone who gives us what we desire if we perform correctly. Instead we recognize His character and the reverence He deserves. Here are a few examples of His name and titles that reveal His character:

  • Yahweh (Usually translated “LORD”, this means “self-existent one” or “He who brings into being”. Yahweh is God’s name, just like my name Shari.)

By Wisdom Yahweh laid the foundation of the earth. By understanding he established the heavens. (Proverbs 3:19, NOG)

  • Elohim (title meaning almighty or all-powerful):

In the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth. (Genesis 1:1, NOG)

  • Elyon (title meaning supreme or most high):

…Your name is Yahweh. You alone are Elyon of the whole earth. (Psalm 83:18, NOG)

  • El Olam (title meaning everlasting):

Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? El OlamYahweh, the Creator of the ends of the earth, doesn’t grow tired or become weary. His understanding is beyond reach. (Isaiah 40:28, NOG)

  • Adonai/Adonay (title meaning master):

The priests who carry the ark of Yahweh, the Adonay of the whole earth, will stand in the water of the Jordan. Then the water flowing from upstream will stop and stand up like a dam. (Joshua 3:13, NOG)

  • El Shaddai /Shadday (title meaning all-sufficient sustainer):

…The breath of Shadday gives me life. (Job 33:4, NOG)

  • Roeh (title meaning shepherd, friend):

Yahweh is my Roeh. I am never in need. (Psalm 23:1, NOG)

He who brings into being. All powerful. Supreme. Everlasting. Master. All-sufficient sustainer. Friend. Those terms describe Someone worth getting to know! Not just because of what He can do for us, but because of His own merits. They describe Someone who deserves our respect. Someone we can learn from. Someone we would do well to emulate. And God does want us to emulate Him! The Old Testament and Jesus’ first recorded sermon both include this instruction:

…I am the Lord your God. I am holy, and you must be holy too! (Leviticus 19:2, CEV)

But you must always act like your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:48, CEV)

Of course, humans are incapable of living a completely sinless life. We are born with a sinful nature that desires to do our own thing and be our own boss instead of giving God His rightful place in our hearts and lives. (Romans 3:23, James 4:17) Fortunately, when we accept Jesus as our Savior we receive a built-in “righteousness guide”, the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, I Corinthians 6:19). From that day forward, God the Spirit lives inside of us, giving us the power to overcome sinful thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and actions (2 Peter 1:3). But the change is not automatic; we must reclaim control from our sinful nature.

“…Live your life as your spiritual nature directs you. Then you will never follow through on what your corrupt nature wants.” (Galatians 5:16, GW)

Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. (Romans 12:2, NCV)

We know that we are being directed by our spiritual nature when we display His characteristics: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Any time we do not feel or display those traits, we are being directed by the corrupt nature. We can try harder to push it aside, but sometimes our effort is not enough to create permanent change. Instead we must be changed from within through a new way of thinking.

We change our thinking by changing our core beliefs. Sinful thoughts, feelings, and actions reveal core beliefs that are still spiritually “corrupted”. But we can “follow the feelings” to bring them to the light. First, we recognize what negative emotion we are feeling. Then we ask ourselves why we feel that (i.e., what do we believe). Which may lead us to another negative emotion; asking “why” again reveals another belief. When that back-and-forth reaches a belief about our identity or God’s character that disagrees with the Bible, we have exposed our corrupt thinking! Bringing to mind God’s truth — His perspective, words, and actions — at that moment allows us to renew that part of our mind for God. When presented with a similar situation in the future, we will be able to respond as God would! It can be a slow, painful process to find and replace corrupt beliefs. But it is worthwhile because each step of that process yields far more life: becoming more like God!

Sisters,
What initially prompted you to seek out God? What prompts you now?
How would you describe your friendship with God? Is it one-way or two-way?
Which name or title of God is most meaningful to you? Why?
How do you feel about being more like God? Any hesitation or reluctance?
Do you experience negative feelings regularly? Are you willing to try “following them” to renew your thinking?
Praise God for allowing you to keep growing far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso