Let Go…Find Joy

I recently read this quote by Rachel Marie Martin: Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living. The same sentiment is shared in the Bible:

People can make all kinds of plans, but only the Lord’s plan will happen…The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble. (Proverbs 19:21 & 23, NCV)

Let go…find joy: embracing this change of perspective is far more life!

When life is not going as we would like, we can have joy because the Lord’s plan for us is still in place. When our hope is in Him, nothing can steal our joy. Jesus suffered more than we ever will, yet He held on to that truth:

He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. (Hebrews 12:2, GW)

I cannot imagine experiencing joy in the midst of the suffering Jesus endured. But He focused on the outcome, a relationship with us. Far more life accepts the pain and suffering of this life by tapping into limitless joy through faith in Christ. God promises that one day our suffering will end, but our joy will continue for eternity:

You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. (Psalm 16:11 & Acts 2:28, NIV)

Even when we face injustice, God offers us joy:

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:9-11, NIV)

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. (Psalm 28:7, NIV)

God’s plans and purposes prevail over every sin committed against us. He helps us through every difficulty and strengthens us to stay on His path. Far more life finds joy by pursuing God’s purposes. Because we do not always understand His purposes, we are tempted to doubt them. Many Christians find encouragement in this promise of God’s protection and provision:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

This promise to the Israelites was followed by 70 years of captivity! They did not experience the prosperous life they envisioned right away. But, as they waited, God’s joy was always available in the story they were living.

Mary’s life did not unfold like she had pictured. Her future marriage was threatened by an unexpected pregnancy. Many of her friends and family probably did not believe the child she carried was miraculously conceived. But Mary let go of the life she had pictured and found joy in the story God asked her to live, proclaiming:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49, NIV)

Our natural tendency is to avoid or eliminate anything negative: pain; hard circumstances; broken dreams; and dashed hopes. We would happily rescue ourselves and our loved ones from unwanted life situations.

But if Mary had been rescued, Jesus would not have come to earth to pay for our sins.

If the patriarch Joseph had been rescued from slavery, millions of people would have faced starvation (Genesis 37-47).

If David had been rescued from Saul’s pursuit, we would not have many of the Psalms that remind us to rely on God (I Samuel 16 – 2 Samuel 1).

Hebrews 11 contains many more accounts of people whose lives did not go as planned. But as they followed God’s storyline and purpose, they found greater joy than they had imagined possible!

My life has not gone as I expected. I have not worked in the field I dreamed about. I did not get married or have children when I thought I would. I have experienced loss and disappointment that I would not have chosen. The future will not be what I envision, either. But with each departure from my plan, I have a choice: will I let my heart keep longing for my story or will I joyfully pursue the story God has for me? Sometimes the choice is hard, but I know far more life is only found pursuing God’s story.

Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God! (Matthew 5:8, GNT)

God has been faithful to me. He has shown me over and over that His way is best, His Word is trustworthy, His character is unchanging, and His love is unconditional. As I live the story He planned for me, I find joy in His friendship, peace in His presence, and hope in His promises. I find far more life as I live out each day of His story. You can find joy and far more life by living out His story for you!

Sisters,
Are there things you expected in life that have not come to be? Have you let go of them? If not, what do you fear will happen if you do?
How have you found joy in the unexpected aspects of your life?
If you are not experiencing joy, what are you feeling? What do you believe about yourself or God that supports that feeling? Is that belief consistent with what God’s Word says? If not, pray and ask Him to help you recognize His truth and embrace it rather than the false belief that is hurting you.
What aspect of God’s character helps you trust Him and His story for your life?
Throw yourself wholeheartedly into pursuing God’s story — and enjoy far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Seeing the Unseen

Our outlook makes a big difference in how we interpret things happening to and around us. You may have heard the joke about the two children who received horse manure for Christmas: one was depressed and angry while the other eagerly exclaimed, “You got me a pony!”

If we are honest, we encounter some form of “manure” every day of our lives. This can include our physical health, finances, relationships, jobs, or any other negative circumstance. Some of us tend to be more optimistic, others more pessimistic; but those are not the only viewpoints to consider. We must also choose whether to view our lives with temporary or eternal vision. The Apostle Paul states it this way:

And this small and temporary trouble we suffer will bring us a tremendous and eternal glory, much greater than the trouble. For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, GNT)

While we are enduring them, our troubles often feel large rather than small and long-term rather than temporary. But that indicates we are relying on our temporal vision. Using eternal vision, we can see that our 78 or so years on this earth are merely a blip of eternity. And the worst difficulty we face in this life is insignificant compared to the splendor of being with God and removed from all evil forever. Far more life does not protect us from trouble, but it does allow us to see the unseen.

It makes sense that our vision gets stuck on the temporary. After all, that is all we have ever known! The matters of physical life loom large for us because our senses are attuned to them. But what if our goals were bigger than comfort, physical health, and security on Earth? What if we stopped to consider what our thoughts and actions truly indicated about our understanding of God and His perspective? That is where we find far more life by seeing the unseen!

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When I face troubles does my response show that I believe God is working for my good, as promised in Romans 8:28?
  • When I encounter difficulties, do I focus on them or Jesus? Like Peter in Matthew 14, do the winds and waves distract me from Jesus’ presence and power?
  • Do I, like Joseph in Genesis 50:20, proclaim that God’s goodness is more powerful than the evil intentions of Satan and people? Do I live this out during the challenge?
  • Do my reactions indicate that I treasure current relationships, possessions, and status more than I treasure God’s purpose and plans (Matthew 6:19-21)?

Our answers help us understand areas where we have opportunities to see the unseen and grow in far more life. But how do we do that? I think there are 3 components to a far more life relationship with God that has eternal vision: listening to God, talking to God, and looking for God.

Far more life listens to God. When you are getting to know someone, you want to learn about them and that often involves listening to them. We listen to what they think and feel, what they have experienced, and what is important to them, and their future plans. By listening to what they say and how they say it we learn about their character, too. If what we hear is appealing to us, we keep listening! The same is true with God. Although we cannot meet Him for coffee, we can listen to Him speak through His Word. As we study it, we can learn about His character and hear His thoughts, feelings, experiences, priorities, past experiences, and future plans. Even though we cannot see His body or audibly hear His voice, we can understand and adopt His eternal vision — seeing the unseen — as we listen to Him. He promises:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV)

Far more life talks to God. We all know that growing relationships require on-going communication. This is true of our relationship with God as well. We can talk to Him about ANYTHING! Nothing we share will shock Him or damage our relationship; He will never think less of us, no matter what we confess to Him. He will never betray us by revealing our concerns or sins to others. He is never put off by our doubts, questions, or fears. He can absorb our anger without lashing back. He wants us to share our hopes and dreams with Him. Sometimes He waits to give us good gifts until we ask for them. Eternal vision requires that we talk to God about everything.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer… (I Peter 3:12, NIV)

Far more life looks for God. Since God is working all the time (John 5:17), His work is visible to us if we look for it. People who do not know God refer to His work as luck, coincidence, fate, Mother Nature, and more, but God’s friends recognize His work! To stay focused on the eternal and see the unseen, we must look for and acknowledge His work, both in and around us.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8, NIV)

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20, NIV)

I hope you look at your troubles and successes, challenges and triumphs with eternal vision. Because that is where you see the unseen and find far more life!

Sisters,
Prayerfully consider and answer the questions presented in the text.
Is your eternal vision weakest in listening to God, talking to Him, or looking for Him? What is your next step in seeing the unseen?
Invest in your eternal vision this week by pursuing far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Far More Building

Luke chapter 4 describes the encounter Jesus had in the wilderness where Satan tempted Him to sin. Twice Satan starts his offer with the phrase, “If you are the Son of God…” Although Satan probably knew Jesus’ identity and was taunting Him, he voiced a common human concern.

All of us, at some point, have asked the questions, “Is God real?” and “Is Jesus truly God?” Many examples of this are recorded in the Bible, and people of all generations have wrestled with this question. We want proof! Throughout history, once proof is offered, some people believe and become followers of Jesus while others do not. We lay the foundation of far more life when we believe that God IS real and Jesus IS God.

Once we know God, through Jesus, we do not need to keep revisiting those questions; our foundation is secure and we are ready to build a relationship. My friends who are adopted illustrate this. Those who have sought their birth parents needed proof before accepting them. But once that proof was offered and validated, the question “Are you my parent?” was put behind them. There was no need to revisit it time and again. They were free to move forward in building a relationship.

But I know some Christians who miss far more life because they continue to question whether God is real and if Jesus is truly God. Why? Because they have an enemy! Satan knows that if they doubt God — and the reality of their relationship with Him through Jesus — they cannot experience far more life. They cannot share Christ with others. They cannot fulfill the purposes for which God created them. So he strives to cripple them by making them doubt the foundation of their faith.

Others never doubt God’s existence or Jesus’ deity, but they miss far more life because they don’t recognize God’s work. Their experiences leave them with unmet expectations about God’s character and actions. So the words of the Bible do not feel true and they are unsure how to reconcile them with the circumstances of their lives. Their foundation lies empty and their lives lack joy and spiritual fruit. But if we believe God is truthful, then we should also believe the Bible is His written Word. He said it is Truth (John 17:17), so we can take hope from this declaration:

For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment. (Luke 1:37, AMPC)

Far more life rests in the fact that God’s Word is flawless while our interpretation can be flawed. It is a willingness to believe that seemingly irreconcilable circumstances indicate we are missing something, that our perspective is skewed due to incomplete information or sin. I like how The Message explains it:

You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. (Matthew 5:8, MSG)

God is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8), so we find far more life when we adopt His perspective and work to understand it. Then we are able to experience all He has promised. And what wonderful experiences those are! Even when our circumstances are challenging, we traverse them with joy and peace because we are confident God is working in and through them for our good and His eternal purposes (Romans 8:28).

Although we are surrounded by change, God knows our need for stability and provides it. His reassurance of what is unchanging gives us something to hold onto during the times we are shaken or struggling. Right after He destroyed the earth by flood due to man’s wickedness, He made this promise:

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22, NIV)

What a comforting knowledge! Each day the sun rises and each night the moon rises is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and truthfulness. Each change of the season, we are reminded His promises are reliable. Each year crops are planted and harvested, we can have confidence in Him. We can build our life on Him, on His instructions, and find far more life! He stands the test of time. This reminds me of lyrics from a wonderful hymn:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness…
When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace…
His oath, his covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

(“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote)

Jesus is the best foundation we can choose! Far more life starts with Him, builds on His truth, and changes us to be like Him. The life we build on Him is secure and will last forever. Why would we want to build on anything else?

Sisters,
What proof convinced you that God is real? That Jesus is God?
What tempts you to trust your perspective and experience over what God’s Word says is true?
What reminds you of God’s faithfulness and truthfulness?
What have you built that will last forever?
Praise Him for making our foundation secure and offering far more life for all of our days!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso