Joy

Apr 1

Yo-Yo Quilts, Hidden Pictures, and Fleas: Finding Beauty in Our Time

2015 at 7:55 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy | Time Management

When I was a child, my parents used to take me to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for long afternoon visits. My Mennonite grandma would usually be sitting in her chair by the window, a small stack of brightly colored fabric circles on the table beside her. She would sew the edges of each small circle and gather it into a purse, called a “yo-yo,” and my aunt would stitch the yo-yos together into beautiful quilts and sell them at local craft fairs.

My grandma had a job to do: she worked with beautiful material; but she could not piece together the whole quilt. Even though we can’t see how the yo-yo’s of our life fit together into a beautiful quilt, we too have a job to do. What are we to “do in time with God”? We are to fear him (v. 14). But there is more. The Preacher tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13:

“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”

We are to be joyful and do good. What simple, delightful tasks!

“One good way to understand and apply this verse is to put it in the first person and use it as a job description,” suggests Phil Ryken: “There is nothing better than to be joyful and to do good as long as I live, and to eat and drink and take pleasure in all my work—this is God’s gift to me.”

We’ll take the second part of this job description up next week, but first, how do we “be joyful” in this disillusioning, difficult life? We look for beauty. No matter what time we find ourselves in, there is beauty to be found. That beauty is God—his presence, his purpose, and his presents. “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecc. 3:11).

The Beauty of His Presence

First, we can “be joyful” when we find the beauty of God’s presence in every nook and cranny of our lives. “God intends to be found amid our toast and coffee, while we swing a hammer or change a diaper,” writes Zach Eswine. “This is why he is called ‘Immanuel.’ It means ‘God is with us.’”

The truth we celebrate at Christmastime is truth to celebrate at every time: God is with us. Our Savior is present in every moment of every day. And he wants us to find him there.

“What you need” Elisabeth Elliot tells mothers (and all of us) “is a habitual sense of the presence of God. Think that Almighty God, who created the stars and keeps the seasons revolving in perfect rhythm, is there in your kitchen, in your bathroom, in the laundry room, in the grocery store.”

Think, and find the beauty of God’s presence. Think until it fills your heart with wonder and joy. God is with you. Right now. Every carpool driving, expense report checking, diaper wiping, bed making, bite chewing, sunrise watching minute, the Almighty God is with you. Ponder the beauty of his presence, and you’ll find that there is joy to be squeezed out of every moment of every day.

He is still with us in the awful, stomach-churning moments of our lives. “God has not left the mess,” insists Eswine, “but remains here in it and with us. In that light, we start with what we have and we do this little bit each day with God.”

This is how we travel through unbearable times. By doing a little bit each day with God. Even when we don’t feel his presence, we know that he is with us. “[W]here shall I flee from your presence? asks the Psalmist, ready with the answer: If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there…” (Ps. 139:7-8).

“Wherever Jesus may lead us, He goes before us. If we know not where we go, we know with whom we go. With such a companion, who will dread the perils of the road? The journey may be long, but His everlasting arms will carry us to the end. The presence of Jesus is the assurance of eternal salvation, because He lives, we shall live also.” ~Charles Spurgeon

When we find the beauty of his presence—in the ordinary and the painful moments of our lives—every moment will be infused with joy.

The Beauty of His Purpose

God may not have shown us the whole quilt, we may only see “the outskirts of his ways” (Job 26:14), but we know he has a purpose for our yo-yo making, and this should fill us with joy.

Life doesn’t always feel purposeful. You spend the morning at the DMV only to discover you left your birth certificate at home. You get in a fender bender and miss an appointment. You burn dinner. Or maybe you work hard on a paper and get a “D.” You devote your life to your children and they still rebel.

What’s the point? Or, as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes puts it: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” (3:9).

His answer, in one sense, is nothing. “Vanity,” is the end of all the efforts of men (1:2). But not so the purposes of God: “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it” (3:14).

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me” David chimes in, as does Job, “No purpose of [his] can be thwarted” (Ps. 138:8, Job 42:2).

“No matter what time it is, we learn to adjust to it on the basis of the hope and purpose that God is in it, that everything has a beauty to it by which the Preacher declares that every disquieting and delightful moment under the sun has been fitted by God for his purposes. With God, everything fits, nothing is wasted or lost. God does not abandon one second of a life under the sun. No disquiet is God forsaken. No true delight is God neglected. Joseph pointed us to this beauty, these purpose-drenched seconds, when he looked at all the pain, the reoccurring tears and the long years of wreckage that his brothers had perpetrated, and he interpreted it all by saying, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).” ~Zach Eswine

The beauty of God’s purposes gives us joy. Everything fits. He does not lose or drop a single minute of our lives. None of our happy moments, none of our painful moments, and none of our waiting moments, are wasted by God. Every second of our lives is purpose-drenched.

What are God’s purposes? We do not know them all. Our efforts to piece together the yo-yo’s of our lives are often futile, and frankly arrogant, for we “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecc. 3:11).

But this we know: everything has a good purpose, and one of God’s main purposes is to teach us to be content with his purpose.

What is God doing here?! Why did I lose my job? Why am I not getting married? Why did I get cancer? Why is there conflict in my family? We don’t know everything he is doing in these difficult situations, but we do know something: he is teaching us to be content. He is showing us how to “be joyful.”

“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows’. Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. Down busy self, and proud impatience, it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of Love! Trials must and will befall-but with humble faith to see-Love inscribed upon them all-this is happiness to me.” ~Charles Spurgeon

So often we chafe against the purposes of God; or as Rick Holland puts it, we “spend a lot of time trying to get out of what God has put us into.” But if any situation would have been better for us, God would have put us there. God wants us to see that his purpose for these unwanted circumstances is the joy in Christ he purposes for us to have. The very thing we want to get out of is the way to get to joy.

Find the beauty of God’s purpose—our contentment—in every moment of every day, and you can be joyful.

The Beauty of His Presents

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” James tells us, “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17 ).

No matter how diminished our circumstances or how difficult our road, God has given us gifts to enjoy in this season. Sometimes finding these gifts feels like doing a child’s “hidden pictures” page. But God’s gifts are always there to be found for our joy.

“At some point, we all have to come to terms with the spiritual truth that true joy is found in God and God is found right where His gifts are. God’s gifts are our lot. This means that right here where we are is where God will be found…” writes Zach Eswine.

What are these gifts? “There is nothing better,” says Eswine, quoting the Preacher, “than to have a place to inhabit, a thing to do in that place, and some people in that place to share it with. With God, such small things are happy and gainful.” In other words, we must stop trying to turn a grapefruit into a baseball and enjoy it for breakfast.

These gifts are the very ones we often overlook as we long after other gifts. We often pine for gifts we used to have or pant after gifts we never had, and we pass over the gifts we have right now. This is how not to be joyful.

But look around you. Has God given you a “place to inhabit”? Has he blessed you with a roof over your head, a place where you belong? Your home, and the small expressions of beauty there hold a myriad of gifts.

Do you have some people to share your life with—a family, a church community? They may be a quirky, raggedy bunch, but each one is a gift from God. And so is your work, whatever “the next thing” is that God has given you to do. It may be a small work, a praying work, a difficult work, but it is a gifted work, designed to give you joy.

“The Preacher reorients us. To taste the sweetness of ordinary joys, we learn to enter each day with a conviction about the givenness of all things…. Pay attention to what God is giving and what he is not, receive with humility what he gives as enough, thankfully pursue this enjoy this”. ~Zach Eswine

Joy is right under our noses in the form of God’s gifts to us today. We only need to find them out.

I’m reminded of the hymn we used to sing in church as a child:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Count your blessings. Once you start finding the beauty of God’s gifts in every day, you will be, as CS Lewis put it, surprised by joy. “Find him, not in what you do not have, but amid the smallest things that remain, he will find you!” (Eswine).

In every season, no matter how reduced or unpleasant, we can find the beauty of God’s gifts. Corrie and Betsie ten Boom found beauty even in the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie recounts how her sister Betsie resolved to “give thanks in all circumstances,” including the fleas which infested their barracks. “Fleas are part of this place where God has put us,” Betsie told her sister.

Some time later, the ten Boom sisters discovered that the guards would not step foot in their barracks, thus leaving them free to share the Scriptures with the other women, all because of the fleas. Corrie remembered her sister’s “thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

If Betsie ten Boom can find the beauty of God’s gifts in a flea-infested concentration camp, how much more can we find beauty in God’s gifts to us today? No matter what time we find ourselves in, there is beauty to be found.

Even in our lowest state, we have The Gift of Gifts in the person of Jesus Christ. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). As we ponder his sacrifice for us this Easter week, may we be full of sorrow for our ingratitude and filled with joy for his gift of salvation.

Find beauty in God’s seasonal gifts, and God will find you and give you joy.

Here is part one of our job description, our quilt circles: find beauty. Find beauty in God’s presence, in God’s purpose and in God’s presents and you will “be joyful.”

Related Posts:

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Time Waits for No Woman

Mar 23

Trying to Turn a Grapefruit Into a Baseball

2015 at 9:55 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Trusting God | Joy

In sum, death has pointed its headlights at us and started its engine. Therefore, we must learn from God how to enjoy what he has given to us, knowing that none of it can save or satisfy us. Trying to turn a grapefruit into a baseball doesn’t dismiss the value of the grapefruit, but it makes for a disappointing baseball game. If we want to enjoy the fruit’s value, we have to treat it according to the use God gave it and resist tying to use it for things it was not made for. A grapefruit cannot give us the thrill of a home run, but it can make a breakfast pleasant.

So it is with our spouses, our food, our work, and our place in the world. Neither of these can satisfy our souls or provide the gain that only God can give. Trying to use them as such will only disappoint us. Yet, these creations are God-given and possess divine purpose. A joy resides within them for our notice and this by his design. We are meant to taste these joys for which God’s gifts were made. ~Zach Eswine

Mar 10

Are Hobbies the Secret to Happiness?

2015 at 6:07 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy | Time Management

Recently, at the end of a conference session where CJ and I fielded questions, a woman approached me with a query of her own: “So what do you do on the side?” she inquired.

“On the side?” I echoed, not fully comprehending her question.

“What do you do for personal fulfillment?” she sought to clarify. “You see I’m happy my husband has his ministry because that provides him with personal fulfillment. But I pursue my own hobbies because they provide personal fulfillment for me. So,” she repeated again, “What do you do?”

I was unprepared for her question. And I’m sure my answer was insufficient. (How often I have an eloquent answer after the conversation is over!) If I had it to do over again, I’d tell her about Dorothy.

Dorothy was a woman who knew the secret of true “personal fulfillment.” A single mom whose husband left her with a son to raise, Dorothy didn’t spend time worrying about herself. Instead, she was always serving and caring for others. I knew her because she was my Sunday School teacher. And Dorothy was one of the most joyful women I knew.

At my bridal shower everyone wrote down a piece of advice on a slip of paper. I only remember one, and it was Dorothy’s. Her secret to a fulfilled life? “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Our culture is constantly telling us to find our life; that we’re the center of our world, and as such, we need to take care of “me” first.

But when I’m the center of my world, my world becomes very small—because I’m the only person in it. When I try to find fulfillment in anything besides loving Christ and serving Him, I will only end up more frustrated and completely unfulfilled.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I think we as women should express our creativity, and even more importantly get sufficient rest. But the purpose of creativity should be to glorify God with our gifts, not to find “personal fulfillment,” and the goal of rest should be to strengthen us for service.

If we want “personal fulfillment” as women, we must not follow our culture’s prescription. Rather, we must lose our life for Christ’s sake. Then, amazingly, we’ll find that our world expands. We’ll know the thrill of seeing the fruit of our sacrificial service in the lives of those around us. So for true “personal fulfillment,” let’s follow Dorothy’s example as she followed Christ.

—from the archives

Nov 12

How To Be a Happy Mom

2012 at 3:55 pm   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy | Motherhood

I once talked to a woman who told me how she used to always be overwhelmed and unhappy as a mother. She was so burdened by the constant demands of her small children. She lived anxious and depressed. But then this mother was tragically separated from one of her children for a period of time. God worked in her heart through this difficult circumstance, and one way was to transform her perspective of motherhood. “Ever since that time” she said “I have never struggled with depression again. God helped me to see what a blessing my children are. I wake up every morning so grateful that I get to care for them, to meet their needs, to have them near me. I am the happiest mom.” Thankfulness drives away the clouds of weariness, self-pity, and impatience that overshadow the joys of motherhood. If we find that we have lost our joy in mothering, it may be because we have neglected to consistently thank God for our children. Sure, our children are a big responsibility and they do require a lot of work! But they are first and most importantly a gift from God and an incredible blessing. Read with me again the familiar words of Psalm 127:

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! (Psalm 127:3-5 ESV)

Let the truth of Scripture refresh your perspective of motherhood on this Monday. It doesn’t matter how your children are behaving or how much discipline they may require or how much work it is to care for their needs. The truth is that they are a gift, a heritage, a reward. So choose to thank God for your children, and you will become a happy mom.

Aug 1

The Joy Road

2012 at 10:30 pm   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy | Motherhood

To paraphrase the first magnificent answer of the Shorter Catechism: A mother’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. And it is interesting to note, as J. I. Packer points out in his new book, Praying the Lord’s Prayer, that this doctrinal statement uses the word “‘end,’ not ‘ends,’ for the two activities [glorifying and enjoying God] are one.” Dr. Packer continues:

God’s chief end, purposed in all that he does, is his glory, and he has so made us that we find our own deepest fulfillment and highest joy in hallowing his name by praise, submission, and service.

Christians get so hung up with the pagan idea (very dishonoring to God, incidentally) that God’s will is always unpleasant, so that one is rather a martyr to be doing it, that they hardly at first notice how their experience verifies the truth that in Christian living duty and delight go together. But they do! And this will be even clearer in the life to come. To give oneself to hallowing God’s name as one’s life-task means that living, though never a joyride, will become increasingly a joy road. In other words, as we continue “lub-dubbing” along (I love that expression!) and learning contentment as mothers for the glory of God, caring for our children will increasingly become a joyful experience. That doesn’t mean it will be easy or a “joyride” as Dr. Packer says. But if our highest fulfillment is found in worshipping and obeying God, then motherhood will undoubtedly be a “joy road.” And if this is what God has called us to, then there is no other road we would rather be on. —from the archives

Apr 13

How God Works

2012 at 7:53 pm   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy

“That’s how God works. He gets at our most fundamental idolatry and He ruthlessly crushes it in His unfathomable love and fatherly kindness and inscrutable wisdom and He goes after our greatest treasures and He leaves us with nothing but himself so that we go limping on our way for the rest of our lives having learned: ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is perfected in weakness.’ Don’t underestimate God. Don’t underestimate His ruthless compassionate gracious commitment to His glory or His commitment to your everlasting joy and good. He will pursue you graciously and ruthlessly and rip out the idols of your soul that would otherwise consume you. He is working for your joy and your good even when you cannot perceive it and have ceased to be able to feel anything anymore.” ~Ligon Duncan, The Underestimated God, T4G 2012

Sep 20

“Count it All Joy”

2011 at 4:58 pm   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy | Suffering

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:2-8 To be honest, these haven’t been the first verses I’ve run to in the midst of this trial. “Count it all joy.” Really?! But over time, God has graciously drawn me to this passage and taught me encouraging, faith-building lessons as I have sought to study and plunge its depths. One sermon that has helped me explore this passage is by Russell Moore from his series on James, “Life in the Mist”. I’ve listened to it several times and highly recommend it as an insightful introduction to this passage of Scripture. Whether or not you are in a trial, we all need wisdom; and thanks be to God, He promises to give generously to all, without reproach!

Jun 30

A Joy Road

2011 at 11:42 pm   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy | Motherhood

from the archives To paraphrase the first magnificent answer of the Shorter Catechism: A mother’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. And isn’t it interesting to note, as J. I. Packer points out in his new book, Praying the Lord’s Prayer, that this doctrinal statement uses the word “‘end,’ not ‘ends,’ for the two activities [glorifying and enjoying God] are one.” Dr. Packer continues:

God’s chief end, purposed in all that he does, is his glory, and he has so made us that we find our own deepest fulfillment and highest joy in hallowing his name by praise, submission, and service.

Christians get so hung up with the pagan idea (very dishonoring to God, incidentally) that God¹s will is always unpleasant, so that one is rather a martyr to be doing it, that they hardly at first notice how their experience verifies the truth that in Christian living duty and delight go together. But they do! And this will be even clearer in the life to come. To give oneself to hallowing God’s name as one’s life-task means that living, though never a joyride, will become increasingly a joy road.

In other words, as we continue “lub-dubbing” along (I love that expression!) and learning contentment as mothers for the glory of God, caring for our children will increasingly become a joyful experience. That doesn’t mean it will be easy or a “joyride” as Dr. Packer says. But if our highest fulfillment is found in worshipping and obeying God, then motherhood will undoubtedly be a “joy road.” And if this is what God has called us to, then there is no other road we would rather be on.

Oct 26

“Hospitality Keeps Me Happiest”

2009 at 11:53 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy | Homemaking | Hospitality

Jane’s been having a tough time at work:

I am a third grade teacher at a Christian school, and the past month has been difficult for me in my workplace. There have been a lot of decisions made and changes implemented, many of which we do not agree with. In light of all the pressure and extra work, I’ve become very self-focused and had my fair share of pity parties. By the grace of God, I’ve become aware of my sinful attitude and have decided to view my job as a job and to be faithful with this lot by submitting to my employer because it pleases the Lord (but once I have kids, I’m out!). smiley mugWhat’s the remedy for Jane’s self-focus and self-pity?

Fellowship has become so sweet, knowing that so many have struggles and heartache far more challenging than my own - cancer, deaths of babies, unemployment… Hearing our dear pastor preach on evangelism and reading about hospitality has reminded me of how I’ve been lacking in this area. And so my husband and I had some of our church friends over to create an opportunity of gathering. We played cards, talked, and I cooked a homemade meal for these wonderful brothers and sisters. God sure knew that sitting at home thinking about me, myself, and I would only be a devil’s playground! Just as He knew that thinking of ways to practically love the brethren and make my husband and home a priority would keep me the happiest. Isn’t our sweet, loving Lord so good? Hospitality brought happiness. “The joy of receiving God’s hospitality decays and dies if it doesn’t flourish in our own hospitality to others,” warns John Piper. But when we practice hospitality:

“…we experience the refreshing joy of becoming conduits of God’s hospitality rather than being self-decaying cul-de-sacs….” [W]e experience the thrill of feeling God’s power conquer our fears and our stinginess and all the psychological gravity of our self-centeredness. And there are few joys, if any, greater than the joy of experiencing the liberating power of God’s hospitality making us a new and radically different kind of people, who love to reflect the glory of his grace as we extend it to others in all kinds of hospitality.” Are you in need of some refreshing joy today? Then follow Jane’s example and experience the thrill of hospitality.

Dec 25

Joy to the World

2008 at 2:40 pm   |   by Janelle Bradshaw Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy | Homemaking | Holidays

Dsc_0008lowres_5 In our new dining room hangs a large chalkboard. During the Christmas season we’ve had the words to the carol, “Joy to the World” written on the board. I’ve been teaching it to Caly and today we send it out as an audio Christmas card to you and your family. The Lord is come. Joy to the world indeed. Merry Christmas!