The Joy Stealers

Third in a series on The Fruit of the Spirit

“Grace,” photo by Eric Enstrom

The fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy. –Galatians 5:22 NIV

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. –Philippians 4:12 RSV

My grandson and I had an interesting conversation in church one Sunday. The pastor was preaching on the Ten Commandments, and Brent, as usual, was on the fidgety side. So I gave him a notebook and pencil to help burn up some of that nervous energy. He spent the next several minutes copying the Ten C’s in the notebook then showed it to me.

When I got to the last one, I noticed that “covet” looked like “cover.” I wonder if he knows what “covet” means? I thought. At eight, probably not. So I asked him. (Writing in the notebook, of course. It wouldn’t do to talk in church, and with my hearing loss, even with my hearing aids, I can’t hear whispers.)

He shook his head.

“It means to want something that you don’t have,” I wrote. “To want something that belongs to someone else. It’s a sin because it makes you feel jealous and envious of others—and ungrateful for what God has given you. It also leads to stealing, and it robs us of joy.”

I underlined joy twice.

I don’t know whether Brent understood what I was trying to teach him, but it sure gave me plenty to think about.

You see, the past couple of months had been lean as far as my freelance writing and editing go. It seemed as though everything had dried up. The outgo exceeded the income. And we needed both incomes—from my husband’s job and my freelance work. And focusing on the debt was sucking the joy out of life.

So we decided to streamline and simplify. I canceled the satellite TV and the newspaper subscription, and dropped my gym membership. Walking is cheaper and will give me the same results. I substituted skim milk for the expensive protein shakes I’d been drinking and warm skim milk at bedtime in place of ice cream.

I borrowed a relative’s unused bread machine and began baking bread from scratch.

My husband was okay with this.

“It’s what you get used to,” he told me with an I-really-don’t-want-to-do-this-but-I-will-if-you-say-we-have-to look on his face.

I was okay with it, too. After all, I’ve spent most of my life on the “have not” side of things. It’s taught me resourcefulness. And I love a challenge.

One day I pulled out my verse for the day—Philippians 4:12.

I’d always read that verse from the have-not perspective, but this time it hit me: I know how to be abased. I know how to face want and hunger. What I don’t know is how to abound. How to handle plenty and abundance.

I’ve had the chance, and I was unwise. I took the plenty for granted, felt a false security in it, and wanted more—so I could keep up with others whom I secretly envied.

But the abundance didn’t bring me the joy I thought it would. I worried I’d lose it, that someone would steal it, or it would be burned in a fire or otherwise destroyed.

It may be that not having enough steals joy. But the more dangerous joy stealers are covetousness and not knowing how to handle the blessings we’ve been given.

Deep, lasting joy comes from knowing that God will supply all my needs according to His glorious, abundant, limitless riches (Philippians 4:19).

And that’s a promise I can bank on!

Give me neither poverty nor riches, O Lord. Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may become content without You. And if I am too poor, I may steal, and thus insult Your holy name. Amen. (Proverbs 30:8–9)

MORE TEA: Read and reflect on James 4:1–8.

For more on joy and joy stealers, read Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 6; Philippians 4:4–7; Romans 12:12. And, when you’re feeling down, sing a verse or two of “Count Your Blessings.”

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea, Vol. 3, © 2019 Michele Huey.

 

The Birds of the Air

Photo courtesy of Mark’s Outdoor Shots, © 2019 Mark Kephart Sr. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” –Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 6:34 (The Message)

 It was literally the birds of the air that caught my attention one morning during my quiet time.

The morning temperatures were still warm enough to sit out on the back deck and absorb the peacefulness of the woods behind my house. I’d not slept well the night before, my mind whirring with worries.

I know—Christians aren’t supposed to worry, right? But life slams Christians, too. What makes it different for us is how we respond to it.

And I wasn’t responding very well. Not as well as I thought I would. It’s easy to spout Scripture when things are going relatively smoothly. But when the storms come, the winds tear at your faith, and the waves crash over your resolve to stand firm, it’s all you can do to hang on.

Scripture tells us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7) and He’ll sustain us (Psalm 55:22). It’s one thing to read those words; it’s another story entirely to do them.

Now, I’m good at casting. The problem is I keep reeling the burden back in. And casting it out again. And reeling it back in.

That night I cast my burden on the Lord by presenting Him with the whole list of what was worrying me. I claimed Philippians 4:19—that God will supply all that I needed. And, in keeping with Luke 11:9, I asked. I sought. I knocked.

Now if only I could leave the response to Him.

But no. I awoke the next morning with the burden still heavy on my mind, heart, and spirit.

The little gray bird flitting from limb to limb caught my eye first. Then the robin, worm still in its beak.

“Look at the birds of the air,” I heard God say. “They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”  (Matthew 6:26)

I looked up the Scripture—Matthew 6:25–34. Three times Jesus said, “Do not worry.”

And I remembered Philippians 4:6—“Don’t be anxious or worried about anything.”

I did the second part of that verse—“pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” But peace still eluded me. Because I kept reeling those worries back in again and again.

“Worry is like a rocking chair,” motivational speaker Glenn Turner noted. “It gives you something to do but it gets you nowhere.”

I’m not good at sitting and waiting for God to work. I have to be doing something—anything but be still.

“I have come, that they might have life,” Jesus said, “life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). Abundant life.

And worry compromises that abundant life by siphoning your hope, your joy, and your energy, and replacing them with anxiety, insomnia, tension, and irritability. In other words, you’re no fun to live with.

So, how do we deal with worry?

First, recognize where it comes from: the enemy of our souls, a lack of trust in God, and a weak faith. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

Second, respond to it by praying: cast your burdens on the Lord and leave them there!

Prioritize that worry list. Determine what’s most important and, with prayer, deal with that.

And finally, live in the present.

“Worry is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength—carrying two days at once,” said Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom. “It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worry does not empty tomorrow of its troubles. It empties today of its strength.”

Look at your calendar. See that square marked today? Focus on that. Live in one square at a time.

Do you dwell on the what if’s?

Do you focus on the worst-case scenario?

Do you lie awake at night because your worries are whirring through your mind and you just can’t put them to bed?

Maybe, like me, you need more practice with your casting—and learning not to reel them back in.

When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.  When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.  –Psalm 94:18–19 ESV

Read and reflect on Matthew 6:25–34.

 © 2019 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Mark’s Outdoor Shots, © 2019, by Mark Kephart Sr. All rights reserved. Used with permission.  Click here to see more outdoor shots.