In the last post, I talked about finding joy...or rather, about choosing joy--we can't really find joy, it finds us in the very person of Christ, when we come to Him in faith. But every day, we can decide whether we are going to take hold of the joy He offers, or whether we are going to continue to cling to our problems, our negative attitudes, our fears and our insecurities.
I began to list some practical steps to choosing joy, the first of which was abiding in the Word.
Once we are spending regular, daily time in the Word, reading it, hearing it, letting it seep into our beings, we need to take it a step further:
2. Think about what you think. In my "former" life, I was absolutely the Queen of Negative Thinking...nothing was so wonderful that I couldn't see the negative in it! I was slowly, painfully, and often unwillingly, convinced of the need to break this pattern of thinking...and the only way to do that is to REPLACE one thought with another. Rick Warren talks about this in the Purpose Driven Life. He says that we ALL meditate, it's a matter of what we choose to meditate ON...our problems, or God's Word. I began to purposely, consciously, try to catch myself each day when I became negative or starting dwelling on a problem, and instead, I replaced that thought with something from God's word. I was shocked by how much of my time was being spent on negative thinking!! But, as I began to replace that negative thinking with dwelling on the Word of God, it began to change me, literally...supernaturally..beyond anything I could ever have achieved on my own.
One of my very favorite verses is this from 2 Corinthians 10:4-5:
"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
For me, negative thinking was a real stronghold--and I was trying to fight it the way we tend to fight so many of our strongholds, through the power of the flesh. But my flesh wasn't very powerful--it was weak...and it fell for satan's lies every time. I had to realize that I was fighting my battles with the wrong weapon! What I needed was every Christian's sole offensive weapon: the sword of the spirit...the Word of God. When I began to fight the lies of the devil with the Truth of God's Word, the battle turned!
I began to see that my negative thinking, and the lies of the devil, were really just arguments against what God said was true...in essence, every time I became negative, I was calling God a liar. Every time I didn't believe He could work through me in a circumstance, or the awful circumstance I was in was never going to change, I was setting up my OWN thoughts against the knowledge of God. So instead, I began to take every thought captive, and make it obedient to what Christ says. When I thought, "My life is just never going to be any better," I replaced it with God's truth..." I know the plans I have for you and they are plans to prosper you...to give you hope and a future." When I thought, "It's no use. I'm a failure," I replaced it by remembering that "he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it," and I was reminded that God himself thought He'd started something pretty good when He made me!
When you replace your thoughts with promises of God, it becomes difficult to stay negative for very long! You begin to look for what God has to say about a situation or thought instead of how you "feel" about it. And you begin to bear the fruit of joy, not because your circumstances are better, but because you begin to take hold of another step:
3) Believe God. Really, it all boils down to this, because if I really don't believe that what God tells me is true, then reading it and repeating it aren't going to help that much. I have to ask myself, who do you believe, yourself, the devil or God? Because we may say we believe God, but our lives will show whether we really do or not. The person who has joy is the person who has decided to believe God no matter what their circumstances are...they have decided toSee, when I look at my circumstances, when I review my past failures, when I focus on my fears, I am really trusting more in what I see than in what God says is true.
For me, a large part of the process of choosing to believe God was deciding to quit letting my emotions rule my faith, and instead live the other way around, letting my faith rule my emotions. Because sometimes my emotions lie--sometimes I don't feel like God could even love me, and it would be easy (trust me, I know, because I've done it!) to start to actually believe that...but the truth is that God loves me with a passion I can't even begin to understand, that makes my love for my kids seem like nothing. Sometimes, when my emotions take hold and feel unloved, I have to take a stand and choose to believe what God says...and when I make that choice, the emotions never rule for long...
There's a great song by Casting Crowns, called "The Voice of Truth"--it says,
Oh, what I would do
to have the kind of strength it takes
To stand before a giant
with just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound
of a thousand warriors
shaking in their armor
Wishing they'd have had the strength to stand
But the giant's calling out
my name and he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times
I've tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me
time and time again
"Boy you'll never win,
you'll never win."
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
the voice of truth says "do not be afraid!"
and the voice of truth says "this is for my glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth
The choice is yours--joy or misery, fear or love, trust or doubt--choose well.
"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4